STATE CAPITOL BRIEFS - MONDAY, MARCH 17, 2014

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

GALVIN SIGNS SPENDING BILL WHILE PATRICK IS AWAY

Acting Gov. William Galvin on Monday signed a $194 million spending bill (H 3947) that includes $30 million to help keep up with winter road-clearing costs. The legislation was produced last week by a conference committee and won final Senate passage on Monday. The bill also includes $32 million in emergency family shelter funds and $12 million to cover costs of housing families in hotels and motels. The legislation recapitalizes a brownfields trust fund at $15 million and includes $8 million for indigent defendant court costs, $10.7 million for a human services worker salary reserve, $4.8 million for the governor's Safe and Successful Youth program and $2 million proposed by the House for the MassWorks infrastructure program. Galvin signed the bill while Patrick was in Panama beginning a trade trip to that country and Mexico. - M. Norton/SHNS

ELECTION REFORM NEGOTIATORS TO HOLD FIRST MEETING

Nearly two months after it was formed, the legislative panel charged with negotiating a compromise between competing election law reform bills will meet for the first time this week. The conference process on a slew of bills this session has failed to produce results. The six-member conference committee negotiating the election laws package (H 3788/S 1975) and chaired by Rep. James Murphy, of Weymouth, and Sen.


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Barry Finegold, of Andover, is tentatively scheduled to meet on Wednesday at 11 a.m., though an exact location has yet to be determined, according to staff. The House also appointed Rep. Michael Moran, a Brighton Democrat, and Rep. Paul Frost, an Auburn Republican. The Senate appointed Sen. Sal DiDomenico, an Everett Democrat and assistant vice chairman of Ways and Means, and Sen. Robert Hedlund, a Weymouth Republican. Both bills seek to expand voting by allowing for online voter registration and early voting. The Senate bill also authorizes election-day registration and a provision allowing citizens' voter registration to transfer with them when they move. Republicans had generally pushed for more safeguards against fraud, such as requirements for identity verification in the voting process. The first meeting of a conference committee is open to the public, though lawmakers typically vote to close deliberations before negotiations begin. - M. Murphy/SHNS

MED MARIJUANA LICENSE APPLICANT SUES THE STATE

The state Department of Public Health improperly approved a provisional license for a medical marijuana dispensary in Lowell by making scoring errors when judging applications, according to a Superior Court lawsuit announced Monday and filed by the runner-up for the license. Cardiac Arrhythmia Syndromes Foundation finished second to Patriot Care Corp. by scoring two points behind, but should have scored two points ahead of its competitor, according to CAS, which claims Patriot Care did not include in its applications information that might have resulted in a lower score, according to McCarter & English, which is representing CAS. "The way the law works requires us to sue DPH. But the reality is that we are their allies in trying to make sure the proper entity gets to provide high-quality medical marijuana services to patients in and around Lowell," Joseph Ruccio said in a statement. Ruccio is a Boston-based partner at McCarter & English and former chief of the bid protest unit of the state attorney general's office. The firm said reconsideration of the CAS application was in line with the request last week from Rep. Jeff Sanchez, co-chairman of the Public Health Committee, that DPH reconsider applicants who scored above a certain threshold. - M. Norton/SHNS

DPU REVIEWING GALVIN REQUEST ON UTILITY SHUTOFFS

Secretary of State William Galvin, who is acting governor this week while Gov. Deval Patrick visits Panama and Mexico, called on state utilities regulators to extend for one month a moratorium that prevents utilities from turning off certain gas and electric home heating service for non-payment of bills. "This winter has been harsh and slow to depart. People are having to pay more to heat their houses and apartments than they expected, or probably budgeted for," Galvin said in a statement released by his office. "Extending the moratorium, as was done in two of the past three winters, will give customers some breathing room to cope with those higher prices." Thirty-five years ago, Galvin co-sponsored the moratorium legislation that led to the law preventing utilities from turning office service to customers in residential buildings for failure to pay where the failure is caused by financial hardship. The moratorium on shutoffs runs from November 15 through March 15 and Galvin has asked that it be extended until April 15. Galvin's office cited a U.S. Department of Energy report that found the Northeast was 13 percent colder this winter than last winter and estimated that customers using oil, natural gas and electric heat are all paying more this winter. DPU spokeswoman Krista Selmi said the agency was reviewing Galvin's request and said the agency learned about it from the News Service. "In years past, the DPU has sent letters to the utilities asking them to voluntarily extend the moratorium until April 1," Selmi said. "This year, the stakeholders, including low-income advocates, came to DPU to permanently extend the moratorium to April 1. The DPU agrees that the moratorium should be extended to April 1, and notes that the companies can continue to voluntarily extend the moratorium period every year." - M. Norton/SHNS

ALL FIVE DEMS TO ATTEND FORUM FRIDAY

The five Democrats running for governor will participate in a forum hosted by an environmental group Friday, while the two Republicans did not respond to invitations for the forum, which will be held on the eve of the Republican nominating convention. "For the past seven years, we've had an environmental champion in the corner office and he will be hard to replace," said Environmental League of Massachusetts President George Bachrach in a statement. "Ahead of the primary elections this fall, we want to give voters a chance to hear directly from candidates about their plans to protect the environment, strengthen our infrastructure and continue to grow the innovation economy." ELM aide Kevin Franck, a former Democratic Party spokesman, said the Republican candidates did not respond to an invitation to the forum, which will be moderated by Boston Globe columnist Derrick Jackson and former Secretary of Commonwealth Development Doug Foy. The Faneuil Hall forum, co-sponsored by 28 organizations, was previously announced, though individuals involved had not publicized who would be attending. The Republican convention will be held Saturday, where delegates will determine whether there will be a primary contest, as frontrunner Charlie Baker is facing a challenge from the lesser-known Mark Fisher. - A. Metzger/SHNS