Institute for Legislative and Governmental Affairs

Programs and Events 2007 - 2008

By Arthur D. Wolf, Director

Fall 2007 

On Constitution Day (officially September 17 to mark the closing of the Constitutional Convention in 1787), we were privileged to have Justice John M. Greaney of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court as our keynote speaker. He focused his remarks on the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, in which John Adams played a major role, as the antecedent for the Federal Constitution of 1787. Justice Greaney noted the many comparisons between the two documents, including the doctrines of separation of powers, judicial independence, and checks and balances, among other fundamental ideas that the two documents share. He also referred to specific language in the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution that found its way into the U.S. Constitution drafted seven years later.

Justice Greaney observed that the Massachusetts Constitution contained a “Declaration of Rights” from the beginning, while the Framers in Philadelphia rejected a comparable Bill of Rights for the Federal Constitution. Needless to say, Congress corrected that oversight in the first Congress when the state ratification conventions insisted upon it.

The Institute also offered a three-credit course in Legislation, which we conducted in simulation mode. The students undertook major research and writing assignments involving federal and state legislation, including the drafting of bills for Congress and the Massachusetts General Court. The students also participated in simulated state legislative hearings, serving as committee members and witnesses for the bills they drafted. The students divided into four groups, selecting four topics of current interest.

First, state law provides that a defendant accused of operating a motor vehicle under the influence, whose license has been suspended, may get his or her license reinstated after acquittal even though such defendant refused to take a breathalyzer test. Professor Tina Cafaro ’95 has criticized this statute because it fails “to recognize that the suspension is not punishment for the alleged OUI, but instead is an administrative consequence for failing to take the breath test.” The students addressed the question whether the statute should be changed to recognize this distinction.

Second, on several occasions in the recent past, the Massachusetts legislature has debated and defeated proposals to authorize casino gaming. In light of Governor Patrick’s proposal for three casinos, the Legislature is now reconsidering the matter. The students focused on the question whether the General Court should reverse its position and authorize some form of gambling.

Third, Massachusetts law authorizes state courts to issue restraining orders to prevent domestic abuse between spouses or domestic partners. Critics of the law have noted the absence of procedural safeguards, the breadth of injunctive relief, and the ease with which restraining orders can be obtained. The students addressed the question of whether this statute should be amended.

Finally, stem cell research has surfaced as a critical issue of public policy, because some scientists believe it offers great promise for alleviating human disease and injury. Although the federal policy is more restrictive, Massachusetts has a permissive policy for stem cell research. The students discussed the question whether State policy needs to be modified, taking account of the ethical considerations surrounding the matter.
     

Spring 2008

On January 30, 2008, the Commission on Public Health Access held its first public meeting and hearing at the College with the assistance of State Senator Gale D. Candaras ’82, a member of the Commission. The 14-member Commission is charged with the study of the accessibility and quality of doctors who specialize in obstetrics and gynecological and neurosurgical care of women in western Massachusetts. “Western Massachusetts is losing physicians within these specialties at an alarming rate. It is a public health nightmare waiting to happen if women do not have access to quality doctors and specialists,” Candaras said.

At the public hearing, the Commission heard testimony from a variety of interested parties, including hospital executives, physicians, public interest groups, and members of the public. The testimony revealed that housing costs, higher compensation in other parts of the nation, and inadequate recruiting were some of the factors contributing to the shortage. The Commission resulted from Senator Candaras’ initiative in the fiscal year 2008 budget. “The Commission was at the top of my list in conversations with Senate President Therese Murray and Chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, Senator Steven Panagiotakas,” said Candaras.
   
On March 28, the Institute hosted a public hearing of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities. The cochairs of the Joint Committee are Representative Cheryl Coakley-Rivera ’95 and Senator Karen Spilka. The focus of the hearing was Senate Bill 65, which would reform the manner by which state agencies set compensation rates for certain human and social service employees. Sponsored by Senator Candaras, the measure would transfer the responsibility of setting compensation rates for these workers from the Executive Office of Administration and Finance to the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, create a regular system of rate review, and establish a social services advisory council to advocate for the industry. The human services industry is comprised of approximately 185,000 workers throughout Massachusetts.
   
At the opening of the hearing, Representative Coakley-Rivera, who presided, noted that human service provider jobs are an important part of the State’s economy. Senator Candaras observed: “One in ten men, women, and children in the Commonwealth are in need of these services. They, along with their friends and families, are counting on the Legislature to ensure that the human services industry is capable of providing an excellent level of care.”

During the spring and summer of 2008, the Legislative Institute hosted two major hearings involving members of the State Legislature, sponsored the annual Siena College summer fellows program, and helped arrange several continuing legal education programs with the Massachusetts Bar Association. In addition, the Massachusetts Appeals Court held its semiannual sitting in our Moot Court Room.
   
The School had the privilege of hosting two Siena College students, Hanok George and Samantha Tymchyn, on campus as part of a cooperative pre-law fellowship program. Working with Professor Sudha Setty, who is currently analyzing reforms to the U.S. state secrets privilege from a comparative perspective, Hanok extensively researched the history of the privilege in England and Scotland and reforms to the English or Scottish privilege since the U.S. doctrine was established in the 1950s.
    
Under the supervision of Professor Barbara Noah, an expert in health law, Samantha researched and wrote an essay about the impact of prescription drug advertising on physician prescribers and patients, especially questions of safety and over-prescribing. In her paper entitled “Death By Excessive Pharmaceutical Advertisements: Is There a Cure?”, she described and evaluated different regulatory responses that might reduce the negative impact of advertising.