Spring Legislative Line-Up at the BBA

While the BBA has been keeping a watchful eye on the Fiscal Year 2014 state budget — now being debated in the Senate — we have also been paying close attention to a number of our other public policy initiatives. Here is an update on the Senate budget and a look at some of the legislative issues on our spring agenda:

Fiscal Year 2014 State Budget

Senate Ways & Means released its Fiscal Year 2014 budget proposal last week, which included $12 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC); alas, this is $3.5 million short of its request for Fiscal Year 2014.  The Senate Ways & Means budget funded the Trial Court at $579 million; unfortunately, this did not include funding for a judicial pay raise.

After the budget was released, senators filed amendments to the budget. Debate on the budget and those amendments got underway yesterday.  By the end of the first day of budget debate, the Senate adopted a redrafted amendment filed by Senator Clark.  Senator Katherine Clark’s redrafted amendment provided an additional $1 million for MLAC — bringing their total Fiscal Year 2014 appropriation up to $13 million!  This is the same amount that MLAC ultimately received in the House budget.

We expect the $13 million to be included in the final budget — a victory, especially considering other state programs have been cut.  Thank you to our members.  Your advocacy this year with your legislators really paid off and this $13 million is a result of all of your hard work.

As of this writing, the judicial compensation amendment had not yet been taken up by the Senate.  We expect to know more by the end of the week.

Legislation

As we reported in Issue Spot earlier this month, provisions of House Bill 28, “An Act making amendments to the Uniform Commercial Code” made its way to the House Ways & Means Committee.  The BBA, along with the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Massachusetts Bankers Association, are still collaborating to get this bill before the House and Senate for final approval.  We plan to continue our conversations with the Chairman of Ways and Means throughout the next few weeks.  We are still aiming to get all of this done by July 1st uniform effective date.

Also before the House Ways & Means Committee is House Bill 2696, “An Act to continue tax basis rules for property acquired from decedents,” filed by Representative Alice Pesich.  This bill, which would mitigate the potential for Massachusetts double taxation with respect to most 2010 decedents, will have an impact on trusts and estates in Massachusetts.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives unanimously passed House Bill 1432, “An Act expanding juvenile jurisdiction”.  This legislative proposal would raise the age of jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court from 17 to 18, which would move 17-year-old offenders into the juvenile justice system in Massachusetts and end the practice of routinely incarcerating 17-year-olds in adult corrections facilities.

Listening to yesterday’s debate in the House, the support from the legislators who spoke publicly about the proposal echoed many of the reasons that the Criminal Law Section also supports this bill.  This proposal reflects the latest scientific evidence by differentiating between the mental capacity of juveniles and adults. This evidence is used to create distinct rules and guidelines for the two groups, and raising the age will allow 18 year old offenders to be appropriately considered as youth by the justice system.  One representative at the debate effectively summed up this argument and said, “an increase in the age is not a reduction in justice and we know a young person in the juvenile system will receive treatment, family involvement and we will have less expensive results.”

It was also mentioned that by mid-August the federal Prevention of Rape Elimination Act (PREA) will require every state to ensure that individuals under 18 are not incarcerated with adults.  If Massachusetts does not comply with the PREA, it will have to construct separate holding facilities for 17-year-olds.  Raising the age from 17 to 18 will fulfill the PREA requirements. Also, 38 states have the age of majority at 18 or above, which means that raising the age in Massachusetts would bring the Commonwealth into sync with the majority of the nation.

- Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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