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Healey introduces 'entirely different approach' to pardons

The Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Lancaster, Massachusetts, photographed in 2017. (Elise Amendola/AP)
The Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Lancaster, Massachusetts, photographed in 2017. (Elise Amendola/AP)

Some governors like to wait until the last minute before leaving office to issue pardons. Gov. Maura Haley is touting her decision to move quickly in her first year.

A lot of time governors tend not to make a big deal out of announcing pardons and they do it late in their terms. Maura Healey's going in the opposite direction. She did a radio interview and a press conference to announce seven pardon recommendations and also a plan to refocus the clemency process.

Chris Lisinski from the State House News Service explains Healey's thinking.

Chris Lisinski, SHNS: Gov. Healey really thinks that this — the clemency process that the governor can control — is a criminal justice reform tool. She said that she views this as a way to effectively soften some of the harshest edges of our justice system and right past wrongs that decades of research have now shown has a really disproportionate impact, especially on people of color, people from lower income backgrounds.

And based on the way that Healey spoke, it sounds like this could be just the start of an entirely different approach to clemency that we'll see over the rest of her four-year term.

Sam Hudzik, NEPM: These seven pardons are not a done deal. The Governor's Council still has to approve them and they do take these decisions seriously. I remember a few of Gov. Baker's pardons fell short last year.

That's right. Gov. Baker wound up withdrawing his proposed pardon for the Amirault siblings after it became clear there was not much support on the Governor's Council for that.

We don't know yet how the council is going to react to Healey's proposed pardons. They're not set to meet again until late June. But I imagine they'll probably be pretty receptive to it, given that all seven of these individuals were convicted decades ago on fairly minor charges, including several drug offenses, and since then have, by all measures, made deliberate efforts to really rehabilitate themselves.

Negotiations are on tap for a major tax relief bill in Massachusetts. The state House and now the Senate have both passed legislation, but there are differences that have to be sorted out. Chris, we've been down this road before, just last year and no deal was reached. What are the odds this year?

The odds are definitely looking better this time around, just because of the calendar. Last year this got into negotiations with maybe a week left in formal sessions for the term, and then everything got derailed by the sudden emergence of ... Chapter 62F that required state government to pay taxpayers back about $3 billion. Now, they've got more than a year to hash this out, which bodes well for the chances.

That being said, there are some pretty significant differences, both in the bottom line amount of tax relief and the individual policies themselves. So it is going to be, I imagine, a pretty arduous negotiation process.

In 2020, Massachusetts residents overwhelmingly passed a right-to-repair ballot question to require car manufacturers to make more maintenance and repair data available to car owners and repair shops. But now comes the federal government and it's telling the carmakers to not follow that state law. What's going on here?

That law has been effectively tied up in a legal battle since it got approved overwhelmingly at the ballot. I think it was 75% of voters in support. So it really hasn't taken effect more than two and a half years later.

Just last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration weighed in, wrote a letter that was filed in the federal court case, saying that they see this Massachusetts law as effectively a major safety concern that does not comply with federal safety law.

We don't know where this is going to land. This was a federal agency, of course, but the final decision is going to rest with the federal judge who's overseeing this legal battle about the law. But it certainly is not a good sign for voters who approved this and for the coalition of independent repair shops who led the campaign to make this change.

And Chris, last week, western Massachusetts lost a huge political name. David Bartley died at 88 years old. He was the last western Massachusetts resident to serve as speaker of the House, and that was the early 1970s. Bartley was also the longtime president of Holyoke Community College. What's been the reaction to his death on Beacon Hill?

A lot of praise for former Speaker Bartley in the wake of his death. I've heard him called the first modern speaker based on, both the approach he took and also just the way that politics and political media changed around that time in the late ‘60s and the early ‘70s. There's been a lot of praise in particular for the work he did to professionalize and develop legislative staff on Beacon Hill, rather than just rely on staff in the executive branch to produce all kinds of analysis, research, things like that.

And a lot of praise as well for the work he did with his Education Committee co-chair to enact a nation-leading special education law that still remains a model today.

Sam Hudzik has overseen local news coverage on New England Public Media since 2013. He manages a team of about a dozen full- and part-time reporters and hosts.
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