STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

SEAT BELT BILL FAILS TO GAIN SUPPORT IN COMMITTEE

Police will not be pulling drivers over for not wearing their seat belts anytime soon after a legislative committee voted Thursday against a proposal to stiffen the state's seat belt law. Despite support from the committee chairman, lawmakers on the Public Safety Committee voted 9 to 6 against advancing a bill (S 1115) that would have made not wearing a seat belt a primary offense, allowing police to make traffic stops for violations. One lawmaker reserved their right to vote, and another did not vote, according to committee staff. For years, plans to stiffen penalties under the state's seat belt law have bumped up against concerns about racial profiling and privacy considerations. Under current law, police in Massachusetts can only ticket someone for seat belt law violations if they are pulled over for another reason. Thirty-three states have primary enforcement seat belt laws, including Rhode Island and Connecticut, and supporters of the measure in Massachusetts have long argued such a law would increase belt usage rates and reduce injuries and deaths. Sen. James Timilty, (D-Walpole) co-chair of the Public Safety Committee, said this legislative session he changed his mind about the issue, and now supports a primary enforcement seat belt law. A spokeswoman for AAA Southern New England, which has pushed for legislation for nearly a decade, expressed disappointment.


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"We appreciate the support and consideration we received from many legislators on this critically important issue, especially Chairman Timilty and our Senate sponsors, Senators Chandler and Jehlen," Mary Maguire, director of public and legislative affairs, said in an email to the News Service. "It's always disappointing when, once again, we fail to seize this incredible opportunity to make a real difference--to save lives and prevent hundreds of lifelong, debilitating injuries. But we're not giving up. AAA and the many staunch supporters of a primary seat belt bill will be back next session, stronger than ever." - C. Quinn/SHNS

SENATE BOND BILL FUNDS POLICE AND SCHOOL TECH UPGRADES

The Senate on Thursday passed legislation that would allow nearly $1 billion in technology spending around the state over the next five years while also reforming the procurement process to avoid costly missteps. During debate on the long-term borrowing bill, the Senate added $68.2 million bringing the bottom line of the bond bill to $999.2 million. In a unanimous vote, senators adopted a Sen. James Timilty amendment adding $68.2 million to upgrade the statewide communications network used by the State Police and primary voice radio communications used by other state and local public safety agencies. In calling for the amendment, Timilty said that the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013 put a heavy load on the communications system. The bill also includes $38 million for matching grants to schools to upgrade their technology. On a 16 to 22 vote, the Senate rejected an amendment backed by Sen. Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, and Sen. Patricia Jehlen, a Somerville Democrat, that would have required state education officials to study what the cost would be to implement a new standardized test that is in the pilot stage, known as PARCC. Tarr questioned why lawmakers would not want to know what the technologically intensive testing program would cost, while Senate Bonding Chairman Brian Joyce said a cost study would overburden state education officials and it would be difficult to separate out the PARCC costs from tech upgrades that would be needed even without the new test. The bill limited the technological upgrades that can be funded at school buildings that are scheduled to be decommissioned or razed within 10 years. The bill (S 2223) also aims to centralize the procurement process so that state officials with expertise in the field can work on negotiating with IT vendors. "This legislation enacts the reforms needed to help protect taxpayers against expensive and broken IT projects," said Joyce, a Milton Democrat. "It will also ensure that our schools can implement technology upgrades to prepare our children for college and beyond." - A. Metzger, G. Dumcius/SHNS

SP MURRAY CALLS WALSH "A SMART MAN" TO ASK FOR CASINO DELAY

Two days after the Supreme Judicial Court allowed a petition repealing casino gambling to proceed to the ballot, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh appealed to the Gaming Commission to delay any decision on a casino license in Greater Boston until after the November election. The commission has planned to award a second casino license to either Mohegan Sun for a casino in Revere or Wynn Resorts for a project in Everett later this summer, by late August or early September. Senate President Therese Murray, who backed Walsh in last year's mayoral election, said, "He's a smart man." Asked by the News Service if that meant she agreed with Walsh's position, the Plymouth Democrat said, "I didn't say that. He's the mayor of Boston. He has concerns. He wants his people to vote. He wants Charlestown to vote. East Boston got to vote, so I think it's a smart move on his part." Murray said she planned to vote against the ballot question, but ultimately deferred to the Gaming Commission on how to proceed with licensing. The commission issued a statement saying it had not yet reviewed the letter, but has the ability to "deal with the contingencies of the licensing process" that serve the best interests of the public. Bill Mulrow, chair of the board of Suffolk Downs, said he was "dismayed" by Walsh's approach. "We have made a significant investment over the last several years to preserve jobs and to create opportunities for new ones while operating at a substantial deficit. Additional delays in the Gaming Commission's licensing decision will put our operation and our workforce at risk and we urge the Commission to stick to its announced timeline," Mulrow said. - M. Murphy/SHNS

SENATE APPROVES WELFARE REFORM BILL

After waiting months for House and Senate negotiators to reach agreement on a welfare reform bill, the Senate on Thursday afternoon accepted the panel's bill (S 1806) on a voice vote without debate. The House and Senate each passed welfare reform bills last year aimed at both closing off avenues for fraud and abuse and extending supports and assistance to help more low-income families move off public assistance. According to a bill summary, the legislation creates a program to connect "able-bodied" individuals with full-time jobs before they start receiving benefits, revives a "full employment program" aimed at placing benefit recipients in full-time jobs, and makes employers who hire individuals from the full-employment program eligible for a health care subsidy for one year followed by a tax credit of $100 per month up to $1,200. The bill also reduces the period for benefit extensions, requires self-declarations of residency to be signed under the penalties of perjury, bans self-declarations from being used as the only verification form of eligibility, and increases penalties for store owners who knowingly allow the purchase of prohibited products or services, such as Lottery tickets, with an EBT card. Under the latter measure, store owners could face license suspensions. - M. Norton/SHNS