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Mass. Senate Denied Saturday Session On Gambling

Republicans who complained Democratic senators were blocking their tax-reduction efforts amid a debate about expanded casino gambling were largely absent from the State House on Saturday, thwarting the Senate as it tried to hold a rare weekend session the GOP had requested.

Fewer than the required 21 senators trekked to the State House on a steamy summer morning, denying the chamber the quorum necessary to continue its debate about expanded gambling and restructuring some of the state's debt. The only Republican to attend was Sen. Bruce Tarr of Gloucester.

Senate Republican Leader Richard Tisei, who forced the session Friday, was absent. He is campaigning to be lieutenant governor on a ticket with Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker.

The dearth of members triggered nearly 40 minutes of frantic cell phone calls, after which senators agreed to postpone their session until Monday afternoon.

"It's part of the process," said Sen. Steven Baddour, D-Methuen. "We'll be back Monday, until it gets done."

Republicans charge that Democrats have been trying to frustrate their efforts to hold clear up and down votes on amendments by using a parliamentary tactic of laying a "further amendment" on top of the GOP amendments.

One of those Republican amendments would create a property tax relief fund with proceeds from three proposed casinos and distribute the money to property owners. A second amendment would put the casino revenue into the state's local aid account for cities and towns.

Other GOP amendments would repeal recent increases in the state sales tax and a tax on the sale of alcohol in stores.

"Our priority right now is to get the casino proceeds directed in a way that they benefit either cities and towns, property taxpayers or the taxpayers of the state," Tisei said Friday.

Tarr said: "Unless something significant changes, this bill will just represent another installment in the unquenchable thirst for additional revenue and spending that this building has exhibited over the last several years."

Yet their efforts to use parliamentary maneuvers to force that discussion went awry.

Tisei forced the Saturday session by calling for the debate to be "laid on the table." Any member can do so up to three times. Tisei's demand pushed the session off until Saturday, at which time many members expected the Republicans to use their second chance to table the debate.

Yet it appears too many senators assumed there would be no session, so too few arrived even to allow that to happen.

Just nine were in the chamber when it was gaveled to order at 10 a.m., and over the subsequent half-hour, only five more arrived, with a sixth reaching the chamber just after the session concluded.

Senate President Therese Murray was absent, ceding the leadership duties to Sen. Steven Tolman, D-Boston.

Tolman consulted with Murray aides before banging the gavel again near 10:40 a.m. and declaring, "It's clear we cannot obtain a quorum." He then postponed the session until Monday. Republicans appear to have retained their two additional opportunities to table debate.

Senators present at the session's beginning were Tarr, Baddour, Tolman, Thomas McGee, Anthony Petruccelli, Richard Moore, Susan Fargo, Susan Tucker and Patricia Jehlen. Moments later, Sens. Jennifer Flanagan, Sonia Chang-Diaz and Gail Candaras arrived, followed by Sens. James Eldridge, Marc Pacheco and, after the session ended, Thomas Kennedy.

This program aired on June 26, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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