State House Roundup: While You Were Away

The Bay State’s frequent-flier-in-chief returned home this week to find that while he hobnobbed and cajoled in the 109-degree heat of Abu Dhabi, much back at home had changed, and yet hardly changed at all.

In the 12 days since Gov. Deval Patrick delivered the commencement address at Colby College and hopped a flight to Israel for a trade mission to the Middle East, House Speaker Robert DeLeo introduced two new major pieces of legislation aimed at reducing gun violence and spurring job growth.

The House passed legislation to expand the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and borrow $1.7 billion over the next five years for environmental programs, parks and preservation. And the Department of Children and Families has set itself to implementing recommendations made in a critical outside review conducted at Patrick’s request, but released while he was 6,653 miles away.

And yet, he returned on Friday to the State House to find a relatively clear desk. While the House and Senate continue to set up the pins, very few are getting knocked down. And more and more attention is being focused these days on what comes after Patrick leaves office and hands the keys over to the next governor, whoever that may be.

DeLeo has put his foot on the gas over the past two weeks, and on the same day that his gun violence bill was being heard by the Public Safety Committee this week, DeLeo rolled out what could be one of the final major legislative initiatives for the year with his take on economic development.

The speaker, himself, may be a bit of a technophobe, but he rallied business leaders from companies like Google to his side as he presented a roughly $100 million job creation proposal to capitalize programs like the angel investment tax credit and brownfields redevelopment fund.

Missing from the speaker’s bill, however, are several of the key and more controversial aspects of Gov. Patrick’s bill, including proposals to eliminate caps on liquor licenses for cities and towns, ban non-compete agreements in employee contracts and skirt national immigration laws by allowing talented international students to remain in Massachusetts under the stewardship of universities.

Patrick seemed unfazed by the omissions, describing himself as “delighted” by both DeLeo’s economic development bill and the gun violence legislation that also left out Patrick’s long-standing idea to limit gun purchases to one-per-month. Perhaps the staring contests of yore between Patrick and DeLeo are over.

“There is not in it today a way to address straw purchases,” Patrick said of the gun bill, calling it a “gap” that he hopes to address with legislative leaders, but he stopped short of committing to trying to slip the provision into any final legislation himself. “Let’s see what happens,” he said.

The Senate largely kept to itself this week, meeting once to address regulations for amusement park rides and sundry bills, while pledging to write its own jobs bill in the near future. “It will be comprehensive,” Senate President Therese Murray said.

As the trial of former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien and his deputies continued, it was hard not to hypothesize about what Murray meant when she said she was contemplating writing a book after she leaves the Legislature and has “some pretty good stories” to tell. Murray’s name has been bandied about with great frequency in the courtroom in recent weeks, but could it be Murray’s turn to tell all. “They could send a lot of people running,” Murray said about her “stories.”

Supreme Judicial Court Justice Ralph Gants sewed up the votes needed to become the court’s next chief justice after the Governor’s Council concluded its lengthy three-day vetting of the judge, setting the stage for another gubernatorial appointment to the bench.

Patrick will have to wait, of course, until the council officially confirms Gants next week, and it’s unclear how soon he might be ready to name his next nominee to fill Gants position on the SJC. But Patrick is just about ready to name a successor to Hampden District Attorney Mark Mastroianni, confirmed this week by the U.S. Senate as the newest U.S. District Court judge in Massachusetts.

Whoever Patrick picks – and he said he has someone in mind – that person is likely to be just a placeholder with four Democrats on the ballot this summer running for the post and the governor having a history of being unwilling to meddle in electoral contests by giving a candidate a leg up with a running start in the job.

Speaking of running starts, the Democrats running for governor are hoping to use a number of pre-convention debates and forums to build some momentum before they ride into Worcester next weekend. Each of the five will go into the DCU Center with something different to prove, and for some just getting on the ballot will be enough.

If you had to choose, Wellesley biopharmaceutical executive Joseph Avellone appears among the most likely to fall short of the 15 percent of delegates he will need to vote for him. He practically said as much himself this week during a Globe opinion page debate when he gave an almost half-hearted assurance that he was confident in his chances before blasting the party’s convention rules that he said would “probably knock one or more of us, maybe three of us, from being able to compete in the primary.”

“There’s a million Democrats out there who are going to be very disaffected if they don't have candidates that offer more than the spectrum of maybe two insiders that have been running for a decade. This is a big mistake for the Democratic Party,” said Avellone, perhaps the only Democrats running to the center and not the left.

While the insiders that Avellone spoke of tend to believe Treasurer Steven Grossman will clean house in Worcester, Attorney General Martha Coakley, who in the latest Boston Globe poll remains the only Democrat running ahead of Republican Charlie Baker, needs a strong showing and likely a second place finish to avoid the appearance that her commanding lead in the polls is actually concrete, and not tapioca.

As for the other three – Avellone, Donald Berwick and Juliette Kayyem – making the ballot will be a victory in itself.

Meanwhile, the Drug Enforcement Agency has started shaking down Bay State doctors with the audacity to get involved in medical marijuana, showing up at their homes with an ultimatum: resign your position with the dispensary, or we’ll pull your license to prescribe controlled medicines. Some have already chosen the former.

While the DEA refused to discuss its reasons for the action, even Gov. Patrick admitted it sends a “mixed message” from a White House administration that has basically told the state it won’t interfere with the implementation of medical marijuana.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Speaker DeLeo goes his own on way on economic development, but Patrick not concerned, in fact “delighted,” by the progress.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I like everyone I'm sitting with. I trust no one.” - Juliette Kayyem, on whether there could be some back-room deal making in the works for the Worcester convention.


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