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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 the Legislature’s 40 state senators in 2011 through Aug. 8. The list reveals that senators have so far collected a total of $39,521.

Under state law, per diems are paid by the state to senators “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 senators above and beyond their regular salaries.

The amount of the per diem varies and is based on the city or town in which a senator resides and its distance from the Statehouse. The Legislature in 2000 approved a law doubling these per diems to the current amounts. The payments range from $10 per day for senators who reside in the Greater Boston area to $90 per day for some Western Massachusetts lawmakers and $100 per day for those in Nantucket. Senators who are from areas that are a long distance from Boston’s Statehouse often collect the highest total of annual per diems.

Supporters of the per diems say the system is fair and note the rising costs of travel, food and lodging. They note many legislators spend a lot of money on traveling to Boston and some spend the night in Boston following late sessions.

Some opponents argue most other private sector and state workers are not paid additional money for commuting. Others say that the very idea of paying any per diem is outrageous when thousands of workers have lost their jobs and homes, the state is in the midst of a recession, and funding for important programs has been cut.

The 2011 statistics indicate that 14 senators, a little more than one-third of the 40 members, have received reimbursements ranging from $558 to $6,300 while 26 senators have so far chosen not to apply for any money. State law does not establish a deadline that senators must meet in order to collect the per diems.

The senator who has received the most per diem money in 2011 is Sen. Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield) with $6,300. The other senators rounding out the top six with the highest amounts in order of the amount of money received include Sens. Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst), $5,280; Michael Knapik (R-Westfield), $4,686; Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport), $4,005; Daniel Wolf (D-Harwich), $3,900; and James Welch (D-Springfield), $3,894.

LOCAL SENATORS’ PER DIEMS FOR 2011

The dollar figure next to the senator’s name represents the total amount of 2011 per diem money the state has paid the senator through Aug. 8. The number in parentheses represents the number of days the senator certified that he or she was at the Statehouse during that same period.

A total of 26 of the state’s senators did not list any days and did not request any per diems. This should not be construed to mean these senators were never at the Statehouse in 2011. It simply means they chose not to list the number of days and not to request their per diems.

Sen. Eileen Donoghue $0 (0 days)

Sen. James Eldridge $0 (0 days)

Sen. Jennifer Flanagan $2,052 (57 days)

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

VIDEO CONFERENCE COURT PROCEEDINGS (H 3143) — The House gave initial approval to a bill allowing video conferencing technology to be used for child and family court proceedings in which a child or parent has a restraining order against the other parent. The measure would allow the protected parent or child to testify via video conferencing, in a different building than the other parent.

Supporters said this would prevent victims from being intimidated when forced to sit in the courtroom for hours with the alleged offender. They noted it would protect vulnerable women and children and encourage more of them to bring charges against their alleged attackers.

NIX STATE-OWNED BANK PROPOSAL — A special advisory commission created last August by the Legislature voted 12-0 against the creation of a state-owned bank in Massachusetts. Currently, North Dakota is the only state in the nation with a state-owned bank.

Supporters say the North Dakota bank has worked well. They argue a Massachusetts state bank would be a partner, not a rival, of local banks.

Opponents say this creates another unnecessary government bureaucracy that will unfairly compete with local private banks. They argue this will hurt these banks by being the only bank in which the state deposits its tax and other revenue.

BAN CAMPAIGN SIGNS FROM PUBLIC PROPERTY (H 204) — The Election Laws Committee is considering a bill prohibiting political signs from being placed on tax-exempt local, state and federal property and property owned by a non-profit organization.

SEX OFFENDERS (H 3149) — The Judiciary Committee has scheduled a September 27 hearing on legislation that would prohibit Level 2 or Level 3 sex offenders from residing within 500 feet of a school zone.

STUDENTS’ EXPRESSION OF RELIGION (H 2715) — The Education Committee will hear testimony on October 10 on a proposal that would require cities and towns to implement a local policy that allows for a "limited public forum and voluntary student expression of religious viewpoints at school events and graduation ceremonies, in class assignments and in non-curricular school groups and activities."

FRAUDULENT SEXUAL CONSENT (H 3154) — The Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on September 27 on a measure imposing up to a life sentence on anyone who has sexual intercourse with a person if he or she fraudulently obtained that person’s consent.

SAFETY OF CHEERLEADING (H 2720) — On October 27, the Education Committee will hold a hearing on legislation that would create a special commission to conduct a study to evaluate current safety practices of cheerleading. The commission would study the certification of cheerleading coaches; the presence of emergency medical technicians, athletic trainers, and/or physicians at games; and the reporting of all injuries and precautions taken to prevent injuries.

REQUIRE PHOTO ID (H 244) — The Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure is considering legislation requiring consumers to show a photo ID in order to use a credit or debit card.

TRANSLATOR AT DRIVING TEST (H 3076) — A bill before the Transportation Committee would allow non-English speaking driver’s license applicants to bring their own interpreter to assist in the oral and road portion of the driving test.

HANDICAPPED PARKING (H 2322) — A bill before the Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government would require cities and towns to make at least 5 percent of their public parking spaces handicapped spaces.

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QUOTABLE QUOTES

“Massachusetts is getting shortchanged by a jet-setting Governor.”

Republican State Committee Chairwoman Jennifer Nassour criticizing Gov. Deval Patrick’s current vacations in Bermuda and Maine and the time he has spent outside of Massachusetts in 2011.

“It’s ironic she’s criticizing the governor for being out of state when she’s going to Iowa.”

Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray on Nassour’s trip to Ames, Iowa, for the GOP presidential candidates’ debate and a presidential straw poll.

“It’s not surprising to see that his (Lt. Gov. Murray’s) schedule allows him time to fret over what she (Jennifer Nassour) is doing since he doesn’t seem to be doing much else.”

Tim Buckley, spokesman for the State Republican Party.

HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION?

During the week of August 8-12, the House met for a total of 23 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 11 minutes.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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