By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.
Gov. Deval Patrick provided plenty of controversy when he issued an executive order that will allow young illegal immigrants in Massachusetts to pay the lower in-state resident college tuition and fees rate at the state's 29 public colleges and universities as long as they obtain work permits through a new program ordered by President Obama. No legislative approval is required for either of the orders.
Obama's order offers "deferred status" to these illegal immigrants by forbidding the federal government from deporting those under the age of 30 who came to the U.S. before age 16; have lived here for at least five years; have no criminal record; and are military veterans or have a high school diploma or GED. Patrick used Obama's action as the basis for a letter he wrote last week to Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland informing him that these "deferred status" immigrants must be offered in-state tuition at public colleges and universities in Massachusetts.
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 many are unable to afford the higher tuition and end up skipping college and working in low-pay, low-skilled 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 argue 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. They noted many programs that help full-fledged citizens have been reduced over the past few years in Massachusetts.
Here are some comparison numbers: The cost at UMass Amherst this year for tuition and fees is $13,230 for in-state residents and $26,645 for nonresidents. That's a savings of $13,415 for in-state residents. Worcester State College checks in at $14,237 vs. $8,157, and Bunker Hill Community College's numbers are $13,880 vs. $5,640.
This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call reviews local legislators' votes on illegal immigrant issues.
REQUIRE PROOF OF LEGAL RESIDENCE TO REGISTER AUTO (H 4238): House 135-19, Senate 24-10, overrode Gov. Patrick's veto of a bill that would require applicants to provide proof of legal residence in order to register their cars.
Supporters of the bill said it would prevent illegal immigrants from registering their cars. They noted a loophole has allowed unlicensed drivers to legally register their cars and then drive illegally without a license.
In his veto message, Gov. Patrick said allowing an illegal alien to own a vehicle in Massachusetts does not jeopardize the public's safety. He argued the bill seems aimed at using the Registry of Motor Vehicles to identify and police undocumented people.
A "Yes" vote is for requiring proof of legal residence. A "No" vote is against it.
Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes.
LOWER TUITION FOR ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS (H 1230): House 57-96, rejected a bill allowing illegal immigrant students to pay the 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.
Arguments of supporters and opponents were the same as they are over Patrick's directive last week.
This is the most recent time the Legislature voted directly on this specific issue. The vote is from 2006. Representatives who were not yet elected in 2006 did not vote on the proposal.
A "Yes" vote is for the bill. A "No" vote is against it.
Rep. Jennifer Benson was not yet elected; Rep. Sheila Harrington was not yet elected
ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS IN PRISON (H 3500): House 73-84, rejected an amendment that would require the state to join the federal Secure Communities Program.
Under the program, the fingerprints of all individuals in Massachusetts jails would be checked with FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) databases for the criminal's immigration status and prior criminal record. The Obama Administration had mandated that all states join the program by 2013.
Amendment supporters said the program is a fair one that would ensure illegal aliens who commit serious crimes will be deported. They noted that under the program, ICE has so far deported some 81,000 illegal immigrants who have been convicted of crimes. They argued that "colorblind" fingerprints would be taken from all prisoners and disputed opponents' charges that the program would lead to racial profiling.
Some amendment opponents said the program would lead to racial profiling. They noted that 27 percent of those deported had only a misdemeanor offense and 54 percent had no criminal conviction at all. They argued the program would result in women in domestic abuse situations being afraid to call the police.
A "Yes" vote is for requiring the state to join the Secure Communities Program. A "No" vote is against it.
Rep. Jennifer Benson, No; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes.
STUDY AND DELAY ASKING IMMIGRANTS FOR ID (H 3781): House 110-45, approved an amendment that would replace a proposal to require the state to verify that anyone over 18 who applies for state benefits is legally in Massachusetts with an amendment to launch an investigation about whether the state should study the proposal instead. The amendment would require the House Committee on Post Audit and Oversight to investigate whether the state should "authorize a study of the services provided by the commonwealth to residents and nonresidents of the commonwealth and the monetary distinction between such residents." The amendment also requires the committee to consider "any potential civil rights violations that could occur if a study was conducted."
Some supporters of the investigation on whether to study said the original proposal is mean-spirited and anti-immigrant and noted many illegal immigrants are hardworking people who perform jobs most Americans would not do. Others said the House should gather information before making a rash decision and noted this problem really should be solved on the federal level. Some argued there are many legal immigrants who would find it difficult to produce the necessary documentation.
Opponents of the study said it is simply another example of a way for legislators to avoid a direct vote on the proposal itself. They said the study would never be conducted and the measure would never be implemented. They noted state services, with some emergency exceptions, should not be provided to people who broke the law and are here illegally. They emphasized the legislation would only apply to illegal immigrants and includes many safeguards to protect individual rights.
A "Yes" vote is for investigating whether to study the amendment. A "No" vote is against the investigation and favors the verification policy.
Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, No.
CHECK IMMIGRATION STATUS OF CASINO EMPLOYEES (S 2015): Senate 32-6, approved an amendment that would require casino owners to check and verify their employees' immigration status using a program operated by the United States Department of Homeland Security, the United States Department of Labor, the Social Security Administration or a private verification system.
Amendment supporters said this would simply ensure these desperately needed new casino-related jobs will be filled by legal residents and not illegal immigrants.
Amendment opponents argued there are already sufficient federal requirements that companies verify their employees' immigration status.
A "Yes" vote is for requiring verification of employees' status. A "No vote is against it.
Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes.
ALSO ON BEACON HILL
Bills are being shipped off by the hundreds to "study committees" where measures are never actually studied and are essentially defeated. Here are some of the bills that headed for that fate last week:
AUTO EXCISE TAX (H 748): Requires cities and towns to send a second notice by registered mail to vehicle owners who do not pay their local auto excise tax within 30 days. The community would also be prohibited from assessing interest and penalties and owners would be given another 30 days to pay. Current law allows communities to assess interest and penalties after the initial 30 days, regardless of whether the notice was received or not.
MAKE MORE "STUFF" TAX-FREE: Exempts from the state's 6.25 percent sales tax the sale of children's books (S 1478); goods made of at least 70 percent recycled materials (S 1524); blood glucose monitoring strips and lancets and vitamin and mineral supplements, when prescribed by a doctor (S 1538); tombstones (H 784); and hand-packed ice cream sold in one-pint containers or larger (H 817).
TAX BREAKS: Allows anyone who turns 65 to deduct from their tax liability the amount of money up to $4,000 spent on prescription drugs (S 1477) and to choose to freeze his or her property-tax rate at its level just prior to his or her 65th birthday (S 1443); permits communities to exempt seniors over 75 from all property taxes (S 1488); gives a tax credit equal to municipal fees paid for trash removal and other fees assessed by the city or town for delivery of services (S 1519); and provides an income-tax credit for families caring for elderly relatives or victims of Alzheimer's disease at home (H 2495).
TAX DEDUCTIONS: Exempts from the state's income tax the contributions of caregivers who give up to 10 percent of their gross income to a supplemental needs trust for the care of a disabled person (H 755); anyone who gives up to $10,000 to a qualified college savings plan (H 763); and those that spend up to $500 for plants and landscaping items that reduce water usage (H 171).
TAX CREDITS: Gives a tax credit of up to $6,000 to purchase hearing aids (H 799) and $2,500 for child care services expenses (H 3391).
AND MORE: Increases the current gas tax from 21 cents per gallon to 72 cents per gallon (H 796); prohibits cities and towns from raising the current taxes on a residential property until that property is sold (H 802); prohibits the imposition of special fees or taxes on state employees to fund capital improvements (H 814); and increases the income tax rental deduction from $3,000 to $6,000 (H 1715).
"When will this nonsense end? Paying Ms. Burgess almost $100K of taxpayer money to promote good driving practices is akin to paying Dr. Kevorkian $100K to promote public health, except Dr. Kevorkian was better qualified."
Rep. Kevin Kuros, R-Uxbridge, on the announcement that Sheila Burgess, Gov. Patrick's director of the Massachusetts Highway Safety Division, was removed from her job following the revelation that her driving record included seven accidents and four speeding violations.
Gov. Patrick on Burgess' hiring.
"If the fiscal chill is enough for legislators to stick their hands in your pockets, we should expect them to stick their hands in their own pockets first."
Rep. Dan Winslow, R-Norfolk, on his proposal that would impose a 25 percent tax on the leftover money in elected state and local officials' campaign war chests following each election cycle.
"I'm not trying to kid anybody that I haven't thought about it. Of course I have and I will think about it. But I haven't come to a conclusion and I'm not losing any sleep over it."
U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Somerville, on whether he will run for Sen. John Kerry's Senate seat if Kerry is appointed Secretary of State or Defense by President Obama.
"I think these are young people who have played by the rules, demonstrated academic capacity and have the right to be able to apply and if they're admitted we should try to make sure these young people are reaching their full potential."
Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray on Gov. Patrick's directive allowing illegal immigrant students to pay the same lower, in-state tuition rates and fees offered to state residents at Massachusetts universities.
"Gov. Patrick's most recent attempt to usurp the power of the Legislature is cause for concern. Instead of engaging elected officials from both political parties in constructive conversation and debate, he has put his interests, both politically and personally, above those of Massachusetts' residents."
House Minority Leader Bradley Jones, R-North Reading, on Patrick's unilateral action on the tuition breaks.
HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK'S SESSION? Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time that the House and Senate were in session each week. Many legislators say that legislative sessions are only one aspect of the Legislature's job and that a lot of important work is done outside of the House and Senate chambers. They note that their jobs also involve committee work, research, constituent work and other matters that are important to their districts. Critics say that the Legislature does not meet regularly or long enough to debate and vote in public view on the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been filed. They note that the infrequency and brief length of sessions are misguided and lead to irresponsible late night sessions and a mad rush to act on dozens of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of an annual session.
During the week of November 19-23, the House met for a total of 31 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 34 minutes.