Tag Archives: hearing

Getting It Right: The BBA Seeks Reform of Drunk Driving Law

On Wednesday, September 25th, the Joint Committee on the Judiciary held a public hearing with 52 bills on the agenda.  The hearing had a serious and often somber feel.   A number of elected officials and 86 Massachusetts Police Chiefs testified.  Perhaps the most gripping testimony came from family members of young people injured or killed in drunk-driving accidents. 

The majority of oral testimony focused on a bill giving police officers authority to make stops in cities or towns bordering their own.  A handful of other bills proposed to raise the mandatory minimum sentences for drunk-driving offenders. 

The BBA co-sponsored S655, An Act to Protect the Citizens of the Commonwealth from Drunk Drivers, which provides straightforward clarifications to the current law.  In addition to our written testimony, Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe and a representative of the Massachusetts Bar Association both testified in favor of the bill.   O’Keefe offered especially persuasive testimony, quoting a recent Massachusetts Appeals Court decision that described the current state of handling cases under Massachusetts OUI laws as “akin to driving a car without windshield wipers on a dirt road on the side of a mountain at night during a blizzard.” 

Our bill is not new.  The BBA Council unanimously endorsed this bill in 2007, when it was first filed in the House of Representatives.  The bill has been re-filed every session since then.  It is easy to ignore a bill like S655.  It is not precipitated by any recent event and it generates little publicity, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t become law.  Furthermore, this bill does not offer any substantive changes to the law.  However, the current Massachusetts drunk driving laws are contained in Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 90, a mess of language that has been amended 69 times over the last 100 years in a piecemeal manner.  Its structure leaves judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys struggling to interpret how the statute should be applied to various cases.  Therefore, S655 provides a concise, clear, and much-needed restatement of the existing laws, breaking each portion down into understandable definitions and logical sections.  The BBA believes this bill will streamline the administration of justice, benefitting both interested parties and the general public alike. 

We at the BBA are proud to have fulfilled our mission, facilitating access to justice by providing legislative guidance on an issue on which we have credibility and expertise.  Now it’s in the legislature’s hands.  We hope they will heed our testimony and pass this law to improve the administration of justice in the Commonwealth.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Discourse and Disagreement on Guns

When lawyers talk about gun and firearm safety, they often use words and phrases like “reasonableness” “narrowly crafted,” “overbroad,” “civil rights,” “minimum mandatory sentences,” “loopholes,” and “privacy issues.”  Gun and firearm safety is neither easy nor straightforward. 

In an effort to make sense of it all, the Boston public hearing on gun control and firearm safety will be held on Friday, September 13th at 10 a.m.  The Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security has reserved Gardner Auditorium at the State House for the fourth hearing on this subject.  With 58 bills on the agenda covering the entire spectrum of issues connected to gun control laws, a large crowd is expected to turn out to testify or just listen that day.  We’ll be there too. 

The BBA is still uncertain if it will support or oppose any specific proposal.  Our own internal study group has been hard at work debating various aspects of gun control and firearm safety and its work continues as the public hearing approaches.  Our only conclusions thus far are that the BBA can add value to the debate by parsing the legal points from the political positions and the legislature expects to hear from us.

While it’s anything but simple, there are some areas where reasonable people can agree.   First, Massachusetts already has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country.  Even so, it is not clear whether any law could prevent a tragedy like the one at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut.  Second, Massachusetts gun laws need to be reformed because they are convoluted, complex, and difficult to understand, even for lawyers.  Massachusetts gun laws can be found in state statutes, case law, and even local ordinances and regulations.  Third, we need to figure out ways to keep guns away from criminals, juveniles, and those with mental health disqualifications.  Finally, any legislation needs to address public safety and privacy interests of individuals at the same time.       

Regardless of the legislature’s actions, personal firearm ownership and the ability to carry a concealed gun will remain a hotly debated topic.  Proponents of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms will continue to feel as strongly about their rights as their opponents do about the need for tougher gun laws.  Discourse and disagreement go hand-in-hand with gun control. 

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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A Tale of Two Hearings

In a study in contrasts, the Judiciary Committee and the Revenue Committee held public hearings this week on issues of importance to the BBA.  The Judiciary Committee held a record breaking 20-minute hearing earlier this week on court reform, a BBA priority for at least the past 20 years.  Judiciary hearings are known to be lengthy and frequently last late into the night — with bills taking many months to work their way out of the committee.  After this week’s relatively brief hearing, the chair promised to swiftly move the bill along.  In fact, it is expected to be taken up by the full House next week.

The court reform bill on the Judiciary Committee’s agenda would replace the Chief Justice for Administration and Management with a professional administrator who would handle non-judicial functions.  There would also be a new “chief justice of the Trial Court,” to oversee strictly judicial matters.  Described by many as an historic and radical reshaping of the court department, the bill calls for other reforms that would impose guidelines on letters of recommendation for job candidates throughout state government and would require applicants for certain positions to take a screening exam.

The Revenue Committee’s public hearing held today was an entirely different story.  On the agenda was a proposal to raise revenue in an effort to reduce budget cuts.  This bill was described by supporters as making the tax system more equitable.  They testified that lower income people would see their tax rates dip and higher income people would see their tax rates increase.

Also on the Revenue Committee’s agenda was H 2559, An Act Relative to Continuing the Tax Base Rule for Property Acquired from Decedents, or the so-called income tax “step-up” bill filed by Representative Alice Peisch on behalf of the BBA.  The step-up bill, a detailed but very important piece of legislation, addresses a substantial yet hidden Massachusetts tax for successors to decedents’ property resulting from the change in the federal basis rules for 2010.

Unlike the Judiciary’s hearing which was held in a typical hearing room with plenty of seats for those in attendance, the Revenue hearing was standing room only.  The auditorium was filled with concerned citizens from across the state.

A great big hat tip to the BBA members who stood in line for thirty minutes just to get through the doors of the state house only to find the auditorium jam packed!  Citizens who support raising taxes for the wealthy made their presence known by loudly rustling pieces of yellow paper in unison.  Even with our sponsor by our side, we waited for 3 hours before being asked to wait some more.  So what happens next now that the bill has been publicly heard and is officially in play?  We’ll meet with Chairman Jay Kaufman and the Revenue Committee staff and go over the details of the BBA’s step-up bill.  This will provide us with the benefit of an open dialogue, and we won’t have to restrict our testimony to 3 minutes.

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

BostonBar Association

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