July 31st marks the end of formal sessions for the second half of the two-year 2013-2014 legislative session. With only 56 days left, the Legislature will continue to meet in informal session through December. This generally means that the legislature will only consider non-controversial matters until the next two-year legislative session begins again in January 2015.
There’s a lot of work to be done in the next eight weeks – and state budget conferees met for the first time on Tuesday. In addition to the two Chairs of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, the other members of the conference committee are Representatives Kulik and deMacedo and Senators Flanagan and Ross. This group is charged with devising a consensus fiscal 2015 budget based on the previously approved House and Senate budgets. One issue before the conference committee is funding for the MLAC line item. The House recommended $15 million and the Senate recommended $14 million. We hope that the conferees will decide to hold onto the House recommended appropriation of $15 million. The final recommendations of the conference committee are not subject to amendments when presented to the House and Senate for final approval.
While the conference committees work, the legislative committees –including the Joint Committee on the Judiciary – are reviewing the hundreds of bills that are still active before them. In the upcoming weeks we hope to see some movement on bills that we have been working on all session.
Governor’s Council Update
Last week was the second day of Justice Ralph Gants’s Governor’s Council hearing on his nomination for Chief Justice of the SJC. This provided Justice Gants an opportunity to directly address the Governor’s Councilors. He began with a presentation, talking about his family (the above video starts about a minute into his speech, as he discusses his mother), his love of baseball, his work on access to justice issues, and his growth as an individual and jurist. He broke his judicial philosophy down to the following three points:
- It is important to look at the language of the statute along with the legislative history and its context in order to fulfill legislators’ wishes.
- The Constitution is a “living, breathing” document that remains relevant with modern interpretations.
- Society needs clear lines in administering law in the real world and the assurance of actual justice, not just the illusion of justice.
Questions from the Governor’s Councilors took the rest of the day. Topics ranged from the specifics of court administration to exploring the need for oversight of the Chief Justice of the SJC, the Chief Justice’s role as a lobbyist for the Courts, and Gants’s philosophical opinions on the death penalty, gay marriage, abortion, the citizen petition process, and drug addiction.
This week was the third day of his confirmation hearing before the Governor’s Council. Justice Gants was asked about recent SJC decisions on juvenile life without parole as well as his position on privacy issues that might be raised in gun reform legislation.
Speaker’s Gun Control Bill
Speaker Robert DeLeo’s gun violence prevention legislation, House Bill 4121, was the subject of a public hearing this week and is expected to be taken up by the full House of Representatives as early as next week. Senate President Therese Murray has also said publicly that the Senate will debate gun reform before the session ends.
The BBA’s Gun Control Working Group also conducted a lengthy study on gun reform. The BBA’s group met between April and July 2013, and reviewed all of the then-filed gun control legislation, roughly 60 bills. The BBA’s Working Group was comprised of attorneys with diverse backgrounds including gun owners, civil libertarians, a prosecutor, criminal defense attorneys, a law professor, and health law experts. The Working Group came up with a set of principles designed be a lens through which any new gun law should be considered.
We will continue to monitor the gun control bill as it goes through the legislative process and the nomination process for the new SJC chief justice. Justice Gants’s nomination could come up for a vote as early as June 11.
- Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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