Lawmakers Send Casino Bill, Several Others, To Governor's Desk

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Lawmakers have wrapped up days of frantic bill-passing, as the Legislature called it quits for the year, per House and Senate rules. Formal sessions will not resume until early in 2012.

Casino Bill

One of the most watched bills — now on Gov. Deval Patrick's desk — authorizes three casinos and a slots parlor in Massachusetts. A casino bill never got off the launch pad in 2008, and last year one died when the Legislature and the governor couldn't agree on a major provision.

Senate President Therese Murray says the current bill means revenue and the creation of jobs in Massachusetts. "And before they even get to the licensing or that part of it, you're going to see some infrastructure work and that means you're going to be putting the trades to work, and they've been out of work for a long time," Murray said.

The bill hit a minor snag when the governor indicated on Tuesday he had some concerns about how much gaming money would be put toward a racehorse development fund. Legislative staffers worked through the night crafting an amendment cutting the money to that fund in half, and both the House and Senate unanimously accepted the change Wednesday.

Patrick has 10 days to act on the bill, and he is expected to sign it into law sometime next week.

Gaming was just one major piece of legislation enacted during the sometimes-frenetic marathon session.

Transgender Rights

On Wednesday morning, senators quickly — and with no debate — passed a bill that extends discrimination protections in the areas of housing, employment, education and credit to transgendered people.

Gunnar Scott, of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, says the bill is a huge step forward for the transgender community. "You know, at the end of the day, this is about human beings," Scott said. "And this is what this bill should be about — the dignity and safety of human beings. Some of us are transgender, and we deserve that dignity and safety."

Opponents of the legislation, including all but one of the Republicans in the House, claimed the measure was not necessary, and could harm small businesses.

Congressional Redistricting

Lawmakers also finished work on the bill redrawing the state's congressional districts. Shifts in the U.S. population forced Massachusetts to cut the number of congressional districts from 10 to nine. The task was made somewhat easier when longtime western Massachusetts Rep. John Olver announced his retirement last month.

The plan makes many of the more gangly districts somewhat more compact, and increases the number of minorities in what will now be the 7th District, which runs from Somerville in the north, through the heart of Boston, and now includes parts of Milton and all of Randolph.

Milton Sen. Brian Joyce took issue with the fact that part of his town, as well as Randolph, which is in his district, are being moved into the majority-minority district, calling it a "crazy patchwork quilt of a district that is gerrymandering at its worst.

"My hometown of Milton is sacrificed at this altar of political correctness and this desire to create a majority-minority district," Joyce said on the Senate floor as he unsuccessfully argued to return the towns to the district now represented by Rep. Stephen Lynch.

Parole Bill

The House and Senate were unable to reach an agreement before the midnight deadline on a habitual offender bill. Last week, the Senate approved a comprehensive crime bill that not only included a provision that would deny parole to anyone convicted of a third violent offense, it also included updates to the state wiretapping laws to include text messaging, and created the crimes of assault with a firearm, murder for hire and strangulation.

House leaders said there wasn't enough time to deal with all the issues, but voted on a stripped-down version that addressed parole for habitual offenders. The move sets the stage for a conference committee that will work out the differences between the two branches, with action expected sometime after the Legislature resumes formal sessions in January.

Prospects for passage please Les Gosule, whose daughter, Melissa, was raped and murdered by a repeat offender in 1999.

"I think we're going to have a bill that holds violent felons on their third time accountable," Gosule said. "It's a long time overdue, but we're getting there."

This program aired on November 17, 2011.

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



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