Governor shuts state Department of Public Safety

A hearing for two transfer fee bills was held Tuesday. Legislators heard testimony from the Housing Bank coalition.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s plan to eliminate the Department of Public Safety and move its functions elsewhere took effect March 26. Neither the House nor the Senate took action on the governor’s plan.

The proposal establishes a new Office of Public Safety and Inspections within the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development’s Division of Professional Licensure. The Department of Public Safety previously fell under the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

The Department of Fire Services will assume the department’s fire-related functions, and the new office will take over all other responsibilities.

The Department of Public Safety was a regulatory, licensing, and inspection agency tasked with oversight of the state’s elevator inspections, amusement ride inspections, construction-related permitting, the sanctioning of boxing and mixed martial arts events, and more.

The governor filed his plan in January under Article 87 of the state Constitution. Under that article, executive branch reorganizations require a legislative hearing within 30 days of filing, a committee vote within 10 days of the hearing, and must receive an up-or-down vote from the Legislature, without amendment, within 60 days, or the action takes effect.

The Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight held a hearing on the plan on Feb. 22. Building inspectors at the hearing raised concerns that the reorganization would not benefit public safety.

Public Safety Secretary Daniel Bennett said that DPS had become a “catchall” agency that had evolved away from its original law enforcement focus. The reorganization plan — his administration’s first — would “rightsize” the department without eliminating any functions, Mr. Bennett said.

The committee recommended passage of the plan, concluding that it “will improve customer service without jeopardizing any of the current safety and inspection responsibilities of the Commonwealth. For all intents and purposes, licensing requirements and duties to inspect will not change as a result of the reorganization. The only noticeable change will be the agency under which the jurisdiction for licensing and inspection will fall.”

At the February hearing, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash said consolidation would “reduce the burden on construction and trades, because the licensing and oversight of most of these trade professions will fall under the jurisdiction of just one agency,” as is the case in most other states.

In a letter that accompanied his bill, Gov. Baker estimated the change would save the state about $800,000 in fiscal 2018. Mr. Ash said the savings are associated with eliminating 11 redundant positions.