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Beacon Hill Lawmakers Speed Toward Police Reforms As Time Gets Tight

Springfield, Massachusetts, police and detectives at the scene of a shooting in 2017.
Patrick Johnson
creative commons / flickr.com/photos/paddyj1325
Springfield, Massachusetts, police and detectives at the scene of a shooting in 2017.

There's less than two weeks left in the legislative session and Massachusetts lawmakers say they're working hard to pass a bill addressing police accountability.

The House this week plans to take up policing reforms. This after the Senate passed a bill last week.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: It's certainly become one of the top priorities on Beacon Hill for the end of the session. And they are really going to work to try and get a deal. And in principle, they are fairly closely aligned.

Both the branches, along with Governor Baker, are in support of establishing a new agency — a new commission that would license police officers across Massachusetts and create a system where police officers could be decertified for misconduct. Both of these bills also put limits on the use of force and banned things like chokeholds.

But there are differences between the House and Senate versions. The bill that was released last night by the House Ways and Means Committee would set up a seven-member police standards and training commission that would be in charge of all of this licensing. That is different than the panel that the Senate would set up.

They also diverge on the controversial issue of qualified immunity. Though both would limit the controversial legal principle that can shield police officers in some cases from civil lawsuits in cases of misconduct, the House, in its bill, is proposing to tie it directly to the decertification process, where a police officer would lose their so-called qualified immunity if they lose their policing license based on their actions on the job.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: There is another big day coming up. That's the expiration of a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures in Massachusetts. That temporary ban expires in less than a month. Governor Baker has authority to extend it in 90-day increments and says he'll make a decision soon. State Attorney General Maura Healey is applying some pressure. So what's the latest?

Yes, the governor says that he is talking with legislators, talking with people in the housing community and local officials to gauge the need for this. But what we're hearing from a lot of people — including the attorney general and housing advocates who are concerned that as many as 20,000 eviction notices could be filed in housing court as soon as this expires in August — is that there is a real need during this continuing pandemic to protect homeowners and renters from evictions and foreclosures.

Now, the governor has until August 18 to decide whether or not to extend this protection for another three months. And he says he will make this decision soon. In the meantime, legislators that are even urging the governor to do this have filed their own legislation that would go even further than the bill that they passed in April, proposing things like rent freeze for a year beyond the public health emergency from COVID.

Over the weekend, you reported on an agreement reached over a long simmering dispute between beer wholesalers and microbrews. What's the bottom line here? And does it affect consumers at all?

The hope would be that consumers wouldn't see any impact at all, except in cases where maybe they'll see more of their favorite local brew on stores when they travel around.

The issue here is whether or not a local small craft brewer can sever ties with a distributor. In Massachusetts, once you start working with a distributor or a wholesaler for your beer products for six months, you're tied to them for as long as that distributor wants to hold the contract. And some brewers say that their brand — their product — can be back-burned while distributors focus on larger brands and sell into stores.

This [proposal] would create a process, after 10 years of fighting between the two sides, for a brewer to cut ties with their distributor and go to another one that maybe more understands their brand and can get it on shelves in liquor stores around the state. So we'll see if this thing can get done in the next two weeks as well.

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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