working on
 parole reform

Issue December 2011 By Lee Constantine

Gov. Deval Patrick signed an equal rights bill on Nov. 23 that protects transgender people from housing, education, employment and credit discrimination. It also provides additional civil rights and protection from hate crimes.

Also, before adjourning the formal portion of its session for the year, the Legislature acted on issues of importance to the bar, including parole eligibility for repeat violent offenders. Although formal sessions have concluded, the Legislature will continue to meet informally before starting formal sessions again in January. All matters pending at the end of the calendar year will carry over into the new calendar year.

New transgender 
rights law

Patrick signed H.3810, "An Act Relative to Gender Identity," the day before Thanksgiving, making Massachusetts the 16th state to treat transgender individuals as a protected class.

"No individual should face discrimination because of who they are," he said in a press release. "This legislation gives Massachusetts the necessary tools to stop hate crimes against transgender people and to treat others fairly. I am proud to sign it."

Approximately 33,000 transgender individuals live in Massachusetts, according to the governor's office.

The new law will also increase the state's ability to prosecute hate crimes against transgender people, "a community that has historically experienced disproportionate levels of harassment and violence," Patrick's office said.

The MBA House of Delegates voted to support the legislation in March 2007 and has advocated for its passage since then. "This law is necessary because it makes those protections explicit, uniform and visible to businesses, schools, landlords and the general public," said MBA President Richard P. Campbell.

Habitual offender legislation

The House and Senate both passed legislation eliminating parole eligibility 
for repeat violent offenders. However, while the House focused on habitual offenders, the Senate measure went further and included some mandatory minimum and school zone changes.

The Senate bill reduces, but does not eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing laws for some drug offenses. The reduced sentences would not apply to those currently serving mandatory minimums. The MBA's 2009 Drug Policy Task Force Report documents not only the unsustainable increases in prison and jail populations - in large part driven by the mandatory drug sentencing statutes - but also the need for comprehensive education, treatment, rehabilitation and parole eligibility reforms. The Senate bill also reduces the school zone from 1,000 feet to 500 feet, but still carries mandatory minimum penalties.

The MBA supports the redrawing of the school zones to 100 feet. School zones disproportionately affect those in urban communities and have had no demonstrable effects on prevention.

The two bills now go to a conference committee to reconcile the differences. Senate President Therese Murray appointed Senators Cynthia Creem (D-Newton), Steven Baddour (D-Methuen) and Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) to the conference committee. The House has not yet named conferees. A conference committee compromise is not likely until the new year.

Uniform Trust Code

The Legislature adjourned before passing two bills of interest to the probate bar. Both the Uniform Trust Code and the Uniform Probate Code Technical Corrections remain on the move, but 
were not enacted before formal sessions concluded. The MBA will continue to push for passage of both bills as the effective date of the Uniform Probate Code is Jan. 2, 2012