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Russia responses possible in Mass. House spending bill debate

Demonstrators against the war in Ukraine placed a heart made of balloons in the colors of the Ukrainian flag on the steps of the Massachusetts State House. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Demonstrators against the war in Ukraine placed a heart made of balloons in the colors of the Ukrainian flag on the steps of the Massachusetts State House. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

As House lawmakers prepare to vote Wednesday on a $1.6 billion midyear spending bill, they also have a chance to weigh in on responses to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, including divestment of state pension funds and a gas tax suspension.

Spencer Republican Rep. Peter Durant's gas tax suspension proposal (amendment 38) is among 61 amendments representatives filed to the supplemental budget the House plans to take up Wednesday afternoon.

Rising gas prices and President Biden's announcement of a ban on Russian oil and natural gas imports have prompted calls for gas tax relief, particularly from the Republican candidates for governor. Durant is married to GOP lieutenant governor hopeful Kate Campanale.

Rep. Kevin Honan, a Boston Democrat, filed an amendment that would allocate $50 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. In a Tuesday letter to House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz requesting extra fuel assistance support, MASSCAP Executive Director Joe Diamond said a gallon of home heating oil is now over $5, having risen 68 cents in the last five days and prices are likely to keep climbing.

The bill released by the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday includes $10 million to support the resettlement of Ukrainian refugees. A pair of amendments from Rep. Ruth Balser (23, 24) would make refugee resettlement funds available through June 30, 2023 and specify that they can be used "to provide wraparound support services."

Minority Leader Brad Jones, who last week led 57 of his colleagues in calling for the state pension fun to divest any funds from Russian-owned companies, offered an amendment (18) that would direct Treasurer Deborah Goldberg to take such a step, a move she said she supports but would need legislative authorization to execute.

Mirroring a bill Senate Republicans filed last week, the amendment would also direct state officials to prevent companies owned by, controlled by, or based in Russia from accessing any cash or securities in banks subject to Massachusetts oversight.

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