State Capitol Briefs — Tuesday, May 13, 2014

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State House News Service – GOP OFFICIALS PLAN PHONE MEETING TO TALK $$$

Massachusetts Republican Party officials plan to meet Saturday by phone to discuss the use of party resources in Republican primaries. The meeting comes on the heels of a decision by party officials, in the face of a lawsuit from Tea Party candidate for governor Mark Fisher, to grant him ballot access. Fisher has claimed that improper vote-counting at the party’s March convention resulted in him being unfairly excluded from the ballot. Republican Charlie Baker, the party’s nominee for governor in 2010, was the overwhelming choice of convention attendees and received the party’s endorsement. A party spokeswoman said the 5 p.m. meeting on Saturday will be a teleconference, and is closed to the press. – M. Norton/SHNS

CAMBRIDGE TO MARK 10 YEARS OF GAY MARRIAGE
Cambridge will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the first legal same-sex marriages in the country with an event on Friday. Mary Bonauto, an attorney who argued the landmark Goodridge v. the Department of Public Health case, will be the keynote speaker in the ceremony that Cambridge Mayor David Maher said will be held in the “first city in the United States to issue marriage licenses.” Congresswoman Katherine Clark will attend the event. Since the Supreme Judicial Court legalized gay marriage in Massachusetts, several other states have followed suit and the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The anniversary falls on Saturday. – A. Metzger/SHNS

SENATOR BIDDING TO TAX MEDICAL MARIJUANA
While saying he was disappointed that his amendment was ruled out of order Tuesday, Sen. Brian Joyce told his colleagues during debate on substance abuse treatment legislation that he looked forward to Senate budget debate next week when he intends to push a proposal to make medical marijuana subject to the sales tax. Calling marijuana a “gateway drug,” Joyce estimated that the state could collect $60 million in revenues that could help bolster treatment services. He said other states are taxing medical marijuana, but that the Massachusetts Department of Revenue has ruled it may not tax prescriptions. – M. Norton/SHNS

SENATE REJECTS SUBSTANCE ABUSE SERVICE DASHBOARD
As the Senate advanced legislation aimed at making substance abuse services more readily accessible in Massachusetts, senators on Tuesday rejected a proposal to offer a public dashboard where consumers could learn about providers. Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said the dashboard was in keeping with government efforts in other areas of health care to make information about providers publicly accessible, and would give consumers information to make good decisions. Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee Co-chairman Sen. John Keenan opposed the amendment, saying it could lead to “unintended consequences” such as insurance companies opting against covering a particular treatment or vendors refusing to take on “difficult cases” because they are afraid of being measured. The amendment called for the dashboard to report on consumer satisfaction with provided services and outcome-based measures such as relapses, return to work, utilization of medication-assisted treatment and case management. It was rejected on a vote of 4-35. – M. Norton/SHNS

AUDIT: CONCORD HOUSING AUTHORITY OVERCHARGED TENANTS
The Concord Housing Authority overcharged 24 tenants at its Peter Bulkeley Terrace building for seniors and the disabled by a total of $7,100, issuing credit for the overcharges after the state auditor’s office brought the mistake to light, according to Auditor Suzanne Bump. In an audit Tuesday, officials found the agency improperly reported a $1 million loan as a grant, had an incomplete inventory of equipment and was missing documentation related to tenant selection. At the beginning of the legislative session in 2013, Gov. Deval Patrick proposed consolidating the state’s 240 local housing authorities into six regional entities. The legislation met stiff resistance and has yet to make progress. In a Tuesday announcement, Bump’s office also noted some improvements made by the Concord authority, which oversees a total of 112 units for low-income, elderly and other tenants. – A. Metzger/SHNS

FOUR RMV FARE HIKE HEARINGS SET FOR LATER IN MAY
Before the state puts in place vehicle fee hikes this July 1, four public hearings will be held in the three largest cities. MassDOT’s Registry of Motor Vehicles plans to raise registration fees from $50 to $60 for everyone but commercial vehicles, ratchet annual inspection fees from $29 to $35, and hike the cost for a one-time road test from $20 to $35. The planned fee hikes that are expected to raise $55 million to $63 million follow a 3-cent gas tax increase linked to inflation that the Legislature passed last year in an effort to steer more money toward the state’s highways, bridges and public transit systems. Commuter rail, subway, ferry and MBTA bus riders are also facing planned fare hikes that average about 5 percent. As part of the 2013 tax bill, the Legislature required MassDOT to develop more of its own revenues. The hearings will be held the evening of May 20 in Worcester, the morning and evening of May 22 in Boston, and the evening of May 27 in Springfield. The public comment period ends May 27. – A. Metzger/SHNS

FIVE METRO BOSTON CITIES COLLABORATE ON LIFE SCIENCE
Boston, Braintree, Cambridge, Quincy and Somerville, cities that sometimes compete for biotech companies, announced Tuesday they are forming the Life Sciences Corridor, a partnership that tracks the Red Line from Braintree, home of Haemonetics, to Alewife, where Pfizer has a campus. According to the announcement, the five cities represent 460 life science companies. Boston, Cambridge and Quincy will collaborate on their outreach efforts at the BIO International Convention in San Diego. Boston and the surrounding cities have occasionally competed over the same companies. In 2011, Vertex Pharmaceuticals announced plans to move from Cambridge to Boston, sowing some animosity north of the Charles River. In late 2013, then-Boston Mayor Tom Menino said he was “disappointed” that Partners Healthcare had decided to consolidate its administrative offices in Somerville’s Assembly Square rather than Boston. “This initiative recognizes that together we can best seize this potential with a regional approach, which will yield even greater returns if we can expand our collaboration to other spheres and challenges,” Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone said in a statement. – A. Metzger/SHNS

VET SECRETARY: ADDITIONAL SERVICE DISTRICTS ON THE WAY
Gov. Deval Patrick’s veterans’ affairs secretary is aiming for 30 veterans’ services districts in Massachusetts by the end of the year, he said Tuesday. Coleman Nee, a Gulf War veteran, said that’s up from four ad-hoc districts, covering 14 municipalities, three years ago. There are currently 23 districts, covering 126 contiguous municipalities served by a veterans’ agent or a part-time director of veterans’ services, he told the Local Government Advisory Commission, which includes municipal leaders from across the state. Before formal guidelines were issued in 2011, there was a patchwork of unauthorized district offices with little structure, he said. The state reimburses cities and towns up to 75 percent for services they provide to veterans. Nee also told municipal officials to expect a coming population shift that will lead to a decrease in cases: veterans currently make up 7 percent of the Massachusetts population, or 370,000 people, a number which is projected to drop to 160,000 people by 2035. Nee chalked up the decrease to the lack of a draft or conscription, and the way wars are fought in the modern era through multiple deployments, technology and reliance on reserve members. Asked by the News Service about national reports that 40 veterans allegedly died while waiting for care at a VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, Nee said, “I’ve talked to the VA Medical Center here in Boston. They’ve assured me that that’s not an issue in Massachusetts.” Nee said his federal counterpart, Secretary Eric Shinseki, is in charge of a “large scale bureaucracy.” “I want to give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s going to get to the bottom of this” and find out what happened and whether problems exist anywhere else, Nee said.

STATE SOLAR ENERGY PROGRAM TAKING APPLICATIONS
State officials announced Tuesday they are accepting applications for the second phase of a solar energy program designed to help Massachusetts meet Gov. Patrick’s goal of reaching 1,600 megawatts of installed solar capacity by 2020. The program is aimed at encouraging ground-mounted solar projects on landfill and brownfield sites as well as residential rooftop installations. A residential solar loan program announced in January is being developed with the Massachusetts Bankers Association and is expected to launch in the late summer or fall to complement the solar carve-out program. According to the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, incentives from the first phase of the Solar Carve-Out Program helped grow installed solar from 3 megawatts when Patrick took office in 2007 to 496 megawatts today. – M. Norton/SHNS

Copyright 2014 State House News Service

 

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