STATE CAPITOL BRIEFS - LUNCH EDITION - TUESDAY, JULY 8, 2014

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

AG: NEW ABORTION CLINIC PROTECTIONS WILL BALANCE FREE SPEECH RIGHTS

Attorney General Martha Coakley said proposed legislation to enhance security outside abortion clinics will balance public safety and free speech in the wake of a Supreme Court decision voiding the state's so-called abortion clinic buffer zone law. "We have competing interests here and we will work to strike that balance. So I'm confident we'll be able to do that here in Massachusetts," Coakley said after an event introducing a Women's Leadership Council that her gubernatorial campaign says will focus on well-being for women. Opponents of abortion cautioned lawmakers Tuesday not to "rush to judgment" when considering a new bill drafted by Coakley and Gov. Deval Patrick to increase security outside clinics. In a letter to House and Senate lawmakers from Massachusetts Citizens for Life President Anne Fox and Executive Director Patricia Stewart, the activists warned the new proposal won't meet constitutional scrutiny and will lead to new litigation on free speech grounds. When asked about the letter's claim that she "was dead wrong" about the constitutionality of the previous law, Coakley said the assessment was "absolutely not" fair. "We believed that statute struck the balance. The Supreme Court, right or wrong, has the last word," Coakley said, adding she will continue to fight to provide access to health care.


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In last week's McCullen v. Coakley decision, the high court unanimously voided Massachusetts's 35-foot buffer zone rule outside family planning clinics, which women's health advocates say is crucial to protecting patients and staff from protester harassment or violence. - M. Deehan/SHNS

CHEUNG: ABOLISH GUV'S COUNCIL SO LG CAN SERVE AS STATE COO

Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Leland Cheung wants to eliminate the Governor's Council, calling the eight-member panel that vets judicial candidates an "antiquated vestige" of colonial days that he would likely preside over if elected. Cheung, a Cambridge City Councilor, said in a press release that he thinks the state Senate should approve judicial nominations made by the governor so that the lieutenant governor can focus on economic development and job creation. "I propose that the Lieutenant Governor serve as the Chief Operating Officer of our Commonwealth - a forward-focused position that works with state agencies, local leaders, mayors, managers, non-profits, cities and towns with the common goal of building one Commonwealth that creates opportunity for every resident," Cheung said in a statement. Abolishing the Governor's Council has been suggested multiple times by other politicians in the past, but lawmakers have shown little appetite to advance the idea and at one point rejected the idea while meeting in a Constitutional Convention. Cheung was one of three Democratic candidates to win enough support at the party convention in June to move on to the primary election in September. Stephen Kerrigan, a longtime Democratic operative, narrowly won the most support from the party. Mike Lake, a 2010 candidate for auditor, also qualified for the ballot. - C. Quinn/SHNS

COAKLEY WEIGHS IN ON JUVENILE SENTENCING BILLS

Allowing juvenile murderers to become parole eligible after serving prison sentences of 20 to 30 years is "probably a fair range to look at," Attorney General Martha Coakley said Tuesday. The Senate on Tuesday is expected to consider a bill that does just that. The House version, which passed in June, is two-tiered, with juveniles convicted of first-degree felony murder becoming parole eligible in 20 to 25 years, and juveniles convicted of first-degree murder with deliberate premeditation or malice becoming parole eligible in 25 to 30 years. Lawmakers have crafted the bills in response to court rulings that say sentencing juveniles convicted of first degree murder to life without parole is unconstitutional. The Coalition for Fair Sentencing of Youth, which includes attorneys and former judges, has recommended 15 years, while victims' families say 35 years is more appropriate. Coakley, the state's top law enforcement official, said, "We know more now about kids' brains and maybe the way they make decisions and taking that into account." Coakley, who spoke to reporters after a gubernatorial campaign event, added, "So I don't come down on a number of years, specifically, but I think between the House and the Senate we'll get what is a good range." The Senate bill also creates a "setback period" for juvenile murderers, who would have to wait 10 years until their next parole hearing if their first attempt at parole is denied. Coakley said she would leave up to lawmakers to determine the appropriate period. "I'm sure that the House and the Senate are looking at those issues and what's appropriate," she said. "I would bow to their legislative determinations on that." - G. Dumcius/SHNS

>>> For video of Coakley's comments on the juvenile sentencing bill, go to http://www.statehousenews.com/video/14-07-08coakley/ <<<

SENATE TO TAKE UP AUTISM-FOCUSED BILL

The Senate on Tuesday will consider a bill aimed at assisting individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities and raising autism awareness. The bill creates a 34-member commission on autism with the Executive Office of Health and Human Services; requires the commissioner of the Department of Developmental Services to issue annual reports on department activities and programs; and requires programs that provide residential, day care services or treatment for developmentally disabled people to be licensed by the department. According to the Senate Ways and Means Committee's summary, the legislation will cost between $30 million to $60 million, though "many of these costs will be offset by long-term savings." The House unanimously passed its version of the bill (H 4047) in April. - G. Dumcius/SHNS

UMASS HANDS OUT YOUTH VIOLENCE, PHYSICAL FITNESS GRANTS

The University of Massachusetts on Tuesday awarded $270,000 in grants to faculty members for initiatives in the arts, humanities, and social sciences that bring creative resources to local communities. One initiative collaborates with the Peace Institute in Dorchester to assist victims of violence; and one will develop a marketing tool to help nonprofit arts and cultural organizations in the Fall River-New Bedford area, according to a press release announcing the grants. Another initiative aims to prevent obesity among young children. GoKidsBoston is a fitness, training and research program that has been in place at UMass Boston since 2006. The new project, awarded $39,842, will allow a team from UMass Boston and Northeastern University to link GoKids with a family gym at a City of Boston Centers for Youth and Families (BCYF) facility in Dorchester. The family gym program will target low-income families with young children in communities surrounding UMass Boston. "The Creative Economy Initiatives Fund provides us with a unique opportunity to contribute the talent and resources of the University of Massachusetts to communities and organizations across the state that are helping to enrich the quality of life in the Commonwealth," UMass President Robert Caret said in a statement. "These projects - and the partnerships with nonprofits and creative industries that stem from them - are foundational to our role as an institution that is committed to making a difference wherever and whenever we can.'' The fund was created in 2007, and functions similarly to the Science and Technology Initiative Fund. Since its inception, the Creative Economy Fund has awarded more than $2 million in grants, according to UMass officials. - C. Quinn/SHNS