On Beacon Hill: Senate’s $39.5B budget bans plastic bags, eases pot access for vets

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From State House News Service


  • McGovern on Zika, GOP tactics
  • DeLeo on House ‘bathroom bill’ debate
  • Mass. Smart Growth Conference at DCU Center
  • Senate sends Baker hospital funding compromise
  • Medical marijuana for veterans
  • Senators mull MBTA fare hikes


Senate passes $39.5B state budget

The Senate wrapped up three days of fiscal 2017 budget deliberations about 11 p.m. Thursday, May 26, voting unanimously to pass an annual spending bill after adding a total of $61.3 million on the floor.

Senate President Stanley M. Rosenberg

Sam Doran (SHNS / file photo)

Senate President Stanley M. Rosenberg

“Thanks to all your advocacy this week we made additional investments in our shared priorities for an even stronger budget,” Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen E. Spilka, D-Ashland, said ahead of the vote. According to her office, the new bottom line on the bill is $39.558 billion.

The House passed its version of the budget unanimously April 27 with a $39.508 billion bottom line, according to the House Committee on Ways and Means.

The bill that cleared the Senate, 38-0, includes myriad policy positions, banning plastic bags from major retailers, empowering dental practitioners and easing veterans’ access to medical marijuana.

“It does have a fair amount of fiscal discipline,” Senate Minority Leader Bruce E. Tarr, R-Gloucester, told the News Service after the vote. Asked what the number of policy riders would mean when the Senate reconciles its budget with the House version, Tarr said, “Senators have always looked to the budget to look to advance things that might not have made it through the committee process. I know the House takes a different view and tries to minimize outside sections. I don’t disrespect them for that. I don’t criticize them for that.”

— Andy Metzger (SHNS)


McGovern decries GOP delay of Zika virus funding

[From a May 26 press release by Congressman Jim McGovern’s office to SHNS]

U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-2nd, the second-highest ranking House Democrat on the House Rules Committee, led last week’s debate for House Democrats on the House GOP bill to provide funding for the U.S. response to the Zika virus.

WATCH: McGovern’s speech on YouTube

McGovern criticized House Republicans for waiting months to bring a bill to the floor and called the bill woefully inadequate for only providing one-third of the $1.9 billion in Zika funding requested by President Obama.

“With nearly 1,400 Americans — including more than 275 pregnant women — currently infected with the virus, and well over a million cases expected before the end of the year, it is absolutely shameful that this House has failed to act on legislation to adequately fund a response to this potentially devastating crisis.

“Zika is not coming to the United States. It’s here! As summer arrives, along with mosquito season, the mosquito that carries the Zika virus will be active and knocking on the doors of our Southern states and territories. This is an emergency, and it should be treated as such.

“We oughta be concerned primarily with the safety and well-being of the American people. But if that’s not enough to prompt my friends on the other side of the aisle to support the president’s request, I would suggest that cost of not supporting this request and adequately funding the response will be a cost like you’ve never seen before.”


House to take up transgender ‘bathroom bill’ this week

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, confirmed plans to bring a transgender rights bill to the floor for a vote this week despite being uncertain whether sufficient support exists to override a potential veto from Gov. Charlie Baker.

WATCH: House Speaker Robert DeLeo discusses plans to take up a transgender anti-discrimination bill. [Video: Antonio Caban (SHNS)]

House leaders began polling Democratic members last Tuesday to gauge the level of support for the bill with an eye on Wednesday, June 1, for a floor debate on legislation that bars discrimination in public accommodations and allows people to use public facilities that match their gender identity rather than their biological sex.

“I really don’t have a real number. This was just yesterday we started polling so beyond that I don’t know. Obviously the number the higher the better,” DeLeo told reporters on Wednesday after caucusing with the Democratic membership a bill reforming public records access laws (H. 4333) that cleared the House unanimously in the afternoon.

A version of the transgender public accommodations bill passed the Senate two weeks ago with 33 votes in support, more than enough in that branch to overturn a veto should Baker object to the legislation. Critics of the bill, however, have suggested that opposition could be greater in the House.

“I’d love to have a veto-proof [bill], but I’m not so certain about that,” DeLeo said.

Baker, who has assiduously avoided taking a firm position on the legislation as it winds its way through the legislative process, has offered clues into his thinking over the past several months, going so far in one statement to say he “believes people should use the restroom facility they feel comfortable using.”

— Matt Murphy (SHNS)

More this week …

  • POLITO AT SHREWSBURY MEMORIAL DAY (Monday, 9 a.m., Shrewsbury Town Hall, 100 Maple Ave.): Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito will attend a Memorial Day event at Shrewsbury Town Hall.
  • MCGOVERN TALKS WITH BRAUDE AND EAGAN (Tuesday, 12 p.m., WGBH-FM 89.7): Congressman Jim McGovern is a scheduled guest on Greater Boston with co-hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan.
  • ‘END COMMON CORE’ MEETING IN LEICESTER (Wednesday, 6 p.m., Leicester Senior Center, 40 Winslow Ave.): End Common Core MA will hold an informational meeting on its efforts to “restore the pre-Common Core, proven Massachusetts standards.” Scott Francis has been named as the group’s area coordinator for the town of Leicester. He is a member of the Leicester School Committee. In a press release, he said, “Since the state legislature failed to take action by May 3rd, we are moving forward to gather the 11,000 signatures in May and June, to get this on the ballot in November.”
  • MASSACHUSETTS SMART GROWTH CONFERENCE (Thursday, 8:30 – 4 p.m., DCU Center, 50 Foster St.): Lt. Gov. Polito, former Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, Undersecretary of Housing and Community Development Chrystal Kornegay, City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr., and CEO of Develop Springfield Jay Minkarah are among a lineup of 45 speakers at the Massachusetts Smart Growth Conference. Gov. Glendening is President of Smart Growth America’s Leadership Institute. The conference will focus on mixed-income development, vibrant downtowns, protecting landscapes, creative placemaking, active transportation, the fiscal impact of housing, the role of residents in development, new models for suburban and small town development, managing traffic and parking demand, and community branding. Registration is still open.


Senate sends hospital funding compromise to Baker

Gov. Charlie Baker

Wikimedia Commons

Gov. Charlie Baker

The Senate last week shipped to the governor a health care bill that avoids a ballot question redistributing hospital revenues, benefiting hospitals that now receive less insurance compensation. The compromise worked out between a major health care union, 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, and the state’s largest private sector employer, Partners HealthCare, moved with alacrity through the two branches.

LISTEN: Senators debate hospital price variation bill

The bill (H. 4348) would direct $120 million over five years to hospitals across the state, jumpstart a dormant commission, and siphon funding otherwise destined for the Center for Health Information and Analysis. Worked out in private, the deal, which avoids what would likely be a costly ballot referendum fight, was announced by Gov. Charlie Baker and legislative leaders Wednesday, May 25, and sent to the governor’s desk Thursday night.

The ballot campaign led by the union would have set floors and ceilings for negotiated prices between private insurers and health care providers. The union agreed to drop the ballot campaign if the negotiated deal is signed by Baker.

— Andy Metzger

Amendment would waive medical marijuana fees for veterans

Veterans who qualify to access medical marijuana through the state’s dispensary program would no longer have to pay annual registration fees under a rider that the Senate tacked onto its fiscal 2017 budget.

The amendment was sponsored by Sens. Jason M. Lewis, D-Winchester, and Vinny (Viriato M.) deMacedo, R-Plymouth, both members of a Senate panel that developed policy recommendations for the state to consider if voters approve a proposed November 2018 ballot question that would legalize the adult use of marijuana.

“This would be a helpful step in making it more affordable to get access to medical marijuana for veterans,” Lewis told the News Service. “We recognize it wouldn’t solve the whole problem.”

Massachusetts voters legalized medical marijuana in 2012 by approving a ballot question, and six dispensaries are now open for sales throughout the state.

The law allows registered patients to possess up to a 60-day supply of marijuana for medical use if they are diagnosed with “cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician.”

Qualifying patients must pay $50 to register for the program, and renew their registration with a $50 payment each year.

Lewis said he filed the bill after meeting with Stephen Mandile, an Army veteran and medical marijuana advocate who spent a week demonstrating outside the State House to highlight marijuana policy.

Mandile has said that federal government policies and the cost of medical marijuana present burdens to veterans who could use the drug in place of opioid painkillers or other medications.

Other medical marijuana issues the Senate’s marijuana committee, which Lewis chaired, flagged in its report included the amount of the drug a registered patient is allowed to possess — 10 ounces every 60 days — which the committee said “may be excessive.”

The committee recommended that if Massachusetts does legalize recreational marijuana, state officials should “explore the feasibility of merging the medical and recreational markets to simplify the regulatory structure” while still serving patients’ needs.

— Katie Lannan (SHNS)

Senators seek clarification on MBTA fare hike limits

The Senate adopted a budget amendment that would cap future MBTA fare increases at 5 percent every two years, marking what some senators described as the second time in three years they had staked out such a position.

The budget rider would not affect the average 9.3 percent T fare increase set to go into effect July 1.

Sen. Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury, was one of five legislators to vote against the amendment.

Debate over the potential fare hikes revealed two different interpretations over wording in the 2013 law, which includes a section saying the MBTA “shall not increase fares at intervals of less than 24 months or at an annual rate greater than 5 percent.”

Transportation officials said the law capped fare hikes at 5 percent annually every two years, while senators involved in writing the law maintained it was meant to place the cap at a total of 5 percent over the two-year period.

“The intent was clear,” Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives, a Newburyport Democrat, said during Thursday’s budget debate. “My office went back to the video … to understand the legislative intent, and it was clear. We voted as a body to have these moderate limitations so that the success of the MBTA and the commuter rail would not be placed on the backs of the ridership.”

DeMacedo, who also voted against the measure, said the Fiscal and Management Control Board set up to oversee the T last summer was making progress, and argued against tinkering with its tools.

“We put something in place, they’re working with it, and now we’re going to change it a little bit, and we’ll change it a little bit more,” deMacedo said. He said, “This in my opinion is a slippery slope for us.”

The control board sequestered the estimated $42 million in revenue from the July 1 increase for capital repairs, and adopted a resolution that the T should not raise fares again until at least January 2019 — six months beyond the current statutory limit.

If the fare hike cap makes it into the final budget worked out by House and Senate negotiators, it would take effect on Jan. 1, 2017.

— Katie Lannan and Andy Metzger

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