State Capitol Briefs – Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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The House on Tuesday advanced a bill increasing penalties for animal abuse and requiring veterinarians to report such abuse. The heads of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Animal Rescue League of Boston on Tuesday sent a letter to lawmakers asking them to support the legislation (H 4328), which also sets up a task force to conduct a “systematic” review of state animal cruelty and protection laws. The bill comes after an abused two-year-old pit bull, dubbed “Puppy Doe,” was left beaten in a Quincy Park in 2013. The dog was later euthanized and her alleged abuser was charged with animal cruelty. “The details of this case galvanized people who care about animals to ensure both that Puppy Doe’s abuser – and others who engage in such cruel acts – will be penalized in a manner sufficient for the crime and that these acts will be prevented from happening the first place,” wrote Mary Nee, president of the Animal Rescue League of Boston, and Carter Luke, president of the MSPCA. The bill, which emerged in redrafted form from the House Ways and Means Committee on Monday, increases penalties to a maximum of $5,000, up from $2,500, and prison time to a maximum of 7 years, up from 5. Penalties were last updated in 2004, according to the MSPCA. A veterinarian who fails to report an act of animal cruelty would be reported to the Board of Registration in Veterinary Medicine, under the bill. Sen. Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican who filed a similar animal cruelty prevention bill, called the House version a “good start.” Tarr said once the bill hits the Senate he will seek to include penalties for a second and subsequent offenses. Tarr feels “confident” and “cautiously optimistic” a version of the bill will pass the Legislature before the end of the formal legislative calendar. “This bill is moving largely due to a groundswell of public support and we need that support to continue throughout the legislative process,” he said. – G. Dumcius/SHNS

A special commission would investigate requirements for licensing and permitting of cutting and welding trades under a bill Sen. Ken Donnelly and state fire officials are pushing in response to a deadly Back Bay fire earlier this year. The March 26 fire, which led to the deaths of two Boston firefighters, was reportedly caused by welders working on the building next door. Donnelly (D-Arlington) spoke with State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan and others to identify gaps in regulating the welding and “hot works” industries. “What we found is that there were some real concerns about the permitting process for welders and the use of torches,” Donnelly, a former firefighter, told the News Service on Tuesday. “And also, we found the penalties were really insufficient, they hadn’t been changed in many, many years.” Donnelly said someone who is caught welding without a permit would currently be hit with a $100 fine. “In some ways what we’ve done is, because we haven’t addressed the penalties for so long, we’ve set up a disincentive,” he said. The proposed legislation calls for the commission to include appointees by the governor, the Legislature, the state fire marshal, the chairman of the board of fire prevention regulations, the associate commissioner of vocational workforce programs, and a labor representative from the pipefitting trade, chosen by the head of the Mass. AFL-CIO. The commission would have to issue its report, along with any proposed legislation, by June 1, 2015. Donnelly had scheduled a Wednesday press conference with Coan to unveil the legislation, but it was cancelled due to a conflict with the funeral for former Sen. Robert Havern (D-Arlington). “If not by the end of the full [formal] session, there isn’t any reason why we shouldn’t be able to get it through before the end of the year,” Donnelly said. – G. Dumcius/SHNS

Jurors at the Moakley Courthouse completed a week of closed-door deliberations on Tuesday, and have met for nearly 38 hours without reaching a unanimous agreement on whether three former probation officials are guilty of fraud and other crimes related to their alleged rigging of the hiring system. There are 104 separate questions for the three defendants on the 10-page verdict slip, which includes 10 total criminal charges. Unlike the prior four days of deliberations, jurors made no requests for transcripts or stationary supplies or legal clarifications. For everyone outside the jury room, there was no communication, and no knowledge of what kind of discussions might be engaging the 12 jurors. Former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien and two of his former deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, fought the charges over 10 weeks of testimony. The jury left about 10 minutes early Tuesday, departing the courtroom at 4:48 p.m. – A. Metzger/SHNS

Arguing it relies on rosy revenue projections and would sap tax money that could otherwise go toward schools and transportation, the Pioneer Institute sent Gov. Deval Patrick a letter Tuesday urging him to veto a $1 billion bond authorization allowing for the expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. The bill (H 4308) pushed by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority and South Boston Rep. Nick Collins and approved with overwhelming support, would allow for $1 billion in existing taxes, largely targeted at tourists, to finance borrowing to add more floor and meeting space to the BCEC, which supporters say would put Boston among the most popular destinations for conventions. Pioneer Institute Research Director Greg Sullivan said the revenue projections for hotel tax revenue growth, which helps fund the quasi-public agency, are “unrealistic,” and the MCCA’s projected increase is three times greater than the historical growth rate, including projected increases of between 12.5 percent and 10.2 percent from 2015 to 2018. Pioneer said it is “misleading” to say the project will not cost taxpayers, because the original legislation required bonds to be retired in 2034, but the legislation soon to reach the governor’s desk will keep that money tied up paying for the convention center into the middle of the century. The think tank also cited a study that it said showed convention attendance declined by 1.7 percent between 2000 and 2011 while available convention exhibit hall space “ballooned” 35 percent in that period. In a six-point letter, Sullivan, the former inspector general, also said the bill exempts MCCA from the public records law “in dangerous ways.” The bill only requires two procedural votes before reaching Patrick’s desk. – A. Metzger/SHNS

Former Inspector General Greg Sullivan said he was surprised when he first entered the Legislature during the first Dukakis administration that a door on the first floor of the State House was marked Governor’s Office of Patronage. “It was just accepted and out in the open,” Sullivan told the News Service. He said, “It was painted on the door.” Sullivan said the investigations and testimony about how former probation officials conducted hiring in the department should spur the Legislature to ban lawmakers from recommending people for jobs in state government. “It’s very good if people know what the rules are in advance,” Sullivan said. He said, “To me what happened there was very bad . . . It shouldn’t be allowed to happen in government.” The Norwood Democrat said when he was a lawmaker he was a “maverick” out of favor with leadership and he would receive 50 requests a year to help someone’s family member get a job. “It never crossed my mind that there was anything untoward about it,” Sullivan said. He said, “It’s very hard to get somebody a job and you want to help your constituents.” Sullivan also said a ban on assisting with state employment “would be a very wonderful thing” for the lawmakers, who could refuse requests saying it is against the law. Sullivan, who now is research director for the Pioneer Institute, said the Office of Patronage was one door down from the Secretary of State’s bookstore on the first floor of the State House. – A. Metzger/SHNS

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