Institute for Legislative and Governmental Affairs
Programs and Events 2007 - 2008
By Arthur D. Wolf, Director
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.
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.
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.