Tag Archives: Speaker of the House

End of Session Rush

July 31st marks the end of formal sessions for the second half of the two-year 2013-2014 legislative session.  With only 56 days left, the Legislature will continue to meet in informal session through December.  This generally means that the legislature will only consider non-controversial matters until the next two-year legislative session begins again in January 2015. 

There’s a lot of work to be done in the next eight weeks – and state budget conferees met for the first time on Tuesday.  In addition to the two Chairs of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, the other members of the conference committee are Representatives Kulik and deMacedo and Senators Flanagan and Ross.  This group is charged with devising a consensus fiscal 2015 budget based on the previously approved House and Senate budgets.  One issue before the conference committee is funding for the MLAC line item.  The House recommended $15 million and the Senate recommended $14 million.  We hope that the conferees will decide to hold onto the House recommended appropriation of $15 million.  The final recommendations of the conference committee are not subject to amendments when presented to the House and Senate for final approval. 

While the conference committees work, the legislative committees –including the Joint Committee on the Judiciary – are reviewing the hundreds of bills that are still active before them.  In the upcoming weeks we hope to see some movement on bills that we have been working on all session.   

Governor’s Council Update

Last week was the second day of Justice Ralph Gants’s Governor’s Council hearing on his nomination for Chief Justice of the SJC.  This provided Justice Gants an opportunity to directly address the Governor’s Councilors.  He began with a presentation, talking about his family (the above video starts about a minute into his speech, as he discusses his mother), his love of baseball, his work on access to justice issues, and his growth as an individual and jurist.  He broke his judicial philosophy down to the following three points:

  • It is important to look at the language of the statute along with the legislative history and its context in order to fulfill legislators’ wishes.
  • The Constitution is a “living, breathing” document that remains relevant with modern interpretations.
  • Society needs clear lines in administering law in the real world and the assurance of actual justice, not just the illusion of justice.

Questions from the Governor’s Councilors took the rest of the day.  Topics ranged from the specifics of court administration to exploring the need for oversight of the Chief Justice of the SJC, the Chief Justice’s role as a lobbyist for the Courts, and Gants’s philosophical opinions on the death penalty, gay marriage, abortion, the citizen petition process, and drug addiction.

This week was the third day of his confirmation hearing before the Governor’s Council.  Justice Gants was asked about recent SJC decisions on juvenile life without parole as well as his position on privacy issues that might be raised in gun reform legislation. 

Speaker’s Gun Control Bill

Speaker Robert DeLeo’s gun violence prevention legislation, House Bill 4121, was the subject of a public hearing this week and is expected to be taken up by the full House of Representatives as early as next week.  Senate President Therese Murray has also said publicly that the Senate will debate gun reform before the session ends. 

The BBA’s Gun Control Working Group also conducted a lengthy study on gun reform.  The BBA’s group met between April and July 2013, and reviewed all of the then-filed gun control legislation, roughly 60 bills.  The BBA’s Working Group was comprised of attorneys with diverse backgrounds including gun owners, civil libertarians, a prosecutor, criminal defense attorneys, a law professor, and health law experts.  The Working Group came up with a set of principles designed be a lens through which any new gun law should be considered.    

We will continue to monitor the gun control bill as it goes through the legislative process and the nomination process for the new SJC chief justice.  Justice Gants’s nomination could come up for a vote as early as June 11.   

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Having an Impact 2: Carrying on the Themes of the BBA’s Leadership Retreat

It’s been six months since the BBA’s Leadership Retreat, and many of the themes still resonate.  We can’t emphasize enough the importance of member involvement in our year-round commitment to advocacy on behalf of the entire justice system. 

January’s Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid was a good opportunity for our members to make a connection with elected officials — but that one-day event was only the start.  Since then, we’ve sat down with the Governor’s Chief Legal Counsel Kate Cook and Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo to make our pitch for funding for civil legal aid, as well as the other parts of the justice system.  We will continue to reach out to leaders in all branches of government.

We can always do more.  Recently, the BBA’s Criminal Law Steering Committee’s Court Funding Exploration Subcommittee completed its Initial Report and Preliminary Recommendations, which was intended as a follow up to our fall retreat.  The Report reflects the discussions and independent research of three members of the Criminal Law Section – Michael Avitzur, Georgia Critsley, and Lisa Hewitt.  The Subcommittee made the following four recommendations:

  • Reinstituting the BBA’s “Courthouse Road Show” – This concept is based on a prior BBA initiative in which BBA leadership invited their own legislators to tour the courthouse in their own district.  This was an opportunity to meet Trial Court staff directly and to hear about the effects of the court budget and also the positive changes that have recently been implemented to meet funding challenges.  The BBA hopes to carry out this new iteration across the state.
  • BBA Budget Hearing Panel – The Subcommittee recommends that the BBA testify in support of more funding for the trial court at a public Joint Ways and Means Committee regional hearing.  Great idea, and one we haven’t thought of before.  We like this idea so much that we want to take it a step further.  We are in the process of setting up meetings for BBA leadership with the Chairs of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees.
  • Anecdotal Evidence Collection – To bolster our arguments at these meetings, the Report recommends that the Criminal Law Steering Committee initiate the collection of anecdotes from its own members and their colleagues to give legislators a personal take on those directly affected by the Trial Court’s budget.  While the budget process necessarily entails a focus on numbers, it is important to not lose the human element – funding numbers affect people, and that is what these stories will help show.
  • Statehouse Budget 101 – Advocating for the Trial Court and its budget requires knowing how the budget works and how public entities are funded.  While attorneys practice in the courts, they are not necessarily experts in its funding structure or the state’s budget process.  Thus, the Subcommittee recommends that the Steering Committee plan an event to educate the BBA membership on the budget process and legislative cycle timelines, as well as a primer on grassroots legislative advocacy strategies.  This will also be a first, and we look forward to this program.

Stay tuned to hear more about the outcomes from the suggestions in this Report and to find out how you can get involved in advocating for the judiciary.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Continuing the Conversation: The Equal Justice Coalition’s Legislative Recognition Reception

As we’ve said before, Walk to the Hill is only the start of civil legal aid advocacy in Massachusetts, the kick-off event to a year-round commitment to advocacy.  On January 30, 2014, the Massachusetts legal community made a solid showing at the statehouse.  Leaders of the courts, the bar, and a civil legal aid client all spoke to nearly 600 lawyers gathered in the Great Hall of the Statehouse.  Hundreds visited their elected officials to speak about the importance of civil legal aid funding and ask for an increase in MLAC funding.

A month later we returned to the Statehouse to say thank you, with the Equal Justice Coalition’s Legislative Recognition Reception.  The event honored current and former legislators for their outstanding support of access to justice for low-income Massachusetts residents with critical civil legal problems.  The awards were as follows:

Beacon of Justice:

Speaker of the House Robert A. DeLeo

Representative Brian Dempsey, Chair, House Committee on Ways & Means

Champion of Justice:

Senator Stephen Brewer, Chair, Senate Committee on Ways & Means

Senate President Therese Murray

Eugene O’Flaherty, Corporation Counsel for the City of Boston and former House Chair, Joint Committee on the Judiciary

Congresswoman Katherine Clark, former Senate Chair, Joint Committee on the Judiciary

Supporters of Justice:

All 68 House and Senate co-sponsors of the MLAC FY14 budget amendment

This was a great opportunity to continue the discussion on civil legal aid funding.  It highlighted the importance of frequent and ongoing advocacy as former state officials Eugene O’Flaherty and U.S. Representative Katherine Clark were honored with as “Champions of Justice,” a lifetime achievement award for their commitment to supporting civil legal aid.  With these two familiar faces no longer working inside the Statehouse for civil legal aid, we need to work even harder to make sure that other legislators take up this noble cause.

We hope that you will continue to do your part.  Remind your State Senator and Representative that civil legal aid is important and increased funding is necessary.  Let them know that it matters to their constituents.  Finally, be a resource – tell them the impact it has on your life and work.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
Comments are disabled for this blog. To submit your comments please e-mail  issuespot@bostonbar.org

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