Advances for the BBA’s legislative agenda

The Massachusetts Legislature wrapped up the formal part of the 2011-2012 legislative session on Tuesday, July 31st.  The energy, excitement and hurried atmosphere at the state house during the waning days of formal session is a contrast to the quiet and routine informal sessions that will continue through December.

The difference is that when the House and Senate meet in informal sessions there are no recorded votes and a bill can only advance if there is unanimous approval by the members of the Legislature that are present.   During these informal sessions, it takes just a single objection by a member of the Legislature to derail a bill’s progress.  This makes it unlikely that anything major will advance in the coming months.

This past session was a success for the BBA’s legislative agenda and amidst the backdrop of casino legislation, foreclosure reform and health care cost containment, several of the BBA’s bills became law.

The BBA celebrated…

  •  When the Massachusetts Uniform Trust Code (MUTC) became law along with important revisions to certain components of Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code (MUPC).  These two pieces of legislation follow more than twenty years of advocacy at the BBA that resulted in the MUPC finally being signed into law in 2009.  The guardianship provisions of the new law became effective in July 2009 while the rest of the MUPC became effective on March 31st, 2012.

    These bills propelled Massachusetts into a new era with respect to the administration of wills and estates.   They improved the laws of the Commonwealth and transformed what was once a cumbersome process for both families and the Court into a simple and expedited process.  In addition, the MUTC — which governs trust administration — provides trustees with greater flexibility in the administration of trusts and reduces the necessity of court intervention.   The MUTC and the revisions to the MUPC are a welcome refinement to the BBA’s larger body of work in this area.

  •  The highly touted Alimony Reform Act of 2011 took effect on March 1st, greatly enhancing the capacity for judicial discretion in the determination of the duration of alimony.  Judges now have greater ability to determine the duration and amount of alimony payments.  The new law also allows them to amend previous alimony decisions that had no termination point.  This capped off several years of work by the BBA on this issue and strengthened Massachusetts’ alimony laws.
  •  In February, when the House passed “An Act Providing Access to Forensic and Scientific Analysis” which the Senate unanimously passed in July 2011.  This highly anticipated new law adds a much needed piece of integrity to our criminal justice system.  Not only does this new law provide post-conviction access to DNA evidence for those whose assert factual evidence of their innocence, it also designates a procedure for the preservation of such evidence.

    This bill stemmed from the BBA’s Task Force on Preventing Wrongful Convictions and its 2009 report, “Getting it Right: Improving the Accuracy and Reliability of the Criminal Justice System in Massachusetts.”

  •  When the Transgender Equal Rights bill was signed last November and finally took effect on July 1st.  The law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in jobs, housing, insurance, mortgage loans and credit, in addition to making offenses against transgender people subject to treatment as hate crimes.  The BBA has worked with the Transgender Political Coalition since the legislation was first introduced in 2007 and has testified in support of the legislation at various public hearings.  This is a gratifying victory for us because the BBA is committed to diversity in our legal profession and, like diversity in our society at large, this is a tremendous asset.

With less than a month to go before the state primary on Thursday, September 6th, lawmakers are focused on their re-election.  Next January will mark the beginning of the next two-year legislative session and the BBA will pick up where we left off.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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