Reporter's Notebook: It’s the time of year when legislators file bills, hope

Freshman state Rep. Carlos Henriquez is filing a bill that would limit check-cashing fees. State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz is proposing a bill she says will shine a light on whether state agencies and contractors are hiring women and minorities. And Mayor Thomas Menino is seeking to open up another front in his bid to gain the ability to design health plans for municipal employees.

Those are just a few of the proposals that will likely get filed by tomorrow’s deadline. According to the State House News Service, in the last session more than 6,000 bills had been filed by a similar time in January 2008, with 2,047 in the Senate and 4,014 in the House.

On Tuesday, Menino sought support from lawmakers for 51 bills he’s filing, 16 of them for the first time. The new ones include proposals to tax hotel rooms sold online, establish a regional lockup facility in Suffolk County, and create a mandatory sentence of five years for possessing a firearm if you’ve been sentenced to a prior felony resulting in 10 or more years in prison.

But at the top of his agenda is reforming municipal health care and allowing cities and towns to have the same power the state has to design and purchase employee health care plans. Menino is pushing for the proposal in four ways: As a legislative bill, a City Council petition, in contract negotiations, and as a voter referendum.

The move would save the city $1 million a month, he told reporters at a roll-out of his bills, where he was joined by members of the Boston delegation in the State House.

“If I could save a $1 million a month, it would go into early childhood, it would go into public safety, libraries, whatever it might be,” Menino said. The mention of libraries drew a head-nod from state Rep. Byron Rushing, one of the lawmakers who clashed with Menino over a proposal to close libraries last year.

Rep. Henriquez (D-Dorchester) said he would be signing onto several of Menino’s proposals, including one setting up a drug treatment program for low level offenders under court supervision as a way to offer an alternative to incarceration for nonviolent criminals.

Henriquez is filing a bill on capping check-cashing fees, which was first proposed to him by a Boston University student who is on the board of Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative.

“There’s no cap per transaction that a check-cashing place can charge you,” he said. Their bill would set the fee caps at 1.5 percent of the value of a check below $100, and 2.25 percent of the value of a check above $100.

Two of the bills Sen. Chang-Diaz (D-Jamaica Plain) is filing include a proposal aimed at preventing drop-outs, which likely include a mentoring component, and a proposal that will take its cue from the state office focused on the doling out of federal stimulus funds.

Chang-Diaz pointed to the office’s website, which shows where federal stimulus dollars are going, and who is getting the contracts. That can be extended into state contracts, she said, to see how many minority-owned businesses and women-owned businesses are getting the contracts, as well as whether neighborhood residents are getting jobs.

“If it’s low, we know we need to push the state agencies and contractors to do better in the remaining months of the project or next time they apply for state dollars,” she said.

Murphy hands out committee assignments
City Council President Stephen Murphy last week released committee assignments for city councillors, with Dorchester’s Maureen Feeney staying atop the Government Operations panel. East Boston’s City Councilor Sal LaMattina will be the council’s vice president, a position last held by Murphy as part of a deal two years ago to elect Michael Ross head of the 13-member body.

Councillors largely retained their posts from last year’s session: City Councillor At-Large John Connolly keeps his top post at the Education Committee; City Councillor At-Large Felix Arroyo will remain as chair of the Labor, Youth Affairs and Human Rights Committee; and City Councillor At-Large Ayanna Pressley will keep chairing the Women and Healthy Communities Committee. Allston-Brighton’s District Councillor Mark Ciommo keeps the budget-writing Ways and Means; attapan’s District Councillor Charles Yancey stays atop the Post Audit and Oversight Committee; istrict Councillor Bill Linehan of South Boston is heading up the Census and Redistricting Committee, as well as Economic Development and Planning.

LaMattina will be heading up the City, Neighborhood Services and Veterans Affairs Committee; Ross will head the Public Safety Committee, while West Roxbury’s District Councillor Matt O’Malley heads up the Environment and Health Committee. And Hyde Park District Councillor Rob Consalvo will lead the Housing Committee.

Judge rejects Turner request to move back sentencing date
A federal judge last week denied former City Councillor Chuck Turner’s request to move his sentencing date. The date is still set for next Tuesday (Jan. 25), three and a half weeks before voters go to the polls to replace him.

Turner, who was tossed from the City Council after a jury convicted him of taking a $1,000 bribe, had argued that because his lead attorney, Barry Wilson, was out of the country until March, his sentencing should be postponed.

“This fact was known, considered and its implication understood when the sentencing date was established,” Judge Douglas Woodlock wrote in his order.

Woodlock pointed to a transcript of Wilson’s remarks when the sentencing date was set immediately after the jury returned its guilty verdict. “I understand, I understand,” Wilson said. “Mr. Pavlos [the defendant’s co-counsel at trial] will have to do it. Yeah. And after this, maybe I’ll never come back. But, no. I will be gone for a long time. Thank you.”

Turner had also argued Wilson needed to be there because of disagreements with his other attorneys over tactics. But Woodlock said that was nothing new, and that Turner had clashed with his defense counsel during the trial, particularly over whether he should take the stand. Wilson had opposed the move.

Turner has maintained his innocence, and filed the unsuccessful request for a rescheduling a day after former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, who was charged in a related corruption case, was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison.

Turner is also suing the city, saying the City Council violated his rights by removing him from office.
The preliminary election to fill Turner’s District 7 seat is set for Feb. 15. The final election is scheduled for March 15.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out updates to Boston’s political scene at The Lit Drop, located at dotnews.com/litdrop. Mat