Tag Archives: Legislation

Statehouse Update

This week both Governor Patrick and Speaker DeLeo outlined their priorities for the upcoming year.  In his final State of the Commonwealth on Tuesday night, Governor Patrick emphasized investments in education, innovation, and infrastructure. 

The next day, Speaker DeLeo addressed the entire House of Representatives, listing an increase in minimum wage coupled with business-friendly reforms, stricter gun control laws, and a domestic violence bill as three of his top issues. 

As we focus on legislative and budget activities at the Statehouse it’s important to realize that although this legislative term may appear uneventful from the outside, it has been full of activity.  Even without high-profile debates on big-issue bills there’s a lot going on. 

Take for instance, the fact that there has been an unprecedented amount of turnover in elected officials and leadership positions.  Recently, long time House Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, Representative Eugene O’Flaherty, announced his resignation to become corporation counsel to Boston Mayor Martin Walsh.  This leaves the House chairmanship open.  Meanwhile, Senator William Brownsberger has only held the Senate chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee for a matter of weeks. 

Other leadership positions currently vacant include the House second assistant majority leader and the chairmanship of the House Ethics Committee.  These positions will all be filled in the coming weeks.

Legislatively, the statehouse is poised to take action on a number of laws.  Significant bills addressing welfare reform, compounding pharmacies, and veterans services remain in conference committees.  Just last week, a group of lawmakers held a press conference in support of a juvenile justice bill comply with the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling in Diatchenko.  The bill requires that juveniles convicted of first degree murder serve 35 years before parole eligibility. 

From a budget perspective – the Governor’s budget has been released and we now turn our attention to the House and Senate as they develop their budget numbers.  The House Ways & Means Budget will come first in early April, followed by House and Senate budgets in the following months.  A final budget will be ready by July 1st

All in all, every indication points to a very eventful next few months as staffing and leadership positions are filled and legislation and budget discussions come to the fore.     

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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BBA Sets Sights on Gun Control

As predicted in Issue Spot, among the thousands of bills filed at the beginning of the legislative session in January were a slew of bills pertaining to gun laws.  Governor Patrick filed House Bill 47, An Act to strengthen and enhance firearms laws in the Commonwealth

Governor Patrick’s bill proposes to do a number of things including bringing Massachusetts into compliance with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Improvement Amendments Act of 2007.  While not a complete summary of the proposed bill, the legislation as filed would increase penalties, create new crimes and reduce access to high-powered rounds of ammunition.  It also includes provisions to improve the tracking of weapons sales, limit the purchase of guns to one per month and prevent machine guns from being sold to anyone under 21. Governor Patrick’s bill contains other provisions, too, that aren’t necessarily directly connected to guns.  Those provisions include amendments to the “criminal enterprise” statute to target broader illegal activity and amendments to the state wiretap statute.

Representative David Linsky has also filed a wide-ranging bill, House Bill 3253, An Act to reduce gun violence and to protect the citizens of the Commonwealth.  Representative Linsky’s bill requires gun license applicants to disclose their mental health histories, prohibit assault weapons from being stored in homes, ban high-capacity ammunition magazines, and require gun owners to purchase liability insurance.

Both of these bills –and the other bills pertaining to weapons — have been assigned to the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security.  Among the more than 40 other bills that have been filed are bills covering areas such as regulations of gun storage, loopholes in the current law and support for the right to bear arms.  Public hearings have not yet been scheduled. 

Since the flurry of activity surrounding the initial filing of bills, the Legislature has opted for a more deliberative approach to the issue.  Speaker Robert Deleo recently announced his eight person task force charged with reviewing current Massachusetts gun laws.  Made up of law enforcement and experts in education and mental health, the task force will be chaired by Northeastern University Associate Dean Jack McDevitt.  Speaker DeLeo has put no time frame on the work of the legislative gun task force.  Instead, he has said he hopes the group will have an opportunity to thoroughly debate the issue and then make recommendations. 

At the BBA, President J.D. Smeallie has put together a group to monitor legislation related to gun control at the State House. The group will review and monitor these bills as they move through the legislative process and decide what, if any, role the BBA should play.  Randy Gioia, Deputy Chief Council at the Committee for Public Counsel Services and former BBA Council member will chair the study group and members are now being recruited. 

The BBA study group will also be closely watching HB47. The initial meeting of the group will take place this month.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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Hearing the Call for Alimony Reform

“Fair,” “Predictable,” “Balanced,” and “Much Anticipated” were the words used to describe An Act to Reform and Improve Alimony, at yesterday’s Judiciary Committee hearing in standing room only Gardner Auditorium. For the BBA, which has worked long and hard on this issue, it was a day that underscored the difference practicing attorneys can make when they volunteer their time to help draft fair and impartial legislation.

Senator Candaras and Representative Fernandes could not have been more gracious in their praise of those lawyers who endured fourteen months of marathon sessions in an effort to craft an impartial and fair law.  The BBA’s Family Law Section Co-Chair, Kelly Leighton, was the BBA’s liaison to the 14-person Legislative Alimony Task Force that worked for months behind closed doors on this legislation.

Through their public testimony, members of the Task Force described the process and what it would mean to divorcing parties inMassachusetts.  And we learned what happened in those private meetings yesterday.  Kelly Leighton testified that “the only thing we could agree on at the start of the process was that the law needed to be changed.”  It was emphasized that nobody got everything they sought and everyone gave up something they wanted.

The Task Force fittingly gave credit to the leadership of both Senator Candaras and Representative Fernandes.  They assembled representatives from groups often at odds on this issue and managed to get them to work towards a simple goal – making the Massachusettsalimony law better.  Also at the table at those meetings was Chief Justice Paula Carey of the Probate and Family Court.  Her guidance was critical to the process.  She was generous with her time and the Task Force was careful to not recommend anything that would adversely impact the Probate & Family Court.

The Task Force didn’t just spin their wheels…they did real work.  They incorporated divergent views and different perspectives to produce what has been heralded as a landmark statute that will modernize the laws guiding alimony payments and grant judges more discretion in their decisions.

Senator Candaras interpreted the participation of the individuals on the Task Force as an opportunity to serve.  She described it as a great experience and recognized the participants for generously donating hundreds of hour of professional time.  Now the Legislature must pass this bill.   With its broad support there’s buzz that it could happen this spring.

Yesterday’s hearing also focused on other issues near and dear to the BBA – including  the repeal of the adopted children statute (H 2262), the Massachusetts Uniform Trust Code (H 2261 and S 688) and technical corrections to the Massachusetts Probate Code (S 733).  I was impressed with the attention the members of the Judiciary Committee gave to each person who was called to testify and I was especially impressed with our own members who sat for hours listening to others testify on the various issues on yesterday’s agenda.  Our last bill to be heard, the technical corrections to the probate code, was called at 6:30 p.m. – five and a half hours after the hearing started.

Advocacy is a long process involving many talented volunteers, thoughtful legislators and lengthy hearings.  This is what defines life in a constitutional democracy.

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

BostonBar Association

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BBA Comments to the Courts

In the spirit of celebrating the accomplishments of the program year that will soon draw to a close (Sept. 1 – Aug. 31), the BBA would like to highlight the work of its members in making an impact on the SJC rulemaking process.  The BBA regularly comments on proposed amendments and rules changes, creates task forces to study and help solve critical issues of interest to the Commonwealth, and also articulates its public policy positions through the filing of amicus briefs.

In this past program year, our membership has actively addressed several important issues in the Commonwealth’s courts. 

Rule 4:03

Periodic Assessment of Attorneys

In December of 2008, the BBA’s Delivery of Legal Services Section helped garner the BBA’s support of the Access to Justice Commission’s proposal to the Supreme Judicial Court that it amend Rule 4:03 “Periodic Assessment of Attorneys” by adding to the annual registration fee a contribution of $50 to support civil legal services.  The contribution would be voluntary and the attorney registrant could opt-out of the contribution.  This Spring the SJC agreed and approved the Access to Justice Commission’s proposal to include an optional registration fee.  In fact the court increased the contribution amount to $51

The BBA has always been and will continue to be a strong advocate for ensuring that everyone has equal access to justice, and funding for civil legal services is a key component to making this a reality. 

Look for this change in your annual registration form starting September 1, 2010.

Rule 3:01 and New Rule VI of the Board of Bar Examiners

Foreign Attorney Admission

The BBA’s diverse membership includes many lawyers whose educational and professional backgrounds span the globe.  In 2006, the BBA convened The Study Group of Foreign Attorney Admission to examine Massachusetts’ admission requirements for foreign-trained attorneys.  After careful study, this Group developed recommendations reflecting proposed guidance derived from two Supreme Judicial Court cases, Wei Jia v. Board of Bar Examiners (1998) and Osakwe v. Board of Bar Examiners (2006).  The BBA believes that the key criteria for eligibility to take the Massachusetts bar exam should be legal education requirements, including both general education in common law and particular education in American law.

The SJC invited comments on the changes and the BBA, with help from its International Law Section, submitted comments requesting that Rule 3:01 and New Rule VI provide greater clarity and transparency in the rules, and better consistency by the Board of Bar Examiners in its application of them.  Happily the SJC approved the amendments to both rules.  These changes became effective July 1, 2010.

Standing Order 1:09

Sealing of Criminal Cases

Last year, the BBA voted to support a proposed interdepartmental order to Chief Justice Charles Johnson of the Boston Municipal Court.  The proposal came from one of our oldest partners, Greater Boston Legal Services.  The interdepartmental order would permit individuals to seek in one court the sealing of criminal cases that have been disposed of in other courts.  The previous process for sealing a criminal record could be cumbersome when an individual had several cases in different divisions of the trial court.  Not only did an individual need to travel to each court, but because the previous statute required two hearings before any individual motion to seal was blocked, it was necessary to travel to each court twice.

Chief Justice Johnson agreed to implement this innovative approach to case management.  He signed Standing Order 1:09 in May 2009 as a one-year pilot project.  This past winter, at the urging of our Delivery of Legal Services Section, the BBA requested that the standing order be extended for another year.  Chief Justice Johnson agreed and extended the order through May 14, 2011.

– Kathleen M. Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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Homestead Reform Legislation Is Way Overdue

It seems so easy — you buy a home, pay $35 and file a “Declaration of Homestead” to protect it from creditors up to the amounts set by law.  But it’s not so simple and it’s actually confusing.  While it seems like a no-brainer for any homeowner in Massachusetts, too many people fail to take advantage of this important benefit.

A quick survey of my friends revealed that some had never heard of a homestead declaration, and those that did had only a vague understanding of this rudimentary consumer protection tool.  The reason being is that the current law, Chapter 188 §§ 1-10 is ambiguous and unclear at best.

For several years now, the BBA has been working – along with the MBA and REBA – to update the Massachusetts Homestead Exemption.  This effort intensified during the BBA presidency of the late M. Ellen Carpenter, a bankruptcy lawyer, and is more important now than ever before.

Quite simply, a declaration of homestead is protection for the equity in your residence from most creditors up to $500,000 in the event you are sued.  The Homestead bill that is currently being considered by the legislature, S 2406, will modernize and clarify the existing law.  More importantly it will eliminate the requirement that an actual filing be necessary to ensure that a homeowner is protected.

If Homestead reform legislation is enacted, this important protection would be automatic — up to $125,000 for every Massachusetts homeowner. If you’ve filed a Declaration of Homestead that protection would go up to $500,000.

BBA leaders have testified on behalf of homestead legislation reform at numerous public hearings.  We continue to press our case with staff and legislators.  When legislation to update the homestead statute was taken up in the Senate chamber in late April, it was missing the essential automatic protection provision.  Senator Cynthia Creem filed an amendment to restore the automatic provision and the bill was engrossed.  It is now in House Ways and Means.

Looking ahead towards the last weeks of formal sessions, the legislature is still working on gambling, economic development, sentencing reform, and the state budget. The BBA will continue to persist in its advocacy efforts.

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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Trusts, Estates, Adopted Children, and Unintended Consequences

We’ve all had experiences where intentions and results are not always the same thing.  Assuming good faith, laws sometimes have unintended consequences.

Last year, legislation dealing with adopted children and trust instruments was passed that became known as Chapter 524 of the Acts of 2008. At the Boston Bar Association, warning bells went off among our Trusts and Estates Section.

A bit of background. . . What once seemed like a benign piece of narrowly written legislation had been filed numerous times over the years – without garnering much attention.  Public hearings were held and the bill would sometimes make its way out of committee or be put into a study order for further review.

During the last legislative session, this same bill finally found its way to a different committee whose jurisdiction seemingly had nothing to do with trusts and estates law. Following a public hearing, this bill received a favorable report from the committee.  The bill made its way through the process and eventually got signed into law by the Governor.

This sounds fine, but almost 10 months after the public hearing and the committee’s action, the bill was amended to include a group of people I’d find it hard to believe were contemplated by the original bill.

Much to the dismay of trusts and estates practioners, the new law actually changed the clearly understood rule of construction that applied to terms like “child,” “grandchild” and “issue” in wills, trusts and similar instruments executed before August 26, 1958.  (In 1958, the Legislature modernized our law to presume that adopted persons are included in these terms unless the instrument plainly states otherwise, and made the law applicable only to instruments executed after its effective date.)

Caught by surprise, the trusts and estates bar and banks and other professional trustees were left scrambling to review all pre-1958 trusts to determine which ones were affected by this sweeping change.

After analyzing the substance and implications of Chapter 524, the BBA and others began to work on a repeal of this new law.  The best we could do in the short term was secure a postponement of its implementation until July 1, 2010.  While this was a small victory, the process has begun again.

The BBA and others are still working on this issue. Amendment 367, filed in the House budget, will not only repeal chapter 524 but also create a retroactive, blanket immunity for trustees who either acted (or failed to act) in relation to it.

In the midst of a week of potentially tough votes, legislators are contemplating almost 870 amendments dealing with spending, revenue and reform.  Let’s hope that Amendment 367 will be adopted.

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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