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Mass. Gov. Baker Faces Key Decisions On Police Accountability Legislation

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.
Suzanne Kreiter
Boston Globe Pool / State House News Service
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has before him two measures on how police are held accountable. One has been voted through the legislature, and awaits his signature. The other is of Baker's own creation.

So a change to police oversight in the state is coming, but it remains to be seen exactly how much change. 

Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us to talk about the two plans, what the differences between them actually mean and the decision Baker is facing.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: The governor is facing a difficult decision here. This policing reform is one of the major pieces of legislation that both he and the legislature want to get done this session.

But the compromise bill the legislature sent to his desk last week looks quite different than the one he proposed back in June.

We know that the governor very much supports creating a new commission known as a Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission. This would certify, and have the power to decertify, police based on their conduct on the job.

Massachusetts would join a majority of other states that already have these in place. But there is a battle brewing over who will sit on that commission, and whether or not civilians should control it, or whether or not there should be an equal split between civilians and representation from the law enforcement community.

The governor proposed a more even split in the bill he filed in June. The compromise package that landed on his desk would create a nine-member commission with just three seats for law enforcement officers.

And that is just one of the big differences in this bill that the legislature put together from what the governor was looking to do. So the governor has a lot of decisions to make.

And we would anticipate, before this got to a veto situation, he will probably return this bill with one, if not many, amendments — and we will see how, in just a few short weeks left the legislature has, how they will negotiate with the governor.

But we do know that the legislature was not able to muster a veto-proof majority, giving the governor a rare upper hand, perhaps, in some of these negotiations.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: The coronavirus is surging in the state, hospitalizations are climbing, and the state is setting up field hospitals again. What is the latest on the distribution pathway for COVID-19 vaccines?

We know that the governor was on a conference call, as he regularly is, with the White House coronavirus team last week, where this was discussed with Dr. Fauci and others in the Trump administration.

Massachusetts officials are now expecting that the Pfizer vaccine could begin arriving in Massachusetts by mid-December. They're expecting, by the end of this calendar year, to receive about 300,000 doses, which would be enough to inoculate about 150,000 people.

The state submitted its final distribution plan to the CDC — it was due Friday. As in keeping with the recommendations of the CDC, looking to prioritize frontline health care workers, those with underlying health conditions and other essential workers — the general public would probably not have access to a vaccine until the spring. But we're expecting soon more details from the administration on this plan, as we await the arrival of these first vaccines.

Baker's final choice for the Supreme Judicial Court appears headed for confirmation on Wednesday. With District Court Judge Serge Georges on the bench, every justice will have been picked by Baker. What differences do you see in this court and the courts shaped by previous governors?

Yeah, it’s really a monumental accomplishment here. I mean, it was certainly something that fell into his lap. Not every governor gets this chance to be able to pick every justice. And the governor has really left an imprint by naming a very diverse court.

We've seen, in just the past month, he's named the first Black woman chief justice to lead this court, and the first female Latinx justice to sit on this court. And now, in soon presumably, Justice Georges — assuming the Governor's Council confirms him — we have not only a Black justice that will be joining this court, but someone from the district court level bringing a different perspective, versus a lot of the appellate court people who are typically nominated for positions such as these.

And I think the governor is going to be known, long-term, for just the diversity of views and experiences that he has assembled on this historic judicial panel.

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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