Massachusetts divorce lawyer Jason V. Owens checks in with an update on a public hearing on the Alimony Re-Reform Act scheduled for May 15, 2017 in Boston.
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – A public hearing has been scheduled on the Alimony Re-Reform Act for Monday, May 15, 2017 before the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary in rooms A-1 and A-2 at the State House. The public hearing is an opportunity for individuals to tell legislators how they would be affected by the new bill, including alimony payors who could see their alimony obligations reduced or terminated as a result of the Act and/or alimony recipients who could see their alimony payments reduced or terminated.
As we have covered extensively in past blogs:
Like its predecessors, H 740 would amend the Alimony Reform Act (ARA) of Massachusetts, passed in 2011, by retroactively applying those “ARA provisions calling for the reduction or termination of alimony when a payor reaches retirement age, or a recipient cohabitates with a new partner, applicable to all Massachusetts alimony orders, including those entered before 2012.” Because the bill would directly modify the ARA, supporters have dubbed the bill the Alimony Re-Reform Act (ARRA).
According to Stephen K. Hitner of Mass Alimony Reform, the hearing is “the most important event that [reform advocates] can participate in.” Hitner is urging supporters of the bill to arrive early and wear something red to signal their support. We have not gotten word on whether opponents will be responding in kind with a dress code of their own.
Time and location of the public meeting:
Massachusetts State House
24 Beacon Street, Boston, MA
Joint Committee on the Judiciary
Rooms: Room 1A and 1B
Time: 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Public testimony will begin at 1:00 PM in Room 1A and 1B. We hear that the hearing may address multiple bills without any particular order, so individuals who arrive earlier and sign in may have a greater chance of speaking sooner.
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How does a bill become a bill? Legislative committees can be important choke points – or launching pads – for any piece of legislation in Massachusetts. For insight into what may come next for H 740, we can look to what happened last year, when a nearly identical alimony reform bill passed the House in a unanimous 156-0 vote, only to later languish in a Senate Committee without receiving a vote.
The 2016 version of the bill started life as H.4034, and was referred to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary on 2/22/2016, where it became H.4110. The 2016 bill was “reported favorably” (i.e. approved) by the Judicial Committee and assigned to the House Steering, Policy and Scheduling on 3/21/16, where it received another new number, H.4227. On 4/19/16, the bill was referred to the full House, where it waited until 6/22/16 to receive unanimous approval from the full House.
Following the 2016 bill’s approval in the House on 6/22/16, the 2016 bill was referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee on 7/7/16. There, the bill languished without receiving a vote until the end of the legislative session. The transition from the House to Senate proved to a big problem for the 2016 bill. House members had heard enough about the bill approve it unanimously, but Senators were both unfamiliar with the bill and buried beneath a mountain of competing bills by the time they received the bill on 7/7/16, less than a month before the 2016 session legislative ended 7/31/16.
The 2017 bill, H 740, is following a slightly different path from last year’s bill. Although the 2017 bill is also passing through the House, reform advocates have focused their efforts on convincing Senators to support the bill from the start this time around. Supporters of the bill heavily attended numerous Senate roundtables with the public. For example, at a public meeting on 3/22/17, the Lowell Sun reported that Senator’s “got an earful” from “[s]everal men who spoke asked for passage of an alimony reform bill, since the Supreme Judicial Court overturned the intent of a similar law passed during the Deval Patrick administration.”
Supporters of H 740 believe the emphasis on the Senate will pay dividends if the bill again passes the House. Unlike last year, supporters hope the Senate will be ready to vote favorably before the July rush that accompanies the end of every legislative session. A wild card in this year’s race to July is the Supreme Judicial Court, which held oral arguments on two cases focused on the constitutionality of the “retroactive” provisions of the Alimony Reform Act in early March. Most attorneys believe that the ARA is likely to pass constitutional muster in these cases; however, there remains the possibility that a delay in the issuance of decisions by the SJC could again cause the bill to stall, as Senators wait to hear from the SJC before committing to a vote on the new bill.
About the Author: Jason V. Owens is a Massachusetts divorce lawyer and Massachusetts family law attorney for Lynch & Owens, located in Hingham, Massachusetts.
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