“On the Hill”

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Electric cars are the future (for everyone)

One of the perks of representing Nissan North America is that I get to check out their latest offerings. In this instance, I’ll get the chance to take the wheel of the new 2016 Nissan LEAF at the Massachusetts State House Electric Vehicle Ride and Drive on Thursday, September 17.

The Massachusetts State House Electric Vehicle Ride and Drive is one of scores of events being held all across the country during National Drive Electric Week. National Drive Electric Week, September 12-20, 2015, is a nationwide celebration to heighten awareness of today’s widespread availability of plug-in vehicles and highlight the benefits of all-electric and plug-in hybrid-electric cars, trucks, and motorcycles.

The State House Ride and Drive is being co-hosted by Reps. Jonathan Hecht (D-Watertown), Frank Smizik (D-Brookline), Brad Hill (R-Ipswich) and Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton). The event is open to all legislators and State House employees from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. In addition to two Nissan LEAFs, there will be other types of EVs from multiple automakers. Both Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton and Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack, among other dignitaries, are scheduled to participate.

If you haven’t driven an EV, you’d be surprised how much fun they are. I first drove a LEAF when visiting Nissan’s North America’s headquarters in Franklin, Tennessee. The first thing I noticed was how the torque was so instant. The LEAF is moving before other cars have sent fuel to the pistons, cranked the rods, and found first gear. The second thing was how the regenerative braking slowed the vehicle when I took my foot off the gas pedal (oops, I mean the accelerator). I barely used the brake and quickly began to master one-foot driving.

Electric vehicles are rapidly gaining in popularity. They are less expensive to maintain than standard vehicles because they have so few moving parts to repair, replace, lubricate, etc. They’re even more convenient to fuel than gasoline vehicles–just plug it at work, when you get home at night, or at the increasing number of public charging stations. Moreover, you don’t need $70,000 or more for a Tesla Model S or a Cadillac ELR to own an EV.

The 2016 Nissan LEAF has a starting price of $26,700 after the federal tax credit of $7,500. When combined with the electric vehicle rebate administered by the Division of Energy Resources, residents of Massachusetts can save an additional $2,500 off that sticker price. Since the launch of the LEAF in December 2010, Nissan has become the global leader in EV sales with an all-electric car specifically designed for the mass market.

Electric cars are the future of automobile travel, and the future is now affordable to everyone.

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Dishwasher repair for $125/hr?

Have you had to have your dishwasher repaired lately? I did. Our Bosch stainless steel, whisper quiet dishwasher just stopped working one day. When I pressed the button to wash, nothing happened, so I had to call a repairman. Did you know that the going labor rate for appliance repair is $125 an hour?

I got to thinking about the labor rate for plumbers, electricians, automobile mechanics and such after reading the report of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Criminal Justice Attorney Compensation. That report examined the damaging effect inadequate salaries paid to prosecutors and public defenders, as well as the low hourly rates paid to court appointed attorneys, was having on the commonwealth’s criminal justice system

“Inadequate funding for the attorneys handling the prosecution and defense responsibilities within our system presently denies the Commonwealth’s citizens a criminal justice system that functions properly.” That was the conclusion of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Commission on Criminal Justice Attorney Compensation more than 20 years ago when I was its general counsel. Regrettably, little had changed in two decades.

When I meet with legislators on behalf of our client, the Massachusetts Association of Court Appointed Attorneys, most are surprised to learn that private lawyers, and not full time public defenders, provide representation for 75 percent of all indigent defense cases. They are even more surprised to learn that these lawyers are paid a mere $50 per hour for district court, CHINS and children and family law cases, and $60 per hour for superior court cases.

In Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state courts are required to provide counsel in criminal cases to represent defendants who are unable to afford to pay their own attorneys. The court appointed lawyers who provide that representation do so because of their commitment to the Sixth Amendment. And while they don’t do it to get rich, the current rates are creating a real hardship that makes it difficult for them to continue to take these cases.

For $50 an hour, a court appointed lawyer could mean the difference between freedom and incarceration. For $125 an hour, an appliance repairman means the difference between washing dishes by hand and loading them into a dishwasher. The people of the commonwealth deserve better.

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Complex Issues in Less than 2 Minutes?

I recently testified before a legislative committee on behalf of one of our clients. The legislation involved the balancing of private property rights with the need for environmental protection. It also raised issues about legislative intent, due process and the breath of administrative rule making.

In a crowded hearing room in the basement of the State House, the committee heard more than two hours of contentious and largely contradictory testimony. A lot of lawyers spoke, as did a herpetologist, a marine biologist and several bureaucrats. Those few legislators who remained until the end of the hearing seemed awfully confused. They appeared to be sympathetic to the rights of property owners, but weren’t sure how to rein in a regulatory program that had gone awry.

I mention all of this, because after the hearing, I was interviewed by a reporter from a local television station about the matter. She asked me several questions about the proposed legislation and why my client supported it. I answered her questions the best I could, trying not to be too legalistic or technical. She thanked me for my help and then packed up her camera and went to interview the folks who opposed the bill.

Although I didn’t see the report on the news that evening, our client did and later sent me the link to the story on the station’s webpage. After watching the report, something struck me. While the reporter tried to present both sides of the issue, the 1 minute and 28 second report didn’t make clear what the issue was. Quite simply, if viewers weren’t already familiar with the controversy before watching the news, they surely didn’t understand it any better afterward.

That wasn’t the reporter’s fault. She did the best she could with the time she was given. I guess that’s the news business today. But if two hours of expert testimony didn’t clarify the issue for legislators at a hearing, a TV news story of less than 2 minutes wasn’t going to do it for someone watching at home. Little wonder the citizens of Massachusetts don’t understand the relevance of what goes on at the State House to their lives.