State House Back to Work

Legislators, officially meeting once again as of last week, have a lot of loose ends to nail down before this session ends July 31.

House Speaker Tom Finneran got the year off to a fast start on January 2--was it because the legislature has been accused of doing little or doing things late last year? And we are guilty as charged.

Congressional redistricting was the only major decision--and of course House and Senate approved different plans so a conference committee was named to work out the differences.

Next week, Tuesday night, the House will meet again in a joint formal session with the Senate, but without votes, to hear Governor Jane Swift's State of the State address.

Bets are she'll be pushing education and holding the line on any new taxes. At least, unlike her predecessor who took his show on the road, she's bringing the speech back to the State House. Republicans, of course, will applaud every word while many Democrats will sit quietly.

Will her candidate for Lieutenant Governor, Pat Guerriero, be at her side? Will she ask for more funding for her pet programs?

Her more specific thoughts on funding the various state agencies and programs will probably come later--January 23, when she will give her version of the state's fiscal year 2003 budget to legislators.

Remember, the 2002 version was just approved last month. Four months late. Will we do better this year? We should--it's an election year and our legislative leaders don't want to embarrass themselves like they did last year.

Hopefully, we'll complete it before the session ends, and before the fiscal year begins July 1. If we're late, it should at least be finished in July, because anything dealing with dollars can't be done after we recess July 31. Unless the rules change. And, the rules changed last year to approve that late budget.

Then what else is coming up? Well, since it's a two-year session, we have a lot of legislation left over from last year.

Major things like affordable housing (I'm on the six member conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill), criminal sentencing (the House finished it but the Senate didn't), domestic partnerships (the Senate did it, the House didn't), changes in bilingual education and school funding. Bills dealing with insurance coverage for contraceptives, health care reform, job training.

Legislation may also address some of the headlines and problems you've read about, like changes at Massport and the Turnpike.

And new bills are being introduced every day. Bills which need hearings in committees. (I'm on four, and ranking Republican on Long Term Debt, Banking and Election Laws, as well as Insurance, which I’ve been on since my first term.)

For the two-year session, we'll have a total of between 6,000 and 8,000 bills to deal with. So far this session, just 177 bills have been signed into law, according to people who count stuff like that. And only 15 are "substantive," or affect the entire state, according to the Coalition for Legislative reform. They don't count local, home rule petitions like naming bridges or changing speed limits.

We'll deal with bonds and capital expenses, and seemingly daily requests for money for one program or another, all the while keeping our eyes on the falling state revenues. If it's not coming in, we can't spend it, no matter how worthy the cause.

Right now, I'm tempted to move offices. There are some practical aspects of working in the State House, you know. And one is to escape the dust that closed the office for a week in December. Another is to escape the invasive fumes we're facing this week. Paint, perhaps?

And get my I.D. changed so I can retrieve my car from the garage. And, get back into the State House.

Next week, I'll give you a break down of what we did last year. Which, critics say, wasn't much. Stay tuned.

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