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Massachusetts lawmakers agree gun reform is needed, as Senate's gun reform bill takes the spotlight

Agawam Police Chief Eric Gillis, president of the Mass. Chiefs of Police Association, lends his support to the Massachusetts Senate version of gun reform legislation during a press conference Jan. 25, 2024.
Sam Doran
State House News Service
Agawam Police Chief Eric Gillis, president of the Mass. Chiefs of Police Association, lends his support to the Massachusetts Senate version of gun reform legislation during a press conference Jan. 25, 2024.

State lawmakers in both chambers agree that updated gun laws are needed. What reforms will be included in the legislation, is still a point of contention.

The Massachusetts Senate unveiled their gun reform plan last week, and it comes up for a hearing this week. It's a top priority for the Legislature. Months ago, the House passed their gun safety bill, and now Senate lawmakers have crafted their version of a wide-ranging gun proposal. As Chris Lisinki, of the State House News Services, knows well, the Senate measure comes in 94 pages shorter than that earlier House measure. He explains what is in the Senate bill.

Chris Lisinski, State House News Service: There are a lot of similarities between the bills, at least in terms of the topics they're trying to target. The Senate billseeks to rein in the spread of ghost guns by requiring gun frames and receivers to be serialized and classified as firearms. It would expand the existing state law, sometimes called the “red flag law” allowing more types of individuals to petition a court to remove someone's access to firearms if they're deemed dangerous. It would ban carrying firearms in government administrative buildings, but it would let cities and towns opt out of that. It would also do some registration reforms and some data collection reforms. And in one especially new piece that just the Senate is pursuing, it would basically ban marketing of unlawful firearm sales to minors and give people harmed as a result of that unlawful advertising, access to civil lawsuit action.
Carrie Healy, NEPM: So, as I recall, in the fall, there was strong opposition tothe House's bill from gun owners and Second Amendment groups. They called that 'government overreach.' So, while this Senate legislation was only released Thursday last week, what are some of the early reactions you're hearing?
I'm expecting that gun owners are still going to be opposed to this. The bill is somewhat different than the House version, but it does target a lot of the same issues. So, for all intents and purposes, we're expecting gun owners groups, and Second Amendment groups to remain mostly opposed.

The big difference in who's on board this time is that the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association is on board from the outset. The head of that group, Agawam Police Chief Eric Gillis, went as far as to trek to the statehouse last week to join Senate Democrats for the bill's rollout and say from the get-go, “my group is on board. We like this one, even though we did not like the House bill.”

The House gun legislation went right to a floor vote without any joint committee involvement. Are Senate lawmakers taking a different pathway towards forwarding this legislation?

Sort of…kind of. There is not going to be a hearing on this bill as drafted Senate leaders claim that they are using past testimony given at a public safety committee hearing on a wide range of gun bills, but this is going to head to the floor just as a Senator Cynthia Creem amendment to the wide ranging House bill.

Governor Maura Healey filed her $58.15 billion budget for the next fiscal year that begins on July 1st. The spending plan is crafted to accommodate a flat tax revenue growth projection. It calls for a temporary redirection of casino gaming revenues. Is that ‘redirection of revenue’ common for Massachusetts budgets?

No, that's a pretty new technique, and it's one of several new techniques that the governor's team is proposing to use in this budget. Altogether, some new revenue strategies add up to something like $1.2 billion, really helping fuel the overall increase in spending that the governor wants to make, despite a forecast that state tax revenues are going to stay about flat.

So, what does that casino gaming revenue line support currently, and where is she going to be sending that?

So, right now gaming revenue flows into about a dozen different buckets including transportation funding, local aid, and putting some of that money into savings. And Healey right now is basically saying, ‘no, we're just going to steer this into our budget, make use of it in the year ahead.’

Okay. So, let's zoom out. What do we expect next in this budget process?

You know, the annual budget is going to go the same way it always goes. We're going to have many hearings over the next 2 to 3 months, where lawmakers will invite a whole bunch of people from around Massachusetts to weigh in on different parts of the budget, make their case for why they deserve more money. The House will roll out its budget plan in April. The Senate will roll out its budget plan in May, and then we'll just be sitting around waiting for an eventual and almost certainly overdue conference committee to produce a final accord.

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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