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Sen. Hinds on the all-night session that concluded the Massachusetts legislative session

State Senator Adam Hinds holds a microphone at an outdoor event.
Becki Joppru Connolly
State Senator Adam Hinds, speaking in the Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council chambers in 2021.

Midnight last night was meant to be the end of the two-year Massachusetts state legislative session. As it played out, the session continued through the wee hours of the morning as conference committees hammered out compromise details between House and Senate bills. The body was ultimately gaveled out after 10 a.m. It also marks the end of an era for State Senator Adams Hinds. The Democrat, who has represented the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden since 2017, did not seek re-election after an unsuccessful bid to make the primary ballot for lieutenant governor. Speaking this morning with WAMC, Hinds explained what the House and Senate accomplished at session’s end, from expanding dangerousness laws to a compromise on sports betting laws.

HINDS: Ultimately, the big difference is, can you vote on college sports? The answer is yes. And, but the difference here is, and the compromise was, you cannot bet on Massachusetts colleges unless they're in a tournament like the NCAA. And so that's where we landed after, really, years of work on that.

WAMC: Now, the Senate also adopted an expansion of dangerousness law. What does that mean? And what does this change to it mean?

Well, now that we've passed the deadline, it doesn't, won't result in much. But there was an effort to say, to add a couple of items. One, if you tamper with a GPS device that there are new penalties applied, and then a second, adding the types of crimes that would be eligible for a dangerousness hearing, i.e. keeping somebody in custody until a trial. So that passed. I was opposed to it for numerous reasons. We've been working through criminal justice reform for years now, and this seemed to be going in different direction. And then on top of that, literally at the 11th hour, and so, literally around midnight, you know, having new items thrown on us. It just didn't feel right. It seemed like it should go through the normal legislative process. But nevertheless, it did pass the Senate. But that's about where it ended.

I'm interested in your thoughts on that concept of expanding dangerousness hearings. There's been a lot of conversation in Berkshire County about the concept that ending cash bail is seen as a success from progressives trying to expand a reckoning with racial justice and equity within the criminal justice system, but also expanding dangerousness hearings and holdings also sort of creates the potential for more people to be held with absolutely no recourse to escape custody. Any thoughts on that dynamic?

Yeah, I mean, I should say at the outset, clearly the victims were at the top of everyone's mind, and how do you protect folks who are being threatened or perceive a threat, and that's a real concern. And yet it is the case that there's been a shift, particularly after criminal justice reform in 2018, away from bail hearings and holding people on bail towards the dangerousness. And so it's been a kind of a concerning elevation in the use of that. So, merely shifting, I suppose, in many respects, in taking away people's liberties at a point in the process when they're not been deemed guilty. And so I think we also have to be very careful about going down that path as well. And so that's where the debate was, and there was a really robust debate, in fact, and of course, wanting to make sure we understand who's being targeted more for use of dangerousness hearings and being held, and again, on the types of crimes that were articulated. And so I think some of us had concerns on both. But that's where we are.

Any other highlights from this session that you want to draw attention to with the final gaveling out this morning at 10 a.m.?

Two big things. I mean, one, we did a major mental health bill, one that will be a model across the country allowing for mental health checks, you know, free of charge, and allowing for the sense that you would have a wellness check for physical ailments and we should have the same for mental health as well, and a whole range of other really proactive ways to say that we need to deal more proactively with our community's mental health. And so that's a really big one, and it was a real priority of the senate president. So that's one to talk about further at some point. The other, of course, was, we spent a lot of time working on a, what was a multi-billion dollar economic development bill that included $1 billion in tax cuts. And that did not make it across the finish line in time, in part because of this surprise around an old statute from 1986, 62F, related to revenues, when you have excess revenues and returning that in the form of tax rebates. And so that's on the horizon for around $3 billion in estimated. And so ultimately, the conference committee decided, look, we need to take the time to understand the real impact of that. And it's our sense that we're not putting these items aside. That bill, the economic development bill, had real big investments in community health workers and nursing homes and the like, and so there was some really big pieces there that we need to preserve. And the question now is, can we find another vehicle in informal sessions or potentially a supplemental budget? And so that, everyone’s going to take a breath, get a few hours of sleep, and go back at it and try to work that a little further.

Any disappointments with the end of this session, Adam? Anything you wish you had gotten to or wish that the body had addressed that it has not during this phase?

Well, look, in my district, we put a lot of time and energy in finishing a rural schools report for the rural schools commission, and really hoped that that would lay the groundwork for elevated rural school aid and reimbursement for school transportation. And so while we did not get that into the economic development bill or at the end of the session, we do have opportunities, maybe through a supplemental budget, and certainly in the next year or so. A lot of work to continue there. That's one that I had my eyes on, for sure.

Now, last week, there was news that the Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka had rejected the State House staffers’ push to unionize. What are your thoughts on President Spilka’s decision? And do you have a message to staffers expressing frustration with being denied the opportunity to unionize?

You know, look, I've been public in supporting the effort to unionize and will remain supportive. I do think that there are a lot of issues that Senate counsel brought to the membership, and they involve a range of things from ethics considerations and a whole range of other things. And, to me, I think, what I hope that that's the starting point, and we can continue to identify those as the issues that need to be worked through, and I'm hoping that that's not to the final word.

Were you disappointed in the President's decision?

You know, look, I firmly believe in the right to organize. And so on that basis, I hope that we can still get some progress here.

Now with the session over, when does the body next reconvene, and what is being set for the next round of legislative efforts on Beacon Hill, Adam?

So, we'll reconvene informal session, in an informal session, this Thursday. So the work of the body will continue. Those are, typically means items that don't need a roll call. They're less controversial. And so, I'll continue to push for local items in that in that space. But, you know, ultimately, it means we may not reconvene until the new year in a real serious way. And so this is an opportunity. It's a deliberate choice to allow members to take a recess during the August month and campaign if they have a race, and so that's what you'll see happening next.

Do you anticipate making any endorsements in the [lieutenant governor] race at this point?

You know, I'm going to stay out of that. I've been a firm supporter of Attorney General Healey and so I'll keep focused on the governor's race.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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