Baker and mandatory minimums

Gov. Charlie Baker has won praise for his efforts to increase awareness of opioid addiction and treatment options, but he continues to face criticism for his proposal to deal with the crisis by enacting new criminal penalties on those who deal drugs.

The governor on Tuesday is promoting his latest educational initiative, encouraging the state’s schools of social work to incorporate addiction training into their curricula. The goal is to better train the social workers of tomorrow on addiction treatment options.

But even as Baker tries to get more help to those who need it, he is also pursuing a get-tough approach, proposing a new mandatory minimum sentence for those who distribute drugs that lead to an overdose death.

“The governor should know better,” said Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor and a retired federal judge, in a Monday column in the Boston Globe. “The approach also sounded good in the 1980s and 1990s, when a crack cocaine epidemic led Congress to approve of mandatory minimum sentences that doubled or tripled drug penalties — 10- or 20-year sentences, even life imprisonment. But the move did little to stem drug-related crimes or addiction,” she wrote.

Noting Baker is a member of President Trump’s opioid task force, Gertner said “the governor seems to be taking a page from Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ book.”

Margaret Monsell, an attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, explored the premise of Baker’s proposal in a column last month in CommonWealth. Not only are such “strict liability” crimes difficult to prove, she said, they are likely to raise conflicts between two goals of the governor’s opioid strategy — the goal of accountability and the goal of treatment.

The governor’s legislation defines the illegal distribution of drugs that result in a death as manslaughter, punishable by a minimum of five years in prison. The governor said his proposal was needed to ensure accountability for those who distribute drugs.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Setti Warren said Baker’s proposal not only violates a campaign pledge he made about mandatory minimum sentences in 2014, but would also do nothing to stem the opioid crisis.

“Gov. Baker’s proposal to incarcerate more people in response to the opioid epidemic runs contrary to everything we’ve learned in the failed war on drugs, and to Baker’s own 2014 campaign promises,” said Warren, the mayor of Newton. “Mandatory minimum sentences do not make our communities safer and they do not reduce illegal drug use. Those are facts.”

BRUCE MOHL


The Fall 2017 print issue of CommonWealth is available online today. Review all the stories here; we’ll include them individually in the Download as they appear on the magazine’s home page.


BEACON HILL

A Herald editorial offers a mixed view of the Senate criminal justice bill, saying it has some worthwhile provisions but those do not include a call to raise the age for adult prosecution to 19 or relaxing sanctions for some drug dealers.

State Auditor Suzanne Bump talked about the deficiencies her office found in two recent examinations of the Veterans Services and Catastrophic Illness on Children Relief Fund. (Keller@Large)

Gov. Charlie Baker defended the outsourcing of the MBTA’s parts warehouse even though two employees of the contractor were arrested for stealing from the site. (Boston Herald) Two employees of Mancon LLC, a contractor hired to run the T’s warehouse operation, were arrested Friday for stealing copper wire and connecting cables. (WCVB)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, surrounded by water and federal regulations, face special pot challenges. (CommonWealth)

A former Boston police officer fired for assaulting a civilian while off-duty and whose hiring as enforcement officer for the Brockton health board was condemned by city councilors has officially started his new job. (The Enterprise)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, unchained by his decision not to run for reelection, engaged President Trump in a war of words over the weekend with each hurling insults and invective on Twitter and in interviews. (U.S. News & World Report) Trump’s battle with Corker, which began with the president tweeting out Corker didn’t have the “guts” to run for reelection, could threaten the administration’s legislative agenda with an already-thin margin of GOP votes in the Senate. (New York Times)

Wildfires quickly spread across northern California, killing at least 10 people and forcing the evacuation of 20,000. (New York Times)

A Herald editorial says some of the reaction against the Trump administration birth control coverage order, including threat of a lawsuit by Attorney General Maura Healey, is overblown.

ELECTIONS

Crowded winner-take-all primaries, incumbency, and special elections subvert the will of the voters, and suggest democracy isn’t working in Massachusetts. (CommonWealth)

As he prepares for an election next year, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker isn’t facing any pushback from the state’s Democratic congressional delegation. (CommonWealth)

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh looks like a lock for reelection, but does he have his sights set on higher office? (Boston Globe)

The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, using print mailings, targets 38 Democrats who voted themselves a pay raise. (Eagle-Tribune) The group has also created a database on the salary hikes.

Google says an internal investigation has found evidence that Russian operatives purchased search engine advertising in an attempt to disrupt the 2016 presidential election. (New York Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

In making a pitch to Amazon to site its second headquarters here, Boston offers a tale of two cities — one at the cutting edge and the other saddled with overpriced housing and a dilapidated transit system. (Boston Globe)

An Airbnb report says homeowners in the Berkshires earned more than $2 million renting to Tanglewood performers, staffers, and concertgoers. (Berkshire Eagle)

One-time gubernatorial candidate Juliette Kayyem is helming a startup that offers Uber-type service to kids. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

State officials are expanding a pilot program that gives significant tuition breaks to high performing community college students who transfer to one of Massachusetts’s public universities. (Wicked Local)

A Boston Globe editorial slams the overwrought criticisms from the PC police directed at Bay State native and noted author Theodor Giesel (aka Dr. Seuss).

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Janie L. Kritzman, using her son’s death as a guidepost, says colleges can’t be bystanders in the opioid crisis. (CommonWealth)

Despite Massachusetts having one of the highest childhood immunization rates in the country, the number of parents exempting their children is on the rise and there are pockets in the state where non-immunized children run as high as 9 percent. (Wicked Local)

TRANSPORTATION

A Q&A with three policy wonks — Marc Ebuña, Andy Monat, and Ari Ofsevit — who have become something of a shadow transit agency to the T. (CommonWealth).

Michael Widmer raises concerns that Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposal for a transportation commission may be just a delay tactic. (CommonWealth)

A report paid for by the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership sees great potential in regional rail. (CommonWealth)

A scathing consultant’s report on MBTA police officer Jennifer Garvey’s assault on a bystander says part of the blame lies with T police leadership. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The Trump administration announced it will repeal the Clean Power Plan, a key piece of former President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy and a move that will make it almost impossible for the country to meet the limits set out in the Paris accord. (New York Times)

A detailed report from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the owners of Pilgrim nuclear power plant failed to identify 23 “critical digital assets” that were vulnerable to cyber attacks despite being told by federal inspectors about the safety deficiencies. (Cape Cod Times)

Student activists at UMass Dartmouth have released a 10-point plan calling on college campuses to move to 100 percent renewable energy sources. (Standard-Times)

Researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute are testing new methods of underwater farming with robots and sensors to grow kelp as a cheap animal food source and for use in ethanol. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Roca and College Bound Dorchester are two organizations trying to convince young men to trade gangs and guns for a future. (CommonWealth)

A MassINC reports says high incarceration rates in Worcester result in higher crime in the city’s neighborhoods. (Telegram & Gazette)

Jennifer Nassour, a board member at MassINC, says criminal justice reform is a GOP opportunity to stop pumping cash into prisons. (Boston Herald)

North Adams has the highest crime rate per capita in the state, according to newly released statistics. (Berkshire Eagle)

A 13-year-old Taunton boy was arrested and charged with shooting a 12-year-old acquaintance in what police say is a case of “Facebook bullying.” (Taunton Gazette)

MEDIA

A former New York Times reporter says liberal Hollywood heartthrob and Cambridge native Matt Damon pressured her years ago to kill a story on allegations of sexual misconduct by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. (Boston Globe)

ESPN anchor Jemele Hill is suspended after tweeting that fans should boycott Dallas Cowboys advertisers and merchandise after owner Jerry Jones said players would be suspended if they kneeled at games. (Time)