GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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January 1, 2013

State lawmakers grapple with 11th-hour issues

BOSTON — With public attention focused on Washington and fiscal cliff talks over imminent spending cuts and tax increases, the Massachusetts Legislature remained in session on New Year’s Eve, with lawmakers cutting deals on bills and steering legislation to Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk.

Both branches gaveled in holiday eve sessions at 11 a.m. Monday and the sessions continued past 2:30 p.m.

By late Monday afternoon, lawmakers had sent to Patrick bills dealing with retirement benefits and retirement system finances, behavioral analysts, access to epinephrine in schools, the definition of intellectual disabilities, stranger-originated life insurance, flu immunizations for children, and commuter shuttle parking facilities.

Most lawmakers have opted against attending the end-of-year sessions, leaving the decision-making to Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo. Lobbyists, however, have kept up a strong presence at the sessions, keenly aware of the push by legislative leaders to advance bills of local and statewide importance.

Recorded votes are not allowed during informal sessions, nor are debates. Bills are advanced on voice votes, often following private talks among lawmakers and stakeholders. Any member can block a bill from advancing although most bills that surface for action are quickly approved.

Asked which bills and issues were in play during a break in Monday’s session, Senate Minority Leader and Gloucester Republican Bruce Tarr spoke to the cryptic nature of informal sessions.

“That’s a good question,” he said.

Tarr said lawmakers on Monday had been discussing dam safety and seawall legislation, labor rates paid to auto body repair workers and state board and commission appointments aimed at ensuring an odd number of members.

The House on Monday gave final approval to a bill aimed at protecting lakes and ponds from aquatic nuisances. Other bills on the move in the House Monday would expand the authority of local tree wardens, affect insurance surcharges, and require health plans for state employees that cover chemotherapy to also provide patients coverage for oral cancer medications.

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