Monthly Archives: December 2011

2012: A Glimpse at the Year Ahead

Issue Spot is looking ahead to 2012 and has put together a calendar of upcoming dates for the second half of the legislative session.  January marks the beginning of the second year in the two-year session.  The BBA will continue to work on advancing important bills that have already enjoyed some progress in the last year – whether that means they have had a public hearing or have been reported favorably from the committees to which they were originally assigned.  These bills include the Massachusetts Uniform Trust Code, technical corrections to the Uniform Probate Code, a statute allowing post-conviction access to DNA testing, and the income tax “step-up.”

The Judiciary Committee – the committee that has jurisdiction over the majority of the BBA’s bills – still has five hearings left to schedule before March.  The upcoming hearings will include bills that fall into the categories of real estate, criminal procedure, torts, constitutional issues and the catch-all category of miscellaneous and late file bills.

In addition to keeping an eye on legislation in the next few months and working to move our legislative priorities over the finish line, the BBA will closely monitor the state budget for FY 2013.  Throughout the budget process, the BBA will continue to advocate for issues that impact the criminal justice system, including the Judiciary’s budget and legal services.

JANUARY

  • 1/4       Formal session resumes for the Massachusetts Legislature
  • 1/11       Judiciary Committee hearing – real estate bills
  • 1/25     The Governor must release his annual budget by the third Wednesday in January
  • 1/26     13th Annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid

 FEBRUARY

  • 2/7       Judiciary Committee hearing – subject matter to be determined

 MARCH

  • 3/1       Alimony Reform Act of 2011 goes into effect
  • 3/21     Joint Rule 10 Day; any bill that has been assigned to a committee by February 15, 2012 will either receive a favorable report, an adverse report or be placed into a study order
  • 3/31     Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code goes into effect

 APRIL

  • House budget debate takes place – usually the last full week of April

 MAY

  • Senate budget debate takes place – usually the last full week of May

 JUNE

  • Budget Conference Committee works on a compromise between the House and Senate versions of the budget and is sent to the Governor to sign or veto

 JULY

  • 7/1       Fiscal Year 2013 begins
  • 7/31     Formal session ends for the Massachusetts Legislature

 AUGUST

  • 8/1       Informal legislative session begins for the Massachusetts Legislature

 NOVEMBER

  • 11/6     Election Day

 DECEMBER

  • 12/31   187th General Court session ends

 

 

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Judiciary Committee Year in Review

With the start of the 2nd half of the 187th Massachusetts Legislative Session set to begin on January 4th, the BBA is still advocating for several bills in the waning days of the informal session.  Back in January 2011, the BBA was the lead sponsor for 17 bills and a co-sponsor of a handful of other bills. Just about all of our bills were referred to the Judiciary Committee.

Overall, 5,388 bills were filed at the beginning of this session. Roughly 900 of those bills were referred to the Judiciary Committee.  This constitutes over 15% of all bills filed in the Legislature and gives the Judiciary Committee the distinction of having the highest volume of non-budgetary legislation referred to any committee.  To put this in perspective, the Public Service Committee has the next biggest number of bills at just over 600.  Not surprisingly, issues concerning the state courts, criminal procedure and penalties, torts, privacy, real estate, probate and judicial management end up in Judiciary.

Admittedly, not all of the 900 bills are unique.  Some of the bills are the same piece of legislation just filed separately in each branch.  For instance, the BBA often tries to find both a House and Senate sponsor of its bills especially if the issue at hand is one that may require leadership in both branches.

Since public hearings began in March, the Judiciary Committee has held eleven hearings.  These take place in small hearing rooms or in the larger Gardner Auditorium and are always well attended.  The Judiciary Committee hearings last for hours, often late into the night.  These hearings are packed with lawmakers and members of the public. The BBA has experienced this firsthand.  We patiently waited several hours for our turn to testify in Gardner Auditorium twice this year and in the smaller hearing rooms several other times this session.

Here are just some examples of bills for which the BBA has advocated this session and which already received a favorable report from the Judiciary Committee:

  • Alimony reform was released from the committee and signed into law on September 26th and will become effective on March 1, 2012.
  • Transgender civil rights will go into effect in the Commonwealth on July 1, 2012.
  • A major court reform bill that included a provision to keep the Probation Department in the Judicial Branch as well as providing for the hiring of a professionally trained, non-judicial court administrator was signed by the Governor on August 4th and will become law on July 1, 2012.

Now that those three bills have already been signed into law, the Judiciary Committee can begin focusing on other equally important bills.

Some of the other bills that have been released from the Judiciary Committee thus far but that have not made their way to the Governor’s desk just yet include the BBA’s access to DNA bill, the Uniform Trust Code and the corrections to the MUPC.  Elsewhere in the Legislature, budget requests are being reviewed and budget priorities are beginning to take shape.  When formal session resumes in a few weeks, there will be more public hearings, meetings with lawmakers and other opportunities to advance our agenda.

-Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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Basic Primer on the Budget Process

It’s budget prep time in Massachusetts, meaning that agencies and groups across the state are crunching numbers.  Any entity that gets state funding is assessing its current and future needs — with the goal of determining what its annual request to the Legislature will be for fiscal year 2013.  Earlier this week, the annual consensus revenue hearing was held before the House and Senate Ways & Means Committees.  This hearing marked the beginning of the process by which the Governor’s administration, the House and the Senate will ultimately settle on a final revenue estimate.  That agreed upon revenue estimate will lay the groundwork for building the 2013 budgets submitted by the Governor, the House and the Senate.

There’s a lot of forecasting that goes into determining what this consensus revenue number will be, including projected tax collection figures.  These are primarily drawn from the sales tax, the income tax and the capital gains tax.  Things like national trends and even what is going on globally will ultimately affect the economy here in Massachusetts.

Governor Patrick’s budget will come out in mid-January, followed by the House’s budget in April and the Senate’s budget in May.  The differences in the various budgets must be reconciled by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, 2012.

So how does the BBA fit into the state budget process?  Annually, the BBA advocates for adequate funding on behalf of civil legal services, our state courts, district attorneys and CPCS.  Recently, because of the economic pressures on the state budget, the budget campaign has become a year-round effort. Our advocacy has already begun.  We’ve joined forces with Greater Boston Legal Services and visited legislators to discuss funding for legal aid.  We’ll continue to push these and other issues later when we meet this week with the Governor’s legal counsel and next week with Speaker DeLeo.

But we don’t just sit around, waiting to see what the state budget allocates for legal services.  We do much more.  Through our charitable affiliate, the Boston Bar Foundation (BBF), we raise money to support legal aid.  Last year, the BBF made grants totaling $1.1 million to 25 Massachusetts community organizations providing a wide variety of core legal services – from domestic violence and immigration to housing and homelessness.  Remarkably, in spite of the economy, this $1.1 million was almost a $50,000 increase in core legal services grants, compared with FY10.

The BBA is also a major recruiter for the Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP), a pro bono initiative with an outstanding reputation.  In just the last few months the BBA held two trainings for VLP.  One was a Chapter 7 bankruptcy pro bono training, which drew over 100 lawyers.  The other training prepared lawyers to volunteer for one of our most successful pro bono programs, Housing Court Lawyer for the Day Program, which has flourished over the past twelve years.  The BBA has recruited scores of volunteers from law firms, solo practices and in-house corporate legal departments to provide assistance to unrepresented tenants and landlords on summary process day at the Housing Court.

But that’s not all we do to bridge the supply and demand gap for legal aid to the poor.  We co-sponsor and help recruit attendees for an important advocacy event, the annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid.  Walk to the Hill, now in its 13th year, will take place on January 26th at 11 am at the State House.  It’s particularly timely, since it occurs the day after the Governor’s budget is expected to be released.

We do what we can to help in a variety of ways and we do it all year long.  But none of the things we do in this area can substitute for the work that veteran legal services lawyers provide.  We recognize that our role is to help secure the funding necessary to allow those attorneys to focus on the immediate needs of their clients.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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Behind Our Public Policy Focus

The Massachusetts Legislature handles thousands of bills every session, and the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts frequently solicits amicus briefs.  In addition there are countless opportunities for comments on rule making and rules changes at the state and federal level.  Making a meaningful impact demands that we focus our public policy efforts.

We trace our roots back to the John Adams who defended the British soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre, and have tried to remain true to those roots.  Hence we focus our public policy efforts on issues directly relating to access to justice, the administration of justice, the practice of law, and improving the quality of laws in the Commonwealth.

Admittedly, we often field requests to lend the prestige of the Boston Bar Association to groups dealing with worthy issues unrelated to our mission. While providing such an “endorsement” might win us a pat on the back from people we admire or even make us feel good about ourselves, the reality is that such activities can dilute our message and squander our political capital.

We want to be known as the bar association that steps forward to advocate for adequate funding for legal aid, our State Courts, District Attorneys’ Offices, and indigent criminal defense services.  We also want to be known as the bar association that cares about drafting legislation that will work the way it was intended.  So it is that even after the formal session has ended, we continue to advocate zealously for technical changes to the soon-to-be enacted Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code.

We have a volunteer talent pool as wide as it is deep, and are uniquely positioned to lend our expertise on issues where we as lawyers can make a unique contribution based on our skill sets and experience.  But we want to leverage this talent wisely in ways that can provide the greatest value.

Government Relations Department
Boston Bar Association
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Legislators Who Understand Need for Legal Aid

For many years the BBA has advocated alongside Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) for the Massachusetts Legal Aid Corporation line item, which is the state funding source for civil legal aid to poor people.  In meetings at the State House we are typically joined by a client of GBLS who is also a constituent of the particular lawmaker with whom we are meeting.  This puts a human face on the funding request.  More important, the constituents’ personal stories provide real life illustrations of the difference that legal services attorneys make on the lives of people facing desperate legal problems.

Let me tell you about once such meeting last year.  It was the first time we had met with Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad, whose district is in Southeast Massachusetts (Dighton, Somerset, Swansea and Taunton).  We brought along a low-income grandmother whose story would be familiar to any legal services lawyer trying to secure visitation rights to a grandchild whose parent is out of the picture.

We spoke with Rep. Haddad for over an hour.  We rattled off numbers and talked about the decline in IOLTA funds, the number of layoffs statewide in legal services, how legal services actually brings money into the state, and how the private bar does its part too by volunteering pro bono hours and raising private money for legal services.  But it was the real life story of the constituent that generated the greatest impact.

Rep. Haddad said she was glad we came to talk with her about this important issue.  Her sincerity was confirmed only a few days later when we ran into her in the reception area of Speaker DeLeo’s office.  She told us she was there for the same reason: to discuss legal services funding with the Speaker.

Tonight we get the opportunity to thank Rep. Haddad, along with Chairman Stephen M. Brewer (Senate Ways & Means), Chairwoman Cynthia Stone Creem (Joint Judiciary Committee), Chairman Brian S. Dempsey (House Ways & Means Committee), and Steven A. Tolman (President of the AFL-CIO and former Senator).

Happily, the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, our partners in the Equal Justice Coalition, will be joining us for a recognition reception.  With the Legislature in informal session until January, this is a great opportunity to honor some of the legislative leaders who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to civil legal aid in 2011.

The State House has already begun to prepare for the FY13 budget cycle.  We hope at this time next year we will be in a similar position: thanking those who made MLAC’s $14.5 million for FY13 request a reality.

-Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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