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Massachusetts lawmakers negotiating a compromise state budget have rejected key elements of a contentious Senate-backed amendment aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants.
The compromise version of the budget filed late Wednesday won't require Massachusetts to establish a 24-hour hot line to report suspected illegal immigrant workers and won't force the state attorney general to sign an agreement to enforce federal immigration law.
Both would have been required under the Senate amendment, which also would require companies doing business with the state to verify that their workers are in the country legally or be barred from future state contracts.
Senate Ways and Means Chairman Steven Panagiotakos said the budget will write into law some existing policies regarding illegal immigrants.
"Basically we codified existing regulations, practices and policies of the commonwealth," said Panagiotakos, D-Lowell. "There are a lot of checks in the system and we wanted to make sure those checks stayed in the system."
The final budget also rejected another portion of the Senate amendment that would have legally barred illegal immigrants from receiving in-state tuition rates.
Panagiotakos said there already is a policy against offering in-state tuition rates to those in the country illegally and there was no need to write it into law.
The House had narrowly rejected a similar anti-illegal immigrant amendment during its budget debate.
Budget negotiators had to grapple with the failure of Congress to extend additional anticipated Medicaid dollars, which will end up costing Massachusetts about $687 million.
That forced them to essentially file two budgets: a $27.9 billion plan if the money is approved and a $27.6 billion plan if it isn't.
To help close the $687 million hole, budget negotiators diverted nearly $200 million from the state's rainy day fund and made additional, targeted cuts to balance the budget. If Congress eventually approves the money, those cuts would be restored.
The final budget plan also would eliminate $56 million in funding for a health care program for immigrants who are in the country legally.
Local aid to cities and towns and local school aid would be exempt from further cuts because of the lack of additional Medicaid dollars.
"We are under no illusion that this (money) is coming at this point," said House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Murphy, D-Burlington. "We have accounted for that. We've taken responsible steps. We've made very difficult decisions."
Panagiotakos and Murphy said they agreed on another controversial issue: what to do with two Suffolk Country holidays, Bunker Hill Day and Evacuation Day, that have long irked workers in the rest of the state.
They said the budget would require that all government buildings and offices be open on those days but would not override any collective bargaining agreements with public employee unions.
"All the state and municipal offices and agencies, public authorities and quasi-authorities would have to be open for business and fully staffed on those days," Panagiotakos said.
The budget also would make changes to the state pension system by capping the maximum amount of state pensions. And it would repeal lifetime appointments to the position of chief of probation.
The full House and Senate are expected to approve the budget on Thursday.
Gov. Deval Patrick has 10 days to review the budget and make any vetoes. The new fiscal year begins July 1.
This program aired on June 23, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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