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State House News Service Weekly Roundup: Busy Week on Beacon Hill

Recap and analysis of the week in state government.

Deval Patrick. Photo credit: Patch file photo.
Deval Patrick. Photo credit: Patch file photo.
By Matt Murphy/State House News Service

The one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon colored a week marked by solemn remembrances and tributes and featuring a move by Gov. Deval Patrick to burn his seal on the state's highest court.

In between the memorial ceremonies, vice presidential visits, documentary premieres and security trial runs for Monday's running of the marathon, several candidates for higher office took pains to separate themselves from their rivals and the pains of not being on the ballot for re-election reared up.

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The Legislature got in on marathon week festivities by approving a bill signed by the governor on Friday that would create specialty "Boston Strong" license plates with the proceeds from plate sales going to the One Fund to benefit victims of the bombings.

The Senate also sprung a bill on Thursday that would offer free tuition at a state university or community college for the children of first responders killed in the line of duty, paying homage not just to MIT Officer Sean Collier killed a year ago by the suspected Marathon bombers but also to the Boston firefighters and Plymouth police officer who died while doing their jobs in recent weeks.

Add to that a $12.7 billion long-term transportation borrowing bill and an effort by the House to improve access to services for those with autism, and lawmakers had a productive week for themselves before the school-vacation lull that started early on Good Friday.

The transportation bond bill, signed Friday by Patrick, frees up the Department of Transportation to move ahead with about 130 projects that had been on hold, and whether it feels like it or not, spring construction season is already underway.

Also included in the bill is money for major expansion projects like South Coast rail and the Green Line extension, and a measure to keep hope alive for supporters of a rail link between North and South stations that for now has taken a back seat to other, more popular transit expansions. That could all change with a new governor, who will soon control the purse strings.

A federal court judge dealt Patrick a setback when she struck down the governor's attempt to use a public health emergency concerning opioid addiction to assert the state's right to ban the prescribing of a new, controversial painkiller Zohydro ER.

But the governor took the ruling in stride, suggesting he was inclined to move on rather than appeal as he called the Zohydro ban just one piece of the puzzle to fighting drug addiction.

The salve of rising job numbers and an unemployment rate that fell to 6.3 percent in March also helped take the sting off as the governor took a step on another front toward cementing his fingerprints on the judiciary for years to come.

Faced with opportunity of appointing his second chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, Patrick turned to Justice Ralph Gants, who was installed on the court just five years ago by this same governor. Patrick nominated Gants to succeed Chief Justice Roderick Ireland after July 25 when Ireland plans to step down as he nears the mandatory retirement age of 70.

By elevating a sitting member of the court to chief justice, Patrick will get to make one more appointment to the SJC if Gants is confirmed by the Governor's Council, giving him five of seven justices on the high court who have Patrick to thank for their jobs.

On the campaign trail, former prosecutor and attorney general candidate Maura Healey put separation between herself and rival Warren Tolman when she came out strongly against casinos and in favor of a ballot question that would put an end to casinos in Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, Treasurer Steve Grossman staged a debate with gun owners' advocate Jim Wallace on the steps of the State House to highlight his support for Patrick's long-standing effort to limit gun purchases to one per month and - more to his point - Attorney General Martha Coakley's opposition to the idea. Coakley took a pass on the Thursday debate, leaving the podium Grossman set up for her empty. A Coakley spokesman called it a stunt.

Coakley's campaign was busy trying to soften the blow of a legal agreement the candidate reached with state campaign finance regulators to resolve findings that her federal campaign committee - leftover from the 2009 U.S. Senate run - improperly spent money on her behalf for state political activities. Despite the campaign's best efforts to describe the violations as "bookkeeping errors," the MassGOP's call for a more forthright apology to the voters suggested it could be an issue with more than a one-day shelf-life.

Patrick and Senate President Therese Murray both felt the effects on their staff of a looming end-date to their time in office. First, Murray's chief of staff Jerome Smith took the leap from the State House to City Hall where he will take over the role of director of neighborhood services for Mayor Marty Walsh. With a number of senior advisors already gone from her office, Murray tapped Senate counsel Alice Moore to take over as chief of staff.

The governor's deputy press secretary Bonnie McGilpin is also on the way out, preparing to take over as full-time press secretary for Coakley's gubernatorial campaign. McGilpin's last day with the governor is Marathon Monday.

While the governor and Senate president were shedding staff, House Speaker Robert DeLeo was adding members. Four new representatives joined the House this week, representing the last crop of special election winners to take their oaths, with one straggler soon to join the ranks as well.

Reps. Dan Hunt of Dorchester, Dan Ryan of Charlestown, RoseLee Vincent of Revere, and John Velis of Westfield were assigned seats in the House, and Evandro Carvalho, of Dorchester, should follow close behind after the uncontested general election onApril 29 to fill the seat vacated when the House kicked Carlos Henriquez out of office.

After that, no más. DeLeo has stopped setting specials and will leave five other empty seats unfilled until January.

One of those seats used to belong to Jason Lewis, a Winchester Democrat who officially joined the Senate this week, bringing that branch back to full strength.

STORY OF THE WEEK: The Legislature put finishing touches on a decade's worth of transportation projects, some of which might actually get built.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "We've authorized $300 million because we believe that's a reasonable level and it did not escape our attention that Deval Patrick will only be governor for half of the next fiscal year. It may be that the next governor is inclined to make full use of the $300 million authorization." - Rep. William Straus, the House chair of the transportation, on the Legislature's decision about how to fund the Chapter 90 road program.
MoonBeamWatcher April 22, 2014 at 01:12 PM
And the TRUTH about the abduction of the CT child from school and her family and care providers? WHO in their RIGHT MIND WOULD SUPPORT MA, CPS? Sir
Tyler Jozefowicz April 25, 2014 at 09:33 AM
We like governor Duval Patrick (D). Who is 'we' you might add? The vast majority of the non-grouchie voters of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts who elected him and then re-elected him again because he is doing a good, positive job.
Myron Dittmer April 25, 2014 at 11:20 AM
Tell that to the 130 plus families who have lost children in the DCF Dept and Justina Pellitier family!

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