Tag Archives: judiciary committee

Statehouse Update

It’s been quite a busy week at the Statehouse and we’ve been there through it all – committee hearings, legislation, and the release of the House Ways & Means budget.  The Judiciary Committee resumed its work with back-to-back meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday covering probate issues — domestic relations and custody on day 1 and trusts and estates issues on day 2.  Despite lacking a House chair, the hearings were aptly run by Senator William Brownsberger and House Vice Chair Christopher M. Markey.  Representatives from the BBA testified at both meetings in front of packed hearing rooms. 

ImageAt the April 8th hearing, the Family Law Section had a number of bills of interest and Brad Bedingfield spoke on H1
540
, a bill to amend the adopted children’s law.  The change is related to a case for which the BBA filed an amicus brief, Rachel A. Bird Anderson v. BNY Mellon, N.A., et al.  This case concerned whether adopted children had the same rights as biological children to inheritance under wills written before 1958.  The brief urged the SJC to clarify the applicable estate planning laws after a dispute arose due to the retroactive application of amendments to a 1958 law.  The court held that 1958 law applied, avoiding radical change and affirming practitioners’ expectations.  Bedingfield testified in support of the bill, which further clarifies applicability of the later adopted amendments.  Legislative action would help to avoid confusion and possible litigation related to the Bird decision. 

On the April 9th, a panel led by BBA Council member Deborah J. Manus testified on S705, a bill which would revise the current spousal elective share law.  She noted that current law can produce strange and seemingly random outcomes that are often unfair.  For example, Manus noted the new bill would help avoid gamesmanship such as ordering monetary transfers from one’s deathbed in order to disinherit a spouse.  The bill, which is presented after 8 years of study by the BBA, MBA, and WBA, proposes to bring this portion of the law in line with the Uniform Probate Code.  Most of Massachusetts and other states’ probate laws are already aligned with these uniform laws.   

Image We will continue to track these bills as they move through the legislative process. 

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Legislative Update: Informal Session and the Judiciary Committee

Wednesday, November 20th, marked the end of formal sessions for the first half of the two-year 2013-2014 legislative session.  The Legislature will meet in informal session through December, meaning it will only consider non-controversial matters.  Formal legislative sessions will begin again in January.  Legislative rules provide that any matter pending before the House and Senate carries over into the second annual session.   That means any bill currently pending will continue to be an active bill through 2014. 

When bills are filed at the beginning of the session they are docketed by the respective Clerks’ offices and assigned to a committee according to subject matter.  Committee staff reviews the bills and develops a public hearing schedule.  In the case of the Judiciary Committee, this requires agreeing to hearing topics and categorizing bills in a meaningful and efficient manner. 

The Judiciary Committee is arguably the busiest non-budgetary committee as far as the number of legislative proposals that get assigned to it – 805 since January 2013.  Hearings are known to last well past midnight on some occasions.  Over the last eight months, the Judiciary Committee held seven public hearings covering the following categories of bills:

 

  1.  Constitutional issues
  2. Sex offender bills and bills that would change any statute of limitation
  3. Real estate and property issues
  4. Criminal bills, privacy and restraining orders  
  5. Motor vehicles and laws relative to operating under the influence
  6. Torts
  7. Court Administration

We won’t hear about any upcoming Judiciary hearings for some time.  In addition to the start of informal session, the current Senate Chair of the Judiciary Committee is simultaneously running for Congress.  With less than three weeks to go before that special election, time will tell when the Judiciary Committee hearings will resume after the new year. 

Right now, it’s unclear what will become of these bills, but we’re watching as always.  Stay tuned to find out what happens next.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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A Glimpse Into the Judiciary Committee’s Agenda

As we mentioned in last week’s blog post, almost all of the BBA’s bills end up in the Judiciary Committee.  That’s because the Judiciary Committee historically considers all bills relating to crimes, sentencing, the judiciary, judicial salaries, parole, and other corrections issues.  The Judiciary Committee also gets a handful of proposals to change the Constitution each session.

This session, there are three new House appointees to the Judiciary Committee:  Representative Bruce Ayers, freshman Representative Claire Cronin, and Representative Jeffrey Roy.  The new senators on the Judiciary Committee include the Chairwoman Katherine Clark and Senator Will Brownsberger.  Of the seventeen members of the Judiciary Committee, nine are lawyers.  Other members of the committee include a small business owner, a community activist and a funeral director.

With 771 bills already assigned to the Judiciary Committee there will probably be between fourteen and sixteen public hearings during the two-year session that started in January.  To put this number in perspective, the committee with the next largest number of bills currently before it, the Joint Committee on Public Service, currently has 390 bills.  The Joint Committee on Public Health currently has 349.

One of the first public hearings the Judiciary Committee will schedule will pertain to matters relating to amending the Constitution.  The joint rules of the House and Senate mandate specific time frames for amending the constitution. Any such amendment filed by April 24, 2013 must receive the Judiciary Committee’s recommendation that same day…

Pending in the Judiciary Committee this session. . .

Public accommodations protections for transgender individuals – Building upon the success of last year’s transgender equality law there is a proposal before the Judiciary Committee that would grant transgender individuals access to sex segregated public facilities based on their own gender-identity. .

Changes to the wiretap statute- Both Judiciary Committee Chairs have co-sponsored the bill, but that does not mean this proposal won’t be without controversy or complication.  Changing the wiretap statute has long been a priority of the Attorney General’s Office and other law enforcement officials.  Those in support of the bill refer to it as an “update.”  Those that don’t necessarily endorse the bill see it as a “broad expansion.”  The list of crimes that will ultimately be included in the wiretap statute will constitute the crux of the debate.

Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act- This uniform law has been adopted in all 49 states and its purpose is to provide a remedy for conflicts that occur under the current Massachusetts child custody jurisdiction law.  Under the UCCJEA, once a state has exercised jurisdiction over custody, that state has exclusive jurisdiction over potential changes in the judgment or order — providing a parent, the child, or someone acting as a parent remains in the original state.

Not pending in the Judiciary Committee this session. . .

Gun control bills – While the House referred a gun control bill to the Judiciary Committee, the Senate referred the same bill to the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security.  In the end, the House concurred with the Senate. So it looks like the bills dealing with changes to our gun laws will not be handled by the Judiciary Committee.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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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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