State House Roundup: Let Them Eat Wedding Cake

An exasperated Sen. Michael Knapik rose on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon to decry a policy he deemed so "downright un-American" that it had to be reversed.

"Somehow, someway as it often happens, bureaucracy runs amok," Knapik said, winning agreement from even some of his most liberal Senate colleagues.

The Republican senator's comments had nothing to do with the 236-page health care reform bill that Senate Ways and Means had teed up just a day earlier for debate next week, the first 45 pages of which deal with a restructuring of departments and the creation of two new agencies to oversee a dramatic overhaul of the health care system.

By comparison, the House and Senate this week managed to spend an additional $72 million in taxpayer funds with an easily digestible page-and-a-half budget bill.

Instead, the gentleman from Westfield was discussing cupcakes, more specifically the Patrick administration's proposed ban on school-day bake sales as part of a nutritional overhaul of public school cafeterias.

Gone for two days to care for his eldest daughter Sarah who had been hospitalized, Gov. Deval Patrick returned to the State House on Thursday to find the building in a full-on pastry panic.

"Nobody's interested in banning bake sales. We are interested in student nutrition and good choices," the governor told reporters, shortly before directing his Department of Public Health to amend regulations set to go into effect August 1 to reverse the school bake-sale ban.

Crisis #1 averted.

And so as plates began to shift under one of the largest employment sectors in the state this week, the rumble from the capitol had more to do with confections than cost containment. And then there was Stan McGee.

McGee is the governor's $120,000-a-year gaming expert, who as assistant secretary for policy in the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development helped write Gov. Deval Patrick's gambling bill four years ago and continues to be involved in gaming policy.

So when the Gaming Commission proposed to "borrow" the senior economic development official to serve in the interim as its executive director while it carried out a search for a full-time director, McGee seemed an apropos pick, notwithstanding the "elephant in the room" that McGee himself brought to the attention of commissioners before accepting the post.

As most everyone save for Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby seemed to already know, McGee had been accused four years ago of sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy in Florida. Authorities declined at the time to press criminal charges, citing a lack of evidence, and McGee settled a civil lawsuit with the boy's family out of court and returned to work.


"For my money, there is nothing to this," Crosby told his fellow commissioners when recommending McGee's hiring.

But what's good for EOHED apparently was not good enough for the Gaming Commission, and his appointment sparked a ferocious backlash. Rep. James Lyons (D-Andover) called for Crosby to resign. Treasurer Steven Grossman called for McGee to resign. And Rep. Daniel Winslow (R-Norfolk) went the extra mile to hire a private investigator to research the case and report back to the governor and Gaming Commission.

"As we saw in the O.J. Simpson case, lack of proof beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal case does not mean that a person did not commit the acts alleged in a civil or administrative context," Winslow said at a well-covered press conference.

By Wednesday night when McGee conceded that his appointment had created too much of distraction for him to be effective in the post and turned the job down, the final outcome had been crystalizing and predicted for days. It was enough for Winslow to ask his P.I. to "stand down."

The fact that McGee planned to return to his other public sector job, however, failed to generate the same outcry, and though Massachusetts Citizens for Children called on the governor to suspend McGee until a full investigation could be completed, Patrick said McGee should be entitled to resume his life, and would welcome him back to the administration.

Crisis #2, somewhat resolved.

Which brings the story back to health care reform, and the fact that after more than a year of anticipation and prodding from Gov. Patrick, the Legislature is on the verge of taking up a cost control bill that Senate leaders said would shave $150 billion over 15 years from health care industry spending.

Described by one of its authors, Sen. Richard Moore, as less regulatory than the governor's bill and similar in concept to the House's approach, the bill would limit health care growth to slightly above gross state product, assessing health plans $200 million over the next five years to pay for electronic medical records and community-based health and wellness programs.

Senate President Therese Murray explained why the Senate opted against the more aggressive House spending benchmark of below gross state product. "We're concerned about the negative effect this would have on the economy. We're better than every other state right now, but it's tenuous. If we are too aggressive here it could be lots of jobs and I don't think anyone wants that," Murray said.

The Legislature also appeared to upshift this week, advancing a foreclosure prevention bill and an MBTA rescue package that included additional money for regional transit authorities and would require selling piers and parking lots for the operation of ferry service to Massport.

Though House and Senate leaders are cognizant of the need for equity to win support from members whose districts don't touch MBTA service territories, Secretary of Administration and Finance Jay Gonzalez said the administration had "reservations" about the plan because of the need for a financial solution now, and the required federal approvals that would have to be obtained to transfer ferry operations to Massport.

President Barack Obama also shook up his re-election campaign against Mitt Romney by announcing his support for gay marriage, a position evolution nudged along by his loose-lipped vice president, but one embraced in Massachusetts by Gov. Patrick who was on the road again this weekend in South Carolina stumping for his White House bestie.

Between health care reform and gay marriage, Patrick will no doubt have plenty to talk about Sunday when he appears on CBS's "Face the Nation."

STORY OF THE WEEK: On marriage, cupcakes and McGee, positions evolved.

APROPOS OF NOTHING: Sen. Barry Finegold loves the 80s. So much so, in fact, that in a letter to constituents announcing a listening forum in his district next week, the Andover Democrat took the time to list the Top 5 things he misses about a decade many of us might like to forget. As ranked by Finegold: 1) Ronald Reagan/Tip O'Neil bipartisanship. 2) Bird vs. Magic. 3) Miami Vice 4) Heavy Metal Music (specifically Queensryche). And 5) Donkey Kong. "Once in a while, I really do miss the 80's. Who doesn't?" Finegold wrote. He overlooked Celts-Sixers.

This program aired on May 11, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.


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