State Capitol Briefs – Monday, June 16, 2014


The U.S. Supreme Court could rule as soon as Thursday on the constitutionality of the state’s 35-foot buffer zone around family planning clinics, and both Gov. Deval Patrick and Senate President Therese Murray said they’re hopeful the 2007 law will be upheld. “If they do what the Constitution warrants, they won’t strike it down. If they do, then we’ll take it from there,” Patrick said on Monday. The Supreme Court agreed a year ago to hear a challenge to the state law from a group of opponents who argue the law unconstitutionally blocks them from engaging in conversation with patients outside family planning clinics. “Everybody has a right to free speech but you don’t have a right to come off the curb and grab people and to scream in their face,” Murray told the News Service on Monday. “Most of the people going into these clinics are going in for health care. It’s not that all these people are going in to have abortions. That’s not the case at all. It’s poor people who are accessing health care.” Asked whether she would seek to replace the law if it is struck down by the court, Murray said, “I’m not a lawyer. If we can do something that meets their approval or that we wouldn’t have another appeal, absolutely.” – M. Murphy/SHNS


With a Democratic primary newly honed to three candidates, gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley renewed her call for a “People’s Pledge” Monday to discourage spending by outside groups. A byproduct of the 2012 U.S. Senate race, the pledges are agreements where candidates say they will donate money to charity comparable to amounts spent by outside political groups on their behalf. Coakley agreed Monday to eliminate a provision she had suggested that became a stumbling block for two of her rivals in the primary, allowing outside groups to respond to attacks from Republicans. After the convention whittled the field from five to three candidates, Treasurer Steven Grossman is the only one remaining who specifically rejected the “giant loophole” Coakley had suggested closing. When the issue flared in April after the creation of a pro-Grossman outside group, or “super PAC,” the third primary candidate, Don Berwick said, “I ask my opponents to negotiate in good faith to make the Pledge a reality.” There are super PACs supporting both Grossman and Republican Charlie Baker. The three Democrats are meeting in Jamaica Plain Monday night in their first post-convention forum. – A. Metzger/SHNS


Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel plans to visit Charlestown Tuesday to “announce a major milestone for offshore wind energy.”  According to a media advisory, Jewel will be joined by Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Acting Director Walter Cruickshank and Gov. Deval Patrick, who has been advocating through his first and second terms as governor for the Cape Wind offshore wind energy installation planned for Nantucket Sound.   The project has cleared numerous regulatory hurdles but continues to face strong resistance, and litigation, from its opponents.    The announcement will be made at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center wind testing facility in Charlestown, with a 1 p.m. tour planned followed by a 1:30 p.m. press conference. Patrick said the announcement was not directly related to Cape Wind, but had to do with offshore leasing for wind farms. – M. Norton/SHNS


Gov. Deval Patrick said his former lieutenant governor Tim Murray was just “having a little fun” Friday night at the Democratic Party Convention when Murray told the crowd they could see Patrick “not too distant future in the fields of Iowa and hills of New Hampshire” fanning talk of Patrick running for president. Asked about the gubernatorial field that was whittled from five to three at the convention, Patrick said, “It’s a great outcome. It’s going to be a contested primary. You know I think that’s a good thing for Democrats. We have five really good candidates and I don’t know what the two candidates will do who didn’t make the ballot, but I think it’s a reflection of the strength of our bench that there so much talent,” he said. Asked if he wanted to endorse either of the three Democrats, Patrick said, “Not yet.” – M. Murphy/SHNS


The House on Monday gave initial approval to a bill providing a bill of rights to domestic workers. The bill (S 2123) was unanimously passed by the Senate on May 8, and House lawmakers have also voted on the issue when it was initially part of a House bill to raise the minimum wage and reform unemployment insurance. The bill defines domestic workers as housekeepers, nannies, caretakers, cooks and others, and guarantees them meal breaks, days off and at least 8 weeks of maternity leave. The definition does not include babysitters or personal care attendants, according to a Senate summary of the bill. The House Ways and Means Committee did not change the bill. The attorney general’s office would be charged with enforcing the bill of rights and providing resources on its website to assist employers with complying with the bill. The House, which is set to meet in formal session on Wednesday, also advanced legislation dealing with alcohol licenses for nonprofits (H 271), “continuity of care” for families enrolled in MassHealth (H 1058), decriminalizing nonviolent student misconduct (H 4132), and naming a boat launch area in Hardwick after Sen. Stephen Brewer (D-Barre), the outgoing Senate Ways and Means chairman (H 4032). – G. Dumcius/SHNS


The campaign to repeal an element of last year’s tax bill gathered signatures outside the Democratic Party convention Saturday morning. Al Hopfmann, a Libertarian from Rutland, said late Saturday morning that he had gathered about 50 or 60 signatures. “This is a great place for gathering signatures,” he told the News Service. The Legislature raised the gas tax by 3 cents last summer and linked future increases to inflation. Activists and Republican lawmakers have mounted an effort to repeal the portion of the law that automatically increases the gas tax based on cost of living increases. “It’s a non-partisan issue,” Hopfmann said. He said, “The Legislature should have to vote and be recorded for their votes” especially when changing the tax.” Supporters of the law note that the gas tax has lost value over the years as the cost of road repairs has gone up while the cents-per-gallon tax has stayed static. – A. Metzger/SHNS

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