State House Roundup: A Happy Hour?

Not everyone was smiling this week after the Senate finally, and expectedly, passed an expanded gambling bill, going out of its way to make many people happy . . . at least for an hour or so.

After 17 years of a ban on “Happy Hour” in Massachusetts, the Senate threw a highball at the soon-to-be formed conference committee of House and Senate gaming negotiators, forcing them to consider the implications of lifting the 1984 ban on the serving of discounted and free alcoholic beverages.

"This would try to keep the playing field level for those existing businesses here that employ people in the Commonwealth," said Sen. Robert Hedlund, a Weymouth Republican and restaurant owner, who played the part of the reluctant champion of the “Happy Hour” revival movement that drew surprising little outrage from anti-drunk driving advocates like M.A.D.D.

Hedlund argued successfully that if free drinks are good public policy for casinos – and they’re included in the casino bill - then bars and restaurants deserve to have the same competitive tools at their disposal. Adding a bit of irony to the situation, he also told reporters he would “prefer not to” offer drink specials at his own restaurant – Four Square – in Weymouth, and moments before speaking in favor of his amendment he backed a failed attempt to ban free drinks altogether. His involvement on the issue caused a campaign opponent to file an ethics complaint.

Hedlund was curiously absent for the final vote on casinos, which were approved 24-14 on Thursday. His office later explained that the senator had a “long-standing personal commitment that required his attention,” but would have voted against the bill had he been able to stick around.

The final vote came as no surprise after months of declarations from House and Senate leaders that the bill had not only the support of members and the public, but the Corner Office as well. And in reality, the bill is still three steps away from getting as far as it did last session before collapsing faster than the Red Sox in a pennant race.

Free drinks, however, joined a relatively short list of potential explosive policy items still dividing the House and Senate that could complicate negotiations over a bill, including the Senate’s one-year cooling off period before lawmakers can work for a casino, and a House-backed provision that would count gambling revenue toward the statutory trigger to lower the state’s income tax.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s position on the potentially major shift in state alcohol policy? "I'm waiting until they get the whole thing done. Then I'll have somewhat of an opinion on a lot of things," he said. Got that?

Sen. Stanley Rosenberg called the one-year moratorium a precedent-setting decision, but characterized most differences as “a yawn” that could be sorted out before Thanksgiving. Not giving thanks, however, were the casino opponents in the Senate who put up an admirable fight against impossible odds over six days of debate.

“This is a fancy name for a tax on the poor,” Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Jamaica Plain Democrat, told reporters after the vote, describing herself as “frustrated” and “disappointed” by the outcome.

While it appears the deck has been stacked against gambling foes at this point, Sen. Cynthia Creem said there’s always hope, particularly when the Senate failed to muster the votes to override a veto, and more than a third backed the elimination of the slots-only establishment. "I hope he vetoes it. I'm not sure that he's going to. I think that that just shows really we do have the votes to stay with a veto. I haven't got an inkling if he will," Creem said.


The “he,” of course, is Gov. Deval Patrick. Though he has never loved the idea of a slot parlor, Patrick has given no indication that he has started to rethink the MGM Grand Bargain he struck with DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray on three casinos and one-slot parlor. “He's made a public commitment. He's a man of honor," Rosenberg said, dismissing the notion. Patrick gave no indication after the vote about second thoughts on the deal.

In a fitting send-off, Sen. Steven Tolman bid adieu to the job he has held for the past 13 years - not counting his four in the House – after casting his vote in favor of expanded gambling, a significant action item for the labor group he now heads. Tolman left the Senate to become the next president of AFL-CIO where he will now be lobbying the men and women he once called colleagues for favors, even if he has to wait a year to schedule that first meeting.

Reps. Jonathan Hecht (D-Watertown) and William Brownsberger (D-Belmont) have already declared their intentions to seek the Second Middlesex and Suffolk seat that will be filled with a Dec. 13 primary and Jan. 10 special election, and Tolman, in farewell remarks delivered on Thursday, proclaimed that he holds Rep. Kevin Honan (D-Brighton) in the highest regard, calling him “the most popular guy in the building.”

Clearly not the most popular guy in the building was Rep. Jim Lyons, an Andover Republican who staged a sit-in in the House chamber for two days at the end of the week, holding up passage during informal session of a $480 million supplemental budget, and forcing leadership to contemplate a rare Saturday session.

Lyons – joined for much of Friday by Rep. Marc Lombardo – was resisting the apparent decision of House leadership to side with the Senate and scrap an amendment he sponsored, and which the full House approved, that would force the Patrick administration to produce a detailed breakdown of who receives public benefits.

While House Democrats tried to wait-Lyons out, it was worth asking what would Mayor Menino do? Maybe drag him out in handcuffs.

After all, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino only days before defended the arrests of over 100 Occupy Boston protesters trying to expand their occupation.

"I understand they have freedom of speech and freedom of expression, but we have a city to manage," Menino told the Boston Globe. "I'm open to suggestions, but civil disobedience will not be tolerated."

Overtime pay for Boston Police apparently will be tolerated. City officials on Friday said policed at put in 3,056 OT hours since Oct. 1 in connection with Occupy Boston and earned $146,189 in OT pay.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Bottoms up, for half price.

This program aired on October 14, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.


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