The 187th General Court was sworn in on Jan. 5, including an
unusually large group of 47 freshman legislators.
The coming months will indicate how the turnover of nearly
one-quarter of the Legislature will impact the composition of
legislative committees. These committees are charged with reviewing
the approximately 6,000 bills that will be filed during the 2011-12
session. It is likely that a significant amount of committees will
be infused with new blood, which could mean a new start for
legislation that has languished for years.
This is the first year of the biennial session. They will meet
formally throughout 2011 and will wrap up in November. The
Legislature will begin meeting formally again in January of 2012
with all bills being carried over from 2011. The formal portion of
the legislative session will end on July 31, 2012.
With a budget gap estimated at $1.5-$2 billion, the state budget
will remain atop the legislative priority list. On Jan. 26, Gov.
Deval Patrick released his budget, which calls for a 2 percent
reduction in funding for an already strained judiciary.
Additionally, Patrick's budget recommends moving the Probation
Department and the Parole Board under the auspices of the executive
branch and merging them into one agency.
The governor also seeks control over the Committee for Public
Counsel Services and wishes to move them within the purview of the
executive branch. In a widely criticized move, he recommends the
elimination of private bar advocates in favor of hiring 1,000 new
public counsel lawyers within the agency.
The governor also filed a supplemental budget for fiscal 2011.
Citing the SJC's Court Reform Study, i.e. "The Monan Committee
Report," the Patrick proposes installing "a professional chief
administrator" to helm the Trial Court, effectively ending the
tenure of Chief Justice for Administration and Management Robert A.
Mulligan. The chief administrator would be appointed by the Supreme
Judicial Court for a term of five years. The supplemental budget
now awaits action by the Legislature.
Two of the biggest news stories continue to be reform of the
Probation Department and the Parole Board.
Following the report of Supreme Judicial Court-appointed
independent counsel Paul Ware, which found "pervasive" patronage
and hiring practices within the state's Probation Department, state
officials continue to wrestle with ways to reform the
There are five different investigative authorities and two
appointed commissions continuing to probe hiring practices within
the department. The results of those investigations will
undoubtedly result in proposed legislative changes this spring in
to addition to the current proposal by the governor.
The Patrick administration launched an internal review of the
Parole Board following the fatal shooting of Woburn Police Officer
John Maguire by violent offender Dominic Cinelli, who was granted
parole in 2008. That review resulted in the resignation of the five
members of the parole board who voted in favor of Cinelli's
release, and the Parole Board's executive director.
The review also resulted in the governor filing a "three strikes
and you're out" law. If passed, this legislation would require
habitual offenders to serve the maximum penalty on a third
conviction from a list of "serious" crimes.
In one of the final acts of the 2009-10 legislative session, the
effective date for the Uniform Probate Code was pushed to Jan. 2,
2012. The MBA is filing legislation making technical corrections to
The Legislature has tackled the emotionally packed issue of
alimony awards. Responding to calls from an outraged public
frustrated with the widely held perception that an award of alimony
is tantamount to a life sentence of payments, the Legislature
created a working group to explore the complex issue.
In October of 2009, the chairs of the Legislature's Joint
Committee on the Judiciary appointed a task force to review the
various alimony bills pending before the committee. The task force
included legislators, Probate and Family Court Chief Justice Paula
M. Carey and representatives of: Massachusetts Alimony Reform, the
Massachusetts Bar Association, the Women's Bar Association, the
Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial
Attorneys and the Boston Bar Association. The task force drafted
legislation that will be considered during this legislative
After 14 months, and hundreds of hours conducting meetings,
research and writing, the task force filed legislation in January
to reform alimony in Massachusetts. Through this comprehensive
legislation, the task force addresses numerous issues, and
establishes parity and clarity regarding alimony in
In his January inauguration address, Patrick indicated his
desire to push for reform in the area of medical malpractice. At
this time, he has not indicated how he wishes to achieve