STATE CAPITOL BRIEFS - AFTERNOON EDITION - THURSDAY, JULY 10, 2014

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

PATRICK SIGNS PART OF WELFARE REFORM PACKAGE

Gov. Deval Patrick on Wednesday signed legislation seeking to close loopholes in the state welfare system and aid public assistance recipients in getting into jobs. The bill (S 2211), one of the two bills that are part of a welfare reform package, was approved on June 30 by the Legislature. Legislators split their welfare reform compromise into two bills: a policy bill (S 2211) and an appropriations bill (S 2212) with about $15 million in spending. The appropriations bill, while it has received approval from the House and Senate, has not yet been enacted and sent to the governor's desk. Under the policy bill, specialists would be assigned to help high-risk recipients of aid and a program would be developed in order to allow recipients to save money outside the asset limit of $2,500, toward first, last and security rent payments and for education. The Department of Transitional Assistance is also required to file a report with the Legislature 60 days before changing regulations that would alter benefits. Store owners now face increased penalties, with a $500 fine for the first offense, if they wittingly allow prohibited products or services to be purchased by welfare recipients with an EBT card. The policy and appropriations bills are part of a package that creates a job diversion program through the department and the Commonwealth Corporation, reestablishes a "full employment program" to help welfare recipients gain full-time employment, and allows for the department to hire additional caseworkers and fraud unit investigators. The bill-signing for the policy legislation (S 2211) was not on the governor's public schedule for Wednesday, and a spokeswoman said Thursday that there will not be a ceremonial bill-signing. Welfare reform ranks among one of the most substantial bills that lawmakers have tackled in this two-year session. - G. Dumcius/SHNS

LINSKY TESTIFIES ABOUT BOND WITH SPEAKER DeLEO

When Rep. David Linsky told Rep. Robert DeLeo his 11-year-old son would be pitching in a little league game in Winthrop, DeLeo showed up to watch the game, just one of the examples of the bond between the two pols that Linsky said had nothing to do with a probation job. In April 2008, Linsky received a call from Lenny Mirasolo, the father of DeLeo's godson and an aide to DeLeo, who was then chairman of House Ways and Means. Mirasolo asked Linsky if his hometown Natick was near Clinton, and told him there might be a probation job opening at a new electronic monitoring facility in the central Massachusetts city. Former Probation Commissioner John O'Brien is accused of giving electronic monitoring jobs to DeLeo to help him in his ultimately successful bid for speaker, an accusation DeLeo has strenuously denied. "There was never any question in my mind that I would vote for Bob DeLeo," Linsky testified Thursday. He said it was "very difficult to imagine" him ever voting for Rep. John Rogers, who was DeLeo's rival for leadership of the House. A former prosecutor, Linsky said he told his friend Richard Philben, who had managed his re-election campaign in 2006, about the job. "I said to Rich, you can apply for it. I didn't know a whole lot about it," Linsky said. Noting Philben had a law degree, Linsky said, "He probably was overqualified." Linsky told Philben to contact Mirasolo and did not tell anyone else about the job, he said. Philben applied on April 17, 2008, and was appointed to the temporary post by O'Brien on May 1, 2008, according to documents. "All I did was tell him about the job and put him in contact with the people," Linsky said. Linsky said "under no circumstances" was his vote for sale. - A. Metzger/SHNS

FEDS CLOSING PROBATION PROSECUTION WITH COURT CFO ON STAND

The prosecution's bribery and racketeering case against three former state probation officials will end with the person who minded the money for the Trial Court, which oversees the agency. William Marchand, the chief financial officer of the Office of Court Management, said in 2008 the Legislature bulked up the probation department's budget, making it roughly $8 million larger than the Trial Court had requested. That was about the same time probation officials were staffing up a new electronic monitoring facility in Clinton. Prosecutors have not alleged any cash traded hands, but say former Probation Commissioner John O'Brien attempted to win favorable treatment from the Legislature by making personnel decisions based on the political heft of a job applicant's supporters. Judge William Young announced Marchand would be the last witness, and his testimony kicked up a procedural dust-storm after he gave prosecutors a 2004 document on Wednesday. The unsigned letter from Chief Justice of Administration and Management Robert Mulligan to House and Senate leaders notes a transfer of $4 million into the probation department. Earlier in the week, defense attorneys had pressed Mulligan to concede that he had never seen such a letter. Mulligan lost the ability to move money in and out of the probation department in the fiscal year 2006 budget, after transferring $1.3 million out of the probation budget. Prosecutors have contended Mulligan had also transferred $4 million into the probation budget. "Why didn't you turn over that document until yesterday afternoon?" O'Brien defense attorney Christine DeMaso asked. Marchand was unsure of the particulars of the prosecution's request for documents in the case, and said his administrative assistant is on vacation. Court recessed Thursday in the midst of the cross examination of Marchand, who should wrap his testimony Friday morning. Defense attorneys have not disclosed anything about the nature of the case they might present. - A. Metzger/SHNS

SENATE POISED TO PASS $1.7 BILLION ENVIRONMENTAL BOND BILL

The Senate plans on Thursday to pass a four-year bill authorizing $1.7 billion in borrowing to pay for environmental and energy programs. Saluting the state's "pristine" natural resources and scenic vistas and beaches, Senate Ways and Means Chairman Stephen Brewer said the bill provides the financial "engine" for environmental programs across Massachusetts and at 3:15 p.m. suggested running through all of the bill's details would "wear us down." The bill includes funds for coastal protection and dredging, funds for Department of Conservation and Recreation land acquisition and funds for greenhouse gas initiatives and water pollution abatement. "And it goes on," the Barre Democrat said, flipping through a binder listing the bill's investments. Brewer told his colleagues they can tell constituents they are "standing up for the future" by passing the bond bill. Senators have filed 229 amendments to the bill (S 2250). Senate Bonding Committee Chairman Brian Joyce said the bill is the eighth bond bill before the Senate this session, estimating savings of $1 billion by restructuring borrowing terms from what was originally proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick. The bill includes tens of millions of dollars in climate change initiatives, Joyce said, and $15 million for trees. Shade, Joyce said, will help reduce energy costs. - M. Norton/SHNS

CHEF PRESSES SENATORS ON CAGING BAN BILL

After visiting more than a half dozen Senate offices Thursday, prominent local chef Jim Solomon told the News Service Thursday that lawmakers have been receptive to his pitch to advance legislation aimed at ending the caging of farm animals in Massachusetts. "People have been extremely receptive, which is terrific," Solomon, dressed in chef whites, said during a break in lobbying. The executive chef at The Fireplace Restaurant in Brookline said he was launching his summer menu on Thursday but felt it was important to visit the State House to make the case for the legislation with formal sessions due to end for the year on July 31. Solomon said his business has over the years seen an "incredible increase" in phone calls from potential patrons asking if the restaurant buys cage-free eggs. "Ten years ago we never got those phone calls," he said. "Now we get regular calls." The bill (S 2232) has a long way to go as it was endorsed by the Judiciary Committee June 30 but has not surfaced for votes in either branch and is currently pending before the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The legislation would ban individuals from knowingly tethering or confining farm animals for all or most of the day in a manner "that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs." The bill's provisions would not apply in certain circumstances, such as during scientific research, transportation, veterinary exams and rodeo exhibitions, for example. Violations of the proposed law would be misdemeanors punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000. - M. Norton/SHNS

STUDY: NEWSPAPER CUTS HAVE DIMINISHED CAPITOL COVERAGE

A new study published by the Pew Research Center found a continuing decline in the number of full-time reporters assigned to state capitols to report on government. According to the report, less than a third of U.S. newspapers assign any reporters to the statehouse with Massachusetts bringing up the rear where only 6 percent of the state's newspapers have a reporting presence on Beacon Hill. Just since Gov. Deval Patrick took office, many regional newspapers have eliminated their State House bureaus with only the Boston Globe, Boston Herald and Springfield Republican maintaining a full-time presence under the Golden Dome. As newspapers, which account for 38 percent of the capitol reporters, have seen a 35 percent decline in representation at state capitols since 2003, Pew reported that non-traditional outlets such as for-profit and non-profit digital organizations, ideological outlets and "high-priced publications aimed at insiders" and staffed with veteran reporters have sprung up to fill the void, making up 17 percent of the capitol press corps, but not fully making up for the loss of newspaper reporters. In Massachusetts, Pew counted 15 full-time statehouse reporters, seven part-time reporters, nine students and one "other" assigned to the State House for a total of 32 reporters. In addition to the Globe, Herald, Republican and State House News Service, only the Associated Press, WLLP-TV in Springfield and WGBH radio maintain full-time government reporters based out of the State House. Pew found a "strong association" between the population of a state and the length of legislative sessions with the size of the press corps in the capitol. Of the 10 most populous states, only Georgia and North Carolina did not crack the top 10 largest statehouse press contingents. Of the 10 states with the longest duration of sessions, Massachusetts and Maine were the only two states that didn't rank in the top 10 in the number of full-time statehouse reporters. - M. Murphy/SHNS