State House Roundup: Summer Harvest

Hearings, backroom dealings and early morning enactments bore fruit this week with the careful marks of Gov. Deval Patrick’s commemorative pens.

As corn and tomatoes ripened on their stalks and vines, so the Acts of 2014 swelled with new chapters drafted, amended and passed by the House and Senate before finally the supreme executive magistrate, as he goes by in the state’s constitution, committed pen strokes aimed at making the streets safer and more bustling with commerce.

Admitted into the state law books Wednesday were new powers for police chiefs to seek to deny an individual a shotgun or rifle permit, a new criminal statute of assault and battery with a firearm, and a gun license renewal procedure that no longer puts gun owners on the hook for delays in processing by government officials.

Right behind the new gun law followed laws providing dollars for brownfields cleanup and other economic stimulus, and capital spending authorizations for parks and harbor dredging around the state.

Patrick has the final word on any bill passed by the two branches now that formal sessions are over for the year. The governor could inscribe his signature or use another instrument provided by the constitution to issue a veto.

An avid gardener, and amid his harvest of legislation, Patrick spotted some weeds. Among them, a “highway buffer zone” law in Needham he saw as an effort to block a housing development, though its supporters say the bill would preserve the health of future residents, hardly dent development and fulfill a decades-old promise, which must have been the handshake variety.

Patrick also used his pruning shears on the jobs bill, snipping off earmarks for Avon and Stoughton and tax credits for theater shows that make it to Broadway, by way of Massachusetts.

“Give my regards to Broadway” and pay your full freight in the Bay State, with apologies to George M. Cohan.

Speaking of weeds, or weed, the governor held up the provisional licenses for medical marijuana dispensary company New England Treatment Access because its application contained the stems and seeds of inflated credentials, uncovered by the Boston Globe. More fodder for the crowd of policy makers and pundits who think the application process has been so flawed it should be restarted.

While the governor was sending certain legislation into the compost heap, he or his staff inadvertently cut out an unlikely ally from the gun bill signing ceremony.

Jim Wallace, of Gun Owners Action League, was a constant presence at the State House when the final version of the gun bill was being crafted, and the group broke with the National Rifle Association in providing an endorsement to the bill, which passed with bipartisan support.

Yet among the throng of elected Democrats and gun control advocates who joined Patrick Wednesday on the Grand Staircase for the signing ceremony, Wallace was absent and uninvited. It was a sour note for what could have been a uniquely harmonious event in the often fraught realm of gun laws.

"Somebody somewhere dropped the ball,” Patrick said later in the day. An administration aide apologized to GOAL, which had declared the legislation a “historic” compromise, but after the slight said it goes to show those who exercise their 2nd amendment rights to firearms are treated as “2nd class citizens” in Massachusetts.

While the governor has the last say on legislation, the eight-member elected Governor’s Council gets to decide whether to approve or deny his nominations for judgeships, and by all indications Parole Board Chairman Joshua Wall will have a tough road when he’s up for an interview Sept. 17.

Wall was brought in to lead the Parole Board in a new direction after it released Dominic Cinelli, who shot and killed Woburn officer John McGuire during a December 2010 robbery where Cinelli also died.

"I think you'd have to be living on Mars not to realize there is a strong outpouring of opposition to Mr. Wall's nomination," said Governor’s Councilor Robert Jubinville, a defense attorney who once defended a client against Wall, a former prosecutor who has been nominated by Patrick to sit on the Superior Court.

This Thursday we learned the state’s economy is coasting in a good way, with unemployment up a tick but still an enviable 5.6 percent as state employers added 13,800 jobs. On Wednesday, Patrick urged Market Basket employees to return to work even though their beloved Arthur T. Demoulas had not yet returned to his chief executive position in the family supermarket chain.

While the fields are filled with a summer harvest, Market Basket stores are relatively bare as cousins Arthur T. and Arthur S. joust over the fate of the company, while a chorus of pols and pundits decries their inability to work out an agreement. And to think people complain about Congress.

There was acrimony of a more bitter variety in the air of Ferguson, Missouri, where for the first half of the week police with assault rifles launched tear gas canisters and fired rubber bullets at protestors who took to the streets to decry an unidentified member of the largely white police force shooting an unarmed black man named Michael Brown on Saturday.

President Barack Obama addressed the matter Thursday in remarks where he also reported American military might and humanitarian aid had broken a siege by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria around Mount Sinjar where civilians had sought refuge.

“There is no excuse for violence against police, or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting,” Obama said from Edgartown. “There’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests, or to throw protestors in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights.”

The Vineyard is Obama’s go-to vacation spot, and so it is from the picturesque island that he has addressed issues of international concern. Last August, Obama spoke to the world from the shores of Dukes County about violent clashes between authorities and protestors in Egypt.

Save the crowds that gather round for a bill signing or the diehards who attend August informal sessions, lawmakers didn’t spend much time on Beacon Hill this week. There is a primary election in less than four weeks, which will probably come as a surprise to many Bay Staters, though not to any of the elected lawmakers.

Ads on TV and the radio are already singing the praises of the candidates who can afford the ad buys or who have a super PAC with enough dough to go on the air.

The two Republican candidates for governor, Charlie Baker, the frontrunner, and Mark Fisher – who has gone from calling Baker “Democrat-lite” to “Democrat-strong” – squared off in a WBUR debate Wednesday, and taped a WBZ-TV debate Friday morning, which will air Sunday.

Warren Tolman and Maura Healey, the two Democrats running for attorney general, had their own tangle in a joint appearance on Greater Boston Thursday that pitted Healey’s “experience” in the office against Tolman’s “leadership.”

Martha Coakley, the Democratic frontrunner, will need to get by Steve Grossman and Don Berwick – an honorary knight commander of the order of the British Empire, as the Globe pointed out on Friday – in the Sept. 9 primary.

Coakley, the state’s chief law enforcement officer, made a little news at a gubernatorial confab hosted by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.

Coakley has opposed the idea of providing drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants, but this week said, “One thought that would make much of this, I think more effective and quicker would be for if I am elected governor to have a director of immigration and safety in our communities. In other words, someone directly who would work inter-agency and directly with me and directly with advocacy groups, particularly on how do we pave the way for safe driving, making sure that people can have licenses, have the proper registration. And what is the best way to do it?” A spokeswoman later said Coakley would appoint the official to look at immigration issues including “potential” access to driver’s licenses.

Sir Don – which isn’t actually the honorific for the former pediatrician and Medicaid and Medicare chief – botched by a few percentage points when quizzed on the sales tax rate on On The Record Sunday, saying “I’m not sure. Three percent?” It is 6.25 percent and he’s not the only pol who might want to bone up on facts and figures of the state they aim to run. Independent gubernatorial candidate Jeff McCormick has been talking up his plan to “reduce the income tax rate to 5% from its current 5.25%,” though economic triggers did some of that work already, shrinking that tax rate from 5.25 percent to its current 5.2 percent in January. Coakley had her own slip-up earlier this year on On The Record, guessing the gas tax was 10 cents per gallon, less than half the 24-cent-per gallon price, which doesn’t include a 2.5-cent surcharge.

Grossman, who has an atlas of the state’s ice cream stands within his head, ascribed an additional motivation for his campaign Monday on a visit to Handy & Person, a Dorchester hot dog shop that features the Mayor Martin Walsh “All American dog,” with the toppings on the bottom.

“With all the stuff on the bottom? . . . Well, if you put it on the bottom it doesn’t fall off the top,” Grossman said while in line getting ready to order and perhaps contemplating his own status as an underdog in the race.

With a News Service reporter on hand, Grossman took out his cell phone and called the mayor of Boston, leaving him a voicemail that said, “You know, I’ve been asked a lot of questions about why I want to be governor, and I’ve given some answers about jobs and education, but I decided that one of the reasons I want to become governor is so that I can have my own personal hot dog over at Handy & Person just like you, because you are my hero, having your own hot dog here, right at the top of the list.”

[To hear Grossman's message to Walsh regarding the mayor's signature hotdog, go to:]

STORY OF THE WEEK: The gun bill is now the gun law.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "I built my own shotgun. I owned it; I shot it; I sold it in a private sale,” longshot Republican candidate and metal manufacturer Mark Fisher.

SONG OF THE WEEK: “Give My Regards to Broadway,” by George M. Cohan.


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