On Beacon Hill: Around the turn they come

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — Horse racing in Massachusetts has been on the decline for many years now, but horse trading is alive and well on Beacon Hill.

The Legislature came down the homestretch last week with blinders on, looking to finish what it could before the holiday recess, while Gov. Charlie Baker had his eye on next year – which happens to be his re-election year – as he filed new legislation and took executive action to ramp up the fight against opioid addiction.

House and Senate lawmakers were too preoccupied with their own business to get too deep into the opioid debate, but it was never far from mind as criminal justice reform took center stage in the House.

House leaders set aside two days to debate the justice bill prepared by state Reps. Claire Cronin, D-Brockton, and Jeffrey Sanchez, D-Jamaica Plain, but Monday’s first day featured more idling than engine revving as trade-offs were being hashed out for hours behind the closed doors of the speaker’s office.

“It’s not a pretty process,” House Majority Leader Ron Mariano, D-Quincy, mused outside the House chamber.

Pretty or not, the bill got done, and justice reform advocates were pleasantly surprised after months of hand-wringing and worrying that the House would try narrow the focus of the legislation and only tip-toe into the waters of the some of the more controversial topics.

The final bill does away with mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes, restricts the use of solitary confinement, allows for the expungement of juvenile records, and makes other reforms to bail and felony larceny statutes. Progressives may not have gotten everything they wanted, but felt listened to and believe there’s always a chance to make further gains as negotiations begin with the Senate.

Hardline crime-and-punishment types were also left wanting after a passionate debate over Gov. Baker’s proposal to make drug dealers whose products lead to death eligible for a sentence of life in prison.

Republicans and Democrats argued that a strong message needed to be sent to those peddling death on the streets, but Reps. David Linsky, D-Natick, and Chris Markey, D-Dartmouth, two former prosecutors speaking for the side that prevailed, said even their shared disgust with those enabling addiction couldn’t convince them that such a punishment would pass legal muster.

As the debate was going on in the House, Baker called a press conference to roll out the next phase of his administration’s fight against opioid abuse and addiction.

With proposed law changes and executive actions designed to improve access to treatment and educate young people on the dangers of opioids, Baker said Massachusetts is far from declaring “mission accomplished” despite a reduction in overdose deaths over the past six months.

Charlie Baker

Sam Doran / State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker

The overdose-reversing drug Narcan has played a role in holding down the death toll and the governor, among other ideas, pitched making it available over the counter. He also brought back a revised version of his controversial proposal to involuntarily hold patients for 72 hours in emergency rooms if they show signs of addiction and being a danger to themselves.

The retooled proposal would instead allow medical clinicians to have patients involuntarily transferred to treatment centers, instead of kept in emergency rooms, for up to 72 hours if they are considered a threat to themselves or others. After 72 hours, medical personnel would be able to petition the courts to keep the patient longer.

“If you have this opportunity to engage somebody, you should take advantage of it,” Baker said.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • It’s the voters’ turn to take the initiative
  • McGovern on Trump’s new scandal, Baker on opioids
  • Candidate Warren calls for independent look into arrest report scandal
  • Watch: Baker on swearing in new State Police top cop
  • ‘Privilege’ comment rankles gun-rights advocates

Mariano: Democratic leaders are tone-deaf

“For the past decade, the Democratic Party has been losing voters who used to be the bedrock of their support: blue-collar workers, even union members. … Democrats need an agenda and a message that shows the American people what they stand for – who they are willing to fight for. Democrats must offer a vision of hope.”

Mariano: The President’s New Clothes

“As I listened to Sen. Jeff Flake speak on the floor of the United States Senate and announce that he would not be seeking reelection, I could not help but think of a popular children’s story.”

Sun Spots with Hitch [Vol. 211]: Mad Maura strikes again

Recently the top point guard on the Bay State depth chart, Attorney General Maura T. Healey, did what many aging basketball stars do — she dabbled in TV.

On Comedy Central’s “The Opposition with Jordan Klepper,” Healey expounded on her efforts to keep President Trump honest. While some would say Healey should be more focused on the many Massachusetts-based issues that come across her desk, she insists serially suing the president is all about the people of the commonwealth.

Hitch thinks maybe it’s about something else.

On Beacon Hill: The Justice League

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — Justice comes to those who wait … and wait … and wait.

The idea of criminal justice reform has been held out for years by Beacon Hill legislators as a worthy and necessary goal. But putting the pieces together has been a difficult puzzle to assemble.

The Senate pressed the last piece of one of the four jigsaw corners in the wee morning hours Friday, after more than 14 hours of debate that tested the constitutions of Democrats and Republicans who might have preferred not to hold those conversations.

They debated whether mandatory minimums for cocaine trafficking should be repealed, whether young teenagers having sex with each other should be a criminal offense, and whether parents and children should be able to testify against one another.

Some of the 162 amendments were decided by one or two votes, with Democrats crossing party lines and causing mid-session huddles among like-minded colleagues unaccustomed to the process of whipping votes and wondering whether they could safely predict the outcome.

State Sens. Michael Brady, D-Brockton; Michael Rush, D-Boston; Kathleen O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport; and Patrick O’Connor, R-Weymouth, took a pass on the statutory rape reform altogether, voting “present” rather than weighing in on whether Massachusetts should have a “Romeo and Juliet” exception for minors close in age.

In broad strokes, the bill that cleared the Senate, 27-10, was designed to try to lower recidivism rates and the number of inmates incarcerated in state prisons. It eliminates parole fees, raises the youngest age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 7 to 12 years old, and allows for reduced sentences for certain drug crimes.

It’s now the House’s turn — and anyone’s guess how the more conservative body will respond. But Sen. William Brownsberger, D-Belmont, is keeping the faith: “That’s all I’m hearing from the House is seriousness on this issue,” he said.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

House Speaker Robert DeLeo

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, had a different justice matter on his plate Friday, the day after the Senate debate, as he gathered his leadership team to discuss a column in the Boston Globe written by Yvonne Abraham alleging a widespread culture of sexual harassment under the Golden Dome.

An “infuriated and deeply disturbed” speaker took to the House floor to condemn acts described anonymously by Abraham, which ranged from unwanted sexual advances by lawmakers toward lobbyists and aides, to groups of House members viewing pornography on the House floor.

Without allegations containing names attached to investigate, DeLeo called on his House counsel, Jim Kennedy, to initiate a review of the House’s sexual harassment policies, but just as the Harvey Weinstein accusations snowballed into other industries and boardrooms, this may not be the last shoe to drop on Beacon Hill.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • The (Ways and Means) odd couple has work to do
  • McGovern on taxes, Warren on budget
  • Healey defends Trump lawsuits as ‘doing her job’
  • Watch: Baker on CSRs, Flake and Trump
  • Despite consumer malaise, Mass. economy growth spikes

With health costs set to soar, Mass. delegation escalates battle with Trump

While the White House considers the payments a bailout for insurers, the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, wants to make sure President Donald Trump knows how thousands of Bay State families will be negatively impacted by his decision to end federal subsidies used by insurers to keep consumer costs down.

But where Gov. Charlie Baker pointed last week to a “lack of affirmative congressional action,” the state’s two senators and nine House members are putting the blame for higher premiums squarely on the president.

The delegation on Tuesday morning forwarded to the White House a letter they received from Baker last Thursday explaining the loss of federal cost sharing reduction payments had forced the Massachusetts Connector Authority to set new insurance rates for 2018 that are 18 percent higher on average than the previously projected 8 percent increases.

HC Prof. Cynthia Hooper: Why are Russian media outlets hyping the Mueller investigation?

Four major Russia investigations are underway in Washington, along with at least six related federal inquiries. Anxiety currently swirls around the Kremlin’s manipulation of popular social media platforms Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. Cybersecurity sleuths claim Russia used Pokemon Go to inflame racial tensions and accuse Twitter of deleting crucial data detailing Russian efforts to sow discord during the 2016 presidential election. “Russia, Russia Everywhere,” read The New York Times Oct. 13 “Week in Technology” review.