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Massachusetts Lawmakers Grapple With 'Defund The Police'

Protesters at the police station in Northampton, Massachusetts on June 1, 2020.
Alden Bourne
Protesters at the police station in Northampton, Massachusetts on June 1, 2020.

Legislative leaders and the governor all seem on board to make changes to policing in Massachusetts. But what will they actually agree on? And how far will the changes go?

"Defund the police" has been a mantra of many protests, including in western Massachusetts. The governor last week made it clear he will not make budget cuts aimed at police, but would be putting together police reform legislation, as will the legislature.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: "Defund the police" hasn't seemed to really catch on on Beacon Hill quite yet. But the idea of a policing reform bill really has.

We're expecting the governor to put some meat on the bones of a proposal that he has been drafting that would create a system for, basically, licensing police as the state licenses other types of professionals. And this would allow for the certification and then the decertification of police if they are accused of or found to have been engaged in misconduct, excessive use of force or anything like that. And this is a so-called "Peace Officer Standards and Training program" that's in place in dozens of states across the country. Massachusetts would be one of the last states to implement something like this.

This is also gaining traction and momentum in the House of Representatives. Speaker DeLeo met last week with the leadership and members of black and Latino Legislative Caucus. This is one of their top priorities. And the speaker outlined the broad parameters of a billthat he says he wants to get on Governor Baker's desk by the end of July. That would include this police licensing process, which would be put under the auspices of a new independent state agency that would oversee police training and standards for policing in Massachusetts, including when — and what — types of force can be used in certain situations. There's also momentum behind the idea of banning choke holds.

Now, over in the Senate, the president, Karen Spilka, has put together an advisory group led by Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz to look at similar proposals. But we've seen legislation filed there as well by Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem of Newton that has a lot of these same ideas in it, as well as the ideas of banning no-knock warrants, for instance, and putting in place affirmative responsibilities for police to intervene if they see some of their colleagues using excessive force, as we saw in the situation in Minneapolis with George Floyd.

Carrie Healy, NEPR:  You worked this past weekend, Matt, keeping an eye on the coronavirus updates in Massachusetts. With more businesses opening, including restaurants getting local approvals to expand outdoor seating, how is the public health data looking?

So far, so good. Massachusetts is not seeing some of the spikes that you're reading and hearing about in other parts of the country, particularly in the South, where businesses have been open for a bit longer. And this will be a really important week because we're going to enter that window of 10 to 14 days where people who could have contracted it if they went out early in the reopening process, maybe start to show symptoms.

But, you know, over the weekend, the numbers looked pretty good — in two days, a total of about 465 new cases 86 deaths. Hospitalizations continue to fall each day. The rate of positive testing continues to go down even as they were testing some 10,000 people a day. So of the data looks good at the moment.

Last week, MassDOT announced it had taken another look at the projected ridership numbers for expanded east-west rail service. The agency said its early numbers were way off. Are the revised estimates enough to get this thing moving? And what about that big unknown in all of this — federal funding?

The funding piece is a major, major part of this. And these new ridership numbers will be important in making the case to the federal government for why Massachusetts should get money. But you're right, these ridership projection numbers really jumped as they reviewed the methodology of their study.

Originally, somewhere just in the neighborhood of around 70,000 a year were projected for an east-west rail between Boston and Springfield or even Pittsfield. Those have gone up to 280,000 to maybe 350,000 riders each year.

Congressman Richard Neal hopes to use this to make the case for more federal money. He's been talking about a transportation infrastructure bill for a long time now. I know he still has hope that this can get on the agenda, particularly as a way to spur investment spending and job growth as the federal government looks to help the country come out of this recession. But he says to look in the coming days for a plan that he will put together to bring east-west rail money to Massachusetts.

Briefly, Matt, a bigger transportation question: Will the legislature in these next few weeks, agree on a state transportation funding bill? And will it include any specific taxes to pay for improvements?

Yeah, I mean, if I had to guess, I think that tax bill is a long shot at this point. Senate President Karen Spilka doesn't seem to have a lot of interest in pursuing the big revenue bill, but I think you could look for the major$18 billion borrowing billto advance. This is a long-term spending bill to invest in infrastructure projects across Massachusetts.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.


Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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