STATE CAPITOL BRIEFS - AFTERNOON EDITION - MONDAY, JUNE 30, 2014
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
HOUSE, SENATE APPROVE $36.5 BILLION BUDGET
Over the objections of critics who cited growth in state spending and the state workforce as well as health insurance costs, the House on Monday voted 144-7 to approve a $36.5 billion fiscal 2015 budget. A short time later, the Senate approved the budget on a voice vote. The budget's supporters touted less reliance on one-time revenues in the budget, the preservation of a $1.3 billion rainy day fund, and spending increases on education, local aid, housing and mental health. House budget chief Rep. Brian Dempsey said the budget will also take major steps toward accelerating payments to reduce the state's unfunded pension liabilities, an action that he said would be well received by Wall Street bond rating agencies. House Democrats rejected a bid by Republicans for more time to review the budget - Rep. George Peterson of Grafton said the bill was unveiled late Sunday and members should spend more time looking it over and vote on Wednesday. Rep. Denise Andrews acknowledged the bill is too voluminous to read before voting but said she believes in the process under which the spending bill was assembled over the past several months. Rep. James Lyons, an Andover Republican who voted against the budget, said state spending had risen 25 percent since Gov.
HOUSE APPROVES WELFARE REFORM BILL
The House voted unanimously Monday to approve a package of welfare reforms intended to both prevent benefit fraud and abuse and to deliver supports to public assistance recipients with the goal of moving them off the rolls and into jobs. The Senate approved the bill last week and final enactment votes in both branches are expected Monday, which would send the bill to Gov. Deval Patrick's desk before the end of the day. The bill creates a program to connect "able-bodied" individuals with full-time jobs before they start receiving benefits and revives a "full employment program" aimed at placing benefit recipients in full-time jobs. Employers who hire individuals from the full-employment program would become eligible for a health care subsidy for one year followed by a tax credit of $100 per month up to $1,200, under the terms of the legislation. The bill also requires the Department of Transitional Assistance to have specialists assigned to help high-risk recipients, and calls for the development of a program to allow benefit recipients to save money, outside of the asset limit of $2,500, toward first, last and security rent payments and for education as they transition off public benefits. The duration of benefit extensions would be reduced, under the bill, and lawmakers are also looking to require that self-declarations of residency be signed under the penalties of perjury, to ban self-declarations from being used as the only verification form of eligibility, and to increase penalties for store owners who knowingly allow the purchase of prohibited products or services, such as Lottery tickets, with an EBT card. Under the latter measure, store owners could face license suspensions. - M. Norton, M. Murphy/SHNS
HOUSE OKAYS DRUG COMPOUNDING BILL
After waiting months for a conference committee to agree to a single bill, the House on Monday unanimously approved the recommendations of a six-member panel for a new law governing regulation of drug compounding pharmacies in Massachusetts. There was no debate on the proposal and the vote to send the bill to the Senate was 149-0. Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez (D-Jamaica Plain), who headed up the conference committee on the House side, said the Food and Drug Administration still relies on states to regulate the majority of compounding pharmacy practices. Sanchez said the House-Senate compromise encourages "transparency" and patient safety, and ensures state inspectors will be trained and pharmacies will be working under "strict conditions." The compromise requires board inspectors to be trained in sterile compounding and non-sterile compounding practices, and to conduct planned and unplanned inspections of compounding pharmacies. The Board of Registration in Pharmacy would also be tasked with developing four new specialty licenses for retail sterile compounding, retail complex non-sterile compounding, an institutional pharmacy license for hospitals and an out-of-state pharmacy license for those doing business in Massachusetts. Rep. David Vieira (R-East Falmouth), who served on the governor's special commission on compounding pharmacies, said the bill "strengthens areas where we are lax" and called it "mind-blowing" to find out they weren't initially trained. The compromise bill also regulates regardless of the pharmacy's location, requiring out-of-state pharmacies to participate and comply with the prescription monitoring program. "This is a topic that affects every single one of us and all of our loved ones," Sanchez said. The Senate introduced the compounding bill at 4:10 p.m., and passage there is expected as well. - M. Norton, G. Dumcius/SHNS
VETERAN REP SEES "ATTITUDINAL CHANGE" ON SUBSTANCE ABUSE
Saying substance abuse treatment needs have been met with "thunderous silence" over the years, veteran House Democrat Rep. Angelo Scaccia opened debate on legislation increasing access to treatment for drug and alcohol addiction Monday afternoon by asserting a "remarkable" shift in views on the issue. Scaccia said several House members had discussed the issues in personal terms during a closed caucus prior to Monday's session. "The time is more than ripe to tackle this issue," said Scaccia. "This issue has been stigmatized for much too long." The House Ways and Means Committee over the weekend polled out a revised version of Senate-approved legislation aimed at ensuring easier paths to treatment for individuals who need it. Rep. Denise Garlick of Needham said substance abuse problems are "ravaging" Massachusetts communities. "Mr. Speaker, treatment is the answer," said Rep. James O'Day, who added that addiction is a "medical" and not a "moral" issue. [Developing] - M. Norton/SHNS
SCOTUS RULING IN ILLINOIS CASE MAY AFFECT MASS.
A small business group in Massachusetts is hailing a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling on whether states can force non-union home care workers to join labor unions if their clients receive public subsidies to pay for services. In a statement Monday, the Massachusetts chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business predicted the ruling in Harris v. Quinn, barring states from compelling home care providers to join labor unions "has big implications for private home care providers and potentially other small businesses in the Bay State." NFIB said Massachusetts has a law similar to the one addressed in the ruling, an Illinois directive designating certain home care workers as "public employees." Said Vernon, "Forcing workers to join unions is fundamentally unfair under any circumstances. But it is absolutely chilling that government can reclassify private sector workers as government workers simply because public money is indirectly involved." Amalgamated Transit Union International President Larry Hanley said the ruling would lead to decreased wages and benefits for public employees. "The Supreme Court, today, struck down the collective bargaining rights of public employees and virtually told all workers that their American Dream might actually become an American Nightmare," Hanley said in a statement. "No one should be fooled into thinking that this decision is only about public sector workers. In doing the dirty work for the Koch brothers and their ilk, the high court lowered the bar that all employers will feel obligated to meet in compensating their workers." - M. Norton/SHNS
WYNN PLANS JOB PREFERENCE FOR SUFFOLK DOWNS WORKERS
Wynn Resorts, which is competing with Mohegan Sun to host an eastern Massachusetts casino, announced Monday that it will give job preference to hundreds of Suffolk Downs employees if it prevails and secures a license. Wynn Resorts is behind plans to build a casino in Everett while Mohegan Sun wants to establish a casino in Revere, on the border of East Boston and the Suffolk Downs racetrack. "Our commitment of jobs to Suffolk Downs workers is further proof that a five-star Wynn Resort in Everett will have the most positive employment and economic impact in the region," Robert DeSalvio, senior vice president of development at Wynn, said in a statement. Wynn also pledged to offer a training program to Suffolk Downs workers who join Wynn, which DeSalvio called a "pathway to a new career." - M. Norton/SHNS