Does The Hampden County Courthouse Need Some TLC — Or A Bulldozer?

19 hours ago

Springfield's Roderick J. Ireland Courthouse, renamed just a few years ago for the first African American justice appointed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, is on the minds of the city's legislative delegation. With the building falling into further disrepair, lawmakers want Governor Charlie Baker to step in and assist.

Recently, the courthouse temporarily closed for testing and abatement amid widespread reports of mold. Baker said this is an issue, primarily, for the judicial branch to handle.

Matt Murphy from the Statehouse News Service joins us to talk about what legislators want the governor to do.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: The Springfield delegation, led by Representative Bud Williams, last week signed a letter and delivered it to the governor. They held an event on Friday in Springfield as well, demanding that the governor sign an emergency order that would put forward a plan to either replace or refurbish or demolish that Springfield courthouse given its condition.

The administration, however, as you noted, has been pointing out that this building falls under the jurisdiction of the Trial Court. And while the Division of Capital Asset Management has been working with the trial courts to identify the major needs in that building, that this is ultimately a Trial Court decision about how to proceed and what to do with the Roderick Ireland Courthouse. The administration also notes that they have performed, over the past five or so years, a number of air quality tests and will continue to work with the Trial Court on this.

But I think this is an issue to watch as we move forward and see how legislators approach this in upcoming budget cycles, particularly as the Legislature gets ready to debate how to spend a major surplus. There could be efforts there to do something, because at this point, the governor is saying that this is an issue that needs to be sorted out with the Trial Court.

After the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last week not to intervene in a Texas law took effect that severely restricts access to abortion, the law had ripple effects in Massachusetts. Do we expect any shakeups or will there be a push for revising current abortion law in the commonwealth because of Texas?

Well, I think you're seeing, for sure, this animating the politics in Massachusetts. We saw Attorney General Maura Healey, and members of the congressional delegation come out with strong statements. We're seeing some potential candidates talking about the need to elect people to our congressional delegation that support and will fight to protect Roe v. Wade. That could lead to decisions in, say, the 4th Congressional District, where progressives are eyeing perhaps a potential challenge to Congressman Jake Auchincloss. And we're also seeing people go after Governor Baker. Former Senator Ben Downing is using the decision to challenge Governor Baker's record on abortion rights.

But here in Massachusetts, there has been a push recently, over the past several years, to strengthen abortion laws. It's hard to see where they would go from here. Of course, there are always areas tighten it up and we may see those efforts. But as recently as last year, we saw the legislature pass, and the governor ultimately sign portions of — and have the rest of his vetoes overridden — a bill to expand abortion rights for women after 24 weeks in cases where the fetus will not survive. We've seen the age of consent lowered to 16. So already Massachusetts has expanded their laws while other states of the country have been pulling them back.

Following the August recess, the Legislature will return to a series of hearings related to spending the remaining the roughly $4.8 billion in American Rescue Plan Act money. The governor was previously pushing to spend the money quickly — a great deal on housing and home ownership, job training and infrastructure. But the Legislature blocked that. What's ahead?

Yes. Two big spending bills that the Legislature will have to tackle this fall as they get back to meeting in formal sessions. One is the surplus from FY21. The governor has filed more than $1 billion spending plan. That is something that ideally the Legislature would like to get done before the end of October, if not earlier.

The second, as you correctly noted, is that ARPA bill, how to spend the close to $5 billion remaining American Rescue Plan Act funding. The governor continues to travel around the state talking about his desires for spending that, as well as his frustrations with the pace that the Legislature is moving at.

But the Legislature this week resuming their public hearing process on Thursday with a focus on climate, transportation, infrastructure and tourism as areas where this money could be spent. And we expect more hearings to come this fall as they put together their own plan.

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