April 26, 2017

State of Politics: Spurned by Healey on gun control response, House GOP attempts to hold funding

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Antonio Caban/State House News Service

Attorney General Maura Healey

Also inside: House lawmakers adding millions to proposed $40.3B fiscal 2018 budget; while Baker eyes five-year plan to boost affordable housing.

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.

HOUSE GOP STILL WAITING FOR HEALEY RESPONSE ON GUNS

House Republicans are still waiting for Attorney General Maura Healey’s response to letters they and other lawmakers sent last summer about her heightened enforcement of the state’s assault weapons ban, and on Monday night tried to hold up some of the attorney general’s funding until they receive a reply.

When a package of budget amendments dealing with constitutional officers came up for a vote Monday night, April 24, House Minority Leader Brad Jones offered a further amendment that would have withheld about $800,000 from Healey’s office “until an appropriate response is provided.”

Healey announced last July that she would double down on enforcement of the state’s 1998 assault weapons ban, specifically focusing on what she called “copycats” of firearms banned under that law. In response, a bipartisan group of 58 lawmakers sent her a letter opposing “in the strongest possible terms” her decision and the way she announced it.

The letter was signed by several Central Mass. legislators, including Sens. Michael O. Moore, Ryan C. Fattman, Jennifer L. Flanagan and Anne M. Gobi; and Reps. Kate D. Campanale, Kimberly N. Ferguson, Paul K. Frost, Hannah Kane and David K. Muradian Jr.

A second letter circulated by former Rep. John Fernandes, a Democrat who has since left the House, gained signatures from 82 legislators before it was sent to the attorney general. Healey has not yet responded to either letter, according to Jones’ office.

Healey’s office declined to comment Tuesday, other than to say that the attorney general’s office has communicated with legislators about the enforcement and responded to public records requests related to it.

Jones’ further amendment was rejected 35-117, with no Democrats crossing lines to join the Republicans in holding back some of Healey’s funding. It would have withheld any funding for Healey above the appropriation for the current fiscal year, or roughly $800,000.

In explaining the consolidated amendment to the House, Rep. Peter Kocot highlighted the “significant increases in funding for our constitutional officers,” including “a sizable increase in the line items for our AG.” The underlying amendment was approved 125-28.

— Colin A. Young

BAKER FILES FIVE-YEAR PLAN TO INVEST IN HOUSING

A $1.3 billion, five-year housing bill filed by Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday would enable local housing authorities to enter public-private partnerships and make it easier for those public housing providers to finance maintenance backlogs, according to the governor’s office.

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker

The bill (HD 3911) was referred to the Housing Committee by the House during a lull in its budget deliberations Monday afternoon.

The borrowing bill includes $650 million for redeveloping and modernizing public housing, $400 million for producing and preserving “traditional affordable housing,” and $216 million for “supportive housing and housing serving vulnerable populations.”

The Boston area is one of the most expensive places to live in the country. While state officials have sought to extend the state capital’s economic boom to areas to the north, south and west, they have also tried to boost the housing supply in Greater Boston.

Spending authorized by the legislation could be combined with $258 million in existing, but uncommitted capital authorization for $1.5 billion in borrowing that “will enable the administration to fund the current $1.1 billion 5-year capital plan and provide capacity for future years,” according to the administration’s announcement.

“This legislation gives our administration the tools to meet the pressing need for affordable housing, and to continue caring for the state’s most vulnerable residents, including homeless families, individuals living with disabilities, and elders,” Baker said in a statement. “I look forward to working with our partners in the Legislature as we collaborate to advance this critical piece of legislation.”

— Andy Metzger

HOUSE ADDS $20M TO ITS BUDGET ON FIRST BUDGET DEBATE DAY

House lawmakers added about $20 million in spending aimed at education, local aid, transportation and state administration to the $40.3 billion fiscal 2018 budget.

During a dinner break Monday evening, two bundles of related amendments emerged from a private backroom where lawmakers had been summoned throughout the day to fight for their priorities.

One bundle — compiled of amendments related to local aid and education — included an additional $16,695,861 on top of what was proposed by the Ways and Means Committee. That package was approved unanimously by the House on Monday night.

House Education Committee Chair Rep. Alice Peisch said the consolidated amendment would increase Chapter 70 local school funding to $105 million above the current year, or $14.9 million more than what Baker proposed for next fiscal year.

The second consolidated package was assembled from amendments in the constitutional officer and state administration, and transportation categories. In total, the amendment added $3,228,441 of spending in those areas to the budget. That bundle was approved on a 125-28 tally Monday night.

After one day of budget debate, the House has dispatched with more than 330 of the roughly 1,200 individual amendments members filed.

Though they had not emerged for public review when the House recessed for the night a little after 9 p.m., House budget writers also held private sessions Monday to put together consolidated amendments dealing with energy and environmental affairs, veteran services and soldier’s homes, housing, social services, public health, and mental health and disabilities.

— Colin A. Young

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