Lawyers Journal

Key items still unresolved as legislative session comes to a close

As the formal portion of the legislative session winds down, two issues vital to the Massachusetts Bar Association remain unsettled at the Statehouse.

Budget

Adequate funding for the court system remains a top priority for the MBA. The MBA's recently released Crisis in Court Funding Task Force Report captures stories of some every day court users and how the funding crisis personally and drastically affects citizens.

Approximately 42,000 people use the court system every day, excluding court employees and jurors. From July 1, 2007, through May 10, 2010, the Trial Court lost 740 positions, a 9.7 percent decline in staffing.

Staffing reductions combined with other budget cuts implemented over the past two years have created backlogs and delays.

The House and Senate have now both passed their fiscal 2011 budgets and appointed a conference committee to work out the differences between the two documents. The conference committee budget cut the Trial Court accounts by $17.5 million from fiscal 2010 levels.

On June 30, Gov. Deval L. Patrick vetoed an additional $11.4 million from the Trial Court's budget, bringing total cuts from fiscal 2010 to $28.9 million. The Legislature will continue to meet in formal sessions throughout July and the MBA will press for overrides of the governor's vetoes.

Crime bill

The MBA has been an outspoken advocate on behalf of mandatory minimum reform for a number of years. The House passed legislation last month, which centers on reforms to the state's Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) laws. These reforms would provide greater accuracy, seal records earlier and provide greater clarity in these reports.

The Senate passed a broader version in November that, in addition to reforming CORI laws, would grant parole eligibility for certain nonviolent drug offenders and grant eligibility for work release for those serving House of Correction sentences.

The MBA is supportive of and advocating for the Senate version of the bill. Both bills are currently under consideration by a conference committee appointed by both branches to work out the differences between the two bills.

The Legislature will end its formal sitting on July 31, 2010. After July, the Legislature will continue to meet in informal sessions for the remainder of the year, where it is highly unlikely that sentencing reform or other substantive measures will be debated.

©2014 Massachusetts Bar Association