State House Roundup: You Can't Do That

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Shutter speeds can be manipulated to control exposure, a basic tenet of photography that lawmakers put to use this week as the state’s high court handed down a controversial ruling that no doubt had some scrambling for their urban dictionaries.

The decision by the SJC to throw out the state’s case against a man caught taking “upskirt” photographs of women on the MBTA because it was deemed not explicitly illegal under current law drew immediate outrage, both inside and outside the building with the Golden Dome, not to mention a healthy dose of national ridicule.

“To tell women that they are not safe in a public place, that this is okay, boggles my mind,” Senate President Therese Murray huffed as she helped put the Legislature on a course to rectify the loophole – immediately.

While long exposures can be used to blur, fast shutter speeds have the effect of freezing a moving object. And freezing would-be perpetrators from thinking this activity was allowed, or worse condoned, in Massachusetts was something leaders knew couldn’t wait.

Reminding residents that they can move as quickly or slowly as suits their needs or desires, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Murray tasked their staffs with writing a new law that would ban the taking and dissemination of “upskirt” photos and video and sent the measure to Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk a day after the court decision on Thursday. Patrick, who routinely mocks the pace at which the Legislature works, signed the bill Friday morning.


"I don't know if we can move much faster than this here in the Legislature, but again I think once the decision was received by all of us last night I think that there was a feeling that something had to be done and done quickly," DeLeo said.

It was a photo of a different sort that grabbed headlines for Patrick, back from vacationing in Costa Rica and in the state for the first time since he uttered the word “maybe” to a national publication about a future presidential run.

Patrick may not be eyeing the 2016 race, but nothing stirs the pot like a snapshot stepping off Air Force One. Patrick joined President Barack Obama in Connecticut on Wednesday along with the governors of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont – or as Obama called them the Justice League of Governors – for an event pushing a minimum wage increase.

From there, Patrick hitched a ride aboard the lux Boeing 747 back to Massachusetts where Obama spent the evening making withdrawals from the Bank of Boston on behalf of the Democratic National Committee.

Just before the upskirting blowback caused by his court this week, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick Ireland announced his plans to step down in July, in advance of his mandated retirement at the end of the year when he turns 70. Ireland’s decision to leave the bench before the court’s new session begins in September guarantees Patrick ample time to select and confirm a new leader of the court. Legal observers noted the next nominee will be Patrick’s fifth appointee to the SJC, assuring him an unprecedented and lasting imprint on the judicial branch.

The COO of Massachusetts Bar Association Martin Healy said some in the legal community see Justice Ralph Gants, an early Patrick appointee, as the frontrunner to replace Ireland as chief, but Healy said he wouldn’t discount the chances of Patrick selecting someone from the African-American community, namely Mo Cowan, to replace the court’s only black justice. In a one-word response on Twitter, the bow-tied former interim U.S. senator and Patrick former chief of staff said, “No.” But he’s been convinced to do things before.

Whoever Patrick picks for the SJC, he’ll be hoping the confirmation process goes smoother than it did for Joseph Berman, the governor’s controversial pick for a seat on the Superior Court whose hopes for the bench were deflated when the Governor’s Council deadlocked 4-4 and Tim Murray was nowhere to be found to break the tie.

Speaking of flashbacks, the Inspector General’s office thrust Annie Dookhan back into the limelight this week with its final report on the chemist and state drug lab at the center of an evidence tampering scandal that compromised tens of thousands of convictions.

IG Glenn Cuhna was clear in stating that Dookhan acted alone to tamper with drug samples to produce false positives, but he simultaneously delivered a withering critique of management at the now-closed Hinton drug lab reaching as high as former Department of Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach.

When the Legislature wasn’t consumed with how to ban “upskirting” or talk about it to the press, the House passed a long-term borrowing bill for capital projects and the Senate addressed its version of a long-term transportation borrowing plan.

Both loaded with earmarks for local projects, former Gov. Michael Dukakis and former Rep. John Businger proved you don’t even have to be in the Legislature anymore to get an earmark, so long as you can find a friendly ear.

Dukakis and his ally-in-rail Businger burned up the phone lines to senators, and Sen. Jamie Eldridge successfully inserted a provision in the bond bill preserving the rights to develop a North-South rail link between Boston’s two transit major hubs – North and South Stations, the latter of which the House and Senate want to rename after Dukakis despite his apathy for the honor.

STORY OF THE WEEK: “Morally reprehensible” and illegal are two different things, a lesson learned and addressed by lawmakers at Beacon Hill’s version of the speed of light.