Category Archives: Massachusetts Statehouse

epoca filled the statehouse June 9, 2015 to let the judiciary committee know that the time for reform is NOW.

STORM THE STATEHOUSE! Reform within reach

Thanks to the continued actions of voters, Massachusetts state legislators are poised to take a giant step toward comprehensive justice and corrections systems reform by their Nov. 17, 2017 recess.

The state Senate passed an omnibus bill, S. 2185, on Oct. 27 contatining a series of reforms. The House introduced its own version, H 4011, An Act To Reform Criminal Justice this week, and they are expected to debate it Nov. 14 or 15.

The burning actions to take are: 

  1. Call and email your state rep AGAIN ! and remind him/her you support the SENATE version of reform, which covers more ground, and ask them to vote for amendments to strengthen the House version.

Ask like-minded friends to do the same- forward the note below. Identify your state rep & contact info here.

  1. Storm the Statehouse in person wearing buttons, t-shirts and stickers to broadcast your position.

There are several options.                                       summary of House justice reform bill

  • Weds. Nov. 8“Raise the Age Lobby Day”. Join young people of I Have a Future at 3 p.m.at the State House grand staircase.  https://www.facebook.com/events/776630415841283/
  • Monday, Nov 13, Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO)rally for comprehensive criminal justice reform, 1 p.m.at the State House grand staircase.
  • HIGHLY RECOMMENDED:Nov 14 or 15, attend debates in the House of Representatives to amend and discuss the particulars. Legislators want to see supporters in attendance. The sessions usually start at 11 am or 1 pm. More to come on specifics.

​Some aspects of the House bill we would like to see strengthened to be in line with the Senate version:

  • Raise the felony threshold to $1500. The House proposed it to be $750. It was last set in the 1980s at $250.
  • Allow greater permisiveness for juveniles to avoid incarceration, and to expunge their records.
  • Include the Romeo and Juliet clause to decriminalize sex between minors of the same age.
  • Provide pre-trial services and eliminate incarcerating people between arrest and trial because of poverty.

Here is an email to share with like-minded friends. THANKS for taking action. See you when we STORM THE STATEHOUSE next week.

STORM THE STATEHOUSE email to forward

Please call your state rep before Nov. 13 to encourage him or her to support  H4011, An Act Relative to Criminal Justice Reform. We are exhilarated to be on the cusp of giant steps of reform with the Omnibus Bill, the culmination of more than five years of baby steps.

Please share this email with like-minded friends anywhere in Massachusetts to encourage them to call and email their state representatives. The state Senate passed a stronger version of the Omnibus Bill on Oct. 27.

Attached is an info sheet with details on the House version of the bill.

Identify and optain contact info for your state rep here: https://openstates.org/

Please call, re-call and email your rep. If you get voice mail, ask for a return call from the rep and/or aide.

Here are talking points.

“My name is _____. I am a constituent of Rep._____. I am calling to urge Rep._____ to support H 4011, An Act to Reform Criminal Justice, during the House debate next week. This Omnibus Bill will bring much needed, long overdue, comprehensive reform to our state’s justice and corrections systems.”

“Activists and legislators have campaigned for reform for more than five years, to reduce the number of incarcerated people, to insure humane treatment while incarcerated, and to reduce recidivism.”

“Please support amendments that would more closely align the Senate and House versions of the bill.”

“Now is the time for reform. Many people believe that the system wastes too much money and destroys too many lives.”

“I will be watching to see how Rep. ____ votes on this bill, and share that information with my circle of friends in town. Thank you.”

THANK YOU

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Statehouse rally Oct 12, reform in reach

Some degree of comprehensive criminal justice reform in Massachusetts is likely in the next few months.  The question is how much.

The MA State Senate is expected to vote on its omnibus bill, S.2170, sometime in the next two weeks, perhaps on October 19th.  The House omnibus bill will probably be reported out shortly after that, and Speaker DeLeo said he hopes it will be voted on and the two bills sent to a conference committee before Thanksgiving.  Depending on how arduous that process is, we might have comprehensive criminal justice reform in Massachusetts by the end of December.  Exciting times indeed!

The biggest dangers here are that the Senate bill may be weakened by amendments, the House bill might be a lot weaker than the Senate bill, and the resulting law might not have much impact.

There may also be an opportunity to strengthen the Senate bill, especially its provisions regarding the conditions of solitary confinement.

If the proposed MA Senate omnibus became law, it would improve thousands of people’s lives.  Among other things, it would:

+  Reduce fees, fines, and other collateral consequences that trap people in a cycle of poverty and recidivism;
+  Raise the age for being tried as an adult to 19, with a mechanism to consider raising it to 20 or 21 in the future;
+  Promote the use of restorative justice;
+  Repeal mandatory minimums for lower-level drug offenses;
+  Expand eligibility for diversion to drug treatment;
+  Implement the SJC ruling that bail must be affordable;
+  Raise the felony larceny threshold from $250 to $1,500, in keeping with other states;
+  Allow records to be sealed after 3 years for misdemeanors and 7 years for felonies;
+  Restrict the use of solitary confinement and improve its conditions;
+  Provide for medical release of people who are incapacitated or terminally ill; and
+  Decriminalize disturbing a school assembly and sexual activitiy between young people close in age, also know as the Romeo and Juliet provision.

Six things you can do to help make real reform a reality:

(1)  Come to a rally for criminal justice reform today — Thursday, October 12 — 11 a.m. on the grand staircase in the State House.

(2)  Call or email your state senator and ask them to vote for the criminal justice reform omnibus bill, S.2170, without amendments that would compromise its goals.  You could add a request that they support amendments that would further improve the conditions of solitary confinement.

(3)  Call or email your state representative and ask them to make sure that Rep. Claire Cronin, the House Judiciary Committee co-chair, knows that they support a strong omnibus bill.  You could add that you hope the House bill will include some or all of the priorities listed above.  (You can look up your legislators at https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator .)

(4)  Send letters to the editor to your local paper explaining why you think these issues are important and supporting the Senate omnibus bill.

(5)  Write supportive comments (questions are fine too) on Sen. Will Brownsberger’s blog at https://willbrownsberger.com/senate-criminal-justice-reform-package/

(6)  Share this information with your friends (by social media, email, or good old-fashioned conversation) and tell them you’re excited by this opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives.

Lori Kenschaft

On behalf of EMIT leadership team

EMIT — End Mass Incarceration Together
a statewide grassroots all-volunteer working group of Unitarian Universalism Mass Action Network

The only way to reform our state’s judicial and corrections systems is through a number of bills passed over several years.
This requires regular contact with your state legislators.

​EMIT
End Mass Incarceration Together
a statewide grassroots volunteer
working group of Unitarian Universalist Mass Action Network
http://www.endmassincarcerationtogether.wordpress.com

A cop explains restorative justice

Restorative justice is a way to prevent people from entering the prison and court systems, and eliminates creating young felons. A short stint of 24-48 hours in jail can change the trajectory of a life FOREVER. More than a dozen communities in Massachusetts have voluntarily signed up for this diversion program. See more here.

Restorative justice is an equitable way for the people, property owners and families of those who are impacted and perpetuated a crime to sit together in a circle, and talk about what happened.

State Senator Jamie Eldridge [D-Acton] has sponsored legislation to introduce restorative justice to every community in Massachusetts.  The bill has been introduced in several sessions and has failed to gain endorsement at the State House. Most people don’t understand what it is and how it works.

Restorative justice allows people to take responsiblity for what they did, and for all parties to understand the impact on victims, perpetuators and property owners. The process reduces the rate of recidivism and keeps people out of jail and prison.

CSG plugs along toward proposing reforms

In response to activists requests for justice and corrections systems reform and a plethora of bills before the state Legislature in the last 2015-16 term, Gov. Baker convened a 25- member panel of electeds and state bureaucrats. They have partnered with the Council of State Governments [CSG] to propose an omnibus bill [a multi-faced reform bill] in Jan. 2017.  What follows is an update on that process of monthly meetings from the State House News Servce, summarizing activity and research by the CSG, a neutral non-profit that advises state governments on best-practices.

By Katie Lannan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, SEPT. 20, 2016…..Discussions of recidivism and community supervision slated for this fall are among the final steps in a process policymakers hope will result in reforms to the state’s criminal justice system.

After months studying recidivism trends, drivers of incarceration and other elements of criminal justice in Massachusetts, researchers from the Council on State Governments Justice Center plan to gather with a 25-member working group in December to go over final policy recommendations.

Those recommendations would then become the basis for legislation expected to be filed in January.

The Justice Center’s review launched after Gov. Charlie Baker, Supreme Judicial Court Justice Ralph Gants, Senate President Stan Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert DeLeo reached out in August 2015, requesting support in an effort to study the system and institute new data-driven and cost-effective practices.

In a letter to center staff, the four officials expressed hope that the the analysis would help them “better understand how we can further reduce recidivism and enable successful re-entry, and whether we can further reduce our prison and jail populations through early release programs while ensuring appropriate punishment and preserving public safety.”

Baker, Gants, Rosenberg, DeLeo and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito sit on a steering committee guiding the development of policy options.

The working group, which includes representatives from law enforcement, legal services, the judiciary, Legislature and executive branch, has held three public meetings so far, during which members have offered their reactions and suggestions to data presented by Justice Center researchers.

Three more meetings are planned for rest of the year, building towards a policy discussion before the start of the new legislative session in January.

The first, tentatively scheduled for the afternoon of Oct. 20, will explore prisoner release, reentry and recidivism, according to Justice Center spokesman Robert Busweiler.

A November meeting focused on community supervision will be followed by the December policy framework discussion, Busweiler said. Dates for those meetings have not yet been set.

Several criminal justice reform efforts this session stalled despite pushes from advocates and interest groups.

A series of Senate-backed bills — creating a medical parole program for terminally ill inmates (S 2433); raising the felony larceny threshold from $250 to $1,500 (S 2176); and a package of juvenile justice reforms including expungement of certain juvenile misdemeanor records (S 2176) — were not taken up in the House before the July 31 end of formal sessions and have remained before the House Ways and Means Committee.

New laws passed this session ended automatic driver’s licenses suspensions for most drug crimes unrelated to motor vehicles; banned the practice of sending women civilly committed for addiction treatment to a state prison in Framingham; and increased the penalties for trafficking of the opiate fentanyl.

Lawmakers have been awaiting the findings of the outside review before tackling other major justice system reforms.

Advocates, too, are watching with interest as the process enters its final months. The Jobs Not Jails Coalition, which rallied on Beacon Hill repeatedly last year in support of sentencing legislation and other reforms, is now working to determine its criminal justice priorities.

The coalition hopes to have its priorities finalized in October, and will then bring them to the steering committee of “decision makers” working with the researchers, said Lew Finfer, a coalition member and director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network.

“There’s definitely a lot of things we think about,” Finfer said. He said potential reforms could be viewed through “three frameworks” — changes that would affect people before they are incarcerated, while they are in prison, and after release.

If new laws do result from the recommendations, Justice Center staff will then work with policymakers for two to three years, developing implementation plans, providing progress reports, and testifying before relevant committees. According to a January overview of the project, the state will be able to apply for federal grants to meet “important one-time implementation needs, such as information technology upgrades and ongoing quality assurance outcomes.”

Justice Center staff also plan to help state officials identify metrics and monitoring strategies to gauge the impact of new policies on crime, incarceration and recidivism.

END
09/20/2016

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Massachusetts needs DATA DRIVEN info on justice

This opinion piece — “MA is MIA on criminal justice reform” — in The Boston Globe on July 17, 2016, highlights how Massachusetts lacks one comprehensive system to collect and analyze data on our justice and corrections systems. With a common tool, all of the various agencies — the 14 jails jails, state Department of Corrections, sex offender registry, local and state police and more — could all share data for the common good.

Other states, such as Colorado, have invested in such technology, which officials and electeds from across the state meet monthly to analyze for economies of scale, service delivery, cost/benefit savings and more.

Right now, a working group appointed by Gov. Baker is working with the Council of State Governments [CSG] to evaluate the Massachusetts justice and corrections systems to make recommendations for legislative reform in Jan. 2017. A chronic complaint by the working group is the lack of accurate data. It’s ironic that the bureaucrats and electeds who have created, maintained and defend the broken system, now attack the poor data the CSG researchers present as indicators for needed reform. This article highlights the value of good data.

By Stephen Goldsmith and Jane Wiseman

LOCKING UP MILLIONS of Americans costs a lot of money. It comes with devastating social consequences. And it has produced a vast archipelago of institutions at the local, state, and federal level that’s too complicated for even those who administer small corners of it to understand in full.

The White House’s newly announced Data-Driven Justice Initiative aims to tackle these interwoven problems simultaneously by reducing the number of criminal defendants held in our local jails on pretrial detention orders. Seven states and 60 counties across the country have signed up so far.

Notably absent from this coalition: Massachusetts, which continues its silence on the critical issue of local criminal justice reform.

One of the cornerstones of data-driven justice is the use of risk assessment in the pretrial process — to keep dangerous defendants in jail awaiting trial and let low-risk ones remain in the community, staying connected to family and work, and paying their rent and their taxes. Keeping low-risk defendants out of jail awaiting trial has been shown to result in less crime and lower costs — in short, good government.

A thoughtful and ambitious bill crafted by Representative Tom Sannicandro of Ashland and Senator Ken Donnelly of Arlington would finally incorporate data into the pretrial decision-making process and bring Massachusetts in line with this growing reform movement. The bill is long overdue — the current statute governing bail and pretrial in Massachusetts dates to 1836. A hodgepodge of updates has been made over the years, but the law is in need of a total overhaul.

Beacon Hill should move on this timely and important legislation. Delay in moving to data-driven justice increases crime and cost and decreases fairness in our administration of justice.

The decision about release or detention should be based on a defendant’s risk of flight and likelihood of committing a crime before trial. Analyzing existing data about the defendant’s risk is far more objective than the current methods, too often a judge’s best guess about the defendant’s risk and a defendant’s ability to scrounge up bail money.

The tragic murder of Jennifer Martel at the hands of Jared Remy demonstrates the horrific result when data are not used in pretrial release decisions. Remy had 20 prior arrests, mostly for violent offenses. Yet a few days before he killed his girlfriend, after being arrested on assault charges, he paid a $40 fee and was released on his own recognizance.

For every Jared Remy, there are just as many indigent nonviolent offenders incarcerated for minor drug or petty larceny charges who cannot scrape together bail money and sit in our local jails while posing no threats to our communities.

How do data help? By looking at factual prior records and current circumstances, judges can have objective information to guide the decision about pretrial release. Data are blind to famous names and expensive lawyers. Nor are data swayed by a defendant’s ability to make bail.

Jurisdictions that do use data to make pretrial decisions have achieved greater fairness, lower crime, and lower costs. Washington, D.C., releases 85 percent of defendants awaiting trial. Compared to the national average, those released in D.C. are two and a half times more likely to remain arrest free and one a half times as likely to show up for court. The results are lower jail costs and lower crime.

This approach can also help stamp out some of the inequity in the criminal justice system because we know that under the current approach defendants who already have advantages (higher income, employment, stable housing, etc.) are released more often than those with fewer advantages (lower income, ethnic or racial minority, etc.), even for the same crime.

Data-driven justice is also cheaper. Defendants released on their own recognizance cost essentially nothing. For a defendant released and supervised while awaiting trial, the cost is 90 percent lower than the cost to incarcerate. How much could be saved by moving to risk-based pretrial decision-making? Experts say that up to 25 percent of those detained pretrial might be safely released.

While precise estimates are difficult to determine, assuming Massachusetts mirrors the national rate incarcerating 60 percent of criminal defendants while awaiting trial, data driven reforms in line with this new White House initiative have the possibility of saving taxpayers anywhere from $60 million to $150 million annually. One of the few states to quantify the value is Kentucky, which saves $100 million a year with risk-based pretrial decision-making.

With Governor Charlie Baker and State House leaders looking to fill a significant budget gap, we can’t think of a better way to save Massachusetts taxpayers millions annually while reforming a broken system that perpetuates inequality and does little to protect the public’s safety.

Stephen Goldsmith is the director of the Innovations in American Government Program at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center. He previously served as a prosecutor in Marion County, Ind. Jane Wiseman is a senior fellow at the Ash Center. Previously she served as assistant secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety.

Save the date: June 9 Judiciary Committee hearing at Gardner Auditorium, Statehouse 1pm

To support criminal justice reform, you can contact members of the Judiciary Committee of Massachusetts before the June 9 hearing and if possible, attend hearing at Gardner auditorium at 1 pm. EPOCA will be sponsoring buses and possibly a rally before the hearing.

Justice will be restored and our prison population reduced ONLY through a series of bills passed over a number of years. In January, state legislators introduced many bills for justice reform for the 2015-16 session on Beacon Hill. The next step is for the Judiciary Committee [and other committees] to hold hearings and a favorable reference for each bill so it can be debated and voted on the floors of the Senate and House on Beacon Hill.

You can have impact by attending the hearing, and/or through  calls, letters and especially face-to-face visits with your legislator. See this link for a list of Judiciary Committee members. Even if your legislator is not on the Judiciary Committee, you can still call and write to the members and advocate they support reform.

Here are some of the bills supported by EMIT and maybe heard on June 9, 2015. For a complete list of bills, go here.  fact sheets on each bill, go here.

    1. Repeal Mandatory Minimums – (S 786 Creem) (H 1620 Swan) to allow judges to determine sentences to fit the crime for drug offenders. These laws contribute to the cost of prison and jails, and to their overcrowding.
    2. Pre-trial and Bail reform – (S 802 Donnelly) (H 1584 Sannicandro), to transition from a bail system based on ability to pay, to a system to determine if someone is not a danger to others, and will show up for court.
    3. Implement restorative justice programs – (S 71 Eldridge) (H 1313 Garbally), to provide an opportunity for offenders to repair the harm caused by the event, as opposed to punishment and incarceration.
    4. Extraordinary Medical Placement – (S 843 Jehlen) (H 1628 Toomey), to release terminally ill inmates to the community. The state spends an inordinate amount of resources to care for seriously ill incarcerated people who are no longer are a threat to public safety. We are one of the few states without this law.
    5. End collateral sanctions at the Registry of Motor Vehicles – (S 1812 Chandler) (H 3039 Malia), to remove the penalty that a drug offender loses driving privileges for up to five years and pays $500 or more to reinstate.
    6. An act to Increase Neighborhood Safety and Opportunity – (S 64 Chang-Diaz) (H 1429 Keefe). This Omnibus Bill will improve the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system, and re-invest in education and job training.
    7. Caregivers bill—(H 1382 Holmes) to establish community-based sentencing alternatives for primary caretakers of dependent children, charged with non-violent crimes, to alleviate harm to families and communities.
    8. Solitary confinement – (S 1255 Eldridge) (H 1475 Malia) to ensure appropriate use of segregation in prisons and jails that will also reduce recidivism and curb unnecessary spending.

What´s happening at the State House this term

Here´s a post from Commonwealth about Statehouse power positioning.

April 2, 2015

Rules debate puts Beacon Hill on hold

The MBTA isn’t the only state entity that’s been operating with significant delays. The movement of legislation on Beacon Hill has been ground to a halt by a debate on internal rules that is fraying nerves no less than February’s frozen subway switches and iced-over third rails.

At issue is the process by which bills move from committees to the two legislative chambers, a structure that senators say has increasingly weakened their branch in a system that is supposed to be one of legislative co-equals. The two chambers have been trying to negotiate a resolution of their differences for several weeks, and tempers are starting to get short.

Almost all legislation on Beacon Hill, whether filed by a senator or a representative, is initially directed to joint committees made up of members of both branches. The joint committees hold hearings where the pros and cons of a bill are first aired. It takes a majority vote of the committee to then advance a bill to one of the two chambers. But since the 160-member House has nearly twice as many members on the 25 joint committees as the 40-member Senate (the usual makeup is 11 representatives and six senators), House members effectively control the movement of bills out of committees.

Senators have said delay tactics are increasingly being used to bottle up bills House leaders aren’t eager to see advance. The solution unanimously endorsed by the Senate in February was to change the rules governing joint committees so that House and Senate members could, with a majority vote of just the members of their branch, send any bill back to the branch where it originated. Though the rule would apply to both House and Senate members, it is senators, who are at a numerical disadvantage when the committees vote as a whole, who are eager to see the change.

House leaders have shown no interest in such a change. Speaker Robert DeLeo called the proposal a “non-starter” last month.

Senate President Stan Rosenberg has taken to social media to explain the Senate’s view on the rules debate. He posted on his website a “Message on the Joint Rules,”coauthored with Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and Sen. Mark Montigny, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee. They said the joint committee structure is an efficient way of holding hearings on bills. “This arrangement, however, is not living up to its full potential,” they wrote. Bills move slowly out the joint committees, and “many don’t come out of committee at all,” they wrote.

The problem began worsening, Rosenberg told the State House News in early March, when the Legislature moved 20 years ago to a system that allows bills to carryover from the first year of each two-year legislative session to the second without being refiled or having a new hearing. Before the change, bills were filed each January and had to have a hearing by April of that year. Under the new system, bills are filed in January of the first year of the two-year session, with rules mandating only that a hearing be held by March of the following year. The Legislature also modified its schedule to end its formal sessions on July 31 of that second year, which means bills might have only a four-month window during the two-year session in which they must be directed out of the committee where they were first heard.

Rosenberg and many senators also sent out last week via Twitter a graphic that shows how bills move — and often don’t move — through the Massachusetts Legislature. “This hurts efficiency and makes your government less effective,” the reads the text accompanying the graphic.

House leaders have not taken well the airing out so publicly of an issue that is one of the ultimate inside-baseball matters on Beacon Hill.

DeLeo’s office declined to comment. But House Majority Leader Ron Mariano, the lead House negotiator in the six-person conference committee of representatives and senators trying to resolve the rules standoff, sounded off earlier this week.

“I was extremely disappointed that the Senate president had gone on Twitter,” Mariano told reporters outside a State House hearing room on Tuesday after testifying on several revenue bills. He suggested that taking internal debates like this public could damage the working relationship between the two branches.

Behind the battle is an unfolding dynamic that has set the two branches on something of a collision course. The House has been tilting more toward the political center in recent years, while the Senate has been adding members eager to advance a full-throated liberal agenda on everything from taxation to criminal justice reform. But a good deal of the standoff goes beyond any ideological differences, as evidenced by the endorsement of the proposed rule change by the Senate’s six Republicans.

State House observers say the House has become increasingly wary of taking on controversial issues that could force representatives to take tough votes. House members, with districts only one-quarter the size of their Senate counterparts, are seen as more vulnerable to challengers who don’t face as daunting a fundraising or organizational task as would-be challengers for Senate seats.

The two chambers are also being guided by legislative leaders at very different stages of their reign. While DeLeo has been firmly ensconced for six years — and recently got his members to abolish the eight-year term limit on his office that had been in place — Rosenberg just took the gavel as Senate president in January and is eager to make his mark. What’s more, across their long legislative careers, Rosenberg has been a more policy-focused pol than DeLeo, so he already comes to power with an interest in a more activist approach to the legislative process, an inclination shared by an increasing share of his issue-oriented Senate members.

The Senate proposal would do nothing to change the fact that any bill must win a favorable vote in both branches before going to the governor’s office. But allowing the Senate to control and pass its own bills means measures that now often seem lost in the legislative ether — sent to a “study,” often termed the “legislative graveyard,” or tied up through other tactics — would now be awaiting House action. Groups advocating particular bills could then direct their lobbying efforts — and public campaigns — at the branch where action on a piece of legislation is needed.

Rosenberg declined to comment on the ongoing rules debate, with his office citing the sensitivity of ongoing negotiations. Neither Tarr, the Republican minority leader, nor Montigny, who is the lead Senate negotiator in the conference committee, would comment.

If an agreement can’t be reached, the Senate could resort to the so-called “nuclear” option of ending the joint committee structure and establishing a separate Senate committee for each issue area.

That would, in fact, put Massachusetts in the mainstream. Forty-six states operate with separate committees in each branch, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Just Maine and Connecticut share the joint committee structure that Massachusetts uses. And only Maine requires a vote of the entire committee to move a bill forward. Connecticut uses the system Massachusetts senators are proposing, with joint committees but with each branch able to control the flow of its own bills.

It’s not likely to be suggested by either branch, but one way to resolve the standoff would be to do away with our two legislative branches altogether and join Nebraska, the one state with a unicameral legislature.

–MICHAEL Jonas