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A Ballot Question Deadline, And Bills To Reconcile: The Week Ahead On Beacon Hill

Massachusetts lawmakers have their work cut out for them as they try to negotiate a final criminal justice bill.

Many months of writing and debate wrapped up last week as the state House passed its version of the bill. Leaders will now have to reconcile that bill with one passed last month by the Senate.

Matt Murphy of the State House News Service explained the differences between the criminal justice bills.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: You know, a lot of the advocates were pleasantly surprised by the House bill, which they thought might really curtail some of the Senate initiatives. But their bill, like the Senate’s, does quite a bit to reduce mandatory minimums, reform some bail, allow expungement of juvenile records — things of this nature.

Now, there are differences. Certainly, the Senate goes further to get rid of more mandatory minimums than the House. There is a difference in raising the felony larceny charge, which is currently at $250. The house went to $1,000, but the Senate has it still even higher, at $1,500.

There's also a dispute, a bit, over what was a Governor [Charlie] Baker proposal to charge people who sell narcotics that lead to death — to punish them severely with up to life in prison. The Senate allows for second-degree murder charges to be brought. The House did not include that in their bill. So that will be subject to negotiations.

Sam Hudzik, NEPR: We talked to Senator William Brownsberger, who shepherded the criminal justice bill in his chamber, and he downplayed those ideological differences between the chambers on this issue. You said they actually agreed on quite a bit, but do you think a final deal is going to happen, or are those differences a roadblock?

At this point, I think these talks could be long; they could be contentious, just given the relationship between the House and Senate. But people who’ve been pushing for an omnibus, comprehensive criminal justice reform bill were pleased with what they saw come out of the House.

Now it's just a matter of ironing out those differences, and I think if I had to guess, that the pressure will be sufficient on them to get something done, that they will reach a compromise. But I don't necessarily expect that to come soon, or easy.

On Wednesday, just before Thanksgiving, we’ve got the deadline for organizers who want to get ballot questions in front of voters in 2018 to turn in tens of thousands of signatures. A few of those questions — a surtax on income above $1 million, reduction in the sales tax, and paid family leave — those scored really well in a WBUR poll released last week. Should we take anything from those survey results, or is it just too early?

I mean, I think you should. I think part of the reason why the advocates behind these efforts — particularly the millionaires’ tax — this issue has been polled. They know it's popular. They're confident in their ability to get it done.

The deadline this week comes down a bit to organization, and making sure that they have the volunteers, and they were able to get out there, and collect all these signatures to clear this first hurdle. There are more hurdles to go. There will be more signatures that need to be gathered. But you know, by Wednesday, they need to submit their first round of signatures from the public, and what we're hearing from the groups is that they’ve been working, and they’re on target, and they should be able to meet them.

And of course, some of those who do turn in those signatures, might still not end up on the ballot, right, if compromises are worked out in the legislature?

It’s true. This is the first round. Once of these get certified, if they did clear the threshold, then there's a period under which the legislature has a chance to act on these proposals.

It’s not often that they do, but sometimes they do. Sometimes they reach a compromise, and the ballot petitioners will then not go forward with their petition. But if they don’t, then there’ll be another round of signature-gathering next year to ultimately get it onto the ballot.

Gov. Charlie Baker, right, swears in Colonel Kerry Gilpin, left, with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.
Credit Courtesy Office of Gov. Charlie Baker
Courtesy Office of Gov. Charlie Baker
Gov. Charlie Baker, right, swears in Colonel Kerry Gilpin, left, with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.

And finally, there's a new leader of the Massachusetts State Police, and she’s a western Massachusetts resident. Can you talk a little bit about her background, and the difficult circumstances at the state police right now?

The governor quietly swore in [formerly] Major Kerry Gilpin, the new superintendent of the state police, who is now the colonel in charge of the 2,100-person force.

She takes over at a tough time for the agency, as they're kind of reeling from these allegations in the lawsuit filed by two troopers over an arrest report of the daughter of a judge being edited at the direction of now-retired Colonel [Richard] McKeon, who quit. And there are ongoing investigations.

As soon as Colonel Gilpin got in there, she initiated her own investigation of how the order came down to edit this report to remove what could have been embarrassing details. Attorney General [Maura] Healy is also looking into this, so I don't think this is over for them, and they have some trust to rebuild within their both own ranks in the union of troopers, as well as the public.

Listen to The Week Ahead every Monday morning on New England Public Radio.

Sam Hudzik has overseen local news coverage on New England Public Media since 2013. He oversees a team of about a dozen full- and part-time reporters and hosts.
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