Following action by House and Senate lawmakers, An Act to Improve and Modernize the Information Technology Systems and Capacities of the Judiciary was signed into law this week. The legislation makes a once in 25-year investment in modernizing the technology and security of court houses across Massachusetts. Additionally, this bill responds to the controversial U.S. Supreme Court New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen decision by tightening Massachusetts safety standards to comply with the decision while ensuring that local police chiefs personally interview each applicant for a license to carry.
“The Commonwealth’s gun laws are some of the strongest in the nation, helping Massachusetts to achieve one of the lowest gun death rates in the country. This legislation takes imperative steps to ensure that our gun laws comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling in the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen case,” said House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano (D-Quincy). “I’m proud that this legislation will also ensure that the Commonwealth’s court system’s virtual operations can occur more efficiently, a function that continues to be increasingly important. I want to thank my colleagues in the House, our partners in the Senate, and Governor Baker for supporting these vital changes and improvements.”
“I’m proud of the Commonwealth’s strong gun laws, which save our residents’ lives, and I’m proud that the Legislature has taken quick action to defend them,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “Our courts do invaluable work. In an increasingly virtual and hybrid world, this legislation will support this work and allow our courts to continue to operate without interruption. I want to thank my colleagues in the Senate, especially Senate President Pro Tempore Brownsberger, Majority Leader Creem and Minority Leader Tarr, for their work on these issues, and our partners in the House for their work to help pass this important legislation.”
“I’m proud the House has moved to uphold the strength of the Commonwealth’s gun laws, which have proven effective in making us one of the lowest gun crime states across the country,” said Representative Adrian Madaro (D-East Boston). “And by modernizing the technological capabilities of courthouses we ensure that the judicial system can better and more efficiently serve Massachusetts residents.”
“When courts do not have proper communication systems, let alone access to a reliable internet connection, it limits the Judiciary’s ability to serve the people. I am proud to have advanced this bill which promises to enhance the courts efficiency. This will improve our residents’ access to justice by providing a more equitable approach to the law,” said Representative Michael S. Day (D-Stoneham), House Chair of the Joint Committee on Judiciary. “In addition to this historic investment, we also take action to strengthen our gun safety measures, so the Commonwealth can continue to be one of the safest places in America.”
“We got a good bill done that responds directly to the challenge raised by the recent Supreme Court decision on guns,” said Senate President Pro Tempore William N. Brownsberger (D-Belmont). “It was a good collaborative process and we were able to get to yes relatively quickly.”
“An Act to improve and modernize the information technology systems and capacities of the judiciary” (H.5076) includes the following:
Establishing Digital Courthouses and Courtrooms:
$95 million will allow courts to go digital along with the safety features required to securely store information. A court management system will allow for electronic filing systems, a workflow engine to manage court operations, and enable system wide real-time docketing and data access. Courthouses and courtrooms will be empowered to provide wireless internet access in courthouses for court staff and court users, as well as to install digital signage. Additionally, parole boards of the Department of Correction will be able to record and securely store audio recordings of parole board hearings.
The recent New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen Supreme Court decision stripped local police chiefs of significant discretion regarding who may possess and carry a firearm. In the wake of this decision, this bill amends Massachusetts law to bring gun licensing provisions into compliance with the Supreme Court decision and to ensure that individuals seeking a license to carry are first interviewed personally by their local police chief.
Increasing Equitable Access to Resources
Funding will also go toward promoting equitable access for low-income residents to virtual filing and appearance services, court services, and public safety services. These provisions will also include technology for direct electronic video conferencing with registrars’ and magistrates’ offices of the trial court during hours of operation for attorneys and members of the public.
Physical Security Systems
$35 million will be allocated to ensuring the safety of the Court’s employees and guests. This will include costs associated with establishing a digital security system to protect court systems, networks and data. It will allow for the replacement of physical security hardware such as video surveillance systems, duress systems, security scanning systems and interpersonal communications equipment. State funds will also go toward projects to support the safety of victims and witnesses while in court-system facilities and to improve centralized law enforcement communication systems.
The legislation also provides an additional $35 million investment in the technological modernization of court administrative operations. Projects that will receive funding from this investment include upgraded data storage systems, secure virtual private networks for employees, and projects to increase internet bandwidth capacity in courts. Additionally, the bill includes changes to encourage courts’ utilization of information technology. The bill allows courts to electronically imprint their seal and to have certain documents be signed and stored electronically.
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Along with adding physical security and protections, this bill expands the definition of sexual assault counselor to include a person who is under the supervision of a licensed mental health counselor. This expansion will expand protections for survivors of sexual violence.
“Our current judicial system is difficult for people of color to engage in when they don’t have access to technology and resources,” said Representative Chynah Tyler (D-Boston), House Vice Chair, Joint Committee on the Judiciary. “The passing of this legislation will make it easier for residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to navigate our judicial system better.”
“Outdated technology makes navigating the court system frustrating for everyone, from criminal defendants to lawyers and litigants. The IT investments we authorize in this bill will improve the administration of justice by ensuring that the Commonwealth’s courts operate more efficiently,” said Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem (D-Newton). “The bill also makes sure that Massachusetts’ gun licensing scheme is not vulnerable to constitutional challenge following a recent decision of the Supreme Court. Thanks to our strong gun laws, the Commonwealth has one of the lowest rates of firearm deaths in the nation. This bill demonstrates the Legislature’s firm commitment to maintaining and improving our successful approach to preventing gun violence.”
“The judicial IT bond bill makes a significant financial investment in critical technology upgrades that are needed to help modernize our state’s court system,” said Representative Todd M. Smola (R-Warren). “Providing for digital document management and the electronic filing of legal documents and signatures will help streamline administrative operations and ensure that the courts are more user-friendly, open and accessible to the public.”
“We must always strive to make our judicial system well-managed, efficient, and accessible, and this legislation authorizes spending to advance those goals by funding modern information technology, security, and communications infrastructure,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R- Gloucester). “I am thankful that it also prioritizes safety for victims and witnesses, by including an amendment I offered to direct funding to creating and improving safe spaces for these individuals, whose participation is critical to the administration of justice in our Commonwealth.”
Text of An Act to Improve and Modernize the Information Technology Systems and Capacities of the Judiciary can be found at malegislature.gov.