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Through fits and starts, lawmakers drew the shades on 2013 making idle chitchat in the Senate chamber while awaiting mundane land taking bills to surface. Down the hall, House Speaker Robert DeLeo waxed on the legacy of J.F.K. to pass the time.
Red Sox fans didn’t have to say it this year, so the Legislature did: There’s always next year.
Despite some passionate debate in the Senate over a minimum wage hike and in the House over an early voting and online voter registration bill, the formal legislating season of 2013 came to end this week with major agreements over compounding pharmacy oversight, welfare reforms and veterans benefits proving to be more elusive than, maybe, was expected.
“I'm really not disappointed at all. I think the biggest thing we've done is obviously handle the budget and the financial aspects of the state. And quite frankly, if we were in the one-year session I'd be more concerned, but whether we do these now or four weeks or six weeks from now, I'm okay," DeLeo said.
That’s not to say either branch individually did not accomplish anything this year. After the first half of the year came to be dominated by debates over the budget and taxes for transportation, the House and Senate each passed the major bills now in conference, and cherry-picked others to their leadership’s liking.
For the Senate, that issue was the minimum wage. To the distress of major business leaders, the Senate voted 32-7 this week to increase the minimum wage to $11 an hour by July 2016, up from its current $8, and to tie future increases to inflation.
Senate President Therese Murray whipped the bill through despite DeLeo’s insistence that the House had no plans to vote before the winter recess, is unsure how high he’s willing to go, and would prefer to conjoin any wage increases with unemployment insurance system reforms. Murray told her members that unemployment insurance reform would be on the table come January, but for now she insisted on a “clean” bill, as Senate leaders called it.
Not to be outdone, and quite frankly with little else to do, House leaders sprung an election laws overhaul on the members for the last day of formal sessions, and with 142 votes of support passed legislation authorizing online registration and early voting in presidential election years.
“Love that idea. Love it,” Gov. Deval Patrick gushed. Like the bills in conference, the minimum wage and early voting appear destined for the governor’s desk. He’ll just have to wait a little longer.
Those expecting Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker to pick a running mate may also have to wait. A fundraiser for Baker hosted at the Worcester Country Club on Thursday night by former representative and 2010 treasurer candidate Karyn Polito spiced rampant speculation on the probability of a Baker-Polito team in 2014.
Insiders close to the Baker camp, however, said there are factions within his campaign who believe the Swampscott Republican might be better off heading into next summer’s convention sans running-mate, and letting the party decide. Should that come to pass, the two most likely candidates at this point appear to be Polito and former Romney Cabinet official Beth Lindstrom, who managed Scott Brown’s 2010 U.S. Senate campaign.
“Right now Charlie is focused on traveling the state and talking about jobs, the economy and education. That decision is going to be made in the future,” said Baker spokesman Tim Buckley.
Rep. Shaunna O’Connell a Taunton Republican, was once thought to be viable contender for the number two slot on the GOP ticket in 2014 until she downplayed her interest. Instead, O’Connell and some of her fellow House Republicans were focused this week on their ballot initiative to repeal the law indexing the gas tax to inflation.
That proposal, along with others repealing the 2011 casino law, expanding the bottle bill, imposing nurse staffing rules, increasing the minimum wage and requiring employers to offer earned sick time to workers, all turned in what they hoped to be enough signatures to qualify for next year’s ballot.
Anti-casino forces, who still need a court ruling to allow them to proceed to the ballot, scored another win in Milford this week. Voters there rejected Foxwoods’ proposal casino. That news was following by new reports raising questions about Steve Wynn’s land partners for a casino in Everett. Drip, drip, drip.
Back from a post-election Caribbean vacation, Rep. Marty Walsh took part in what should be his last formal session as a member of the House, delivering a farewell speech. The Boston mayor-elect does not plan to resign until January when takes of the oath of office, but his voting days in the House are basically over. He met with Patrick on Monday for the first time not as a state representative from Dorchester, but as the next mayor of Boston.
Sen. Katherine Clark, though without the fanfare of Walsh’s goodbye, also spent what is expected to be her last day and night working in the Senate chamber. Clark is the heavy favorite to with the 5th District Congressional race on Dec. 10 against Republican Frank Addivinola and two independents, and could be set up in her new Capitol Hill digs by the time the Legislature returns to session.
While Clark’s days in the Senate may be numbered, Don Humason’s are just beginning. The Westfield Republican was sworn into the Senate this week, giving the tiny GOP caucus its fourth member after being temporarily (and, maybe perpetually) shorthanded after Michael Knapik resigned for a job at Westfield State University.
Senate President Therese Murray welcomed him, saying “while our members on the other side of the aisle may be small in number, their voices remain strong. We are pleased to have you join our ranks, and I know they really need you.”
Humason’s first vote, as it turned out, was a unanimous roll call for a Belchertown land taking.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Legislature breaks for the year with loose-ends trailing and the threat of voters getting to play lawmaker for day in 2014.
This program aired on November 22, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.
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