Beacon Hill’s legislative chess match

IN THE QUEEN’S GAMBITthe popular series on Netflix, the protagonist is constantly playing a game of what-if in her head, trying to envision what her opponent will do in response to a series of chess moves.

 Gov. Charlie Baker and legislative leaders are doing much the same thing on Beacon Hill right now, trying to guess how the other will respond to their next move.

 The Legislature put the chess match in motion, passing a sweeping policing reform bill on December 2 and two days later a fiscal 2021 budget containing a series of provisions dealing with abortion. One of the provisions lowered from 18 to 16 the age at which a woman can procure an abortion without the approval of a parent or a judge. Another would expand access to abortions when the fetus is older than 24 weeks — in cases of “lethal fetal anomaly,” when the fetus “is incompatible with sustained life outside the uterus,” or “to preserve the patient’s physical or mental health.”

 Baker made his moves late last week, sending both bills back with amendments that leave much of the legislation intact while changing key aspects of the proposals. On police reform, his amendment put law enforcement personnel within his administration and not a civilian-dominated commission in charge of developing police training programs. The amendments also eliminated a ban on police use of facial recognition software.

On abortion, Baker’s amendment eliminated the lower age of consent, retained the language on lethal fetal anomalies, and narrowed the reach of the two other provisions. Instead of allowing abortions to “preserve” the patient’s physical or mental health, he changed the wording to allow abortions only when a pregnancy would pose “a substantial risk” to the mother’s physical or mental health. Instead of allowing abortions after 24 weeks in cases of lethal fetal anomaly and when the fetus is incompatible with sustained life outside the womb, he edited the wording to do away with cases when the fetus is incompatible with sustained life outside the womb.

Baker insisted he wants the police reform bill and the abortion provisions to become law, but he indicated he was ready to veto the police reform bill if he didn’t get his way and hinted at a similar stance on the abortion provisions. In a letter to lawmakers, he said: “I cannot support the other ways that this section expands the availability of late-term abortions and permits minors age 16 and 17 to get an abortion without the consent of a parent or guardian.”

The next move is up to the Legislature. It can accept the governor’s amendments, propose additional amendments, or send the bills back to the governor in their original form. The latter would mean the governor would have to sign the bills, veto them, or let them become law without his signature.

 Many advocates and elected officials slammed the governor for filing his amendments and some urged the Legislature to reject them. US Rep. Ayanna Pressley was the most vocal on the police reform bill. “I’m calling on all state legislators to strike down these amendments,” she told GBH. “They’re weakening what is already a modest proposal given the depth of the hurt caused by generations of brutality caused by police, unchecked.”

Rep. Russell Holmes of Boston urged lawmakers to compromise with the governor on police reform. “I think they can work through the concerns that [Baker] has and figure out from what he said what would make sense to us and send him something that I think he wants. Clearly, he wants to sign a bill,” Holmes said.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

 Time is short and the stakes are incredibly high. Is Baker being an obstructionist, or is he doing what voters asked him to do when they elected a Republican as governor to serve as a check on the Democrat-dominated Legislature?

 House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka – the next move is yours.