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Flurry Of Activity Expected On Several Bills At The State House

With the clock ticking toward a Wednesday midnight deadline, legislators on Beacon Hill are expected to act on a number of key measures over the next two days. Compromises on three major bills were filed late Monday night with the House and Senate clerks, meaning passage could come as early as Tuesday.

Bringing 3 Casinos, Slot Parlor To Mass.

Topping the list of the most-watched bills is a compromise that would bring three resort casinos and a slot parlor to Massachusetts.

The compromise keeps the Senate amendment creating a one-year "cooling off" period, which stipulates that any elected official who votes to approve a casino must wait a full year after leaving office before they could go to work for a casino developer. That ban extends to local officials who may have to sign off on host community agreements.

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Conferees stripped language from the bill that could have led to the return of happy hours in Massachusetts, although casinos would still be allowed to serve free drinks on the gaming floor.

While most communities would require a referendum on whether to allow a casino, in Boston, Worcester and Springfield, only voters in the ward where the casino is to be located would get a say, unless the city council expands the vote city-wide. If this bill is approved, it's expected the first casino would come online in three to four years.

The casino bill will be voted on by the House on Tuesday. It was overwhelmingly approved earlier this year, and the compromise is expected to pass as well.

Updating The Mass. Pension System

Also on the Legislature's plate Tuesday is a bill to modernize the state's pension system.

House-Senate conferees agreed to raise the retirement age for new state employees from 55 to 60. They also agreed to expand the so-called "look back" period from three to five years. Currently, a state worker's pension is calculated based on the final three years of employment. The bill changes that to the final five years.

The pension compromise before also clarifies that retirement boards may force retirees who are convicted of a crime to forfeit their pension and possibly repay any benefits received since the date of the offense, not just from the date of conviction. Lawmakers estimate the proposed changes would save the pension system $5 billion over the next three decades.

Increasing Penalties For Human Trafficking

A third conference committee reported out a bill that increases penalties for anyone who engages in human trafficking. The bill also gives police and prosecutors leeway to treat prostitutes as victims, rather than perpetrators of a crime, in an effort to go after those who profit from the practice of human trafficking.

New Probation Restrictions

It appears that state lawmakers are close to finalizing tough new probation restrictions. Last week, the Senate unanimously passed a sweeping bill overhauling parole for habitual offenders.

The bill was prompted by the murder of a Woburn police officer by a repeat offender who was out on parole. With time running out before the Legislature takes its end-of-year break, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Eugene O'Flaherty said the House needs more time to review all provisions of the bill.

"However we are going to report out in part on the habitual recidivist portion of what the Senate sent us over, and we are going to debate that area of what the Senate sent us between now and Wednesday midnight," O'Flaherty said.

That portion of the bill eliminates parole eligibility for offenders convicted of their third violent felony.

Protections For Transgendered Individuals

O'Flaherty also said the Judiciary Committee is expected to approve a measure expanding civil rights protections for transgendered individuals.

Supporters have been trying to get the bill passed for three years. The measure would make it illegal to discriminate against transgendered people in several areas, including employment, housing and credit, as well as provide hate crime protections.

Gunnar Scott, of the Mass Transgender Political Caucus, said the legislation is long overdue.

"I am very moved that this bill is moving forward, and that we're going to hopefully have these protections for my community members, because there are approximately 33,000 transgendered people in the state, which is the equivalent of Fenway Park, and these are the protections that people need right now," Scott said.

The Judiciary Committee has stripped out a controversial provision that would have prohibited discrimination in public accommodations, including public restrooms.

The House and Senate must finish action on the controversial bills by midnight Wednesday, before embarking on a six-week, end-of-year recess. Action on any bills not approved by then must be put off until after the first of the new year.

This program aired on November 15, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Steve Brown Twitter Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's State House reporter.

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