As I sit at my dining room table late Thursday evening to write my weekly Saturday column for The Westfield News a quick glance at the calendar tells me there are only 19 days left in the month and in this legislative session.
The House of Representatives and State Senate have until midnight on Tuesday July 31 when formal sessions end to complete any legislative business that requires a formal roll call vote. Any controversial matter must be brought up and pass both branches before that deadline because afterwards any single member of either legislative body can simply doubt the presence of a quorum and stop the progress of any bill.
Non-controversial and routine matters will continue to pass during informal sessions until the end of the calendar year and the start of the new legislative session the first Wednesday of 2013.
Typically, legislators sparsely attend informal sessions of the House and Senate. A few senior members of the Democrat and Republican leadership teams representing their caucuses are at the rostrum with the Clerk and several staffers and go through the calendar of items to be processed.
As with formal sessions, members of the public are always welcome to watch the proceedings from the public galleries on the fourth floor of the State House. The General Court does not hold closed-door sessions. People and members of the press may always be present to observe. I invite you to come to Boston sometime and watch a session of the House and Senate.
This week, the House and Senate were both in to take up vetoes and amendments to the Fiscal Year 2013 state budget that Governor Patrick signed last Sunday.
I am happy to say that the House overrode the Governor’s vetoes and amendments to some pretty important issues that the legislature had worked in a bipartisan way to pass during the budget. I joined with a majority of my GOP and Democrat colleagues in overriding the vetoes.
The State House News Service reported on July 11 that “House lawmakers on Wednesday quickly batted aside Gov. Deval Patrick’s vetoes and amendments on a handful of controversial issues in the state budget, rejecting his stands on closing Taunton State Hospital, limiting restrictions on uses of public assistance electronic benefits cards, and providing residency proof for motor vehicle registrations…
“On welfare reform, the governor suggested amendments to sections that would have prohibited certain purchases with EBT cards, saying on Sunday when he signed the budget, “I’m not going to do anything that makes vulnerable people beg for their benefits. This notion of humiliating poor people has got to be separated from how we make a program, and frankly separated and disposed of, from how we make a program work and work well.”
“Patrick signed provisions that allow the state Inspector General to investigate cases of eligibility fraud, and supported new criminal penalties for food stamp trafficking.
“Patrick said his recommendations were more in line with those of an EBT Commission, and would restrict the use of EBT cards for the purchase of alcohol, tobacco and Lottery, along with preventing purchases at liquor stores; casinos, strip clubs, adult bookstores or adult paraphernalia shops, firearms and ammunitions dealers, tattoo parlors, spas, bars and drinking establishments, and cruise ships.
“He dropped some items from the Legislature’s list, including jewelry and manicures, arguing it’s more feasible to restrict purchases in types of establishments, rather than trying to list prohibited goods or services. The governor also vetoed $400,000 for a new State Police benefit fraud unit, calling it “duplicative” of other state expenditures.
“House lawmakers rejected the governor’s recommended amendment on EBT benefits, with 152 members voting against it. Rep. Charles Murphy (D-Burlington), who announced he is leaving the Legislature at the end of July, was the lone vote with the governor. “That was a vote in support of my governor and I think it was the right thing to do,” Murphy told the News Service after the vote.
“House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Monday said he anticipated that the governor would veto the EBT restrictions if the Legislature did not go along with his amendment recommendations, but he said he expects the House would override a veto.
“Rep. Carl Sciortino (D-Medford) voted against the governor’s recommendations, but was conflicted about it because he said some of the restrictions are “not enforceable.” Sciortino said he hoped lawmakers would have a conversation about how to help families, rather than just looking at limiting purchases.
“Patrick also returned a section with an amendment that he said would tighten identification requirements for vehicle registration without asking Registry of Motor Vehicles employees to enforce federal immigration laws. He rejected a new requirement that applicants for motor vehicle registration would have to provide “proof of legal residence,” including a driver’s license or social security number, describing the proposal as “murky” and “overbroad.”
“Without any debate, lawmakers rejected the governor’s amendment with 11 members voting for it and 140 against. If the Senate joins the House in rejecting Patrick’s amendment, the branches would then likely return their original proposals back to the governor.”
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not the staff, editor, or publisher of the Westfield News.
Representative Don Humason and his Chief of Staff Maura Cassin may be reached at their Westfield District Office, 64 Noble Street, Westfield, MA 01085, (413) 568-1366.
Representative Don Humason may be reached at his Boston office, State House Room 542, Boston, MA 02133, (617) 722-2803.
Email address: [email protected]