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Beacon Hill Lawmakers May Move The Finish Line In Order To Pass Legislation

Massachusetts House Judiciary Chair Claire Cronin and Rep. Paul Tucker, a retired police chief, conversed in a chamber entryway.
Sam Doran
State House News Servic
Massachusetts House Judiciary Chair Claire Cronin and Rep. Paul Tucker, a retired police chief, conversed in a chamber entryway.

The Massachusetts House and Senate have both passed their own bills changing some rules for police in the state. Now, the hard part: working out their differences before the session ends.

Late Friday night, the House passed its policing accountability bill. There are some significant differences that have to be worked out with the Senate version. Reporter Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us to talk about what those entail.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: Three things jump out at me right away. One is the main thrust of this bill in both branches is to create a new panel that would certify police officers across the state. But what this would look like looks very different in both the bills.

The House would create a completely independent, new seven-person commission appointed in tandem between the governor and the attorney general. The Senate bill would create a group, an agency, about twice that size, and put it within the executive branch.

So the structure of that is going to have to be worked out.

Qualified immunity is another big, emotional, complex issue that's going to have to be resolved. This is the legal principle that can shield police officers from personal legal liability in civil court for misconduct in some cases. The House bill ties this directly to de-certification. So, if a cop lost his or her license, they could be held civilly liable in court by a victim of their behavior. The Senate changes the legal standard altogether. So that is going to have to be looked at.

The other piece that jumped out at me was: the governor, way back in the spring, filed a number of reforms, before this whole policing debate started, related to reforming the state police. The House and Senate both included some of what the governor wanted, including allowing the colonel of the state police to be hired from outside the force. But the House bill excludes several other provisions, including the creation of a new cadet program, some changes to the promotion process.

So they're going to need Governor Baker, given the timing of the session. They don't want him to veto it. And the House did not have a veto-proof majority in their vote last week. So that's another piece I'm going to be watching closely.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Under the legislature's rules, the final day of the formal session is this Friday. But these are unusual times. Lawmakers are somewhat working remotely. There's no state budget in place. Lots of unfinished business, like you just said. Can lawmakers enact a rule to allow roll call votes after Friday? And if so, how likely is that?

They can. There are provisions in the joint rules between the branches that allow for them to call themselves back for special session.

It requires majorities in both branches to sign a letter, and then have a vote of two-thirds to come back. That's all possible.

We've heard different scenarios discussed that, potentially, they come back just to deal with the budget. Maybe they set a date sometime in the fall, or later this summer, to come back and do a budget. Maybe they expand the parameters of the budget, plus some small set of issues, top priorities, that the current president can identify together that they would come back.

I think what they don't want to do is just have an open-ended session extension. But you never know. That is also on the table.

The governor announced Friday some new quarantine rules for people traveling from other states. And it includes a possible $500-a-day fine. Baker previously said such a mandate was unconstitutional. So why change his tune now?

This was a departure for the governor. He has insisted that the honor system, and the guidance the state has had in place, has been working in Massachusetts. As we've seen the summer really get into full swing, you're seeing people feel more comfortable traveling. A lot of people are coming into Massachusetts. You can see it on the beaches. You can see on the ferries going to some of the islands in Boston Harbor.

I think there is a real concern, especially as the state is struggling with things like reopening schools and how to proceed with that, that as cases spike in other parts of the country, people are more mobile, and that the real risk of a second wave and a resurgence is there.

So you're seeing the governor put a little teeth behind this.

Still, it's something that's very difficult to enforce, and you're requiring the honor system for people to follow these rules, and for local officials to enforce them, but I think that is what is driving the change.

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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