New session, new leadership

Issue February 2015 By Lee Ann Constantine

The New Year began with a flurry of activity on Beacon Hill. On Jan. 7, the Senate elected Sen. Stanley C. Rosenberg (D-Amherst) as its new president, while the House of Representatives re-elected Rep. Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop) as the speaker of the house. On Jan. 8, Charles D. Baker was sworn in as governor of the commonwealth of Massachusetts. By the legislative filing deadline on Jan. 16, a total of 5,333 bills had been filed for consideration during this session.

Although only a fraction of those bills will become law, the joint standing committees appointed by House and Senate leaders are tasked with holding public hearings on all of those bills. The Judiciary Committee is most certainly one of the busiest committees and deals with the vast majority of bills impacting the practice of law and access to justice. Last session the Judiciary Committee processed around 800 bills, including last year's successful passage of voir dire and the Uniform Adult Guardianship Protection Procedures Jurisdiction Act.

Among the issues sure to surface before the Judiciary Committee this session is compensation increases for criminal justice attorneys, which have long been supported by the Massachusetts Bar Association, most recently in the report "Doing Right by Those Who Labor for Justice." A commission appointed by former Gov. Deval L. Patrick following the MBA's report, also recommended increases. MBA President Marsha Kazarosian served on that commission.

Mandatory minimum sentences are sure to be on the radar this session. Baker has previously indicated his support for the repeal of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. Rosenberg has discussed the need to provide treatment over incarceration for substance and mental health problems opening the door for discussion of the repeal of mandatory minimums, which is supported by the MBA.

Sen. William Brownsberger (D-Belmont) was reappointed by Rosenberg to helm the Judiciary Committee on the Senate side. This will be Brownsberger's first full session as chair. He was appointed last spring when then-Chairwoman Katherine Clark was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

At press time, the House had not appointed a chair. Following longtime Chairman Eugene L. O'Flaherty's move to the administration of Mayor Martin J. Walsh, where he serves as corporation counsel, the House side had been led by Vice Chairman Christopher Markey (D-Dartmouth).

Over the coming months the Judiciary Committee, as well as the other joint standing committees, will begin holding public hearings on the over 5,000 bills currently pending. The Legislature operates in a biennial session. Formal sessions for the first part of the session will conclude on Nov. 19, 2015. Everything pending at that time will carry over to the next year, with formal sessions concluding for the second part of the session on July 1, 2016.