State House Roundup: Time Management

Much got done. Some issues slipped through the cracks. And not long after midnight on Tuesday it all came to a chaotic, screeching halt.

Another two-year formal legislating session is in the books. Laws intended to expand gambling, control health care costs, encourage renewable energy development, prevent foreclosures, prosecute human trafficking, and protect transgender rights among the major accomplishments counted by Gov. Deval Patrick and House and Senate leaders.

The final frenzied sessions that came to pass on Beacon Hill this week transpired as they often do, with a rush of eleventh-hour deal-making sending bills cascading onto to the floors of the House and Senate for final votes. Without debate or much review, lawmakers eager to get off the Hill give the bills their collective rubber stamp.

Comfort was offered to the foot soldiers of the Legislature through reassuring promises that they should be proud that Massachusetts is once again the "first-in-the-nation" to confront health care cost and to address the sticky issue of access to auto repair information, a model to be emulated. Trust, follow the leader, and push the "yes" button.

Sharks may have nipping at the legs of Cape Cod swimmers, but nothing was as worrisome this week for those on Beacon Hill as the clock, equal parts the price paid for procrastination and deliberation as a strategy of leadership to keep the big bills under wraps until the end and then dare anyone to stand in their way or demand something better.

The first page of the final chapter on the 187th General Court's second year was written on Saturday by Gov. Deval Patrick who returned an anti-crime and sentencing bill to the Legislature with an amendment asking for limited judicial discretion to give certain three-time violent felons a chance at parole.

Almost certain from its inception to be rejected by the Legislature - Speaker Robert DeLeo said in a TV interview before the amendment was filed that it would "gut the bill" - it was Patrick's last ditch attempt to shape a bill that had drawn criticism from minority communities and mandatory sentencing reform advocates.

Patrick kept his ultimate intentions for the bill semi-secret - lawmakers did make a mental note that he kept referring to it as a "good" bill - and in doing so caused a certain level of anxiety among lawmakers, who had to contemplate the possibility of heading for the campaign trail without the habitual offender bill in their back pockets.

As Saturday turned to Sunday, the halls of the State House were dark and quiet, save for the sporadic echoes of voices emanating from staff and the handful of lawmakers in the building - including Senate President Therese Murray - working to put the finishing touches on health care cost containment and energy legislation.

While a rumored press conference to announce a deal on health care never came to pass, Sen. Benjamin Downing and Rep. John Keenan put finishing touches on an energy bill encouraging more long-term contracts, competitively bid, for renewable energy. In the process, a deal was brokered to break the stalemate over a perk for Keenan's hometown of Salem that will help pave the way for the retiring Salem Power Plant site to be redeveloped.

Monday dawned with white smoke rising from the House Members Lounge where Rep. Steve Walsh, Sen. Richard Moore, House Majority Leader Ronald Mariano, and Sen. Anthony Petruccelli inked a deal on health care reform, the finalized bill not be filed for another 10 ½ hours.

Walsh, who had spent the past 18 months working on this bill, would later call it a "legacy bill" for the 2011-2012 Legislature. It sets the state on course for the most dramatic experimental overhaul of the health care system in anyone's memory.

"Landmark legislation that will be modeled around the country," was how Mariano referred to the effort that will push the health care industry toward new models of care delivery and payment focused on illness prevention rather than treatment. And the bill, supporters said, will save $200 billion over 15 years by forcing the health care chieftains to bring cost growth in line with economic growth. Time will tell.

Only 20 House members voted against the bill, mostly new-guard Republicans, the notable exception being Rep. James Miceli, a Wilmington Democrat who, quoting the Pioneer Institute, warned that as easily as it could equal the success of the 2006 law, it could also backfire like the failed HMO experiments of the 90s.

Deals remained elusive on Monday for House and Senate negotiators trying to iron out bills related to economic development and job creation, transportation funding and the court's child services system. Lawmakers instead occupied their time with end-of-session land takings requiring pro-forma roll-call votes, and making quick work of Patrick's crime amendment, rejecting it and holding their breath.

Will he sign it? Won't he? Everyone wanted to know, the answer perhaps holding more sway over what would and wouldn't get done before the stroke of midnight on July 31 than anyone wanted to admit.

Relief came Tuesday afternoon when Patrick announced he would sign the habitual offender bill after all, releasing forth a collective exhale from the likes of Rep. Brad Hill, who has spent the better part of the last decade pushing for a tougher habitual offender law.

Les Gosule, whose daughter Melissa was raped and murdered in 1999 by a repeat paroled felon, could barely hold back the tears. "I want the pen," he would say repeatedly over the next few days, until he got it in a private bill signing ceremony with Patrick on Thursday, bringing it to his daughter's grave to show her.

As it turned out, midnight on Tuesday was a soft deadline. In the House, a flustered Rep. Patricia Haddad handed the gavel off to Rep. Paul Donato, apparently the designated closer, to speed-read though unchallenged voice votes necessary to put the finishing touches on CHINS reform and a bond bill loaded with local earmarked infrastructure projects. Meanwhile in the Senate, Murray pushed past midnight to finalize a surprise deal on "right to repair" legislation that emerged on the last day, potentially resolving a ballot issue voters may now be advised to ignore.

One objection from any member of the House or Senate could have derailed any of those bills. It didn't come.

"A great first year for the GOP freshman class," Tweeted Rep. Daniel Winslow not long after the House called it quits for the night.

"Now lets get everyone back," responded Rep. Ryan Fattman, a freshman Sutton Republican.

It didn't take long for election season to begin.

STORY OF THE WEEK: The next great health care experiment begins. Lawmakers wrap session with a flurry. Overriding mantra: Finish first, ask questions later.

CENSORED QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Former Charlie Baker press hand Rick Gorka found himself in the headlines this week instead of his new boss Mitt Romney, an uncomfortable place for a presidential traveling press secretary. While Romney was overseas visiting the Polish tomb of the unknown soldier, Gorka lost his cool with reporters who were shouting questions at the candidate out of frustration with Romney's lack of availability to the press. "Kiss my #@* This is a holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect," Gorka told one reporter, before telling another to "shove it." According to POLITICO, Gorka took some "time off" after the incident, but was expected to rejoin the trail next week.

This program aired on August 4, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.


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