On Beacon Hill: Administration, Legislature set to grapple over $256M in vetoes [with video]

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From State House News Service

ON THE AGENDA

  • Administration, Legislature set to grapple over $256M in vetoes
  • Baker pours it on in support of charter school expansion
  • Inspired by Tarentino, bill would protect cops under hate crime laws
  • Black, Latino lawmakers call for more police protection
  • Data analysis could change pretrial detention system

TOP OF THE HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker's state budget vetoes put him at odds with legislative leaders.

State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker’s state budget vetoes put him at odds with legislative leaders.

Baker’s $256M in state budget vetoes rankle legislative leaders, spur debate

At odds with the administration over the health of state finances, legislative leaders in the coming days and weeks plan to address the governor’s $256 million in spending vetoes.

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, D-Winthrop, contended Thursday that the $39.1 billion budget sent to Gov. Charlie Baker was in balance, accounting for new, lower revenue estimates. “Anything that we may be taking up relative to a veto override is not going to be putting our budget out of balance. It’s within the amount that we knew that we had to work with to have a balanced budget, so I want to make that clear and some folks are questioning that,” DeLeo said.

The speaker said the budget would “still be balanced” even if lawmakers restored all the spending cut by the governor. “I’m not saying we will,” DeLeo said. “We could.”

Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said earlier in the week Baker had lopped off too much from the budget sent to his desk. “We thought we sent a good budget to the governor’s desk and anything that got removed is a disappointment,” he said.

Baker, a Republican and former Mass. secretary of administration and finance under Govs. William Weld and Paul Cellucci, cut the fiscal 2017 budget down to $38.9 billion. In recent years, budgets drafted by the Legislature have fallen out of balance midyear, requiring steps to align spending and revenue.

“We wouldn’t have done what we did if we thought the budget was balanced. We didn’t. And I’m sure there will be an ongoing conversation about that,” Baker said.

Senate President Stanley M. Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo

Sam Doran (SHNS / file photo)

Senate President Stanley M. Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo

“At just about this time last year, the Legislature and the administration thought we knew what tax revenues were going to be for the fiscal year that just ended and we missed by almost $500 million. So I’m not feeling quite as confident, I guess at this point in time, as maybe some folks in the Legislature are, about our ability to be absolutely sure about how much revenue is going to be available.”

The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance announced Thursday it would score lawmakers on “each and every” vote to override a gubernatorial veto.

“In MassFiscal’s view, even the smallest override of the Governor’s veto isn’t fiscally responsible,” said the group’s executive director, Paul Craney, in a statement. “Baker is the chief administrator. His view, and the changes he made, are made with a view toward what is good for the entirety of our state, while Legislative concerns tend to be more parochial.”

A conservative nonprofit, MassFiscal has sent mailers targeting Democrats’ voting records, and is viewed by many elected Democrats as a partisan Republican organization.

DeLeo said the House plans three more formal sessions before the July 31 final day of formals for the year, all of which will land on weekends. The impending national political conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia led legislative leaders to pause weekday formal sessions for the next two weeks.

DeLeo said the House plans to meet July 23, 30 and 31, and said conference committee reports — final versions of legislation generated by House-Senate working groups usually meeting in private on major bills — along with veto overrides would be major features of the final formal sessions.

— Andy Metzger (SHNS)


VIDEO OF THE WEEK

When it rains it pours: Governor shows support for charter school expansion

The skies opened up on Gov. Charlie Baker Thursday as he stood on the front steps of the State House helping to promote a ballot campaign to expand the number of charter schools beyond current statutory caps.

“It’s a beautiful day,” Baker said before the steady drizzle turned into a downpour. “I went to public schools in Massachusetts and I got a great education. … We took it as a given that we would get the kind of education that would prepare us for the future and give us the chance to deliver on all the dreams you have when you’re a kid.”

More charter school access would create better options, such as the kind he had, for Bay State schoolchildren, the governor said.

If passed by voters in November, Question 2 would allow the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to approve another 12 charter schools or charter school expansions outside caps on charter enrollment.

The issue of charter schools, which are public schools that use more experimental styles of teaching and operate outside the jurisdiction of local school committees, has tied up the House and Senate in disagreement.

Opponents of the charter school expansion ballot question, organized as Save Our Public Schools, argue charters sap too much money from district schools and say underperforming schools should be fixed with increased investment.

“Every time a new charter school opens or expands, it takes funding away from the public schools in that area. Under this proposal, the number of charter schools in Massachusetts would nearly triple in just 10 years, costing local public school districts more than $1 billion every single year,” Save Our Public Schools said in a statement. The group estimated $400 million was “diverted” to charter schools statewide this school year.

On an otherwise hot and sunny day, a warm shower soaked Baker and the crowd of supporters as they made their case. As drops pelted the governor’s suit and supporters repurposed their signs into makeshift umbrellas, the governor shifted his rhetoric to match the weather.

“You know something, folks: For too many children and too many families in the Commonwealth of Mass., it’s been raining for a really long time,” Baker said to cheers. “For too many families and too many kids, the skies have not cleared. The sun does not shine. They do not get the chance and the opportunity to go to the school of their choice.”

Baker, who has also been actively opposing Question 4 to legalize marijuana, told reporters that he would be “actively supporting” the charter schools initiative “into the fall.”

— Andy Metzger


SAY WHAT?

“The message is that hate crimes against our police officers will not be tolerated in Massachusetts.”

Rep. Alan Silvia, D-Fall River

State reps’ bill, inspired by Tarentino, would protect police under hate crime laws

Lawmakers from Fall River and Brockton are sponsoring new legislation making police officers a protected class under the state’s hate-crimes law, which lays out penalties for crimes motivated by hate or bigotry. State Rep. Michelle M. DuBois, D-Brockton, and Rep. Alan Silvia, D-Fall River, announced last week they filed the legislation and said it’s drawing bipartisan support.

DuBois said she drafted the bill after Auburn Police officer Ronald Tarentino Jr. was killed during a traffic stop in May, and said the recent fatal shootings of five police officers in Dallas prompted her to file the bill now, rather than at the start of the next legislative session on January.

“I couldn’t let this bill just sit on my computer any longer after Dallas, especially because Dallas has shown us that a bill like this is needed,” DuBois said in a statement.

“This bill is already helping to shape ongoing conversations in Brockton around racially based policing and shows that we can want color-blind policing and respect police officers, their lives, and value their service in our communities.”

Once the House and Senate agree on which committee will review the bill, it will be up to that committee to scheduled a public hearing.

— Michael P. Norton (SHNS)


BONUS VIDEO


IN THE NEWS

Black, Latino lawmakers call on leaders to prioritize police protection measures

In the wake of recent shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota and Texas, members of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus and Boston elected officials are urging Beacon Hill leaders to take action on a series of police-related policies.

A letter signed by a dozen lawmakers, as well as Boston and Suffolk County officials, calls on Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Stan Rosenberg and mayors to implement a series of policies aimed at eliminating “racial inequality in policing.”

The message follows the deaths two weeks ago of black men shot by police in Louisiana and Minnesota, and of five Dallas police officers killed by a sniper during a protest. Ralliers marched through Boston Wednesday night to demonstrate against police brutality.

“Vigils and rallies cannot address this problem alone,” the officials, describing themselves as sad and outraged, wrote in their letter. “While there is a place for these important gatherings, verbal expressions of solidarity in grief are not enough. We need action now in the form of concrete policy changes.”

The letter is signed by Sens. Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, and Linda Dorcena Forry, D-Dorchester, and Reps. Evandro C. Carvalho, D-Dorchester, Marcos A. Devers, D-Lawrence, Gloria L. Fox, D-Roxbury, Carlos Gonzalez, D-Springfield, Russell E. Holmes, D-Boston, Frank A. Moran, D-Lawrence, Byron Rushing, D-Boston, Benjamin Swan, D-Springfield, Jose F. Tosado, D-Springfield, and Aaron Vega, D-Holyoke.

Also signed on are Suffolk County Register Felix Arroyo, Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins, and Boston City Councilors Andrea Campbell, Tito Jackson, Ayanna Pressley and Michelle Wu.

At the city level, the officials call for implementation of police body cameras, “implicit bias training” for officers, civilian review boards and funding for trauma support to “help address the systemic racial inequities we face today.”

On Tuesday, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and Police Commissioner William Evans announced the launch of a six-month police body-camera pilot program that will involve up to 100 officers.

The letter asks for statewide policy changes, including updates to law enforcement training, certification and data collection; special prosecutors for police-involved shootings; amendments to wiretapping statutes “to empower citizen watchdogs”; and criminal-justice reforms with reinvestments in job training and education.

“Each generation is called to address the issues of its time,” the officials wrote. “One of the most pervasive issues of our time is addressing the relationship between police and our communities. We cannot afford to wait any longer.”

— Katie Lannan (SHNS)


Enhanced data analysis could change pretrial detainee model

After reviewing data on pre-trial detainees held in three county jails, members of a state criminal justice working group said they could see benefits to adopting a data-based pretrial risk assessment tool — although barriers exist to doing so in Massachusetts.

Researchers from the Council of State Governments Justice Center, who are reviewing the state’s criminal justice system, last Tuesday presented findings to the bipartisan group, showing that pretrial decisions on whether to release or detain a defendant, the amount of bail, and release conditions “are not informed by individualized, objective, research-driven assessment of risk of flight or pretrial misconduct.”

Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey said an objective tool that would assess a defendant’s risk of recidivism would be “very helpful to judges.”

“Judges do that every day, make a decision about whether to release somebody on the street,” Carey said. “It’s like you hope and pray that you got it right, so any information that we can get I think is helpful.”

Steve Allen, the Justice Center’s senior policy advisor, outlined pretrial risk assessment tools used in other states, including Virginia, Colorado, Ohio and Kentucky, which predict factors such as failure to appear, dangerousness, and likelihood of pretrial misconduct. The technological tools analyze data including criminal history, pending charges, employment and residence history, and mental health or substance abuse issues, according to the Justice Center.

Public Safety Secretary Daniel Bennett said he agreed with the idea of a tool, but said the state could face a “barrier.”

“If we can’t use a tool that considers dangerousness constitutionally, boy, that makes it awful tough on a judge to sort of fashion protecting the public,” he said. “I agree with the tool. I do. I think it makes sense to me.

“Actually, the governor will decide what I agree with,” Bennett added, to laughter.

Justice Center researchers studied the pretrial detainees in Middlesex, Essex and Hampden counties, where they said sheriffs were able to provide detailed information on the population.

Across those three counties, the average length of a jail stay was 56 days, the review found. Defendants who were eventually sentenced and transferred to a house of correction had much longer jail stays on average, ranging from 89 days in Hampden County to 168 days in Middlesex County, according to the review. Average stays for people released on bail pretrial ranged from 20 days in Middlesex to 27 days in Hampden.

Katie Mosehauer, who is leading the Justice Center’s research in Massachusetts, said a significant variation in length of stays across the three counties was one of the key findings of the analysis.

— Katie Lannan

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