Casino bill advances, then stalls as branches near seven-week recess

By 
Kyle Cheney and Matt Murphy, State House News Service
Nov. 15, 2011

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, NOV. 15, 2011…..Legislative leaders huddled late Tuesday night discussing last-minute questions surrounding casino gambling legislation that appeared poised to head to Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk but will have to wait for final action until Wednesday.

Lawmakers adjourned Tuesday night without completing work on the gambling bill, and leaders declined to say why the bill, which passed through the House and Senate with solid majorities earlier in the day, failed to come up for a final enactment vote.

A call to Rep. Joseph Wagner (D-Chicopee), the House’s point-man on gambling issues, was not immediately returned, and an aide to Speaker Robert DeLeo referred to a prepared statement, declining to elaborate on the ongoing gaming discussion.

“Speaker DeLeo is proud of today’s legislative achievements,” said DeLeo spokesman Seth Gitell, in a statement. “The House took action on major bills that save taxpayer money and make our pension system more efficient, create jobs and revenue, protect the most vulnerable, continue open debate and discussion on redistricting and expand civil rights. He looks forward to further debate tomorrow.”

The statement capped a day extraordinary for the volume of complex, sweeping bills that advanced at a breakneck clip after nearly 11 months of sporadic formal sessions and few protracted public debates in the full House or Senate.

The House and Senate plan to reconvene Wednesday morning and take up a raft of unfinished business on the last day before lawmakers depart for a seven-week recess. Among the loose ends: a Congressional redistricting map that also appeared poised to advance to the governor’s desk until Sen. Brian Joyce (D-Milton) short-circuited debate using a procedural motion that automatically stalled consideration until the next session.

Joyce’s move came as the Senate was debating an amendment offered by Senate Minority Bruce Tarr that would have replaced the district map drawn by the Joint Committee on Redistricting in favor of a Republican-crafted map that Tarr said would divide fewer communities, unite more communities of interest and present more compact districts.

The Republican plan, however, would also create a deviation in the population of the districts, unlike the original plan, which included no deviation. Democrats touted the lack of deviation as an important provision to help the map withstand legal challenges.

Joyce’s hometown of Milton is one of 10 communities that would be divided between two Congressional districts under the proposal plan, with parts of Milton being included in a new majority-minority 7th Congressional District. He said he hoped members would use the extra time to review amendments to the bill.

The Senate planned to return on Wednesday at 10 a.m., and Murray said any more attempts at delay would be ruled out of order. Senators also expect to consider legislation to include transgender residents in the state’s non-discrimination statutes.

Asked whether she had hoped to put the casino gambling legislation on the governor’s desk Tuesday, Murray said, “No, we figured tomorrow so…”

Earlier in the day, Patrick had expressed reservations about a new provision in the bill that would direct additional casino and licensing fee revenue to support the horse racing industry at the expense of other priorities, including local aid. Patrick told reporters he was surprised by the shift, and was still seeking an explanation for why the additional money was added to the horse racing fund, but said it was not a “showstopper.”

Murray declined to put odds on the gambling bill becoming law despite all signs pointing toward a final resolution this session. “I’m not confident about anything until the vote is taken and pen is put to paper,” she said.

She said she did not know if the additional funding to support the state’s horse racing industry would be included in the final bill, and said she had not expected Patrick’s concern. “I was surprised at that because we hadn’t heard any of that before,” she said.

The House intends to return at 11 a.m., complete work on gambling legislation and proceed to a debate to restrict the parole eligibility of third-time violent offenders. The Senate has indicated it will insist on its more comprehensive crime bill that passed last week, setting the stage for a new conference committee to negotiate the differences between the branches that would prevent the habitual offender law, dubbed Melissa’s Bill, from becoming law until after the New Year.