Massachusetts State Senate To Vote On 'Red Flag' Bill This Week

Jun 4, 2018

Is there a way to take away a person's legally licensed gun, fairly and constitutionally, if their family raises a “red flag”? Massachusetts lawmakers are working on that question.

Later this week, the state Senate is scheduled to vote on what's known as a red flag bill. It's a way for family members and others to temporarily take away guns from people believed to be dangerous.

A gun rights group said a similar bill that passed the state House is "constitutional nightmare." Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us to talk through we might see this week.

Jill Kaufman, NEPR: Will the Senate take a different approach?

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: They are planning to take this up on Thursday. Several senators, including the chair of the Judiciary Committee Senator Will Brownsberger, said that they would like to get it done.

But some things that have drawn some scrutiny, especially criticized by the local NRA chapter -- the Gun Owners’ Action League of Massachusetts -- has been the timeframe taking away guns for up to a year. [And] the fact that judges can issue these orders, even if someone is not able to appear before the court for a hearing on this. And just the legal standard of proof how [someone] would prove that they are not a danger to themselves or others.

We saw this argument, particularly from House Republicans prior to their debate, that this should be a mental health bill, not a gun bill. Their argument being that the root of mass-shooting violence and suicides across the country has to do with mental health, and the state should be treating that, and not just taking away their weapons.

Many politicians in Massachusetts, at least the Democrats, were in Worcester over the weekend at the state Democratic convention. WBUR and MassINC came out with a poll that found that Democratic candidates for governor in Massachusetts -- Robert Massie and Jay Gonzalez -- have little name recognition. At this point in the campaign, is that to be expected?

I don't think it's necessarily to be expected, but it is the status quo with this race. And it's been something that's been dogging these Democrats trying to take on the popular Republican incumbent. So the convention over the weekend was definitely an opportunity for them to get some attention. I think that WBUR/MassINC poll showed that some 80 percent don't even know who Jay Gonzalez is.

So the test over the weekend was to generate some buzz, not just among party insiders and the delegates who were there listening to the speeches and voting for endorsements, but also trying to capitalize on the event -- the headlines that it will generate, maybe build some momentum as we move into the summer, which can be a difficult time to get people's attention.

So let's get back to Beacon Hill for just a minute. The House and Senate still have to work out their differences on the budget soon. The governor is avoiding taking a stance on some fee increases -- for instance, a $2 surcharge on car rentals to help pay for police training. You wrote about that. What's going on there?

Both the House and Senate are now on record supporting these new $2 fees or surcharges that would be added to bills for rental cars. They want to use this -- they estimate it will generate about $8 million and they want to use this to help cities and towns train municipal police.

The Senate put it into its fiscal '19 annual budget bill that they debated at the end of May. The House put it into a separate standalone bill. But they're both on record.

The other fee piece the Senate put into their annual budget bill was increasing some registry of deed fees, such as for recording a mortgage, and they want to use this to bulk up the Community Preservation Act Fund, which helps cities and towns that opt in pay to rehabilitate parks and playgrounds and preserve open space.

The governor hasn't weighed in directly on either of these proposals, but he did say last week that he is generally reticent to look at fees. He thinks people are already paying too much.

Are the members of the conference committee yet appointed to hash out this budget?

They have not been appointed. It would not surprise me to see that happen this week. It's pretty standard who gets appointed to these. You're likely to see the chairs and vice chairs of the Ways and Means Committees of both branches, and the ranking members of the Republican Party from both branches appointed to this, and they will get at it. But they have, really, until the end of June to try and hash this out, and get it to the governor, so he can sign it by the fiscal year on July 1.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.