By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll call votes in the House or Senate last week.
Beacon Hill Roll Call has obtained the official list from the state treasurer's office of the "per diem" travel, meals and lodging reimbursements collected by state representatives in 2012. The list reveals that representatives have so far collected a total of $160,572. Beacon Hill Roll Call reported a few weeks ago that state senators in 2012 have collected $33,863 in per diems. The combined 2012 total collected by representatives and senators at this point is $ 194,435.
Under state law, per diems are paid by the state to representatives "for each day for travel from his place of residence to the Statehouse and return therefrom, while in the performance of his official duties, upon certification to the state treasurer that he was present at the Statehouse." These reimbursements are given to representatives above and beyond their regular salaries.
The amount of the per diem is based on the city or town in which a representative resides and its distance from the Statehouse. The Legislature in 2000 approved a law doubling per diems to the current amounts. The payments range from $10 per day for representatives who reside in the Greater Boston area to $90 per day for some Western Massachusetts lawmakers and $100 per day for those in Nantucket. Representatives who are from areas that are a long distance from the Statehouse often collect the highest total of annual per diems.
Supporters of the per diems argue that the system is fair and note the rising costs of gas, food and lodging.
Some opponents say most other private sector and state workers are not paid for commuting. Others argue that the very idea of paying any legislator a per diem is outrageous when thousands of workers are losing their jobs and their homes, and funding for important assistance programs has been cut.
The 2012 statistics indicate that 75 representatives have received reimbursements ranging from $270 to $6,660 while 84 representatives did not list any days and did not request any per diems. This should not be construed to mean that the latter were never at the Statehouse in 2012. It simply means they so far have chosen not to apply for them. State law does not establish an application deadline.
The representative who received the most money in 2012 is Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli (D-Lenox) with $6,660.
Representatives rounding out the top ten are Reps. Michael Finn (D-West Springfield), $5,544; Patricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield), $5,220; Sarah Peake (D-Provincetown), $5,106; Ellen Story (D-Amherst), $4,620; Timothy Madden (D-Nantucket), $4,300; John Scibak (D-South Hadley), $4,260; Nicholas Boldyga (R-Southwick) and former Rep. Michael Kane (D-Holyoke), tied with $4,224; and Demetrius Atsalis (D-Barnstable), $3,850.
LOCAL REPRESENTATIVES' PER DIEMS FOR 2012: The dollar figure next to the representative's name represents the total amount of per diem money the state has paid him or her in 2012. The number in parentheses represents the number of days the representative certified he or she was at the Statehouse during that same period.
Rep. Jennifer Benson: $0 (0 days)
Rep. Sheila Harrington: $0 (0 days)
ALSO ON BEACON HILL
IN-STATE TUITION RATES FOR ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS (H 2109): The Education Committee has recommended that a study committee be the fate of a bill allowing illegal immigrants to pay the reduced in-state tuition rates and fees at Massachusetts colleges and universities if they have attended a high school in Massachusetts for at least three years and have graduated or received the equivalent of a diploma. The measure also requires these students to provide the college with an affidavit stating that he or she has filed or will in the future file an application to become a citizen or permanent resident.
Supporters say many of these students were babies when they were brought here by their parents and had no choice about entering the country illegally. They note these hardworking students are currently required to pay out-of-state tuition rates that are up to five times higher than the in-state rate. Some argue many are unable to afford the higher tuition and end up skipping college and working in low-pay, low-skill jobs rather than contributing to the economy in a more meaningful fashion.
Opponents say the state should not offer financial rewards to anyone who has broken the law and is in this country illegally. They note it is also important to point out that these students would not even be able to legally obtain a job in Massachusetts following their graduation from college. Some say it is outrageous to offer low tuition rates to these students while legal citizens from outside Massachusetts, including war veterans, are required to pay higher rates if they attend a Massachusetts state school.
Most measures shipped off to a study committee are never actually studied and are essentially defeated.
MORE COLLEGE TUITION: The Higher Education Committee has also recommended that legislation prohibiting colleges from imposing a surcharge on a student who pays for his or her tuition by credit card rather than by check or cash be shipped off to a study committee. Another measure on its way to a study committee would waive the fee and allow all the state's public school teachers to attend any state university at no cost (H 353).
EKGS, FEES, CPR, FOSTER KIDS: The Education Committee has recommended that several bills be sent to a study committee, including legislation that would require every public school student who participates in an interscholastic athletic program to undergo an electrocardiogram (EKG) test (S 206). Other bills would require all cities and towns to develop a plan for exempting foster children in state custody from the payment of fees for school-sponsored after-school activities (H 1094); create an 11-member special commission to study and report on how to maximize the use of digital textbooks for public schools and universities (S 224); impose a moratorium on all new mandated education programs and expenses until July 1, 2015 (H 3637); and require all public high school students to learn CPR and the use of automatic external defibrillators as a prerequisite for graduation (H 1920). The state would pay the cost of the instruction.
TRANSPORTING AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS (S 2118): The House gave initial approval to a Senate-approved bill that would allow vehicles with farm plates to carry goods with a total weight up to the vehicle's rated capacity. Current law restricts the weight to 60,000 pounds, including the truck, even if the vehicle is rated to carry more. Supporters said the current restriction makes no sense and results in more use of fossil fuels and damage to the environment.
"It's reprehensible that the House would, on the eve of 9/11, forget the sacrifice that police officers and firefighters in this country have done [sic]. It's just crazy. Where's the human decency? You can rest assured if it was one of their colleagues, they'd be waving every flag on Beacon Hill."
-- Jerry Flynn, Executive Director of the New England Police Benevolent Association, on the stalling in the House of a bill requiring the American flag to be flown at half-staff on all state buildings upon the death of a police officer or firefighter killed in the line of duty.
"Nobody is saying no to this (flag) bill. It just hasn't been vetted to the point where we have enough information to clearly decide ... There's no one in that House who isn't patriotic."
-- James O'Day (D-West Boylston), the acting chair of the Third Reading Committee, which is holding the bill and preventing it from going to the House floor.
"It's a well-known fact that smoking marijuana can lead to a dependency on Twinkies. If medical marijuana were legalized in Massachusetts, the increase in Twinkie consumption could possibly lead to shortages of Twinkies across the Bay State."
-- From the parody website "Vote No On Question 3," the November ballot question legalizing medical marijuana. The real group leading the Vote No On Question 3 campaign provided the website address to Secretary of State William Galvin's office for publication in the Red Book, the state's official election voter guide but then apparently forgot to register it. Boston resident Scott Gacek said he was unaware of the group's neglect, purchased the domain on a whim and created the spoof. The site is at www.votenoonquestion3.org
"Our opponents have tampered with the democratic process. Thanks to pro-marijuana proponents who want Question 3 to pass, the people of Massachusetts are being deceived about the facts around this initiative which will create 35 marijuana stores and allow anyone with a doctor's note to get marijuana."
-- Dr. James Broadhurst, chair of the No on Question 3 Committee. He notes that the correct web address is www.MaVoteNoOnQuestion3.com
"We pay tribute to the memory of Glen Doherty, who grew up in Winchester and bravely served as a U.S. Navy SEAL, and extend our thoughts and prayers to his entire family."
-- House Speaker Robert DeLeo on the death of Winchester native Doherty, who was killed along with Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya.
HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK'S SESSION? During the week of September 10-14, the House met for a total of 41 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 39 minutes.
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.