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The clock is ticking at the State House. With less than two weeks before the legislative session ends, unfinished business is piling up on lawmakers' desks as negotiations on expanded gambling weigh down a backlog of bills.
The State House New Service's Craig Sandler pointed to encouraging signs as House and Senate negotiators continue their second week of talks aimed at resolving their differences over a casino bill. Still, he said, lawmakers' differences may be too big — and the political climate too risky — for a reconciled bill to become law by the time the legislative session ends on July 31.
The main point of contention in the bill is a disagreement between legislative leaders on slot machines. House Speaker Robert DeLeo supports allowing the machines at the state's four existing racetracks — and the House version of the casino bill includes them — while Senate President Therese Murray and Gov. Deval Patrick are opposed to slot machines.
"There was a lot of back and forth, there was sniping and snipping," Sandler said of last week's negotiations.
Comments after a leadership meeting Monday suggested to Sandler that lawmakers are now engaged in a more constructive dialogue. "(Monday) was a good deal more sanguine and serene," he said.
Murray said the conference committee continues to work toward compromise. "They're meeting, they're talking, they're writing," he said.
DeLeo also expressed cautious optimism after the day's efforts — emphasizing the significance of the continuing dialogue. "I think that sometimes, with legislation or conference committees or whatnot, when people stop talking and the dialogue stops, that's probably the death knell of the legislation," DeLeo said.
If the legislation does come together, Sandler said, it will be so late that a veto from Patrick could also be a death knell for the law — since it’s unlikely there would be enough time to rework the bill and return it to his desk.
There is also the possibility that the Legislature could suspend its own rules and keep debating gambling legislation after July 31 — but Sandler’s not betting on it. “In an election year, particularly on the issue of casinos, particularly if things are rocky and convoluted, I really don’t think that they would change or bend their own rules to do this legislation,” Sandler said.
Overall, Sandler estimates there's a 50 percent chance that gambling will be legalized in Massachusetts this session. “It is hardly unheard of to have a big issue like this fail to come to closure and to have the leaders announce, ‘We would rather do it right than do it quickly.’ "
This program aired on July 20, 2010.
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