October 7, 2017

On Beacon Hill: All eyes on Washington

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Sam Doran / State House News Service

IMPROMPTU MIXER: House and Senate members mingled in Bowdoin Street after a fire alarm pushed State House occupants out the exits Wednesday afternoon.

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

LOOKING AHEAD

DeLeo, state leaders expect to ‘move quickly’ on bump-stock ban

There are green lights across the board in Massachusetts state government for banning a semiautomatic rifle device known as a bump stock made notorious by last Sunday’s mass murder in Las Vegas.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

House Speaker Robert DeLeo

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, plans to fast-track legislation filed Wednesday by Rep. David Linsky that would ban bump stocks, his office said. “Speaker DeLeo believes bump stocks should be illegal, and the House will move quickly on the issue,” a spokesman for DeLeo said.

Bump fire stocks harness a rifle’s recoil to allow for continuous shooting, similar to an automatic weapon. Twelve of the devices were found in the Las Vegas hotel room from which gunman Stephen Paddock laid waste to attendees of a country music festival below, killing 58 people and injuring more than 500 others.

Gov. Baker on Thursday said he thinks bump stocks should be banned. “That should be outlawed, and if that were to pass tomorrow we would sign it,” he told reporters.

Senate President Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, also thinks they should be illegal, according to his office.

Linsky, a Natick Democrat who helped craft the state’s 2014 gun-violence-prevention bill, filed legislation on Wednesday that would ban bump stocks and all high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The bill has not yet been referred to committee.

The Gun Owners Action League, the Massachusetts affiliate of the National Rifle Association, does not have a position on bump stocks.

— Andy Metzger

A LITTLE BIRDIE …

Markey on Trump birth-control rollback

Baker pumps Puerto Rico relief effort

Warren skewers Equifax, promotes data protection

NOTED

Pot power drain on minds of Bay State utility officials

A year ago, it might have been taboo for a utility company to set up shop at a conference devoted to marijuana. But no one batted an eye recently when a representative from National Grid got up to talk about how his company works with cannabis cultivators.

“I get a lot of snickers when I tell people I work for an electric and gas company and I deal with cannabis,” Fran Boucher, National Grid’s energy efficiency program manager, said at the World Cannabis Congress and Business Exposition.

National Grid, Eversource, Unitil and other utilities in the state work with marijuana businesses, mostly cultivators who rely on lights to grow their plants, to make such facilities more energy efficient. Boucher said marijuana grow facilities are “just mind-blowing energy consumers.”

Pixabay / Creative Commons

Advocates say retail marijuana facilities bring jobs, ancillary development and fiscal benefits to the cities and towns where they set up shop. And safety too. … But also a massive power drain.

“You could pay $30 to $50 a square foot annually in electric and gas costs to operate the facility and it would not be unreasonable to find out that energy is 50 percent of the cost of the product that you’re selling,” he said.

Marijuana needs a lot of light to be grown properly for commercial sale — sometimes as much as 20 hours of direct light every day — and growers work hard to control the moisture in the growing atmosphere.

Massachusetts has among the highest energy costs in the United States, making establishing a marijuana grow facility here a more expensive proposition than in other states. Commercial and industrial electricity prices in Massachusetts were 43.22 percent and 89.06 percent higher, respectively, than the national average in June, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Between lighting, dehumidification and cooling systems to eliminate the heat given off by the lighting, the average grow operation, Boucher said, draws about 400 kilowatts of electricity at its lowest usage — “believe me, that’s a lot of power,” he noted — and as much as 750 kW when running at full steam.

While the average office building uses 0.7 watts of electricity per square foot for lighting, the lighting in a standard “flower room” of a marijuana cultivation center uses 60 watts per square foot, he said.

“The lighting alone here blows away anything you would see anywhere else. These facilities use more energy per square foot than anything other than maybe a few in industrial processing. It blows away hospitals, laboratories…it might be on par with extreme data processing centers, like a Google or a Facebook,” Boucher said. “It’s a huge load, it’s a massive load.”

— Colin A. Young

VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Healey on Las Vegas shooting

IN THE NEWS

State bestows highest honor on fallen Auburn Officer Tarentino

From a press release from the office of state Sen. Michael O. Moore [Lightly edited for clarity and brevity.]

BOSTON — Sen. Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury, and Rep. Paul K. Frost, R-Auburn, welcomed the family and colleagues of fallen Auburn Police Officer Ronald Tarentino Jr. to the State House for the Trooper George L. Hanna Memorial Awards for Bravery ceremony.

Courtesy Sen. Micheal O. Moore's office

Auburn Police Det. Sgt. Scott Mills, Commissioner of the Department of Corrections and Auburn resident Thomas Turco, Father Jonathan Slavinskas, Auburn Police Officer Keith Chipman, Rep. Paul K. Frost, Auburn Police Lt. Todd Lemon, and the Tarentino Family in the House of Representatives Chamber.

Officer Tarentino was selected by a nominating committee for the highest level of recognition: the Medal of Honor.

Medal of Honor recipients include officers who demonstrate actions above and beyond the call of duty, exhibiting extraordinary bravery and courage in the face of extreme risk and certain and imminent danger to life or limb. Officer Tarentino was killed in the line of duty on May 22, 2016, during a routine traffic stop.

“Officer Tarentino’s spirit, and call to duty, will never be forgotten by the residents of the town of Auburn, his hometown of Leicester, and the residents of the commonwealth,” Moore said. “Our men and women in blue wake up, put on their uniform and are faced with the uncertainty of not knowing what each day will bring. Officer Tarentino is certainly deserving of this highest honor.  My thoughts continue to be with his family and those who served alongside him.”

Frost said: “Auburn Police Officer Ron Tarentino made the ultimate sacrifice in carrying out his duty to protect and serve the community. It is fitting Officer Tarentino received this award as sadly, Trooper George Hanna was also killed in the line of duty during a routine traffic stop in Auburn back in 1983. It is a heartbreaking coincidence, which reminds us all of the dangers our men and women in blue put themselves in each and every day protecting us. We must also remember their families, who are proud of their service but truly never know if their loved one will come home each day.”

Courtesy Sen. Micheal O. Moore's office

Sen. Moore and Trish Tarentino

Tarentino’s family received the award in his honor. Attending the ceremony with the officer’s family were Auburn Police Lt. Todd Lemon, Sgt. Scott Mills and Officer Keith Chipman.

The Hanna Awards, which have been held annually since 1983, have become a symbol of prestige within both the law enforcement community and the commonwealth as a whole.

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