LAWMAKERS FACE PRESSURE TO FINALIZE SOLDIERS HOME BILL
By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, NOV. 13, 2017....Much of the attention over the next three days will be paid to the House's criminal justice debate and a possible vote in the Senate on free birth control coverage.
But as the Legislature backs into its mid-session recess, there's really only one bill on the radar that must be finished by midnight Wednesday -- a $244 million borrowing bill for the Chelsea Soldier's Home and western Massachusetts broadband access.
The House approved the "immediate needs" bond bill (H 4015) last Wednesday, separating those items from a larger $3.55 billion long-term capital infrastructure bill that began advancing in the House on Monday in anticipation of a vote by Wednesday.
The Senate passed the smaller borrowing bill last Thursday, but added an amendment sponsored by Sen. Donald Humason of Westfield requiring the Baker administration to conduct a study of the capital needs of the state's second Soldier's Home in Holyoke. That study should be done by April, Humason said.
House leaders must now decide whether to accept the Humason amendment, or insist on the version of the bill they already got passed authorizing $199 million for the design and construction of a new 154-bed Soldier's Home in Chelsea and $45 million for the "Last Mile" project connecting parts of western Massachusetts with high speed internet.
The bond bill requires roll call votes in both branches on enactment. If those votes are not taken by Wednesday, they will have to wait until 2018.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo said last week that failure to authorize the Chelsea Soldier's Home spending by Dec. 1 would mean the loss of millions in federal funding.
The money for the veterans facility and the broadband expansion project were separated from a larger $3.55 billion bond bill that would authorize long-term spending to rehabilitate courthouses, college campuses and state facilities.
The House Ways and Means Committee began polling its members on the larger bill (H 4018) Monday.
The legislation would authorize the Baker administration to borrow $950 million for renovations on University of Massachusetts and other public college campuses and $675 million to rehabilitate courts.
Earmarks contained in the bill include $500,000 for a study into possibility of building a UMass Dartmouth Law School campus in downtown New Bedford, and $80.6 million to renovate the Tower Building in Boston, which houses the Hinton State Laboratory.
The House is expected to take up the bill on Wednesday during its last formal session of the year, and if it does wait until then it would appear unlikely that the Senate would consider the bill until after the break in January.
Baker two weeks ago said the capital bond bill was one of two borrowing measures he would like to see on his desk before the Legislature breaks for the holidays on Nov. 15.
"We have a couple of bond bills, one's the housing bond bill and one's the DCAM bill, both of which have funding for new projects and programming, but also have some important elements associated with deferred maintenance, and it would be terrific if those could get done before the break," Baker told reporters.
He continued, "I do worry if some roof caves in in the middle of winter on some college campus and we don't have the authorization."
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