CORI reform, Senate budget topped busy week

Beacon Hill lawmakers last week offered a preview of how they plan to close out their legislation session later this summer: A flurry of legislation and millions of dollars thrown around.
On the House side, lawmakers passed by a 138-17 vote reforms to the criminal offender record information (CORI) system, months after the Senate passed its version. The House bill allows some felony records to be sealed after 10 years rather than 15 and after five years rather than 10 for misdemeanors.

“CORI reform is not about allowing those who commit serious crimes to escape the consequences of their actions, it is about helping those who make mistakes and pay their debt to society to be reincorporated as positive, contributing members of the community,” said Mayor Thomas Menino, who has long supported changes to the CORI system. The bill and its other incarnations have drawn criticism from some employers, who called the legislation burdensome and could lead to legal issues for employers who are unaware they’ll be hiring ex-convicts.

Senate lawmakers adopted a slew of changes to state laws – from eliminating Suffolk County holidays to a crackdown on illegal immigration – as part of debate over their fiscal 2011 budget proposal:
– Shortly before midnight last Thursday, the Senate voted 25 to 12 to approve what supporters called an effort to eliminate two days off for Suffolk County public employees that have been derided as “hack holidays.” Sen. Jack Hart said the holidays, Evacuation Day and Bunker Hill Day, are historic in nature and recognize herald Revolutionary War battles. Hart also struck back at lawmakers who mocked the holidays. “People died at Dorchester Heights,” Hart said of the historical site. Supporters of the amendment said the days amounted to unfair special holidays for Suffolk County public employees. But the State House News Service noted on Tuesday that since the holidays were included in union contracts, they have to be bargained out, rendering the vote largely symbolic.

--The Senate narrowly rejected in a 16 to 22 vote upping funds for youth summer jobs programs to $8 million from $4 million. Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz said the jobs were important to keep Boston youth off the street and uninvolved in the violence. Chang-Diaz said she was prompted in part by a recent funeral she went to for a youth, where she watched the youth’s 12 to 14-year old friends file by the casket. Chang-Diaz noted that the Senate had passed anti-bullying legislation earlier this year in response to the death of a South Hadley girl. “Our kids are dying too,” Chang-Diaz said. The Senate’s budget chief, Steven Panagiotakos (D-Lowell), defended the allocation and said their version of the budget had more money than both the governor and the House proposed by $300,000.

--In a move that mirrored their House counterparts, Senate lawmakers attached an amendment to their version of the budget that prevents the closures of any Boston libraries. Boston Public Library trustees voted in April to close four libraries, including the Lower Mills branch, drawing outcry from community members who say the closings are unnecessary. The process to close the libraries has also infuriated top lawmakers, including Sen. Hart, who recently derided it as “shoddy.”

The amendments were opposed by the Menino administration, with library officials saying they would lead to deeper cuts. BPL officials say the libraries must be closed because of a lack of funds and a new “vision” to strengthen the overall branch system.

The House and Senate versions of the budgets now go to a committee of House and Senate members to hash out differences before sending a consensus version to the governor for signing.

Steve Candidate and Sam Constituent
Political junkies logging onto the website for Stephen Murphy’s state treasurer run this past weekend were treated to a dose of Latin. At the very least, the type of nonsense Latin that’s often used as a placeholder for text when something is still in the midst of being laid out. Across the middle of the web page, it read: “Headline goes here.” And a faux testimonial of Murphy’s financial prowess was offered up by a man named “Sam Constituent.”

The slip-up led Universal Hub’s Adam Gaffin to quip, “Steve Murphy’s Web site highlights how he went to Boston Latin.”

By Monday evening, the website – www.murphyfortreasurer.com – had gone back again to promising to be up “soon.”

Murphy is running against former Democratic National Committee chair Steve Grossman, who has been in the race for nearly a year, for the Democratic nomination. State Rep. Karyn Polito of Shrewsbury is running for the Republican nomination.

Murphy isn’t the only candidate still working on his website: Hassan Williams, who is challenging first-termer Sonia Chang-Diaz for the Second Suffolk Senate seat, also is plugging away at launching a website: www.hassanwilliams.com. May 17, the day that the site declared that it was going to be live, came and went. Just two buttons: “Donate” and “Sign-Up” are available below the logo. And it now promises to go up on Friday, June 4.

Endorsement Corner: Fourth Suffolk candidates gather union backing
Two of four candidates in the race to replace state Rep. Brian Wallace (D-South Boston) have been sending out dueling press releases on endorsements. Former State House aide Nick Collins touted the backing from Iron Workers Local 7, which has had Congressman Stephen Lynch (D-South Boston) as a member, and Laborers’ Union Local 223, which has ties to state Rep. Marty Walsh.
Mark McGonagle, who works for a city youth program, hauled in the endorsements of Roofers Local Union 33, Sheet Metal Workers Local Union 17, Plasterers and Cement Masons Union Local 534, Carpenter’s Local Union 33, Bricklayers and Tilesetters Union Local 3.

Quote of Note: Mayor Thomas Menino
“I haven’t endorsed anyone yet,” Menino told WBZ’s Jon Keller this week, when asked whom he’s backing in the race for governor. Both he and incumbent Deval Patrick are Democrats. But the mayor, a backer of then-Attorney General Thomas Reilly’s 2006 gubernatorial bid, has appeared to have friendlier relations with Patrick’s Republican predecessors. And in an April interview with the State House News Service, Menino raised local eyebrows with his grade for Patrick’s first three years in office: a “C.” Menino, who won a fifth term in November, said Patrick had earned a “B+” in the first few months of this year. Patrick is facing opposition from Republican Charlie Baker, independent candidate Timothy Cahill, and Green-Rainbow Party candidate Jill Stein.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Material from State House News Service was used in this report. Check out updates to Boston’s political scene at The Lit Drop, located at dotnews.com/litdrop.