CITIZENS   FOR  LIMITED  TAXATION
and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

CLT UPDATE
Friday, October 21, 2005

"The Best Legislature Money Can Buy":
Over the top, around the bend, and over the edge


Lawmakers were set to approve a $300 million supplemental budget late last night, packed with cash for dozens of pet projects.

But legislators again avoided debate on cutting the state income-tax rate from 5.3 to 5 percent, by recommending the Department of Revenue conduct a study to determine its economic feasibility.

"I think people would rather have these programs than get an extra $34 a year," said state Rep. Daniel Bosley, D-North Adams, who thinks upcoming big-spending bills, such as health care and fuel assistance, will eat up much of the state's surplus.

The Lowell Sun
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Lawmakers skirt income tax fight


A powerful Beacon Hill lawmaker who helped gut a highly touted anti-drunken-driving bill jetted off with colleagues for a European vacation yesterday as final debate on the measure began, to the disgust of victims' advocates.

Eugene O'Flaherty was among a half-dozen lawmakers who left for a week in Spain and Portugal...

Lawmakers raced yesterday to complete work on the bill before O'Flaherty and a group of about 40 lawmakers and aides were to leave for Logan International Airport. When they couldn't complete the work, the vacationers left anyway....

"It is an absolute (expletive) outrage," said one House member working in his State House office yesterday. "We are ending the session on Nov. 16 and we have a pile of work to do. It has effectively shut down the House for next week."

The Boston Herald
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Vacation trumps OUI bill: Jet-setter guts law, hits Spain


With a backlog of major legislation pending, a half-dozen state legislators, including several key members of Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi's top leadership, left town last night on a 10-day trip to Spain and Portugal, essentially shutting down the House's ability to take up major business....

The Beacon Hill group -- which also includes a well-heeled State House lobbyist, the House clerk, and other staff members -- left from Logan Airport last night, bound for Lisbon by way of Paris, just as DiMasi was holding the House in session...

The European vacation was organized by Representative Lida E. Harkins, DiMasi's assistant majority leader, who said the trip was privately paid for by the individual travelers. She defended the vacation, saying the deadline imposed by the trip provided impetus to complete the deadlocked negotiations over the drunken-driving bill.

"People would like to get it done before we leave and we are working feverishly to get it completed," Harkins said in an interview as she headed to the airport shortly after 5 p.m. yesterday. "There are no substantive differences between either side.... I feel great."

Still, the trip stirred grumbling within the House ranks, where some members, who did not want to be quoted by name, felt the trip had come at the worst time. DiMasi has been criticized for his travel in recent months, leaving the perception that the House was frittering away time and not dealing with its heavy agenda as the end of the legislative session approaches, on Nov. 16. He has argued that the committees and their staffs are working diligently to move bills.

With this trip, "they've shut the House down," said one frustrated member. "It's stunning. Short of the budget, this is the busiest time of the year."

The Boston Globe
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Legislators' trip could delay work in House


A slew of bills are waiting for a vote
on the Hill, on the Hill
No time to work, just time to play
Until, until....

The foolish voters finally have their fill
And fire their Donkey asses on the Hill.

Ode to Our Fair Lads and Ladies
by Barbara Anderson


Sure, the anti-drunk driving crowd says some good things survived the defense lawyers' sneak attack. But the heaviest provisions were left on the cutting-room floor. You still don't automatically lose your license for a year if you refuse the Breathalyzer. Let me tell you, that's a load off Cujo's mind, or what's left of it, not to mention Rep. Brian Dempsey, another bad drunk, from Haverhill. Thanks, Mr. Chairman O'Flaherty.

Eugene "Gino" O'Flaherty began his meteoric rise in the hackorama in 2000, after he hired a nice woman named Alexis. Alexis Finneran, the indicted ex-Speaker's niece.

And what happened Wednesday was a Finneran-esque deal. The wink and the nod, followed by a sellout to a wired special-interest group, ending with a mad dash to Logan to catch a flight to Europe 'til the heat dies down....

The other question is, how does this fit into the Democrats' strategy of demonizing Mitt Romney as a no-show governor? At least Mitt remains in the country. The other irony, of course, is that this latest disgrace occurred on the 375th anniversary of the Legislature.

The Boston Herald
Friday, October 21, 2005
Good day for drunks and junketing political skunks
By Howie Carr


The top senator on the legislative committee that approved a weakened version of "Melanie's Law" was in court defending an accused drunken driver with a history of alcohol offenses as the clock was running out on time to finalize the bill this month.

Sen. Robert S. Creedon Jr. (D-Brockton) acknowledged yesterday he successfully obtained a not-guilty verdict before a Brockton District Court judge on Oct. 5 for his client, Craig A. Hirtle. This was at the height of negotiations over Melanie's Law within the conference committee Creedon co-chaired....

Calling on Gov. Mitt Romney to veto the bill, Sen. Scott P. Brown (R-Wrentham) said, "The conference committee has undermined the spirit of the bill and has gone against the will of the people."

The Boston Herald
Friday, October 21, 2005
Senator defends taking OUI clients:
Creedon sees no conflict of interest


Senator Robert L. Hedlund of Weymouth, who was on the conference committee that worked out the final version of the bill, said the court-records provision should have been in the final version because both the House and Senate included it when they first passed their respective versions of the legislation....

Hedlund cited a legislative rule on conference committees: "Matters on which there exists no disagreement between the branches shall not be disturbed by the committee on conference." Why, then, was the records provision taken out, he asked.

The Boston Globe
Friday, October 21, 2005
Romney seeks restoration of tougher provisions


DiMasi himself has been criticized for spending too much time traveling out of state and playing golf. His version of healthcare reform -- this year's top priority -- has not been finalized with only weeks left in the session. And on Wednesday he waved good-bye to several members, including some from his leadership team, as they left during the session for a 10-day vacation in Portugal and Spain. Could they not go on vacation during the many periods the Legislature is in recess?

It is time for DiMasi to start wielding the gavel as effectively as he does the putter.

A Boston Globe editorial
Friday, October 21, 2005
Too soft on drunk drivers


Surely there has never been a more clueless group of legislators than those traipsing around together right now in Spain and Portugal.

With mere weeks to go before the current legislative session is scheduled to wrap up, their timing is simply appalling....

Critical issues remain on the drawing boards, while action is halted so House lawmakers can sample tapas and sip sangria issues like health care, a supplemental budget (now sadly larded up with legislative pork) and a bill to curb witness intimidation.

We can only hope voters and potential political opponents are taking names. Lawmakers who put their vacation plans above their need to get the job done don't deserve to keep the job.

A Boston Herald editorial
Friday, October 21, 2005
Vacationing pols deserve firing


IMMEDIATE INCOME TAX ROLLBACK:  [Sen. Brian] Lees amendment [for an] immediate income tax rollback was REJECTED.

TIERED INCOME TAX ROLLBACK:  [Sen. Brian] Lees amendment [for a] tiered income tax rollback was REJECTED.

State House News Service
Senate Session - Thursday, October 20, 2005
[Excerpt]


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

Over the top, around the bend, and over the edge. "The Best Legislature Money Can Buy" has now so distinguished itself that even the most blind among us can no longer fail to see most legislators for what they really are: craven, self-important, self-serving, and completely out-of-touch.  Out-of-touch with us, their alleged constituents, and out-of-touch with very reality itself.

So consumed with absolute power are they that they don't any more even realize the line they've collectively crossed, stomping into hubris with both feet, unconsciously giving "the middle-finger Beacon Hill salute" to the world at large, because it has become de rigueur, to them simply the way things are and ought to be.

Only two days ago I wrote:  "They simply don't care any more: they make the rules, and the rules are what they decree them to be at any given moment: thus there are none.  Absolute tyranny finally reigns on Beacon Hill.  Citizens are perceived as mere hosts for Democrats in the Legislature to feed off through ever-increasing revenue: we exist only to provide for them."

And if ever we needed a clear example, state Sen. Bob Hedlund (R-Weymouth) provided it in today's Boston Globe report:  "Hedlund cited a legislative rule on conference committees: 'Matters on which there exists no disagreement between the branches shall not be disturbed by the committee on conference.' Why, then, was the records provision taken out, he asked."

Because legislators intend rules to apply only to the "unwashed masses" which they control, certainly not to their lords- and ladyships who are above such petty contrivances as rules.

"Unprecedented at the State House for a day in October, this is the result of a Legislature which spent the months leading up to yesterday diddling time away, taking a summer off to vacation after accomplishing little but a constitutionally-mandated budget for this fiscal year just before its deadline," I further wrote.  Even I never dreamed that this cabal of self-anointed elites were already out the door on yet another vacation junket.  It just goes to show that one can never, ever be too cynical when considering "The Best Legislature Money Can Buy."

So oblivious have they become to blatant abuse of entrenched power and privilege that they no longer recognize wrong-doing for what it is, never mind fear its consequences.

On Wednesday I reported that state Rep. Paul Casey (D-Winchester) either lied to his constituent or was utterly clueless concerning the deluge of state revenue and the huge and growing "rainy day" fund.  As the former chairman of the old Taxation Committee, I find it hard to swallow that he could possibly be that clueless, so that leaves us with a liar who hoped he could put one over on his constituent and get away with it.

Today we have another such low-life creature to expose,  state Rep. Kevin Murphy (D-Lowell), supposed hero of the taxpayers. "We have surpluses and we need relief for the taxpayers," he told the Lowell Sun reporter. But where was his vote when it counted?

He voted for the "study" that gutted the Republican amendment to the supplemental budget which would have provided the final installment of our rollback. The only Democrat who voted with the pro-rollback Republicans against the "study" was Harriet Stanley (D-West Newbury), not Kevin Murphy.

But at least in the House, the Republicans got this telling roll call vote. Senate Republicans tried to amend another bill with the rollback yesterday, but failed to get a roll call.  We were told by them that demanding one was "a judgment call."  Judgment of what, whose butts in the club to cover?

Barbara is no longer able to contain her disgust, as you'll see if you tune in to NECN's "NewsNight with Jim Braude" this evening at 8:30.

Chip Ford


The Lowell Sun
Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Lawmakers skirt income tax fight
By Rebecca Deusser, Sun Statehouse Bureau


Lawmakers were set to approve a $300 million supplemental budget late last night, packed with cash for dozens of pet projects.

But legislators again avoided debate on cutting the state income-tax rate from 5.3 to 5 percent, by recommending the Department of Revenue conduct a study to determine its economic feasibility.

"I think people would rather have these programs than get an extra $34 a year," said state Rep. Daniel Bosley, D-North Adams, who thinks upcoming big-spending bills, such as health care and fuel assistance, will eat up much of the state's surplus.

Gov. Mitt Romney renewed his call to cut the tax rate after the DOR announced record tax revenues of $1.94 billion in September.

But House leaders have dodged the issue in recent weeks, much to the chagrin of Minority Leader state Rep. Bradley H. Jones Jr., R-North Reading.

"I'm not sure which defense they will run today, but it was made clear to me that we will not get an up-or-down vote on it," Jones told The Sun yesterday.

Jones said he was open to a compromise on the tax rollback, such as lowering the tax rate in increments to 5.2 then 5.1 percent.

Some local legislators say they support the tax rollback, while others believe it is too soon.

"We have been taxing the citizens of the Commonwealth to make up for the budget crisis, but now it appears the crisis is over," said state Rep. Kevin Murphy, D-Lowell. "We have surpluses and we need relief for the taxpayers."

In other business, the House unanimously adopted a bill to join a national criminal tracking compact to help law enforcement officials keep watch over about 250,000 people on parole or probation who cross state lines.

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The Boston Herald
Thursday, October 20, 2005

Vacation trumps OUI bill: Jet-setter guts law, hits Spain
By Maggie Mulvihill and Laura Crimaldi


A powerful Beacon Hill lawmaker who helped gut a highly touted anti-drunken-driving bill jetted off with colleagues for a European vacation yesterday as final debate on the measure began, to the disgust of victims' advocates.

Eugene O'Flaherty was among a half-dozen lawmakers who left for a week in Spain and Portugal as work continued on the measure called "Melanie's Bill" in honor of a 13-year-old girl who was killed by a repeat drunken driver.

"It is a black eye for the House," said a furious Ron Bersani, Melanie Powell's grandfather. "It is disrespectful to the victims, their families ... (a) slap in the face."

The House passed the weakened measure 114-to-22. It now goes to the Senate for approval.

O'Flaherty was the House Democratic chairman of the conference committee that worked to reconcile House and Senate versions of the bill. An attorney, he has close ties to the state's defense bar.

Lawmakers raced yesterday to complete work on the bill before O'Flaherty and a group of about 40 lawmakers and aides were to leave for Logan International Airport. When they couldn't complete the work, the vacationers left anyway.

The House did, however, remove a key provision embraced by anti-drunken driving advocates:

The original bill would have let prosecutors use prior drunken-driving convictions against defendants at sentencing. Following changes pushed by O'Flaherty and some peers, those histories cannot be introduced unless someone involved in the original case vouches for the conviction.

O'Flaherty (D-Chelsea), who could not be reached yesterday, joined Reps. Cory Atkins (D-Concord,) Christine E. Canavan (D-Brockton) and Lida D. Harkins (D-Needham) on the vacation.

"It is an absolute (expletive) outrage," said one House member working in his State House office yesterday. "We are ending the session on Nov. 16 and we have a pile of work to do. It has effectively shut down the House for next week."

With a number of lawmakers playing tourist, the House schedule for next week shows no formal sessions are scheduled.

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi said last night the schedule has been amended and that at least one, if not two, formal sessions would take place next week.

Asked whether the speaker approved of the timing of the trip, spokeswoman Kimberly Haberlin said:"The speaker believes that it is up to each individual member to make that determination for him- or herself."

As the bill moved toward the vote yesterday, Barbara Harrington, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said, "I don't like what I'm seeing."

The measure will force repeat drunken drivers when prior convictions can be established to use cars with Breathalyzers that can prevent drunks from driving.

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The Boston Globe
Thursday, October 20, 2005

Legislators' trip could delay work in House
By Frank Phillips and Michael Levenson, Globe Correspondent


With a backlog of major legislation pending, a half-dozen state legislators, including several key members of Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi's top leadership, left town last night on a 10-day trip to Spain and Portugal, essentially shutting down the House's ability to take up major business.

The Beacon Hill group -- which also includes a well-heeled State House lobbyist, the House clerk, and other staff members -- left from Logan Airport last night, bound for Lisbon by way of Paris, just as DiMasi was holding the House in session to deal with a highly contentious bill that would stiffen penalties for repeat drunk drivers. Among the vacationers was Representative Eugene O'Flaherty, the House chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a key negotiator on the legislation.

The European vacation was organized by Representative Lida E. Harkins, DiMasi's assistant majority leader, who said the trip was privately paid for by the individual travelers. She defended the vacation, saying the deadline imposed by the trip provided impetus to complete the deadlocked negotiations over the drunken-driving bill.

"People would like to get it done before we leave and we are working feverishly to get it completed," Harkins said in an interview as she headed to the airport shortly after 5 p.m. yesterday. "There are no substantive differences between either side.... I feel great."

Still, the trip stirred grumbling within the House ranks, where some members, who did not want to be quoted by name, felt the trip had come at the worst time. DiMasi has been criticized for his travel in recent months, leaving the perception that the House was frittering away time and not dealing with its heavy agenda as the end of the legislative session approaches, on Nov. 16. He has argued that the committees and their staffs are working diligently to move bills.

With this trip, "they've shut the House down," said one frustrated member. "It's stunning. Short of the budget, this is the busiest time of the year."

But another lawmaker pointed out that DiMasi had defused potential problems within the ranks this week by allowing members to stuff the $300 million supplemental budget with funding for their favorite home-town projects, from the dredging of local ponds and the construction of senior centers to a $500,000 bathhouse in East Boston and $75,000 for a statue of John F. Kennedy in Hyannis.

The Harkins-led trip was originally scheduled for the week after Labor Day, when the House had no formal sessions scheduled. But Harkins, a Needham Democrat, said a terrorist threat in Europe forced a postponement.

She said the trip will include some work when they meet with Portuguese legislators in Lisbon. The trek will take the Massachusetts lawmakers into Spain, including Madrid.

Other House members in the group include Representatives Gale Candaras, a Wilbraham Democrat, and Christine Canavan, a Brockton Democrat. A host of House staff are also on the trip, including the House clerk, Steven T. James, and several court officers. Family members are also on the group, which numbers about 40 people.

Joining them is a former state senator, Henri S. Rauschenbach, a Republican who is now a State House lobbyist representing many healthcare interests and hospitals. The House and Senate are expected to take up a major healthcare overhaul proposal before shutting down the session next month.

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Ode to Our Fair Lads and Ladies
by Barbara Anderson

Based on George Bernard Shaw's play "Pygmalion" (aka, the musical "My Fair Lady") and sung to the tune of "The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly on the Plain."

The pols in Spain vacation in the plain
their drunken clients drive and kill and maim.....
But they don't care, children beware!
Of the pain, of the pain...
Oh where're those blasted pols?
In Spain, In Spain!

A slew of bills are waiting for a vote
on the Hill, on the Hill
No time to work, just time to play
Until, until....

The foolish voters finally have their fill
And fire their Donkey asses on the Hill.

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The Boston Herald
Friday, October 21, 2005

Good day for drunks and junketing political skunks
By Howie Carr


It's not Melanie's bill anymore.

It's Cujo's bill now. Cujo's and Gino's, Cujo being Rep. Paul Kujawski, the habitual drunkard state rep who got a bad ice cube last year and pleaded out in return for having the open and gross lewdness charge broomed. And Gino, of course, the doltish thug from Chelsea who gutted the crackdown on drunk driving.

Toga! Toga! Toga!

Sure, the anti-drunk driving crowd says some good things survived the defense lawyers' sneak attack. But the heaviest provisions were left on the cutting-room floor. You still don't automatically lose your license for a year if you refuse the Breathalyzer. Let me tell you, that's a load off Cujo's mind, or what's left of it, not to mention Rep. Brian Dempsey, another bad drunk, from Haverhill. Thanks, Mr. Chairman O'Flaherty.

Eugene "Gino" O'Flaherty began his meteoric rise in the hackorama in 2000, after he hired a nice woman named Alexis. Alexis Finneran, the indicted ex-Speaker's niece.

And what happened Wednesday was a Finneran-esque deal. The wink and the nod, followed by a sellout to a wired special-interest group, ending with a mad dash to Logan to catch a flight to Europe 'til the heat dies down.

Gutting the bill was bad enough. But consider how it was done. Gino and a bunch of other payroll Charlies lammed out of the State House around 3:30 because they had to catch a plane to Spain.

The bill was filed shortly after 6 p.m. O'Flaherty didn't even vote on his own bill. He was in the air.

The rank-and-file (keyword: rank) don't care. They do what they're told. It used to be, getting bagged for OUI could cost you your seat, but not lately. If Cujo and Brian Dempsey can survive their arrests, why should the other reprobaters worry?

When Finneran went down last year, Gino preposterously considered himself a contender for the gavel. He had his own little crew, but when the chips were down, he threw in his hand. After Sal DiMasi took over, he demoted everyone in the O'Flaherty gang, except for Gino, who somehow retained his chairmanship. Hmmmmm.

One thing everyone agrees on. Gino is a hot-tempered moron. Lucky for him, he's such an inconsequential figure that Wednesday, he managed to slip through Terminal E and onto the flight past a photo stakeout. Let's see how he does getting back into the country in 10 days. Already bets are being made on Beacon Hill whether Gino can be goaded into throwing a punch at a cameraman.

Gino's had another iron in the fire all year, by the way. He's been the point man for the Archdiocese, bottling up the legislation to require the Church to open up its dodgy books. The Church is about to throw in the towel, but Friar Tuck can't be too pleased that his boy has fled the jurisdiction.

So where are they? Despite his water-carrying for the Mad Monk, I somehow doubt Gino's itinerary includes a pilgrimage to Fatima.

The other question is, how does this fit into the Democrats' strategy of demonizing Mitt Romney as a no-show governor? At least Mitt remains in the country. The other irony, of course, is that this latest disgrace occurred on the 375th anniversary of the Legislature. Everyone in the old gang showed up Billy Bulger, who took the Fifth; Tommy Finneran, who should have; and convicted felon Charlie Flaherty; not to mention a bunch of others whose mugshots you'd recognize in an instant. A fine time was had by all, and to top it all off, they gutted a bill that would have hurt that most special of special-interest groups, drunk drivers.

Toga! Toga! Toga!

Howie Carr's radio show can be heard weekday afternoons on WRKO AM 680, WHYN AM 560, WGAN AM 560, WEIM AM 1280, WXTK 95.1 FM and WTPO 107.7 FM.

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The Boston Herald
Friday, October 21, 2005

Senator defends taking OUI clients:
Creedon sees no conflict of interest
By Maggie Mulvihill


The top senator on the legislative committee that approved a weakened version of "Melanie's Law" was in court defending an accused drunken driver with a history of alcohol offenses as the clock was running out on time to finalize the bill this month.

Sen. Robert S. Creedon Jr. (D-Brockton) acknowledged yesterday he successfully obtained a not-guilty verdict before a Brockton District Court judge on Oct. 5 for his client, Craig A. Hirtle. This was at the height of negotiations over Melanie's Law within the conference committee Creedon co-chaired.

Hirtle, 34, of Brockton, was arrested by West Bridgewater police Feb. 27 after nearly colliding head on with a cruiser, according to a police report.

"As he spoke, I could smell an odor of liquor on his breath.... His words were slurred as he spoke," the arresting officer's report states. Hirtle failed two field sobriety tests and admitted he had been drinking, the report states.

"After he was handcuffed, he asked me several times to just drive him home. He made mention of several names of police officers and firefighters who he wanted me to call," the police report states.

Despite the officer's report, and Hirtle's prior guilty findings on alcohol-related offenses, Brockton District Court Judge James M. Sullivan found Hirtle not guilty.

Creedon denied a State House source's claim that the case caused him to miss key meetings on the proposed drunken driving bill. The bill is named after Melanie Powell, a 13-year-old Marshfield girl killed by a drunken driver.

"That is totally false. I'm always available," said Creedon. He also denied his work on the Hirtle case and other drunken driving cases, which he estimated make up about 15 to 20 percent of his practice, affected his ability to fairly handle the issue in the Legislature. He added he was in full support of tougher penalties for repeat drunken drivers.

Melanie Powell's grandfather, Ron Bersani, said yesterday he was troubled by Creedon's actions.

"We are bothered by any of the members of the Legislature defending drunk drivers and then voting on bills relative to drunk driving," Bersani said. "In my opinion, I don't think anyone who does that line of work should be voting on (the bill) because it creates an appearance of a conflict of interest."

The Senate last night voted 32-7 to approve the weakened version of Melanie's Law. Calling on Gov. Mitt Romney to veto the bill, Sen. Scott P. Brown (R-Wrentham) said, "The conference committee has undermined the spirit of the bill and has gone against the will of the people."

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The Boston Globe
Friday, October 21, 2005

Romney seeks restoration of tougher provisions
By Scott Helman, Globe Staff


Governor Mitt Romney criticized state lawmakers yesterday for weakening a bill designed to toughen drunken driving laws in Massachusetts, accusing defense lawyers in the Legislature of eliminating certain provisions at the behest of "special interests."

"I am disappointed that Melanie's Bill was watered down," Romney said in a statement after the Senate approved the measure without debate, 32-7. "While there are some worthwhile provisions in this legislation, I believe an opportunity was missed to get tough with repeat drunk drivers."

The bill is named for 13-year-old Melanie Powell of Marshfield, who was killed by a repeat drunk driver in 2003 as she walked along Route 139.

Earlier in the day, Romney told reporters that the House's passage of the bill Wednesday night reflected the will of defense lawyers, not what should be done to take repeat drunk drivers off the roads.

"The interests of lawyers who represent drunk drivers had a lot of sway over portions of the bill," he said.

Romney said he would send the bill back to the Legislature with amendments to restore some provisions that House and Senate negotiators stripped out.

One of the provisions taken out was a proposed change in state law to allow certified court records to be used in court proceedings to show a defendant's past drunken-driving convictions.

Romney will ask legislators to restore the provision, which has drawn a lot of attention from lawmakers and victims' families.

Both the House and Senate passed the bill overwhelmingly, an indication that if Romney were to veto a final version both chambers would have the votes to override.

The House passed the bill 114 to 22 Wednesday night after long, closed-door negotiations between House and Senate lawmakers.

They were forced to finish quickly: A key House member of the conference committee, Representative Eugene L. O'Flaherty of Chelsea, had to leave with several other lawmakers for a 10-day vacation in Spain and Portugal.

Yesterday, senators defended the bill, which would establish a series of new minimum mandatory sentences and a new crime of drunk driving with a child. It also would require repeat drunk drivers to use so-called interlock devices that would be used to test their breath for the presence of alcohol.

"The overwhelming part of what we referred to as Melanie's Bill has just been enacted by the Senate," said Senator Robert S. Creedon Jr., Democrat of Brockton, who helped craft the final legislation.

But Creedon acknowledged it was just a start.

"This is a good first step, but more steps must follow," he said.

Senator Steven A. Baddour, Democrat of Methuen, who also helped write the bill, said it accomplished much of what lawmakers set out to do.

"I'm disappointed we didn't get everything we wanted, but it has some very tough elements," Baddour said, citing the interlocking device measure as an example. "It's a bill that sends the right message."

Baddour said he hopes that Romney sends the bill back with amendments, including the provision that would allow prosecutors to use records, as opposed to witness evidence, which they currently have to rely on, to prove that a defendant has prior convictions.

Some lawmakers have raised a concern that the records provision could be unconstitutional, and the Senate passed a separate measure yesterday seeking an advisory ruling from the Supreme Judicial Court.

The question about whether using court records to prove prior convictions is constitutional centers on the right that defendants have under the law to confront evidence against them.

At issue is whether defendants would be able to adequately challenge what the court records say.

"We must overcome, somehow, that constitutional hurdle," said Creedon.

Senate Republicans voted against the bill yesterday, saying it didn't go far enough.

Bruce E. Tarr, Republican of Gloucester, wondered why, if the whole point of the effort is to go after repeat drunk drivers, the bill does not include the provision that would let prosecutors use court records to prove prior convictions.

"What are we saying?" he said.

Senator Robert L. Hedlund of Weymouth, who was on the conference committee that worked out the final version of the bill, said the court-records provision should have been in the final version because both the House and Senate included it when they first passed their respective versions of the legislation.

He said he hopes it eventually becomes law, but fears that in the meantime someone else will be killed by a repeat drunk driver.

"We are ... rolling out a shiny new vehicle for everyone to look at," Hedlund said. "There's only one problem: There's no engine."

Hedlund cited a legislative rule on conference committees: "Matters on which there exists no disagreement between the branches shall not be disturbed by the committee on conference." Why, then, was the records provision taken out, he asked.

Hedlund also took issue with how the final agreement was reached. He said he wasn't asked to participate in key discussions of the conference committee.

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.

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The Boston Globe
Friday, October 21, 2005

A Boston Globe editorial
Too soft on drunk drivers


There should be little excuse for a drunken driving conviction and none -- none whatever -- for a repeat offense.

Massachusetts lawmakers could make it clear that driving under the influence is a serious danger to public safety and will not be tolerated here. In particular, anyone with even a single conviction of operating under the influence should know that a second OUI offense would result in extremely harsh punishment and would therefore not get behind the wheel while drunk. Instead, the Legislature is sending a much softer message by backing away from meaningful reform, choosing to side with the criminal defense lawyers -- some of whom helped craft the ''compromise" bill this week.

Governor Romney deserves credit for saying yesterday that he will ask the Legislature to restore key provisions in the Senate version of the bill that were stripped out Wednesday before the measure was enacted in the House. One such provision would allow the use of court records of prior convictions in the sentencing phase after a person has been convicted again. This is standard practice with other crimes, but House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi is seeking an opinion from the Supreme Judicial Court on what he sees as a possible constitutional conflict. It would be better to pass the stronger law now and, in the unlikely event that someone perceives a conflict, let the law's constitutionality be challenged then.

This has not been DiMasi's finest hour. His speakership began with hopeful signs in January, with a new committee alignment promising greater participation by more members of the House. But the focus has not been steady. DiMasi himself has been criticized for spending too much time traveling out of state and playing golf. His version of healthcare reform -- this year's top priority -- has not been finalized with only weeks left in the session. And on Wednesday he waved good-bye to several members, including some from his leadership team, as they left during the session for a 10-day vacation in Portugal and Spain. Could they not go on vacation during the many periods the Legislature is in recess?

It is time for DiMasi to start wielding the gavel as effectively as he does the putter.

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The Boston Herald
Friday, October 21, 2005

A Boston Herald editorial
Vacationing pols deserve firing


Surely there has never been a more clueless group of legislators than those traipsing around together right now in Spain and Portugal.

With mere weeks to go before the current legislative session is scheduled to wrap up, their timing is simply appalling.

The ringleader, Rep. Lida Harkins (D-Needham), insisted the trip had originally been planned for a post-Labor Day break, but was postponed because of a terrorist threat in Europe (gosh, that one must have gotten by us). And heaven forbid she should reschedule after Nov. 16.

While it was Harkins who organized this vacation for the obviously overstressed lawmakers and House staffers, part of the blame must be borne by House Speaker Sal DiMasi himself. It's the speaker who has set an entirely too laid-back tone during his first year at the helm with his own busy travel schedule.

Someone needs to play the grownup in the Massachusetts House, and DiMasi has obviously abdicated that role. In doing so he has allowed Harkins, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Eugene O'Flaherty and the rest of the Camp Run-a-Muck bunch to embarrass the entire House.

Critical issues remain on the drawing boards, while action is halted so House lawmakers can sample tapas and sip sangria issues like health care, a supplemental budget (now sadly larded up with legislative pork) and a bill to curb witness intimidation.

We can only hope voters and potential political opponents are taking names. Lawmakers who put their vacation plans above their need to get the job done don't deserve to keep the job.

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