The Associated Press

Mass. House Strikes Down Patrick’s Proposals

BOSTON — Massachusetts lawmakers are rejecting Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposals to scale back their efforts to restrict welfare benefits, close a state psychiatric hospital, and block a requirement for residents to prove they’re in the country legally when they register a vehicle.

The state House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted Wednesday against the governor’s proposed amendments to the state budget he signed three days ago regarding welfare benefits and proof of residency. They also voted unanimously to override his veto of language that would prevent the closure of Taunton State Hospital.

The proposals now go to the Senate for consideration.

On Sunday, Patrick amended a state budget provision that would require anyone seeking to register a car in Massachusetts to provide proof of legal U.S. residency, which immigration advocacy groups oppose. The governor is calling for simply requiring vehicle owners to prove state residency.

The residency language is part of a broader measure that would allow applicants for a motor vehicle or trailer registration to present a driver’s license, identification card or Social Security number to the Registry of Motor Vehicles as proof of identification. It would also allow the Registry of Motor Vehicles to grant exemptions for out-of-state college students, military personnel, senior citizens and disabled persons.

Advocates for immigrants had urged Patrick to veto the provision and several others attached to the fiscal 2013 budget.

Frank Soults, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said his group is disappointed in the House’s decision to strike down the governor’s amendment, saying he believes lawmakers “reacted harshly.” He said the proposal will make it harder for immigrants who can legally drive in the United States to register their vehicles in the state.

Soults said the Legislature’s proposal is a “bad first step in the direction of the Arizona” anti-immigration law.

House members also overrode the Democratic governor’s veto of a $5.1 million compromise proposal to keep Taunton State Hospital partially open.

The Legislature voted to include funds for 45 beds at the hospital in the 2013 state budget while an independent study was conducted of the state’s mental health treatment system.

David Schildmeier, spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, thanked House members for the override vote.

“This is the first step towards saving this vital community resource in Southeastern Mass, and ultimately, providing a vehicle, through the independent study, to address the state’s growing mental health crisis,” he said in a statement following the vote.

Patrick’s welfare amendment, which the House also struck down, would ban electronic benefit card purchases at specific businesses, but not for individual items. It would also expand the scope of study for a commission that would look at the feasibility of a cashless benefit system.

Patrick’s proposal slightly amends the Legislature’s effort to prohibit EBT cards purchases for lottery tickets, tobacco products, pornography, guns and tattoos. Liquor stores, adult venues, nail salons, cruise ships and jewelry stores would also be prohibited from accepting the cards.

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