Legislative Update: conference committees at work

Issue July 2012 By Lee Ann Constantine

As summer begins, the pace on Beacon Hill continues to be governed by a number of high profile conference committees. Conference committees are appointed to forge compromise after the House and Senate pass different versions of the same bill. At press time, the committee charged with brokering a deal on the Fiscal Year 2013 State Budget completed its work, while committees continue to work towards compromise on legislation on habitual offenders, foreclosure and health care reform.


On June 28, 2012 the House and Senate voted to approve the fiscal year 2013 state budget, which Governor Deval L. Patrick has 10 days to review. The budget provides $560.9 million in funding for the Trial Court. Additionally, the Trial Court was granted transferability giving the Court Administrator flexibility needed to manage the trial courts business and administrative operations. Additionally, the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation received $12 million for fiscal year 2013.


Both the House and Senate took up habitual offender legislation late last year. While the Senate version included crime reforms, such as a reduction in the school zones from 1,000 feet to 500 feet, the House version passes solely habitual offender language.


Two versions of foreclosure legislation were recently passed by the House and Senate. The Senate version contains a significant portion of the MBA's proposal. The MBA continues to meet and educate legislative leaders on the benefits of the MBA's mandatory mediation proposal. Recent meetings were held with House Chairman Michael Costello and Senate Chairman Anthony Petrucelli to push the MBA proposal.


Since Patrick filed his health care reform legislation a year and a half ago, the MBA has been involved in the debate. With a vested interest in the medical malpractice portions of the bill, the MBA has met with other interested parties, such as the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys and the Massachusetts Medical Society. We have had numerous meetings with Legislative leadership in both branches. The meetings with MATA and MMS resulted in a historic compromise on language on physician apologies that was included in both bills. While each branch included the apology language, they also included harmful language on expert witnesses and the interest rate on judgments. The MBA's legislative efforts were successful in getting the expert witness language removed from both versions of the bill and the interest rate language from the Senate bill. MBA lobbying efforts remain focused on removing interest rate language while the bill is in Conference Committee.

The full formal portion of the legislative session ends on July 31. Both branches will continue to meet informally for the remainder of the year, however it takes just one vote in an informal session to stop a matter from progressing. n