GOP PROTESTS AS SENATE ADVANCES LATE-NIGHT SPENDING BILL
By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, OCT. 27, 2017....There was no eleventh hour agreement Thursday between the House and Senate on how to close the books on fiscal 2017 before an Oct. 31 deadline.
After receiving a budget bill from the House earlier in the day, the Senate passed an altered version at 11:30 p.m., drawing protestations from the branch's Republican caucus over the limited time to review it.
"This is a travesty that we're dealing with this now," said Sen. Vinny deMacedo, the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Ways and Means before the 28-8 vote.
The spending bill was taken up more than 12 hours into a pitched debate in the Senate over an omnibus criminal justice bill.
With the legislation (H 3979/S 2194) sent back the House and both branches scheduled to meet Friday, lawmakers could either compromise or dig in on their positions and appoint a conference committee to try and privately work out differences.
"The House could have set up the conference two weeks ago. And we didn't hold it up," President Stan Rosenberg told reporters after the Senate adjourned early Friday morning. "As soon as we got the first version, we went right to work on it. We sent it to them. They could have done the maneuver they did today two weeks ago, and they waited until today to do it in the middle of a very significant debate. We rose to the occasion and we did it."
While senators said negotiations with the House have been productive there are still substantive differences between the two bills, including how to go about banning or severely restricting bump stocks – devices that allow rifles to be fired rapidly.
Gun rights advocates prefer the Senate version, which would treat bump stocks and trigger cranks like machine guns, arguing the House language is too broad.
As of earlier this month, there were 1,865 active machine gun licenses in Massachusetts, according to the Office of Public Safety and Security, including 461 issued to certified instructors and 1,404 to collectors.
The new Senate version of the spending bill does not include $4.7 million for a violence prevention program called Safe and Successful Youth Initiative, one of the priorities of House Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sánchez.
The Senate has been focused on closing the books on fiscal 2017, Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka said, when asked about the violence prevention funding. She said, "We're closing out '17. We're not including any monies for '18."
In a statement early Thursday, Sanchez described the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative funding as "available FY17 revenue." He said, "If this money is not spent, it expires once the FY17 books are closed. SSYI programs in many of our communities need this money now and HHS is awaiting action in order to issue contracts."
The Senate bill includes $82.5 million to close the fiscal 2017 books, Spilka said on the floor.
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