Lawmakers leave a lot on the table

 

Massachusetts lawmakers suspended their rules and went beyond their midnight end-of-session deadline, but still they couldn’t finish all the work they had planned to do.

The House adjourned at 1:12 a.m. Wednesday and the Senate ended its session at 1:20 a.m. When the dust settled, the two chambers had approved bills dealing with opioid treatment, economic development, and clean energy. They also restored millions of dollars of earmarks that Gov. Charlie Baker had pared from the state budget (which was weeks overdue), passed a slew of seemingly routine land takings and easements, and took a largely symbolic vote in favor of a pilot project to test whether variable tolling could reduce road congestion.

But lawmakers couldn’t come to agreement on two of the biggest issues facing the state — how to address inequities in the way hospitals are compensated in Massachusetts and severe and growing disparities in local education funding. The legislators gave near-final approval to a bill strengthening the state’s animal cruelty laws, yet failed to complete work on a kick-the-can bill that would maintain for another year the status quo on horse-racing and simulcasting. As a result, races this week at the Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville and at Suffolk Downs may have to be postponed.

House and Senate leaders patted themselves on the back as they wearily went home to bed, but the fact is it wasn’t a pretty sight. Long-simmering tensions between the two branches surfaced over alleged brinkmanship by the House and the behind-the-scenes influence of powerful lobbyists. (Former state senator Ben Downing offers an outside-the-building perspective.)

Sen. Sonya Chang-Diaz, who was trying to negotiate an education funding deal, told the State House News Service that House leadership rejected all of the Senate’s compromise proposals, “moved the goal posts, and then killed the bill completely, stunningly, by rejecting one of their own proposals.”

On health care, the Senate passed its legislation last November but the House waited until late June. Both branches wanted to financially stabilize struggling community hospitals, but they couldn’t agree on the best way to do it. “It was clear that Partners and the Massachusetts Hospital Association were making the calls and we couldn’t accept that,” said one senior Senate official, according to State House News.

The Senate also had to accept far less than it wanted in a clean energy bill, as House negotiators adopted the go-slow approach favored by the state’s utilities and business groups. Sen. Jamie Eldridge of Acton voted for the final legislation, but said on the Senate floor that he was disappointed it was not bolder and more comprehensive. “We need to do a better job standing up to the utilities and the fossil fuel industry,” he said.

The Legislature spent a lot of time over the last two days restoring all the earmarked funding for local projects that Baker had cut from the budget. Lawmakers also rejected an amendment Baker had filed to the budget calling for a study of ways to reduce road congestion rather than a pilot project to test whether lower tolls could entice drivers to commute at off-peak periods. The Legislature’s action was largely symbolic because Baker can veto the pilot project and lawmakers, now out of session, can’t do anything about it.

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

The Boston Globe has a good breakdown of many of the elements of the opioid legislation, as well as details on why health care and education legislation failed to pass.

Utilities and business groups say the new clean energy bill approved by the Legislature represents a measured approach to the issue. Those who wanted a more aggressive approach to climate change say it’s a disappointment, even “terrible.” We break down the legislation, which is headed to the governor’s desk. (CommonWealth)

A $600 million economic development bond bill, whose price tag soared to more than
$1 billion (MassLive)  includes a sales tax holiday August 11-12 (MassLive), allows auxiliary uses (restaurants, fish market, etc.) on up to 20 percent of the state pier in New Bedford (South Coast Today), and limits noncompete agreements. (Boston Globe)

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s so-called Janus decision, the Senate took a stab at giving public sector unions more leverage. The measure failed to pass before the end of the sesssion. MassLive)

Shirley Leung rips “Cautious Charlie” over the governor’s vetoing of a measure that would launch a pilot study of discounting tolls during off-peak hours as a strategy to relieve traffic congestion. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Kevin Peterson of the New Democracy Coalition said he plans to lead a boycott of Faneuil Hall to protest the historic building being named after a slave owner. (Associated Press)

Edward Kimball, a member of the Rockland Board of Selectmen and one of three town officials involved in a sex scandal that has rocked the small South Shore community, resigned in the face of a recall effort that residents had begun. (Patriot Ledger)

ELECTIONS

Businesses warned voters that repealing the state’s transgender protection law this fall would have major financial ramifications for Massachusetts. (WBUR)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

MassMutual laid off about 60 workers, including some in Enfield, Connecticut, but none in Springfield. The insurance giant is consolidating operations in Springfield, where it landed a big tax break. (MassLive)

A Boeing subsidiary will lease 100,000 square feet of space in a new MIT-developed building in Kendall Square. (Boston Globe)

Facebook says it has detected efforts to influence US campaigns using fake accounts on its platform. (New York Times)

ARTS

A new study suggests half of artists living in Massachusetts reported a “business loss” from their creative work and a higher percentage had to work other jobs to make ends meet. (WBUR)

EDUCATION

Parents and local observers express concern and uncertainty about the direction of of Boston schools, where a new school year will begin next month without a permanent superintendent following the abrupt exit of Tommy Chang and installation of nonprofit leader Laura Perille as interim leader of the system. (Boston Herald)

Andrea Kalyn, who worked the previous 14 years at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio, is named president of the New England Conservatory of Music. (WBUR)

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

Fitchburg may reap between $725,000 and $2.1 million in impact fees from marijuana companies in their first year of operation. (Sentinel & Enterprise)

Valley Green Grow agrees to pay North Adams $100,000 a year and donate $15,000 to a charity of the mayor’s choosing as part of a deal to open medical and retail pot dispensaries in the municipality. The company is also planning a large cultivation facility in Charlton. (Berkshire Eagle)

Sens. Joan Lovely and Barbara L’Italien are supporting Bernadette Coughlin of Methuen, who was fired from her job at Holy Family Hospital after marijuana was detected in her system.  The senators helped arrange a meeting with Steven Hoffman, the state’s chair of the Cannabis Control Commission, but he said there was little he could do. (Salem News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A Herald editorial says the judge who lowered an armed robbery suspect’s bail last fall from $35,000 to $1,000 should resign after the man crashed head-on into another car while fleeing from police, a collision that caused his death as well as that of a passenger in his car and the driver of the other vehicle. But a Fall River Herald News story says the judge was simply applying a 2017 Supreme Judicial Court ruling that required judges to consider defendants’ financial circumstances in setting bail. Meanwhile, the state Probation Department is admitting it erred in not notifying prosecutors in Bristol County that the suspect, Mickey Rivera, violated the conditions of his bail release when he was stopped for drunken driving two months ago. (Boston Globe)

A former Boston high school valedictorian is being held in California on $1 million bail following his arrest on charges that he stole $5 million from cryptocurrency accounts of unsuspecting victims. (Boston Globe)

It’s generally no crime to take a stroll through a park, but that changes when one is wearing nothing but a pair of socks, as a Weymouth man learned following his arrest in Brockton’s D.W. Field Park. (The Enterprise)