State Capitol Briefs — Jan. 29, 2014

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(STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE)

HOUSE TRANSPORTATION DEBATE AN INFORMAL AFFAIR
After raising gas and tobacco taxes last year to help pay for transportation system investments, House lawmakers on Wednesday settled in for a discussion of priorities included in a $12.4 billion multi-year transportation bond bill. But as 5 o’clock came and went the bill had still not generated a word of public debate, and the House at 5:05 p.m. recessed until 6:15 p.m. With 262 amendments filed to the bill, House officials appeared to be determining which ones pass and which ones are rejected through an informal process that enables amendments to be consolidated. After Rep. Shawn Dooley of Norfolk was sworn in, House Speaker Robert DeLeo laid out priorities in his annual address, and departing Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty delivered a farewell speech, most House members left the chamber and discussion of amendments was occurring at a table in the front of the chamber where Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. William Straus chatted with Toby Morelli, DeLeo’s deputy chief of staff. The talks then shifted across the chamber where Morelli conferred with House Minority Leader Brad Jones and Assistant Minority Leader George Peterson. Wednesday’s formal session is the only formal session scheduled in the House this week. – M. Norton/SHNS

AFL-CIO CHIEF CAUTIONS AGAINST “WRONGHEADED” CUTS IN UNEMPLOYMENT SYSTEM
The leader of the state’s largest union put down a marker for the foreshadowed debate over unemployment insurance reform on Wednesday after both Gov. Deval Patrick and House Speaker Robert DeLeo delivered speeches over the past two days urging cooperation from labor to raise the minimum wage and also lower business costs. “If we are truly concerned about the growing inequality in our state, we ought not rob the jobless to give some help to low wage earners who are barely getting by,” Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steven Tolman said in a statement. “We cannot on the one hand bemoan the obstructionist behavior of Tea Party Republicans who hold federal UI extensions hostage and on the other hand be a state led by Democrats that essentially pursues the same wrongheaded, unfair cuts.” Though all have expressed interest in addressing the unemployment insurance system, neither DeLeo, Patrick nor Senate President Therese Murray have indicated specific policy or rule changes they would like to see enacted. The Senate voted last year to raise the minimum wage to $11 an hour and plans to tackle UI separately as soon as next month, but DeLeo is looking to combine the two issues. “We have to be incredibly careful about any changes to unemployment insurance being linked to a raise in the minimum wage. Our elected officials must not make cuts to benefits or changes to eligibility for UI. Many studies and Nobel Prize winning economists agree that minimum wage has no discernible negative effect on our economy. Moreover, unemployment insurance has proven to be a necessary countercyclical program that bolsters not only families but the entire economy during economic downturns,” Tolman said in his statement. The former senator added that he hopes any reforms can address the financial sustainability of the system without hurting working families. – M. Murphy/SHNS

O’FLAHERTY SAYS GOODBYE AS HE MOVES DOWN BEACON HILL
Leaving the Legislature to join Boston Mayor Marty Walsh at City Hall, Chelsea Democrat Eugene O’Flaherty said Wednesday afternoon he was proud to serve in the same body as five signers of the Declaration of Independence, three presidents, and the mayor of Boston. He leaves the House Friday to take the top legal post in Walsh’s administration. O’Flaherty thanked Speaker Robert DeLeo for giving him the freedom to make decisions as chair of the Judiciary Committee, adding he had no regrets. “Well, maybe one email,” he joked, referring to an email he sent Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen after he wrote a column accusing O’Flaherty of blocking a bill that would extend the civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse lawsuits. O’Flaherty publicly vented his frustration with the job and vowed to not accept another assignment as chair. DeLeo convinced him to stay on. O’Flaherty was re-elected to his ninth term in the House in November 2012, representing parts of Chelsea and Charlestown. He co-chaired the Judiciary Committee since 2002, under three successive speakers. In his farewell, O’Flaherty joked with House members that as judiciary chair he was accused of being a “little rigid.” He then said, “I can really dance. I don’t mean around an issue. I mean like Vanilla Ice, like dance.” He also said he had “six-pack” abs before delving into his admiration of his colleagues and the House. “I needed to do that just to set the tempo for what I know is going to be a difficult time for me, which is leaving all of you,” he said. – C. Quinn/SHNS

HEARINGS SET FOR HOLYOKE, NORTHAMPTON, SUPERIOR COURT NOMINEES
The Governor’s Council on Wednesday scheduled confirmation hearings for two District Court nominees and one Superior Court nominee. Laurence Pierce, who is currently an associate justice in the district court in Boston, is Gov. Deval Patrick’s pick for a Superior Court judgeship. Previously, Pierce was a partner at the Boston law firm Choate Hall & Stewart. He also worked as an assistant district attorney in Middlesex County. He graduated from Harvard College and received his law degree from Antioch School of Law in Washington D.C. The council plans to hold a confirmation hearing for Pierce on Feb. 5. Matthew Shea, an assistant district attorney in Hampden County District Attorney’s office, was also scheduled for Feb. 5 in light of his nomination for judgeship at the Holyoke District Court. Shea previously worked as an assistant attorney general in Massachusetts. He taught law courses at the University of Connecticut Law School and business law courses at Springfield College. He received his law degree from Catholic University and an undergraduate degree from Boston College. Patrick also nominated Thomas Estes for a judgeship on the Northampton District Court. Estes is a public defender for the Committee for Public Counsel Services in Northampton, where he has worked since 2006. Previously, he was a public defender in Fairfax, Virginia. He received his law degree from William and Mary School of Law and an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia. The council plans to hold a hearing for Estes on Feb. 12. – C. Quinn/SHNS

LATEST SPECIAL WINNER TAKE SEAT IN HOUSE
Republican Shawn Dooley was sworn into the House of Representatives Wednesday afternoon, and promised during remarks to the House to put “people before politics.” Dooley quoted from President John Kennedy’s “City on a Hill” speech, saying elected officials will be judged by their courage, judgment, integrity and dedication. Dooley said the rest of the nation watches what happens in Massachusetts. “Our Commonwealth should not only serve as a beacon of hope, but the very definition of liberty,” he said. Dooley fills the seat previously held by Republican Daniel Winslow, who left the Legislature for a job in the private sector. After Dooley was sworn in by Gov. Deval Patrick, Speaker Robert DeLeo joked with the governor about the number of new representatives Patrick will need to swear in to replace the members who have resigned in recent weeks. DeLeo asked Patrick to keep his Wednesdays free. “I would like to remind the governor if he could be available for a number of Wednesdays, as we have a number of people who need to be sworn in,” he said. Four House special elections and one Senate special election are planned for April 1. – C. Quinn/SHNS

Copyright 2014 State House News Service

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