On Beacon Hill: The Justice League

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — Justice comes to those who wait … and wait … and wait.

The idea of criminal justice reform has been held out for years by Beacon Hill legislators as a worthy and necessary goal. But putting the pieces together has been a difficult puzzle to assemble.

The Senate pressed the last piece of one of the four jigsaw corners in the wee morning hours Friday, after more than 14 hours of debate that tested the constitutions of Democrats and Republicans who might have preferred not to hold those conversations.

They debated whether mandatory minimums for cocaine trafficking should be repealed, whether young teenagers having sex with each other should be a criminal offense, and whether parents and children should be able to testify against one another.

Some of the 162 amendments were decided by one or two votes, with Democrats crossing party lines and causing mid-session huddles among like-minded colleagues unaccustomed to the process of whipping votes and wondering whether they could safely predict the outcome.

State Sens. Michael Brady, D-Brockton; Michael Rush, D-Boston; Kathleen O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport; and Patrick O’Connor, R-Weymouth, took a pass on the statutory rape reform altogether, voting “present” rather than weighing in on whether Massachusetts should have a “Romeo and Juliet” exception for minors close in age.

In broad strokes, the bill that cleared the Senate, 27-10, was designed to try to lower recidivism rates and the number of inmates incarcerated in state prisons. It eliminates parole fees, raises the youngest age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 7 to 12 years old, and allows for reduced sentences for certain drug crimes.

It’s now the House’s turn — and anyone’s guess how the more conservative body will respond. But Sen. William Brownsberger, D-Belmont, is keeping the faith: “That’s all I’m hearing from the House is seriousness on this issue,” he said.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

House Speaker Robert DeLeo

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, had a different justice matter on his plate Friday, the day after the Senate debate, as he gathered his leadership team to discuss a column in the Boston Globe written by Yvonne Abraham alleging a widespread culture of sexual harassment under the Golden Dome.

An “infuriated and deeply disturbed” speaker took to the House floor to condemn acts described anonymously by Abraham, which ranged from unwanted sexual advances by lawmakers toward lobbyists and aides, to groups of House members viewing pornography on the House floor.

Without allegations containing names attached to investigate, DeLeo called on his House counsel, Jim Kennedy, to initiate a review of the House’s sexual harassment policies, but just as the Harvey Weinstein accusations snowballed into other industries and boardrooms, this may not be the last shoe to drop on Beacon Hill.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • The (Ways and Means) odd couple has work to do
  • McGovern on taxes, Warren on budget
  • Healey defends Trump lawsuits as ‘doing her job’
  • Watch: Baker on CSRs, Flake and Trump
  • Despite consumer malaise, Mass. economy growth spikes

Worcester Weekly: Railers, Something’s Brewing + more, Oct. 29-Nov. 6

The most fun you’ll have with a calendar of events all week. And you just might learn something, too.

Tuesday, Oct. 31 — Worcester Railers vs. Toledo Walleye, 7:05 p.m., DCU Center, 50 Foster St.  With 17 days between home games for the fledgling franchise, the city’s hungry-for-hockey fan base has had plenty of time to generate anticipation and excitement for this one. And the DCU Center, we can hope, has had ample time to address the handful of issues that emerged during game one (namely the long concession lines, cash-only vendors and lack of Wi-Fi).

The Railers had a win, loss and overtime loss — not to mention an epic brawl — on their four-game road trip before Saturday’s late game in Utah. Patrick McNally, a left-shot D with AHL experience, leads the team in points (3-2–5). The Walleye were 2-2-1 with 14 goals in five games. Tickets range from $15 to $30.

Watch: Baker on legislators getting back to work, etc.

The governor talks to reporters about the many high-priority items on the state Legislature’s agenda — MassHealth cost containment and criminal justice reform, for starters — as the fall session begins to wind down.

He also shares opinions on a number of other spending measures, and Senate President Stan Rosenberg makes a cameo [4 minutes, 43 seconds].

On Beacon Hill: The ‘Ready for Prime-time Players’

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — The Red Sox may be done for the season, but there were plenty of pitches being thrown around Boston as the Amazon wooing efforts officially got underway.

Sadly, Massachusetts didn’t have its proposal for Amazon to build its second headquarters in the state delivered to Jeff Bezos’s porch via drone. Nor did it appear to include the story about Gov. Charlie Baker wanting to buy Echos as Christmas gifts for his children in 2015 after getting a device demo in Cambridge.

But it was still somewhat unique. Instead of sending an ace to the mound, the state has taken a closer-by-committee approach.

That hasn’t always worked well on the diamond, but maybe in business the outcome will be different.

The pitch went something like this: Massachusetts has the best schools, a deep talent pool and a high quality of living. So pick one of these 26 sites and let’s start the hiring process.

Boston’s bid, in partnership with Revere, centered on Suffolk Downs as an ideal, shovel-ready site with 161 acres of developable land ready and waiting for those 50,000 new jobs. But other cities, including Worcester, Billerica and Weymouth, had their own sales teams touting less conventional locales.

Winning the Amazon sweepstakes would be another business coup for Baker, and it appears most Bay Staters would welcome the company as long as any deal doesn’t turn into a corporate raid on the state Treasury. But not everyone is salivating over the idea of welcoming Amazon to their neighborhood, and some, including Boston mayoral candidate Tito Jackson, have voiced concern over how it might displace residents and put unaffordable housing even farther out of reach.

“No games. No politics. No drama. Just governing, leadership and getting things done,” J.D. Chesloff, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, offered by way of a jacket-liner quote to support the state’s bid. The state liked that one, putting it on page 2 of its 182-page proposal [see story below].

Unfortunately, there were plenty of games, politics and drama unfolding on Beacon Hill last week, and not a lot of things getting done.

File / Sam Doran / State House News Service

New House Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sánchez, left, and his Senate counterpart Karen Spilka are already sparring over the budget process.

Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez and Sen. Karen Spilka haven’t had a whole lot of time to build a working relationship since Sanchez got the House Ways and Means chairmanship this summer. They’ve had even fewer items of substance to work on together.

But things have gotten off to a rocky start after both branches last week passed what looked like a routine budget bill intended to close out spending for fiscal 2017, which ended in July.

In a sharp break from the style of his predecessor in the job, Brian Dempsey, Sanchez took his gripes with his Senate counterparts public this week. The Legislature headed into the weekend without completing the budget bill, which also included the ballyhooed ban on bump stocks.

Sanchez blamed Spilka, the Senate Ways and Means chair and Ashland Democrat, for making the process even more difficult than it would otherwise be by using an unusual procedural move that makes it impossible to go into conference without one of the branches taking up the bill a second time.

He is also peeved over the Senate’s decision to exclude $4.7 million for a youth violence prevention program from their version of the bill, and essentially accused senators of being more interested in talking about criminal justice policy than making it.

“In my neighborhood, I have guns blazing,” the Jamaica Plain Democrat bemoaned.

Spilka’s response was characteristically muted as she downplayed the procedural differences and insisted that the Senate wanted to keep spending in the bill to fiscal 2017 obligations, rather than adding programmatic increases.

Now it’s anyone’s guess how this gets resolved, or who blinks first. And it’s a dynamic that bears watching in the months to come as, presumably, the Legislature intensifies its efforts to pass criminal justice and health care reform.

That process starts Thursday when the Senate is expected to debate a sweeping criminal justice reform bill.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Legislature poised to tackle top issues
  • McGovern on Trump and health care, Warren on Puerto Rico
  • Veterans group backs Newton mayor for governor
  • Watch: Chandler, senators trumpet healthcare cost reduction bill
  • State releases 182-page omnibus Amazon HQ2 bid

Video: Baker on Amazon HQ2, etc.

The governor talks to reporters about the best location for Amazon’s planned $5 billion-plus headquarters. He also shares opinions on criminal justice reform, an award for disgraced former House speaker Sal DiMasi, and the Red Sox [4 minutes, 28 seconds].

On Beacon Hill: All eyes on Washington

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — Bump stocks, Bump’s rising stock and the gamble of a little-known state representative from Lawrence looking to bump up the political ladder.

When everything else seems to be in limbo, sometimes there’s no easier reprieve for lawmakers from the malaise on Beacon Hill than to open up the newspaper and find something worth a reaction.

The slow burn of criminal justice and healthcare reform bills may have something to do with the decision state Rep. Juana Matias, a first-term legislator from Lawrence, made this week to set her sights on something bigger – Congress.

Go where the action is.

Matias has barely had time to settle into the rhythms of the Legislature, but even in her short political career she has been an embodiment of the newish political culture in Massachusetts that spits on the wait-your-turn philosophy of previous generations.

Like U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, who knocked off an incumbent in his own party on his way to being a talked-about 2020 White House contender, Matias took on and beat Democrat Marcos Devers in 2016 and now plans to run for U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas’s seat next year. Tsongas, of course, plans to retire, so there’s no one there to dethrone. Just a wide-open field with no clear heir to the seat.

Matias came to the United States with her family from the Dominican Republic when she was five, and now sells herself as “Donald Trump’s worst nightmare.” But she has competition for that title.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

Rep. Juana Matias of Lawrence, left. and Sen. Jamie Eldridge of Acton, testify at the start of the June 9 Public Safety Committee hearing.

Andover’s Dan Koh, one of at least six Democrats now running in the Third District, turned heads last week when he announced a staggering $805,000 fundraising haul in the month since since he announced his campaign. But if the desired effect was to scare off further challengers, it didn’t work.

Sen. Barbara L’Italien is another legislator looking to punch her ticket out of Boston to Washington, D.C., showing how even the prospects of entering the minority in Congress can have a brighter shine than being in the supermajority at the state level.

The goal is the same, but the dynamic different for state Rep. Geoff Diehl, who is trying to escape the Republican minority in the Massachusetts House to join the GOP majority in the U.S. Senate.

With just one month left until the Legislature recesses for the year, the Democrats’ agenda has been slow to take form, and business groups moved to undercut one leg of their stool by filing a lawsuit challenging the attorney general’s certification of a ballot question to impose a surtax on millionaires.

The Raise Up Coalition believes its constitutional amendment remains on solid footing, but the business group’s case is probably more than just a wish and prayer. If successful, it would seriously dampen the excitement of lawmakers looking ahead to 2019 and all the money they think they’ll have to spend.

The one thing the branches have been able agree on is that the budget they produced in July was fine as it was, before Gov. Charlie Baker got his hands on it.

House leaders flexed their muscles in a way not seen for at least several years, completing their work to reverse all $320 million worth of spending vetoes made by Baker in July as the Republican governor warned about the risk of a third straight cycle of mid-year budget cuts.

House Democrats, however, didn’t want to be told about the need to exercise caution, and their confidence in their own budgeting ability, whether it will prove to be misguided or right on the money this year, got a shot in the arm by a September state revenue report showing that, for the time being, Massachusetts has a $124 million cushion.

The Senate has been taking up budget overrides at a slower pace – just $40 million so far – but there’s little indication to suggest its members will be more conservative about spending than their counterparts in the House.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • DeLeo, state leaders expect to ‘move quickly’ on bump-stock ban
  • Markey on birth control, Baker on PR, Warren on Equifax
  • Pot power drain on minds of Bay State utility officials
  • Watch: Healey on Las Vegas shooting
  • State bestows highest honor on fallen Officer Tarentino

Worcester Weekly: Columbus Day Parade, Railers opener + more, Oct. 8-14

The most fun you’ll have with a calendar of events all week. And you just might learn something, too.

Sunday, Oct. 8 — Worcester Columbus Day Parade, 12:30 p.m., Shrewsbury Street [starts at Aitchison Street, ends at Washington Square]  In fourteen-hundred ninety-two, Columbus rolled up in the Woo. Then he heard about the dual tax rate and made a beeline for the Bahamas! That’s how it goes, right?! While the famous explorer’s legacy becomes ever-more embroiled in controversy, Columbus Day lives on as a day to celebrate Italian-American heritage.

State of Politics: Cannabis commissioners eye swift director hire

State of Politics is an occasional collection of news and notes from on and around Beacon Hill compiled from the latest reports by State House News Service.

CCC HOPES TO INTERVIEW DIRECTOR FINALISTS OCT. 17

The Cannabis Control Commission aims to hire an executive director to run the marijuana oversight agency by mid-October and has pledged to conduct public interviews of the finalists.

More in the Sun: Flanagan opens up on role regulating legal pot

“This is an incredibly important job,” said CCC Chair Steven Hoffman, who is serving as acting/interim executive director. “We’re going to run an expeditious process to hire a full-time executive director, but we’re going to do it the right way. It’s going to be public, we’re going to allow applications from whomever might be interested and we will do what we can in open commission meetings.”

Watch: Charlie Baker on Graham-Cassidy and being ‘presidential’

On Beacon Hill: Vienna sausage making, the State House way

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — The Legislature continued the budget process for “Fiscal Year Two Thousand and … Infinity” this past week — well, half the Legislature.

A budget document unveiled when President Trump’s approval rating exceeded his disapproval rating sauntered through its eighth month, still not truly final, as the House replaced $275 million of the $360 million in vetoes Gov. Baker made in July.

The next step in the saga must be taken by the Senate.

The hangup for now is that there’s a rhythm to legislation and, as fortune would have it, that rhythm is the same as a Viennese waltz: ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three. … And the third step of the override process was paused for the moment, as senators awaited the return of their leader from Austria and the Czech Republic.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg was in Europe — a development that first surfaced publicly when his staff said he wouldn’t be at the weekly leadership meeting Monday with Gov. Charlie Baker and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and would phone in for the session. He did.

The president, normally quite eager to share the details of his public schedule, made no mentions of his planned sojourn.

State House News Service file

Senate President Stan Rosenberg

His travels through Vienna, Graz and Prague were underwritten by the United Nations Association of Austria, the city of Graz and the Senate Presidents Forum, which collects money from corporations such as Coca-Cola, Pfizer and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and passes it on to presidents in the form of grants for such policy and cultural forays.

Thomas Finneran, late of the Massachusetts House speakership, is on staff as moderator of Forum discussions — a role he filled during the Central Europe sessions, said Rosenberg’s spokesman.

And so the Senate, eager as it may be to restore spending after senators decried vetoes as severe and unnecessary, extended its six-week summer formal-session hiatus. The vetoes may be taken up the last week of the month, after the autumnal equinox.

The 62 overrides processed in the House chamber covered statewide programs and accounts, and Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez said another batch, addressing local needs and services, is forthcoming. [See video below.]

Republicans said the Senate should in fact be in no rush to follow the House’s lead. With state leaders mired in a years-long inability to accurately project tax revenues and then keep spending within actual receipts, GOP representatives said both branches should wait at least another month, preferably two, to see if the overrides are affordable.

For their part, the Baker administration said there was “no basis” to restore spending now, given revenue performance so far.

But Sanchez, speaking for the Democrats, said a conservative approach was already baked into the budget that landed on Baker’s desk in July — that $400 million had been removed from the bottom line before Baker saw it. The spending restorations are sustainable, he assured.

By much more than the necessary two-thirds, Sanchez and his boss Speaker DeLeo had the votes.

For much of Wednesday, House members sat chattering and nattering and fiddling with their digital devices, punctuated by the sonorous reading of one veto after another from the podium. Which items would come up and receive a “yes” vote had been decided in secret over the past eight weeks, so there was no debate.

One by one, with nary a decrease in din, representatives added money back to the commonwealth’s fiscal 2018 bottom line — the scoreboard glowing green on its leftward Democratic side, and more or less solid red on the Republican.

And while wiseguys needed both eyebrows this week — one to raise over Rosenberg’s trip, and the other over the prudence of budget regrowth — the people actually affected by the line items — people hoping to keep their apartments or their jobs — likely breathed a sigh of relief. Or half a sigh, anyhow, if that’s possible.

And by the way? If those real people avoid the hit, they won’t begrudge Rosenberg some late-summer Transatlantic meandering.

— Craig Sandler

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Minimum wage, renewable energy, online Lottery on tap
  • McGovern on health care, Warren on veterans, Polito on bike trail
  • Senators begin joint talks on language learning bill with rebuke of past efforts
  • Watch: DeLeo, Sanchez on budget veto overrides
  • Framingham contractor fined $167,500 for shoddy Worcester Airport work

Songs in the key of healing: Worcester Center for Expressive Therapies offers hope

Older patients who had suffered a stroke had lost the ability to speak, but would still be able to sing. Patients who have been unable to walk have found their stride with the assistance of the center’s music therapy. These stories aren’t as improbable as they seem. “Music activates both sides of the brain,” said Kayla Daly, owner/director. “Music can re-create new neural connections in the brain.”