The Massachusetts House unanimously passed a bill this afternoon intended to repair the battered image of the state Probation Department and keep it under the judiciary.
The move puts the House at odds with Governor Deval Patrick, who has pushed to gain authority over Probation.
The state Senate has yet to act, but Senate President Therese Murray said earlier this year that she is likely to support the House plan. "There probably won't be much pushback," she said at the time.
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo's bill requires that all recommendations for state government jobs be put in writing and made public for successful candidates. It also mandates that those letters only be considered after candidates are vetted and reach the final stage in the hiring process. And it creates a professional layer of management under the Supreme Judicial Court that will oversee all business functions of the court.
“This major reform legislation will improve upon an already strong court system by facilitating a more efficient and cost-effective infrastructure for the disposition of justice,” DeLeo said. “Not only does this bill create a civilian administrator to oversee the business aspects of the Trial Court, but it also adds needed transparency to the hiring and promotion practices at the Department of Probation."
After a brief debate, the House voted 152 to 0 to approve the measure.
The state Senate has yet to act and the governor has said he prefers a measure that would give him authority over the Probation Department.
Legislators, including DeLeo, have been criticized for interfering in hiring for state jobs, particularly at the Probation Department. A Globe Spotlight report found that the Probation Department had employed at least 250 friends, relatives, and financial backers of politicians and top court officials. DeLeo wrote many recommendations, including a letter for his godson, who was hired in 2004 and became the youngest chief probation officer in the state.
Since then, DeLeo has tried to lead an effort to repair the system in hopes of bolstering the Legislature’s image.
“The speaker made it very clear that he wanted swift action,” Representative Eugene L. O’Flaherty, a Democrat and House chairman of the Legislature’s judiciary committee, said from the House floor today. “The speaker wanted to make sure as I indicated that this process be open, transparent and clear.”
Today’s passage comes in the midst of former speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi’s trial on corruption charges, which is casting a further cloud over the Legislature. The bill garnered bipartisan support.
“I am confident that the proposal [will] ensure transparency in hiring and the overall performance of the probation department,” said Representative James Dwyer, a Woburn Democrat who worked as a probation officer for more than three decades.
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