Hart says legislative ‘inaction is costing us dearly’ with voters

A gambling bill accord this week appeared unlikely, as Senate Democrats ratcheted up criticism of their House counterparts and the Senate demanded a Wednesday night deadline for a deal they could send to full votes in both chambers.

Senate President Therese Murray authorized a top deputy late Tuesday to send a clear message to the House: allowing disagreement over whether to permit slot machines at racetracks to blockade progress on other high-profile bills is “unacceptable.”

“It looks, as a result of this stalemate, that much of what we’ve tried to accomplish will go by the wayside. In my opinion, that’s not only unfortunate, but unacceptable,” said Sen. Jack Hart, chair of the Senate committees that schedule floor action and process bills.

“Here we are at the end of the legislative session July 31 and the tendency is to try to, with the deadline looming, do as much as we can that has been left undone,” Hart said. “Instead, we have lights, camera, inaction … which I believe, and the majority of the people in the Senate I think believe, is unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, the Senate’s lead conferee, Senate President Pro Tempore Stanley Rosenberg, left the state Tuesday afternoon to travel to a national state lawmakers convention in Kentucky, with plans to return Wednesday afternoon, Senate officials said Tuesday. They said he had been in contact with negotiations via phone.

Gov. Deval Patrick has beaten the drum in recent days for lawmakers to shake loose a bottleneck behind the gambling bill that has held up work on legislation aimed at health care cost control, an omnibus economic development bill, and changes to the rules governing criminal offense records. Hart’s comments appeared designed to pressure the House by seconding the governor’s argument and doubts aired Tuesday about the bill’s chances for passage.

“We have too many pieces of legislation before us that are important, in my opinion, and that should not be caught up as a result of this casino debate,” Hart said.

Most Senate Democrats have stayed clear of the conference committee, observing informal legislative tradition of not injecting outside voices into the closed-door dealings.

Hart - tapped by Murray to voice Senate frustration with the House, according to two Murray advisers - predicted that incumbents would pay a price with voters disillusioned by Beacon Hill’s failure to deliver the new jobs and revenue promised by proponents of both the Senate and House bills.

“They’re going to take their anger out at the ballot box,” the South Boston Democrat said.

“Inaction is costing us dearly,” he added.

“But I’m also an optimist, and time can be used as a negative or a weapon, to either defeat legislation or provide impetus to resolve disputes over legislation,” Hart said during an interview.

Noting that he had been House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s vice chair when the speaker was chairman of the House Bills in Third Reading Committee, Hart said, “I’m friends with Bob DeLeo and Charley Murphy. Charley Murphy was my classmate. I love those guys.”

Lead House conferee Rep. Brian Dempsey hewed to the House’s policy of keeping even broad outlines of the panel’s work under wraps, telling reporters late Tuesday, “We’re continuing to have discussions.”
Asked to respond to Hart’s comments, Dempsey said he would prefer not to be briefed on them.

Earlier, Dempsey had again downplayed Patrick’s influence over the closed-door negotiations. Asked whether Patrick were a factor in the negotiations, Dempsey replied, “I think we’re trying to get to a resolution between the House and the Senate, and then we’ll deal with any other issue.”

With the July 31 end of formal sessions approaching, the House and Senate remain at odds over whether to permit the state’s racetracks to install slot machines. The Senate and Patrick oppose “racinos,” providing a backstop against DeLeo’s push to sanction the facilities, a change the speaker says will save jobs and provide cities and towns with $100 million annually in additional assistance from Beacon Hill.

Senate and House leaders have bandied a broad menu of proposals in the last two weeks, the House consistently pushing for the state’s racetracks’ entitlement to slot machine licenses, the Senate resisting and pushing for fewer slot parlors and more competitive bidding.

Senate budget Steven Panagiotakos, a conferee, said he thought a conference committee report would have to be filed in the House by 8 p.m. Friday in order for the chambers to schedule votes in time for Saturday’s midnight deadline.

“Let’s face it, all the proposals back and forth haven’t got us to yes now,” Panagiotakos told reporters late Tuesday. “The only thing that might get us to yes is the passage of time or July 31, midnight. However, we have to continue to work towards finding a resolution here. We’d say we’ve got at least 15,000 jobs at stake here. We’re not going to throw in the towel.”