Jason V. Owens reports on the defeat of alimony reform bill by Sen. William Brownsberger, who prevented a vote in Massachusetts before insulting bill’s supporters.
Lifetime alimony will remain a permanent fixture in Massachusetts. State Senator William Brownsberger (D-Middlesex) has seen to that. In a testy email exchange with an alimony reform advocate this week, Brownsberger appeared to take particular pleasure in denying a vote on an alimony reform bill that advocates have pushed for three years. The bill, which was approved unanimously in the house, would have ended alimony payments when former spouses paying alimony reached retirement age.
Brownsberger, the chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, prevented the Senate from voting on the bill. Brownsberger’s defeat of the bill virtually guarantees that “lifetime alimony” will continue in Massachusetts for spouses divorced before 2012.
Sen. Brownsberger Calls Reform Bill “Chaff” in Derisive Email
A copy of the email exchange between Brownsberger and the unidentified alimony reform advocate was distributed by Mass Alimony Reform president Stephen K. Hitner in a message to supporters dated February 14, 2018. Hitner’s email reads as follows. In his message, Hitner noted that the alimony supporter asked that his or her name be kept private.
Hitner reproduced the email exchange between the bill supporter and Brownberger as follows:
It was heartbreaking to hear your derailment of H 740 given the overwhelming support that exists for this measure across political lines as well as up and down the systematic chain.
How the desire of a few like yourself can manipulate and damage the well-being of so many is severely unjust.
I have no issue with the fact that you, and others, may differ in opinion on this or any legislation. But manipulation of the process to limit the people's voice on the matter is wrong and damages lives.
This Bill deserves to be voted upon. If it doesn't muster the support needed than so be it. But your committee has chosen a different path. It seems fairly transparent that you realized the Bill had the support to pass and simply desired to remove the Bill from a fair and balanced review on the floor.
I would prefer to be respectful of you, or at the very least, the position you hold but behavior as displayed here leaves me empty. As a hard working, tax paying, re-married, father of 3 I find the political manipulation of this Bill an affront to the values we live by here in the Commonwealth.
That Bill deserves a vote...up or down, it deserves a vote.
E-mail Reply, From Senator Brownsberger:
On Mon, Feb 12, 2018 at 11:06 PM, State Senator Will Brownsberger <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I respectfully disagree.
Will Brownsberger State Senator
E-mail Reply to Senator Brownsberger:
I understand you disagree but why not allow the entire legislative body to have that same right to agree or disagree?
We deserve to have our representatives have their vote count no more or less than your own. if you allow it to move through the process you still have the opportunity (sic) the vote your position.
Email reply from Senator Will Brownsberger:
From: State Senator Will Brownsberger <email@example.com>
Date: Wed, Feb 14, 2018, at 7:05 AM
Subject: RE: Re: H 740
95% of the bills before us don't come to a vote. My job is to separate the wheat from the chaff. In my view, this bill is chaff and that is where we disagree.
Will Brownsberger State Senator
Back Bay, Fenway, Allston, Brighton, Watertown, Belmont
Alimony Reform President: Sen. Brownsberger is “Venomous Snake”
Hitner and reform supporters appear incensed by Brownsberger reference to the bill as “chaff”, which Hitner noted is defined as “garbage, dross, rubbish [or] trash”. Noting that the bill passed the Massachusetts House in a unanimous 157-0 vote, Hitner blasted Brownsberger, whom Hitner called a “venomous snake”:
[T]he Senator feels that H 740 is "Chaff", and has consistently and repeatedly found ways to block the Legislative Correction Bill, filed by the Alimony Reform Task Force. …. Looks like the venomous Snake has finally crawled out from under its rock.
Whatever the merits of the bill, Brownsberger’s dismissal of the supporters' efforts as “chaff” is certain to anger reform advocates who have worked for passage over the last three legislative sessions. Prior to denying a vote on the bill last week, Brownsberger had spent months sending mixed messages to supporters on whether he would allow a vote.
Lifetime Alimony Survives in Massachusetts
The defeat of the bill means that many alimony payors who were divorced prior to 2012 will be required to continue paying alimony past retirement age, until death. In 2011, the legislature passing a sweeping law that ended alimony payments in most cases when a payer reaches federal retirement age or when an alimony recipient remarries or begins cohabitating with a new romantic partner. In 2015, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) entered a series of controversial opinions in which the SJC held that retirement and cohabitation provisions only applied to divorces that occurred in 2012 or later.
Following the 2015 SJC decisions, members of the Alimony Reform Task Force – whose report formed the basis of the sweeping 2011 law – sought to introduce a new bill to make the retirement and cohabitation provisions apply to all divorces, including those entered before 2012. The bill, dubbed the Alimony Re-Reform Act (ARRA) by supporters, seemed destined for success when it passed the Massachusetts House in a unanimous 157-0 vote in 2016. Supporters’ hopes were dashed, however, when Sen. Brownsberger erected a roadblock in the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, which Brownsberger controls.
Last week, Brownsberger killed all hope of passage by once again preventing a vote on the bill before the Senate. Brownsberger’s prevention of a vote, which bill proponents argued was obstructionism, defeated the bill, despite an endorsement by the Boston Globe and broad support in the house and senate.
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About the Author: Jason V. Owens is a Massachusetts divorce lawyer and Massachusetts family law attorney for Lynch & Owens, located in Hingham, Massachusetts and East Sandwich, Massachusetts.
Schedule a consultation with Jason V. Owens today at (781) 253-2049 or send him an email.