Criminal Justice, Gun Bills In The Works; Baker's Bid For Amazon: The Week Ahead

Oct 15, 2017

Before the end of the month, leaders in the Massachusetts Senate are hoping to pass sweeping changes to the state's criminal justice laws. 

Senate Democrats held a rally for the bill last week, just a couple of days after Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, said parts of the legislation concern him.

Matt Murphy of the State House News Service says the Senate bill proposal goes into some uncomfortable areas for Baker.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: The governor has not always been wild about the idea of eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing. He sees some utility in keeping those on the books, and there are some efforts in the Senate bill to get rid of some of these, particularly for some lower-level — if we can say that — drug trafficking charges.

He also noted that he has some concerns with the provisions in the bill that would reform the statutory rape laws in Massachusetts, and kind of eliminate the penalties for these adolescents who are closer in proximity in age, and no longer make that a felony.

But you know, the governor noted this is a long way — he said — a long way from being done. I do think the House, in addition, is going to have a lot of different ideas than maybe the Senate, and this is going to require some compromise on all three of their parts if this is going to get done.

Sam Hudzik, NEPR: And as we see on a lot of issues, the House tends to be more conservative than the Senate in general, right?

Roderick Ireland.
Credit Northeastern University

That is true. They tend to be. And it’ll be interesting to see how sweeping the House goes. I mean, the Senate bill obviously is quite a broad range of issues that they touch upon. Speaker [Robert] DeLeo has brought in former Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick Ireland to help inform the House processes. They’re drafting this bill, and the justice himself has kind of been mum on his thoughts on mandatory minimum sentencing and other issues. So it'll be interesting to see where they go.

You talked a little bit last week about the legislature moving quickly on a likely ban on bump stocks -- those devices used by the Las Vegas gunman to make semi-automatic weapons fire like automatic ones. Last week, we saw different versions of that come out of the state House and the state Senate. What are the differences, and how soon do you expect negotiations on a final bill?

Yeah, this kind of — it moves fast. House Speaker DeLeo last week made the decision, along with Rep. David Linsky, to insert this bump stock ban into a budget bill that was moving, and is needed by the end of the month to kind of close the books on the fiscal year that ended back in July. And the House took a pretty broad approach to this, and basically banned any device that could be seen or could be used to accelerate the speed of fire of a weapon.

The Gun Owners’ Action League, the local affiliate of the NRA here in Massachusetts, was caught a bit off-guard by some of the language in this bill. They didn’t really like it. They didn’t like the process.

And the next day, when the Senate took it up, the Senate passed a much different version of the bill basically categorizing two devices: bump stocks; and something known as trigger cranks, which are clearly defined in the bill in the same category as machine guns. And there would be a narrow path to a license, still, in state law for these — for gun collectors and law enforcement trainers. So those are the big differences between the House and the Senate.

They’re going to have to start negotiating this soon, especially since it’s attached to this budget bill that they need to get done.

Alright. Well, a handful of Massachusetts cities are hoping to win the great Amazon sweepstakes. The company is looking for a home for its second headquarters and proposals are due this week —Thursday, I believe. What's the state doing to coordinate all of these competing bids from Massachusetts cities?

Massachusetts is taking a somewhat different approach than other states. As you’re seeing some, like Colorado is working to consolidate a bid that they can submit to Amazon. But in Massachusetts, the governor expects anywhere from 10 to 20 local bids to kind of be put in. And we’re talking about Boston, Somerville, Worcester, Weymouth, a lot of different places.

And the state is putting together its own package that they hope to just sell Amazon on everything Massachusetts has to offer. The governor thinks it would be a mistake to get behind one specific bid, and that’s why he just wants to sell the education community, the access to employers, the investments that he says he’s making in transportation and housing that could be attractive and important for Amazon. So he’s going to pitch the state as just a good location, and let Amazon, if they like what they see, kind of pick their best site.

That’s probably a better political choice for him too, I guess.

Well yes, he doesn’t have to pick winners and losers here. We did see Newton Mayor Setti Warren get behind a proposal — Mayor Warren, of course, running as a Democrat for governor next year — getting behind Worcester as the place that Amazon should locate, obviously an appeal to Central Mass. voters, and people that feel left out if they’re outside of the 495 belt around Boston. So the governor doesn’t want to make that choice.