Tag Archives: beacon hill

THREE free events in April will give you more substance when you meet with your state rep to encourage him/her to support justice and corrections systems reform bills this session on Beacon Hill. Please post and share.
You’re welcome to join Unitarian Universalist Mass Action Day on the Hill on Tuesday, April 11 http://www.uumassaction.org/events-2/  Storm the statehouse with more than 100 activists to visit your state rep on that day of action. All welcome. Make our collective voice heard!  ($35).
1 – Thursday April 6 at Harvard, 10 am- 4 pm. Free.
A conference
2 – Thursday April 6 Belmont  7:30 pm, in the church library. Free
Leslie Walker, director of Prisoners Legal Services, will speak at the First Church UU in Belmont, 404 Concord Ave in Belmont, across from the Commuter Rail station. An expert on prison conditions, Walker will speak on  the problems, how prison conditions contribute to a high rate of poverty and recidivism among former prisoners, and her recommended solutions.
3- Sunday, April 23 Arlington, 2 pm, Free, donation requested
Adam Foss on the Evolution of Prosecution
First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington
630 Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington Center

Prosecutors have enormous power and discretion, and their decisions shape thousands of lives.  Some are realizing that their traditional tools can’t solve the real problems people face.
Adam Foss is a former Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney and the founder of Prosecutor Impact, which helps prosecutors learn a better way.  His TED Talk on “A Prosecutor’s Vision for a Better Justice System” has been viewed more than 1.5 million times.  (https://www.ted.com/talks/adam_foss_a_prosecutor_s_vision_for_a_better_justice_system)
Come hear him speak about how prosecution needs to change and how we can help.
 This event is free and open to the public.  An optional $10-20 donation to support Prosecutor Impact will be invited but not required.

Sponsored by the Mass Incarceration Working Group of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. Questions? Email end-mass-incarceration@firstparish.info .

End the criminalization of poverty

We have the opportunity to end the criminalization of poverty and “Fine Time” curing the 2017-18 session of the Massachusetts State Legislature.  Sen. William Brownsberger has introduced a comprehensive bill to prevent people from imprisonment because of inability to pay fines.

Read more in this opinion column published in USA Today.

Suspending driver’s licenses creates a vicious cycle: Column

Some states are recognizing the injustice of linking to the ability to pay court-imposed fines and fees.

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Though our nation feels more divided than ever, there is a common concern that cuts across party lines and entrenched ideological silos: a pervasive sense that we have failed to give all Americans an equal opportunity to attain the American dream.

Despite our best efforts, government policies too often create obstacles that prevent Americans from climbing the ladder of opportunity. Nowhere is this disparity more evident than in the criminal justice system.

It is universally understood that the justice system should be fair — and that those who violate the law should be held accountable, pay their dues, and move on. But too often, justice comes only for those who can afford it. And all of us pay the price.

Consider the case of Damian Stinnie. A product of Virginia’s foster care system, Damian graduated from high school with a 3.9 grade point average and went right to work, making close to minimum wage. Then he lost his job. In the four months it took for him to find a new position — another low-paying job in retail — he received four traffic citations. The total owed on the resulting fines and four sets of court costs was just over $1,000.

Making only about $300 a week, Damian could not pay his fines and fees in 30 days. The court gave him no other payment options. Instead, with no notice and no inquiry into his ability to pay, his driver’s license was automatically suspended by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

As a result, Damian was caught between two untenable choices: risking more fines and possible jail time if caught driving with a suspended license, or losing his job because he didn’t have a way to get to work. Months later, when he was diagnosed with lymphoma, he then had to choose between breaking the law and making his doctors’ appointments.

Second, license suspension for conduct other than drunken driving makes us less safe by diverting resources from critical public safety concerns to arresting, prosecuting, adjudicating and sometimes incarcerating defendants for license suspension cases.

How can we stop this troubling and growing trend?

 

This type of commonsense criminal justice reform has strong bipartisan support. Even in a divided nation, we can agree that our criminal justice system must dispense justice fairly and equally, and that policies disproportionately punishing the poorest among us have no place in our courts.

Marc Levin is policy director of Right on Crime. Joanna Weiss is director of Criminal Justice Reform, The Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @USATOpinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To submit a letter, comment or column, check our submission guidelines.

The inhumanity of solitary

U.S. faith leaders push for prison reform of solitary confinement

Rev Laura Markle Downton, director of the U.S. Prisons Policy and Program at the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, is pictured in a replica solitary confinement cell during the Ecumenical Advocacy Days event in 2015. Photo: CNS/Erin Schaff, courtesy Perisphere Media

The “SHU” is not much larger than a good-size bathroom.

The SHU, or special housing unit, was where Johnny Perez spent a total of three years – the longest period being 10 months – in solitary confinement during the 13 years he was in New York prisons for armed robbery.

The tiny cells where inmates are sent for breaking prison rules or misbehavior are also known by nicknames such as the box, the bing, punk city, the hole, the pound and lockdown.

Perez was sent to solitary for fighting, testing positive for marijuana and having a frying pan in his cell.

In solitary he was alone with his thoughts 23 hours a day, with an hour outdoors in a small caged area for exercise. Corrections officers who brought meals and conducted security checks offered his only human contact.

“If they’re not sociable then you won’t be having a conversation with them,” Perez said of the guards. “One didn’t even look me in the face. It’s hard that the only person you come in contact with doesn’t validate you as a human being.

“It was dehumanising.”

Perez, 37, made it through isolation with no debilitating psychological effects, unlike some others. He received “tons of magazine subscriptions” and two books a week – the maximum allowed – from his family and their church. He had writing materials so he could journal and also thought a lot about being elsewhere, far from the around-the-clock fluorescent-lit cell. He kept reminding himself, “I have to leave here the same as I came, that I don’t succumb to my environment.”

It was an environment where the men in neighbouring cells screamed, acted out their frustration in anger and cut themselves. And there was suicide.

About halfway through his sentence Perez began to realise “my mother didn’t give birth to me to sit in a jail cell”. He had a daughter who was born two days before he was arrested and he had barely seen her.

Perez enrolled in college classes while incarcerated, studying criminal justice and is set to graduate from St Francis College next year. His studies and change of heart helped prepare him for his first job when he was released from prison two and a half years ago. Today, he is a safe re-entry advocate with the Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project in New York City helping the newly released adjust to life outside of prison.

He also is a vocal advocate for solitary confinement reform.

Perez’s stay in solitary was relatively short. Some incarcerated people have spent 30 years or more in isolation.

Advocates like Perez have joined their voices in a growing campaign to call attention to the wide use of solitary confinement nationwide. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 people were held in isolation in 2014, said a report from the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program at Yale Law School and the Association of State Correctional Administrators.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called attention to the importance of the criminal justice system to rehabilitate people convicted of crimes and that imprisonment “should be about more than punishment” in its 2000 statementResponsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice.

While the bishops did not address solitary confinement directly, they expressed a belief that prisons are places where human dignity must be respected.

Advocates for reform as well as psychologists say solitary confinement often destroys people rather than rehabilitates them.

The Washington-based National Religious Campaign Against Torture, of which the USCCB is a supporter, is one of numerous organisations calling for the end of solitary confinement.

Rev Laura Markle Downton, director of the U.S. prisons policy and program for the religious campaign, compared inmate isolation to torture, citing a 2011 United Nations finding.

“For us as people of faith, we really see this effort as a profoundly moral effort, that we would deny any person access to community, access to restorative justice, to, what I would say as a Methodist minister, access to redemption and a belief in God’s ability give us all a second and third and 23rd chance,” Rev Downton told Catholic News Service.

“There’s been a real acceptance that once someone is labeled a criminal that the standard of humanity and dignity would be removed from them,” she said. “The inherent God-given human dignity of the person doesn’t end at the prison doors.”

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture has produced a documentary on solitary confinement titled Breaking Down the Box. The organisation also has built a replica 1.8-metre-by-2.7-metre cell that it displays at programs.

In 2011, Juan E. Mendez, U.N. special rapporteur on torture with the Human Rights Council, called for a ban on solitary confinement except in exceptional circumstances and for no longer than 15 days. Mendez also said that in no case should the practice be used for juveniles and people with mental disabilities.

In January, President Barack Obama announced a ban on solitary confinement for juvenile offenders in federal prisons. He said the practice is overused and can “worsen existing mental illnesses and even trigger new ones”.

Craig Haney, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has researched the psychological effects of incarceration. He has found that segregated prisoners deprived of normal human interaction reportedly suffer from mental illnesses including anxiety, panic, insomnia, paranoia, aggression and depression.

The Association of State Correctional Administrators did not respond to requests for comment.

Bills to limit solitary confinement have been introduced in several states in response to concerns raised by once incarcerated people and psychologists. They have met with mixed results.

Catholic leadership on the issue, particularly by Catholic Mobilising Network, the New York State Catholic Conference and the California Catholic Conference has helped obtain gradual shifts in inmate isolation practices, Downton said.

In New York, the bishops in 2000 called upon state officials to “avoid extreme forms of confinement and abusive punishment” in its statement Restoring All the Fullness of Life: A Pastoral Statement on Criminal Justice. In April, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany addressed the need for reform of solitary confinement in a column in the Times Union.

The New York Catholic conference also backs the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act. The bill would limit the time anyone can spend in segregation, end solitary confinement of vulnerable people, restrict the criteria that can result in isolation and create more humane and effective alternatives for inmates.

Retired Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany told CNS that the state’s bishops have worked on restorative justice issues for more than a decade. He said their concern always has been for the dignity of the inmates.

He also welcomed a settlement agreement reached in December in a lawsuit over incarceration practices in New York prisons. The agreement calls for a step-down unit to help inmates reintegrate into the general prison population, a substance abuse treatment program, a community re-entry program for people being released, incentivising good behaviour, ending the use of a restrictive diet as punishment, and disciplinary guidelines to end the use of arbitrary sanctions.

Cross country, the California Catholic Conference has pursued avenues to reform the state’s use of solitary confinement. From meeting with Gov. Jerry Brown to backing legislation placing limits on inmate isolation, the conference has staked out a consistent position that, a staff member told CNS, the bishops view as a human rights issue.

“They just felt like this is wrong. That we need to find different ways to address this. There’s different ways than keeping people in isolation for so long,” said Debbie McDermott, associate director for restorative justice at the California Catholic Conference.

Bishop Richard J. Garcia of Monterey, California, who chairs the conference’s Restorative Justice Committee, said he was troubled to see during visits to different isolation units that some inmates were held in cages. He said the men told him they feel lonely and neglected.

“It’s disconcerting that a lot of the people are left alone. Many threaten suicide. They can’t see their families for long, long times. So we have to reach out to them (state corrections officials) to say, ‘This isn’t the way to go. They’re not animals’,” the bishop said.

Over the years, the committee has been instrumental in gaining reforms in California solitary confinement practices. It played a major role in ending a two-month hunger strike in 2013 that involved nearly 10 per cent of California’s inmate population over solitary confinement policies, particularly at Pelican Bay State Prison.

“When the men were not eating at Pelican Bay, certainly we advocated for them and against what was happening to them there,” Bishop Garcia said.

“I think the SHU is improved, especially at Pelican Bay, from what I’ve been hearing,” he added.

Perez is pleased that reform campaigns are gaining attention. The reform efforts are not meant to prevent prison officials from doing their job, he explained, but to ensure that administrators remember that incarcerated people must make amends for their wrong-doing and not to be further punished in isolation for even minimal rules violations.

“We’re not saying you can’t not hold people accountable,” Perez said. “But you don’t have to treat them inhumanely.”

States Lead the Way on Justice Reform

CreditDandy/John J. Custer

In New Jersey, voters and lawmakers gave judges more power to release low-risk defendants who can’t afford bail, letting them go home rather than sit in jail while they await trial. In Idaho, a new law created 24-hour crisis centers to help keep people with mental health issues from being locked up unnecessarily. Georgia and Louisiana established courts for military veterans accused of crimes. Hawaii funded programs to help reunify children with parents who are behind bars.

These are just a few of the hundreds of criminal-justice reforms that states around the country have put in place over the last two years, according to a new report by the Vera Institute of Justice.

While Congress continues to dither over a package of sentencing and corrections reforms for the federal prison system, the pace of bipartisan, state-level innovation is an encouraging reminder that there are ways to reduce the devastating impact of mass incarceration on families, communities and public safety. Nationwide, more than nine in 10 inmatesare housed in state facilities, so state reforms reach the vast majority of people in the justice system.

The Vera report draws three lessons from state experiences. First, long sentences do little, if anything, to deter crime. Second, community supervision is often safer, cheaper and more effective than prison for those convicted of low-level crimes. And third, the path from prison back to full participation in society is too often blocked by state and federal post-imprisonment penalties that make it extremely hard to establish a law-abiding life.

For decades, it was politically impossible to tackle these issues. But in 2014 and 2015, nearly every state adopted at least one measure to reduce the prison population, steer people away from prison (for example, through substance-abuse treatment programs) and smooth the way to re-entry for those coming out.

Many states have also taken steps to reduce or eliminate the use of long-term solitary confinement. In 2014, Colorado banned long-term solitary for those with serious mental illnesses, unless they pose a physical threat to themselves or others. In 2015, Nebraska banned the severest form of solitary, which isolated an inmate completely from all contact with other people.

Other states lowered sentences for drug and property crimes, increased opportunities for early release, and created housing and jobs programs to reduce the chances that those leaving prison would end up back behind bars.

Reforms like these are often associated with decreases in crime, or at least no increase in crime, which undermines the argument that public safety depends on doling out the harshest punishments available. For example, after California voters in 2014 overwhelmingly approved Proposition 47, a measure that sharply reduced penalties for low-level drug and property offenses, critics warned that jail populations would spike. In fact, the opposite has happened.

In Congress, however, some recalcitrant lawmakers still cling to outdated or incorrect beliefs about crime and punishment in America. They need to pay close attention to the ingenuity and the record of the states.

Race to the Finish & Mariposa

Until July 31, we are on the fast track in Massachusetts to refer bills out of committee [deadline today] and pass them by the end of session July 31. [New session starts Jan 2017].
WOULD YOU take a minute today to:
1) Contact your Representative and ask him/her to express support to House Chairman John Fernandes for H1475 (Solitary Reform Bill), H1381 (An Act to Require Data Regarding the Use of Solitary Confinement)
Solitary is cruel and inhumane after 15 days, and torture for people with mental illness. We treat our animals better. Some people are released directly to the street from solitary and end up rebounding back to jail because they are so disoriented.
And ask them to act on
H1628 (Medical Placement for Terminal and Incapacitated Prisoners)
 
It costs up to $200K/year to keep a person in jail at the end of life, versus releasing them to a nursing home where they go home or medicare takes over for $120,000-$140,000, which also creates jobs in the community.
2) Contact your Senator and ask him/her to express their support to Senate Chairman Brownsberger for S843 (Medical Placement for Terminal and Incapacitated Prisoners). The Senate version of the Solitary Reform Bill is pending in a different committee and the Solitary Data bill (H1381) is a stand alone bill- no Senate version. Still ask your Senator to let Chairman Brownsberger know that you are supporting the House versions of those bills.
To find your legislator, go to: http://openstates.org/.
3) Get a free ticket to attend Mariposa & the Saint,  
a powerful short play about the intense experience of solitary confinement based on a woman’s experience of living in a barren space the size of an elevator for nearly 3 years.
                     Performances March 23-26 in Boston and
                    Milford on Thursday March 24.  FREE Tickets HERE.
​ENCOURAGE your state legislators to attend.

Join us at the Statehouse June 9, 1 pm hearing to support criminal justice reform in Massachusetts

Campaign to Greatly Lessen Mass Incarceration

Increasing Treatment for Drug Offenders and Decreasing Incarceration, Keep Families Together, Lessen Crime in Our Neighborhoods, Redemption and Second Chances and Jobs for Ex-Prisoners, Save Taxpayers money

COME to THE HEARING on legislation to lessen mass incarceration, lessen crime, and increase jobs    Tuesday June 9 at 1:00 in Room B-1 State House in Boston

CALL YOUR State Senator TODAY and ask him or her to have the hearing moved to the Gardner Auditorium to insure there is sufficient room for all attendees.

Too many people go to prison who instead need drug treatment, mental health services, and/or jobs.   The consequences are huge when we otherwise send people to prison; scarring individuals, harming families, increasing crime in communities, increasing costs to all taxpayers. Incarceration also disproportionately affects African-Americans and Latinos.  We need to be “smart” on crime to increase safety and opportunity.

The legislation we are working for is the Justice Reinvestment Act: An Act to Increase Neigbhorhood Safety and Opportunity, House 1429 and Senate 64.

  1. End Mandatory Minimum Sentences for drug offenders and restore that decision to judges who can examine the facts and circumstances of the case….this will lead to more people being sent to drug treatment instead of prison.
  2. End the $500 fine to regain your driver’s license if convicted of a drug offense; it’s an unfair burden to put on people trying to go forward after prison.
  3. Change some felonies into misdemeanors like raising the threshold for felony larceny from $250 to $1250. Lessening sentences for drug possession, but not for possession with intent to distribute (drug dealing).
  4. Compassionate release of long term prisoners with terminal illnesses
  5. Bail Reform so people’s bail is based on their showing up for trial not based on whether they can afford to raise the bail funds.
  6. Jobs—The funds saved from lessening numbers in prison and lessening the length of sentences would go into a fund for jobs and job training.

The Jobs Not Jails Coalition is organizing for passage of this law.  This includes community groups, labor unions, religious based groups, ex-prisoners groups.  We are building allies to from law enforcement and elected officials.

For more info, contact: Steve O’Neill of EPOCA (508) 410-7676 steve@exprisoners.org,      Lew Finfer of MCAN: (617) 470-2912 LewFinfer@gmail.com,         Rev. Paul Ford of BWA  RevFord@BostonWorkersAlliance.org (617) 955-0559,  Elena Letona of Neighbor to Neighbor (617) 997-7503  Elena@N2NMA.org, Rev. Laura Ahart, Black Ministerial Alliance  (857) 492-1634

 Justice Reinvestment   Senate Bill 64                   House Bill 1429

 An Act to Increase Neighborhood Safety and Opportunity

Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Boston) and Rep. Mary Keefe (D-Worcester) and 55 co-sponsoring legislators have filed an omnibus bill backed by a large coalition of community, religious, and union organizations to improve Massachusetts’ systems of criminal justice, end mass incarceration, and re-invest in our communities through job and educational opportunity.   Included in the bill are:

Criminal Justice Reforms

  • Repeal Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences – This would restore judicial discretion in sentencing for drug charges, reducing the risk of longer than warranted prison terms;
  • Reduce Certain Low-Level Felonies to Misdemeanors – Under this scenario certain offenses (such as shoplifting or other petty theft, or low-level drug charges) would be made misdemeanors, with different sanctions that rely less on long and expensive terms of incarceration;
  • End Collateral Sanctions at the RMV – This would eliminate the current law allowing the Registry of Motor Vehicles to confiscate the license of a person convicted of any drug offense (even where charges are unrelated to the operation of a vehicle) for up to 5 years and charge at least $500 to reinstate it; and
  • Extraordinary Medical Placement – This would allow a judge to decide whether a person who is permanently incapacitated or terminally ill should be transferred out of prison for treatment, remaining under state custody.
  • Bail Reform—though not in this bill, we are also supporting a separate Bail Reform Bill so people are no longer in prison just because they could not raise bail for less serious crimes\
  • Jobs and Schools The final sections of the bill establish a Trust fund with the cost savings from these improvements in the criminal justice system. Trust funds will be used to right our unbalanced economy by investing in evidence-based practices including job development efforts for youth, veterans, victims of violence, and other people with significant barriers to employment, and supporting programs that help at-risk youth to stay in school.
  • Programs supported by the Trust will include:
  • Job training programs to address the skills gaps identified by Massachusetts industry leaders;
  • Transitional job and pre-apprenticeship programs to prepare people for today’s workforce and place them in good, living-wage jobs;
  • Youth jobs that provide both sustenance and experience;
  • Initiatives to create new jobs through social enterprises, coops, and other businesses; and
  • Evidence-based programs that specialize in drop-out prevention and recovery, giving youth a second chance at academic achievement and setting them on a path to success.
  • NOTE: Legislators are also filing many of the above sections as separate, individual bills: Mandatory minimums: Sen. Creem and Rep. Swan;  Extraordinary Medical Placement: Sen. Jehlen and Rep. Toomey;  RMV Collateral Sanctions: Sen. Chandler and Rep. Malia.

For more info, contact: Steve O’Neill of EPOCA (508) 410-7676 steve@exprisoners.org,      Lew Finfer of MCAN: (617) 470-2912 LewFinfer@gmail.com,         Rev. Paul Ford of BWA  RevFord@BostonWorkersAlliance.org (617) 955-0559,  Elena Letona of Neighbor to Neighbor (617) 997-7503  Elena@N2NMA.org, Rev. Laura Ahart, Black Ministerial Alliance  (857) 492-1634

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