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With today’s edition, Nashoba Publishing begins coverage of the 2007 Massachusetts legislative session with the weekly Beacon Hill Roll Call report. This feature is a clear and concise compilation of the voting records of area state representatives and senators at the Statehouse.

Beacon Hill Roll Call provides an unbiased summary of bills and amendments, arguments from floor debate on both sides of the issue and each legislator’s vote or lack of vote on the matter. This information gives readers an opportunity to monitor their elected officials’ actions on Beacon Hill. Many bills are reported on in their early stages and readers often have the opportunity to contact their legislators and express an opinion prior to the measure being brought up for final action.

The feature “Also up on Beacon Hill” informs readers of other important matters at the Statehouse.

Beacon Hill Roll Call is provided by Bob Katzen, who has covered the Legislature for more than 30 years. He has been providing this feature to hundreds of newspapers across the state since 1975.

THE HOUSE AND SENATE. There were no roll call votes in the House or Senate last week as the 2007 session gets underway.

The official list from the state treasurer’s office of “per diems” collected by 157 state representatives in 2006 for “mileage, meals and lodging” expenses reveals that through Dec. 31, these lawmakers have collected a total of $469,128. 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 per diems are paid to representatives above and beyond their annual salaries, which at the beginning of this year were raised 4.8 percent from $55,569.41 to $58,236.74. The $2,667.33 hike was implemented by former Gov. Mitt Romney under the terms of a constitutional amendment approved by the voters in 1998. The amendment requires legislative salaries to be increased or decreased biennially at the same rate as the state’s median household income for the preceding two-year period — as ascertained by the governor. Many representatives also receive additional stipends ranging from $7,500 to $25,000 if they serve as committee chairs or in other leadership positions.

The 2006 statistics indicate that representatives received annual per diem payments ranging from $280 to $15,300 and 26 representatives have so far chosen not to apply for any money. These figures are not necessarily the final ones for 2006. State law does not establish a deadline that representatives must meet in order to collect the per diems. Critics say that some representatives will wait several more months into 2007 before they file for additional per diems from 2006 in order to avoid having their full payments appear on the initial list released by the state treasurer’s office.

The amount of the per diem varies and is based on the city or town in which a representative resides and its distance from the Statehouse. These payments are not taxable and range from $10 per day for representatives who reside in the Greater Boston area to $90 for some western Massachusetts lawmakers and $100 for those in Nantucket. Representatives who are from areas that are a long distance from Boston’s Statehouse often are the ones who collect the highest total of annual per diems.

The Legislature approved, as part of the state budget in 2000, a provision doubling these per diems to the current amounts. Supporters of the hikes said that the per diems had not been raised for many years despite the rising costs of travel, food and lodging. Some opponents said that the hikes were excessive, while others argued that the very idea of paying any per diem is outrageous. They noted that other state workers and most private workers are not paid additional money for commuting. The House and Senate did not hold a separate roll call vote directly on the doubling of the per diem. The hike was included as a small section of the comprehensive $21.5 billion fiscal 2001 state budget that was approved on roll call votes by both branches.

The representative who received the most money in 2006 was Rep. Daniel Bosley, D-North Adams, with $15,300. The other top ten recipients include Reps. William Pignatelli, D-Lenox, $10,890; Denis Guyer, D-Dalton, $9,676; John Binienda, D-Worcester, $8,352; Robert Correia, D-Fall River, $7,596; John Scibak, D-South Hadley, $7,320; Demetrius Atsalis, D-Barnstable, $7,250; Christopher Speranzo, D-Pittsfield, $7,020; Ellen Story, D-Amherst, $6,780 and Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, $6,705. Six of this year’s top 10 recipients also made last year’s top 10 list including Bosley, Pignatelli, Guyer, Binienda, Scibak and Story.

Next week’s report: Local senators’ per diems for 2006.

Local representatives’ per diems for 2006

Here are the numbers of days that local representatives certified that they were at the Statehouse in 2006. Also included is the total amount of per diem money that the state paid the representative in 2006. A total of 26 representatives did not list any days and did not request any per diems. This should not be construed to mean that these 26 representatives were never at the Statehouse in 2006. It simply means that they chose not to list the number of days and not to request their per diems.

Rep. James Eldridge, 133 days ($3,458)

Rep. Robert Hargraves, 164 days ($4,264)

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

Patrick restores $383.6 million — Gov. Deval Patrick restored $383.6 million that was cut from the state budget in November by former Gov. Romney, who used his budget-cutting powers to unilaterally cut $425 million from the state’s $25.7 billion fiscal 2007 state budget. Romney later restored some $41.4 million. Patrick last week restored the remaining $383.6 million. Romney’s cuts included funding for education, social service programs and public safety.

Create Work-Family Council (H 4216) — Romney “pocket vetoed” legislation creating a 16-member Massachusetts Work-Family Council to focus on work-family issues facing employers and employees with families. The council would conduct public hearings to identify these issues and recommend solutions and public and private workplace practices that support the well-being of both employers and families. A pocket veto occurs when the Legislature approves a bill and then adjourns for the year. If the governor does not act on the measure within 10 days, it is considered to be vetoed. Romney said that since he was leaving office and the Legislature approved the bill at the last minute, he did not have the time for a complete legal review of the proposal and decided to pocket veto it.

Mitochondrial Disease and Myasthenia Gravis disease (H 4358) — Romney also pocket vetoed legislation proclaiming the third full week in September as “Mitochondrial Disease Awareness Week” and the month of June as “Myasthenia Gravis Awareness Month.” Supporters explain that mitochondria are the power plants in every cell of a person’s body and create more than 90 percent of the energy needed by the body to sustain life and support growth. They note that when a body’s mitochondria fail, the resulting problems often lead to death. They also note that Myasthenia Gravis is an autoimmune neuromuscular disease that causes weakness of the voluntary muscles. They say that it can be controlled by medication and other treatments, but can be fatal if left untreated. Supporters say that making the public aware of these diseases would save lives. Romney again noted that he did not have sufficient time to review the legislation.

There oughta be a law; bills for 2007-2008 session — Officials say that 6,308 bills were filed by last week’s deadline for legislation to be considered in the 2007-2008 session. Many late-filed bills are admitted to the Legislature following the deadline but most proposals are filed by Jan. 10. This year’s total beats the 6,177 bills filed by the deadline for consideration in the now-defunct 2005-2006 session.

Illegal immigrants — Patrick rescinded a policy established by Romney that would have allowed state police troopers to detain illegal immigrants for possible deportation. Patrick said that “the time and effort of state police troopers are better spent working with local communities to combat violence, drug abuse and gun trafficking.” Patrick also noted that his administration will be negotiating with the federal government to allow implementation of a plan to allow specially-trained corrections officers in two state jails to perform limited immigration law enforcement functions. The plan would include initiating deportment proceedings against convicted criminal illegal immigrants.

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 Jan. 8-12, the House met for a total of 25 minutes while the Senate met for a total of eight minutes.

Mon., Jan. 8

(H) 11:02 a.m. to 11:21 a.m.

(S) 11 a.m. to 11:05 a.m.

Tues., Jan. 9

No House session

No Senate session

Wed., Jan. 10

No House session

No Senate session

Thurs., Jan. 11

(H) 11:03 a.m. to 11:09 a.m.

(S) 11:02 a.m. to 11:05 a.m.

Fri. Jan. 12

No House session

No Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com.

Copyright © 2007 Beacon Hill Roll Call. All Rights Reserved.

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