October 29, 2017

On Beacon Hill: The Justice League

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Sam Doran / State House News Service

Sen. Adam Hinds exited the Senate office wing around 1:30 a.m. Friday after the branch finished a marathon criminal justice debate.

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They debated whether mandatory minimums for cocaine trafficking should be repealed, whether young teenagers having sex with each other should be a criminal offense, and whether parents and children should be able to testify against one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

LOOKING AHEAD

The (Ways and Means) odd couple has work to do

Beacon Hill’s new budget duo is off to a rocky start.

Appointed in July, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, D-Jamaica Plain, has been aggressively pitching funds to combat youth violence and gangs, but his appeals have not persuaded the Senate to pack those funds into a fiscal 2017 closeout budget.

File / Sam Doran / State House News Service

New House Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sánchez, left, and his Senate counterpart Karen Spilka are already sparring over the budget process.

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, has also balked at restoring $200 million for MassHealth, even though the House has already overridden Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto of that funding. Baker has even gotten in on the action, signaling recently that he’s not going to free up spending on projects with funding earmarks in the budget until he’s feeling better about the state’s fiscal situation.

The disputes, while minor in the larger scheme, are reflective of a level of uncertainty with elections now roughly one year away.

State Comptroller Thomas Shack is aiming to close out the books on Halloween, and needs Sanchez and Spilka to reach a quick supplemental budget (S 2094/H 3979) agreement. Beacon Hill, meanwhile, continues to operate with an eye on Washington, D.C., where potentially historic tax-law changes are taking shape and Republicans continue to push for major health care law changes.

The week ahead brings the opening of an annual enrollment period during which consumers can shop around for health insurance policies. For some people trying to find affordable individual plans, this year will be tougher due to the axing of federal subsidies by President Donald Trump, who claims the payments are unlawful.

Massachusetts has a high rate of people covered by insurance but its government, employers and families continue to struggle to pay rising health care bills.

Other storylines in the week ahead:

  • Legislation affecting non-compete agreements nearly reached Gov. Baker’s desk last year, and is back at the starting line.
  • Democrat Paul Feeney of Foxborough is poised to be sworn into the Senate, if election loose ends and scheduling matters can be resolved.
  • The state Health Policy Commission meets to present new research on out-of-network billing and discuss the preliminary cost and market-impact-review report on the proposed transaction between Partners Healthcare and the Foundation of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.
  • Online gaming proposals will be up for discussion at a public hearing.

A LITTLE BIRDIE …

McGovern slams Ryan-McConnell tax plan

Warren warns of GOP budget outline

NOTED

Healey defends myriad Trump lawsuits as ‘doing my job’

President Trump barely had time to settle into the White House in January when state Attorney General Maura Healey delivered a message to the Republican president in front of a crowd of tens of thousands on Boston Common: “I’ll see you in court,” she vowed.

Now nine months and 20 lawsuits later, Healey joined “The Opposition” to talk about her legal strategy to stand up to the president.

Healey appeared late Wednesday night on Comedy Central’s “The Opposition w/ Jordan Klepper,” a late-night satire program, and explained that she views it as the job of the Massachusetts attorney general to file lawsuits to block the president’s agenda.

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Attorney General Maura Healey

“I’m a state attorney general and my job is pretty simple. It’s to enforce the law and to protect people’s rights,” Healey said on the show. “Unfortunately, we have a president of the United States who continues to do things that are illegal and unconstitutional and my job is to sue him to make that right, to stand up for the Constitution and the rule of law.”

Host Jordan Klepper pointed out that Healey is attorney general of one state and Trump was duly elected to represent the entire country. He then gave voice to criticism that Healey’s opponents have already begun to make central to their campaigns.

“Are you just some activist attorney general?” he asked.

“Well, I’m doing my job,” Healey replied. “And I’ll tell you, as a state attorney general, Donald Trump is doing things that are hurting people in our state, hurting our states.”

Healey went on to explain that she is suing the president to protect Massachusetts’ universal health care law, its clean energy economy and the state’s immigrant community.

The attorney general, who has said she plans to run for re-election next year, has already drawn two Republican opponents — Sandwich resident Dan Shores and Bourne resident Jay McMahon — both of whom have criticized her for the several lawsuits she has filed or signed onto against the Trump administration.

— Colin A. Young

VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Baker on CSRs, Flake and Trump

IN THE NEWS

Despite consumer malaise, Mass. economic growth spikes

While consumer spending has been “surprisingly weak,” the Massachusetts economy jolted forward in the third quarter, with real gross domestic product surging 5.9 percent and employment growth also outpacing the national rate, according to a new report.

MassBenchmarks, an economic journal published by the UMass Donahue Institute with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, reported Friday that employment in the second quarter grew by a 2.1 percent annual rate in Massachusetts, compared to 1.2 percent nationally.

The 5.9 percent third-quarter real GDP growth rate followed a 4.9 percent pace in the second quarter in Massachusetts, and 1.1 percent in the first quarter.

Looking ahead, the MassBenchmarks Leading Economic Index estimates the state economy will continue growing, but at lower annualized rates — 3.3 percent in the fourth quarter and 3 percent in the first quarter of 2018.

The growth comes amid fierce battles in Washington, D.C., over the agenda being pushed by Republican President Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress, and as lawmakers on Beacon Hill and Gov. Baker hope to break free from a prolonged period of slow growth in state tax revenues.

The journal’s authors, citing U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) data, reported real gross domestic product grew at a 3 percent annualized rate during the third quarter nationally, in part due to the drag on economic activity caused by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, particularly in Texas and Florida.

“The Commonwealth exhibited very strong employment and earnings growth during the third quarter,” according to MassBenchmarks, which estimated, based on state withholding-tax revenues, that wage and salary income in Massachusetts grew at a 10.5 percent annual rate in the third quarter, compared to a projected 3.8 percent national rate during the same period. A BEA estimate of national wage and salary income growth is scheduled for Monday.

— Michael P. Norton

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