Friday, May 6, 2011
Milton Sen. Brian Joyce leads effort to abolish Governor's Council

Senate leaders are preparing a push to eliminate the Governor's Council, the eight-member elected body charged with vetting and voting on the governor's judicial nominees, and replace it with a group of "non-partisan professionals," senators involved in the discussions said Thursday.
Calling it an outdated relic of colonial times, Sen. Brian A. Joyce (D-Milton) said the Senate is nearing agreement on a plan to create a panel that he said could include the attorney general, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, and the head of the Massachusetts Bar Association, and others.
That panel would have the final authority to approve judicial nominees.
"We want to make sure there is a broad range of expertise on the panel," said Joyce, who has been pushing to eliminate the Governor's Council for more than a decade. "We are very carefully crafting a measure which, while likely to be similar to the bill I filed, will be responsive to the concerns addressed."
Joyce had originally proposed granting the Senate the power to approve judges but said he encountered pushback from colleagues. Although Joyce said details about the independent panel of experts are still being worked out, Senate President Therese Murray's office indicated that the Senate wants no part in confirming judges.
"We have spent a lot of time discussing the Governors Council. There are currently four orders in front of us concerning the future of the council, and we will see what comes before the Constitutional Convention," Murray said in a statement to the News Service. "Whatever it is, there will be plenty of opportunity to debate the issue and make changes. The Senate has no interest in being part of the confirmation process."
Murray pointed out that judicial candidates are already vetted by the Judicial Nominating Commission, a group of lawyers appointed by the governor. Senators said the Judicial Nominating Commission would still have a role in helping the governor identify judicial appointees.
"[T]here are models across the country that are worth looking at as this conversation continues to find a less costly and efficient way of doing this work," she said.
Joyce said he is open to considering other models for replacing the Governor's Council and said he is working with Murray and other colleagues on a compromise.
Such a move would require a change to the state Constitution, and lawmakers have shown little interest in recent years in debating constitutional amendments. During each two-year session of the Legislature, the 200 members of the House and Senate meet jointly in constitutional conventions to consider proposed amendments, but recently they've adjourned quickly without action.
"This is a significant step forward," Joyce said. "At the end of the day it is fair for the voters to ask why do we need the Executive Council when 48 other states and the federal government do without?"
Governor's councilors are elected every two years and are tasked with vetting and granting final approval to the governor's judicial nominees and appointees to the state parole board, as well as other, largely ministerial functions. Senators estimate the council costs about $400,000 a year.
For years, council critics have pointed to frequent bickering among councilors during confirmation hearings - in some cases over issues that are incidental to the qualifications of judicial nominations - as an impetus for abolishing the system. The council elected its first two Republican members in decades last November.
Joyce, who said he has bipartisan support for the measure, said he expects the proposal to be ready for a constitutional convention later this year. On Thursday, the House and Senate agreed to hold a constitutional convention on May 11.
The Senate on Thursday agreed to put the proposal on the agenda for the constitutional convention, despite the fact that the Joint Committee on the Judiciary recommended it not move forward. Senate President Therese Murray supports the idea, Joyce said, along with several other senators, including Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Andover), Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), Sen. Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), Sen. James Eldridge (D-Acton) and Sen. Steven Baddour (D-Methuen).
"It is long overdue," Baddour said. "The two entities perform the same function. This is the perfect way to streamline the process and save the taxpayers' money."