Amid pointed criticism from survivors and wrangling over the course of deliberations, lawmakers on Monday defended their decision to increase Governor Charlie Baker’s so-called dangerousness bill by arguing it could subject defendants to unnecessary detention and would conflict with other criminal justice reforms.
In five ’roundtables’ over the past seven months, survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault have called on the Legislature to advance Baker’s proposal to overhaul how courts try dangerous suspects , a designation that can lead to their detention. But at the final roundtable at the State House Library, three days after the Judiciary Committee again stifled the measure, attendees took aim at lawmakers.
One woman, who wanted to be identified only as Jo, said that upon hearing that lawmakers had again killed the measure, she felt like she had been “punched in the face”.
“I had hoped that by opening up in this way, I would help the Judiciary Committee see what it was like to be abused and the justice system,” Jo said of sharing. his history. “Unfortunately, they didn’t hear me. Or did they? I do not know. I wonder now if they actually listened to any of us. To believe that the co-chairs and the committee just didn’t listen is less hurtful to me and less bad, I guess. Because if they heard us and they listened to all the roundtables and they heard our heartbreaking stories of abused children, women raped, stabbed and beaten by intimate partners, then I have to believe that I I’ve spoken to cold, insensitive people who have no empathy or care for the well-being of our children or the thousands of victims who are being abused.
“The action of the Judiciary Committee is shameful, insulting and disrespectful to all of us,” Jo said.
Top Democrats who have recommended scrapping the proposal for the third straight session have argued that events at the Baker roundtable glossed over several sections of a sweeping bill.
Other provisions of the legislation, which have prompted warnings from several civil rights groups, would have required that all arrestees be fingerprinted, not just those arrested for felonies, and would have allowed prosecutors to request the detention of suspects for any convictions in their past, regardless of how much time has passed. Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, said the latter section would allow a prosecutor to use a 15-year trespassing conviction “to detain someone even though that person may be a very different person now.”
“This legislation does much more than the narrow issue that has been the subject of the administration’s well-crafted public relations tour,” Rep. Michael Day, who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “The widespread opposition and concerns we heard from colleagues, survivors and civil rights advocates about the problems with this bill were not reflected in the Governor’s description of this bill; concerns that have been made clear before when the Administration tabled these proposals in previous sessions.
Four dissenting lawmakers on the committee are voting to send the bill to study: Republican Representative Alyson Sullivan, Democratic Representative Colleen Garry, Democratic Senator Cynthia Creem and Democratic Senator John Velis, according to a committee aide.
Nine lawmakers on the committee voted in favor of the study order and three reserved their rights. The committee did not name those who endorsed the study or declined to take a position.
Eldridge, who co-chairs the committee alongside Day, said the legislation contained “a number of serious concerns”, including a significant expansion of the list of crimes for which suspects could be held in jail for 180 days and a ” back forever” to any past convictions of the accused.
“There are myriad issues in the justice system that need to be addressed,” Eldridge told the News Service. “I think it’s about making sure that courts and prosecutors are more responsive to the needs of victims of domestic violence. There needs to be more support outside of court, whether it’s safe homes, more funding for DV services, better trained law enforcement, as opposed to an overly punitive approach that would brush off a whole bunch of people who have nothing to do with domestic violence.”
Baker blasted lawmakers in a statement Friday, saying their decision “protects abusers at the expense of survivors,” and ratcheted up the pressure by scheduling another event with survivors on Monday.
At the start of the final roundtable, which featured moving stories from survivors and a choked Lt. Governor Karyn Polito thanking them for their courage, Baker said he believes “with all my heart that this problem is much more widespread. across the commonwealth that people don’t understand.
“The state has not been there to look after you and bring your concerns and issues into its own political and statutory framework,” Baker told survivors. “A big part of what we’re trying to achieve here is to empower you to believe that the state is on your side.”
The study order essentially guarantees that no action on Baker’s proposal, a version of which he tabled in each of the previous two sessions, will occur during his final year in office.
Day, a Democrat from Stoneham, said the panel “attempted to seriously work with members of the administration” on potential changes to the bill, but found their concerns “were not being meaningfully addressed. “.
His co-chair, Eldridge, said he had never heard directly from the governor and never believed the administration would be willing to cut sections that affected certain lawmakers.
“Executive communication was not a conversation around a narrower bill,” Eldridge said in an interview. “It was a pretty cohesive public relations campaign to get the whole bill passed. I have not spoken to Governor Baker about this bill this session. He didn’t call me. I did not feel that a compromise bill was considered acceptable.
Asked about Eldridge’s comment and whether a compromise was ever on the table, Baker said: ‘This is a blatant misrepresentation of the facts and the process. This is a blatant misrepresentation, period. That’s not true.”
“I’m begging you all to make these changes,” another survivor named Tara said at Monday’s event. “Remove control from these abusers and stop them from mocking our justice system, and give them the right to reoffend and continue to use the system in their favor. It does not mean anything. What is a human life worth? What is your own life worth? …and not doing so is just disgusting and sickening to me. In my opinion, either you are an abuser yourself or you know people you are protecting. That’s all I have to say.”
Baker said he hadn’t given up hope and would work to get lawmakers to “review this at some point” in other pending legislation before the end of the session.
The two presidents did not slam the door on future action. Eldridge said he would “certainly be open” to considering a “smaller bill” in the 2023-24 session.
“As Governor Baker himself wrote, ‘The public square has many opinions on how to help people and solve problems. Listen to them all. Insight and knowledge come from curiosity and humility,” Day said. “In that spirit, we will continue to work with our colleagues, with our district attorneys, and with survivors and survivor groups on this issue and are optimistic that these discussions will be fruitful.”
Many civil rights and criminal justice reform groups, including the ACLU of Massachusetts, opposed Baker’s legislation, warning that its expanded scope would create disproportionate impacts on communities of color and broaden the reach of the justice system.
“In the criminal justice system, sentences are supposed to follow proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime has been committed. The dangerousness hearings reverse that,” Anthony Benedetti, chief counsel for the Public Counsel Services Committee, said in a statement. “Across the state, hundreds of people, presumed innocent, are in jail. Many have been there for months. Extending a law that allows the state to take your freedom before trial does not improve our system. reinforces distrust of a system that we are trying to reform.
Another of Baker’s criminal justice priorities, cracking down on the distribution of sexually explicit images and videos without a subject’s consent, remains in legislative limbo as lawmakers race toward the end of the term.
In May, the House unanimously approved legislation to ban the distribution of what is often called “revenge pornography.” Senate leaders have not signaled any plans to take up that bill, and Senate Speaker Karen Spilka made no commitment on the matter Monday.
“We’ll have to see,” Spilka said of a revenge porn ban. “There are several bills that senators want to address. There are many things on the horizon. There are many things that the Senate has done and we hope the House will pick them up as well. As you all noted, time is running out, to be frank. So we will continue to work, but I know that we are looking at many interesting bills and that we will get there and that we will go to the Senate and the Governor’s office as much as possible.
Eldridge said he thought it was “certainly possible” for the Senate to pass the House-approved bill before the end of the legislature, although he said action could “significantly increase the number of minors involved in being charged.”
Massachusetts is one of only two states that doesn’t have a clear revenge law on the books, proponents of a ban say. Asked why lawmakers have been reluctant to act, Eldridge replied: “It’s probably a case where law enforcement and, with all due respect, the media have been very, very focused on that even though it’s not a particularly serious problem in Massachusetts.”