Criminal Justice And Sports Betting: Beacon Hill In 5

Mar 5, 2018

With changes in place in Senate leadership, can we expect an overhaul to the criminal justice system to follow? Last week, Massachusetts Senate President Harriette Chandler named a new second in command, Sen. Cynthia Creem, a Democrat from Newton. Chandler previously held that position when Amherst's Stan Rosenberg was Senate president. 

Matt Murphy, a reporter with the State House News Service, said Creem brings specific expertise to that position.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: Now that Senator Chandler has been installed as the permanent senate president for the remainder of this session, she had to round up the leadership team that will help her get through the next few months.

By elevating Senator Creem, who was an assistant majority leader, to the majority leader post, which is the number-two position in the Senate, she picked someone with nearly 20 years’ experience in working in the Senate. Creem has worked on the Governor’s Council and is also a close confidant.

Chandler specifically noted Creem’s past experience and work in the criminal justice arena. Creem is an attorney; she has specialized in family law, alimony and divorce.

The House and Senate committee negotiating the compromise criminal justice bill have been at it for months. We know that Speaker of the House Bob DeLeo has said that he hopes to have this wrapped up by May, if not earlier. But certainly, this is a top priority, especially given how close they are to getting it done.

It is not like health care and some of the other priorities they’ve identified. Versions of this bill have passed both the House and Senate and are just a compromise agreement away from getting finalized. I think you’ll see a real push to get this done quickly before budget deliberations start to consume all the oxygen on Beacon Hill.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: Last week, the archbishop of Boston, along with the Catholic bishops of Springfield, Worcester and Fall River, sent a letter to legislative leaders reaffirming their support of specific criminal justice overhaul measures. They endorsed the notion of offering second chances to offenders. Was there anything surprising in that letter?

No. I think you saw some reiteration of a lot of the points [that] group has been pushing for, including what you mentioned, and in the idea of diversion and kind of moving away from the propensity to simply put people behind bars. That's kind of a major thrust of the bills that are in conference.

Unfortunately, the conference process is one that's very secretive, and done quietly and behind closed doors, and we don't know where those talks are right now.

Even Speaker Bob DeLeo said to us early last month that sometimes he hears the talks are going very well, and sometimes he hears it’s not progressing as quickly as he might like. I think it's a little bit of back-and-forth.

This has always been a tough issue to reach agreement on, on Beacon Hill, but it does appear that something will get done this year.

This is the time of year when revenues are released. A white paper came out last week, identifying a potential revenue stream that could yield between $9 and $61 million – that is, if lawmakers legalize sports betting. But first the U.S. Supreme Court has to issue a ruling. When do we expect to get a thumbs-up or thumbs-down from the Supreme Court, and then, are lawmakers interested in cultivating another form of gambling?

It’s hard to say whether or not they’re interested. There is some anticipation around this decision.

The Supreme Court could issue a decision in the case of Christie v. NCAA as soon as next week on whether other states, apart from Nevada and a few others, can allow sports betting.

In Massachusetts, we have people like Representative Joe Wagner of Chicopee, who chairs the economic development committee, who have talked about getting ahead of this to think through a lot of the issues that would surround this. So if and when the time comes to make a decision, they can make it and know what they’re dealing with.

But they’re just trying to wrap their head around this. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission tackled it in a white paper that just outlined these issues without taking a position, but there is a significant revenue stream that could be tapped into if they want to go this route. 

Beacon Hill in 5 -- our weekly check-in at the State House -- is now a podcast. You can subscribe to it wherever you get your podcasts.