It’s been a busy week for Governor Patrick. First, the Governor delivered his annual State of the Commonwealth address on Monday. He praised the House and Senate for the great work they did last year on some difficult issues including state pension reform, municipal health benefits, schools and transportation. More importantly, the Governor outlined his top three priorities for this year –health care containment reform, a streamlined community college system and sentencing reform.
Talking about his ambitious agenda for the year, the Governor asked the Legislature to send him a balanced sentencing bill that includes real reforms for both the Habitual Offender law and mandatory minimum sentencing reforms. Referencing overcrowded prisons and the high cost of housing inmates, he insisted that the Legislature send him a bill that is tough on violent criminals while providing greater opportunities for rehabilitation of non-violent drug offenders. The Governor emphasized that a strong and smart crime bill is good for public safety and good for Massachusetts. The BBA couldn’t agree more.
In November, the Senate passed a more comprehensive crime bill that didn’t repeal but reduced mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug offenders. At the time the House of Representatives only advanced the Habitual Offender law. But now the House is reviewing those sentencing reforms and is expected to advance their own version this session.
The BBA continues to advocate for improvements to the criminal justice system in Massachusetts, particularly with regard to sentencing and prisoner re-entry. Ahead of the Senate’s vote on their crime bill, BBA President Lisa Goodheart issued a statement arguing that sentencing reforms are fiscally responsible and enhance public safety. While encouraged by Governor Patrick’s recent statements on these issues, we are eager to see what the House will include in its sentencing reform bill.
On Wednesday, Governor Patrick continued to lay out his administration’s agenda when he filed his budget with the House of Representatives. An efficient system for the delivery of justice is always a top priority for the BBA and it is clear from his budget recommendations that Governor Patrick understands these issues. But still, any funding cuts that affect the Court’s operations should be a matter of great concern to any lawyer who practices in Massachusetts. The resources made available to our courts, and the constraints on those resources, have significant and direct impacts on those who turn to our courts for justice.
Here is a quick look at what the Governor recommends for MLAC and the Trial Court.
- Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation: increased by $2.5 million to $12 million. This is still $2.5 million short of the $14.5 million request from MLAC.
- Trial Court: level-funded at the amount the Trial Court spent in FY12 without the appropriation for the Probation Department – $429.7 million. The Governor also proposed moving the Probation Department into the Executive Branch.
The true meaning of these numbers will come to light as we move through the budget process and the House and Senate have an opportunity to consider these recommendations. This is only the beginning and the BBA will be closely monitoring how these line items are treated through the process.
– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association