(State House News Service) - HOUSE BUDGET CHIEF UNSURE IF STATE CAN AFFORD MEALS TAX HOLIDAY
With a House debate on a $130 million spending bill on tap for Wednesday, Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Brian Dempsey said he needed more information before he could take a position on a Republican-proposed state meals-tax holiday in March. "It's very tempting to embrace some of these proposals, but it comes at a cost and I'm not sure what that cost is at this point," the Haverhill Democrat said, noting a recent Department of Revenue report that suggested the August sales-tax holiday cost the state over $20 million in foregone revenue. House Republicans have offered an amendment to the budget bill with bipartisan support to give Bay State diners a reprieve from the state meals tax from March 18 through March 23. "I think we wanted to see more data, more numbers," Dempsey said. Dempsey also said the $27.6 million in the supplemental budget for various sheriffs' departments was expected back in July when the state budget was approved. "We knew when we passed the FY12 budget that we would need to come in mid-year and make some adjustment. They have a lot of strain in terms of their operations so we deal with that," Dempsey said. The state's jails and prisons have been plagued by issues of overcrowding in recent years, contributing to escalating costs to maintain correctional facilities. The budget also includes $35 million for adult day health programs and $21.2 million for low-income heating assistance that Dempsey said will supplement federal heating aid, but still falls short of the funding available last winter. "We felt that was a priority to come in and try to provide some supplement to that because of the cuts at the federal level," Dempsey said, referring the $132 million in federal LIHEAP funding for Massachusetts that falls about $50 million short of 2010 levels.
BILL CALLS FOR LIMITED NETWORK COVERAGE EXTENSION
Policy riders in a midyear spending bill would require limited-network health care plans to cover patients, including many children, undergoing treatment for long-term chronic conditions at specialty hospitals, after a 2010 law left nearly 100 families scrambling for coverage, according to legislative leaders. The supplemental budget bill scheduled for debate in the House on Wednesday requires providers to cover treatment not available in-network to an insured member undergoing an active course of treatment who is newly enrolled in a select or limited network plan but had been diagnosed and started treatment prior to the health care reforms. The changes would apply specifically to patients in treatment at specialty hospitals such as Children's Hospital or Dana Farber that might not be included in limited network or tiered coverage plans created under a law that passed at the end of the 2010 session. "We're trying to rectify that in terms of dealing with the insurers paying for those services," House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey said. Health Care Financing Committee Co-chairman Rep. Steve Walsh called the changes "narrow" to address the estimated 90 families who lost coverage after the new law passed when they were shifted into limited networks. "It's not a way to drive a truck through the tiering process," said Walsh, who added that tiered and limited networks have had some success at driving down health care costs. Walsh said he intends to offer three amendments during Wednesday's debate that would set a sunset date of July 31, 2013 on the limited network changes, ensure that patients diagnosed with chronic conditions such as cancer who might be in remission are also included with those receiving active treatment, and establish Division of Insurance patient disclosure requirements for limited network and tiered coverage plans. The sunset date next year, according to Walsh, would give patients at least two open enrollment periods to find an insurance plan that meets their needs.
ANDOVER REP, FAMILY MEMBERS PAY IN CAMPAIGN FINANCE CASE
Some of the $39,000 given to Rep. Paul Adams of Andover by his parents and brother in 2010 constituted excess campaign contributions, state regulators announced Tuesday, saying Adams has paid $1,000 to the state as part of a disposition agreement in the case. Adams' parents also paid $1,000 to the state and his brother $2,000, according to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. State laws limit individual contributions to a candidate's committee to $500 per year. According to OCPF, the agreement stems from $45,000 in loans and a $5,000 contribution Adams made to his committee in 2010 after he received $39,000 from his parents and brother, Ammon Adams, that year. According to OCPF, "Adams and his family members insist that the funds received in 2010 were not 'contributions' given for the purpose of influencing the candidate's election." But regulators concluded that Adams' campaign committee had failed to comply with laws prohibiting the disguising of the true source
of contributions and requiring accurate disclosure. As part of the resolution, Adams has also "forgiven the $45,000 liability owed to him personally from his political committee." According to OCPF, the agreement reflect consideration of "substantial gifts" given to Adams and his four siblings since at least 1996 by his parents, Steven and Lynette Adams.
HOUSE LEADERS AWAITING RESULTS OF PROBATION PROBE
Three members of Speaker Robert DeLeo's leadership team told the News Service on Tuesday that they're in wait-and-see mode as news of potential indictments in a Probation Department patronage scheme swept over Beacon Hill. Majority Leader Ronald Mariano and Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad both said they had no insight into who may be slapped with charges, and Haddad said she hadn't even seen the news of imminent indictments, which was reported by the Boston Globe on Tuesday morning. "I got up this morning and I read it like you and everyone else," Mariano said. "I don't know what the deal is. I don't know what the indictments are. I'm sure by the end of the day, there will be wild rumors." Rumors about potential targets of the investigation began making the rounds late last week, but prosecutors have so far declined comment. Rep. Louis Kafka (D-Stoughton) told the News Service that he was unaware of the potentially imminent indictments as of Tuesday morning. House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey told the News Service that ongoing speculation and the potential for indictments touching the Legislature would not serve as a distraction. "I think we have all worked hard over the last year to focus on the matters important to the Commonwealth and I think any distraction we've tried to just ignore and go forward and do our work so I think we \continue to stay focused on the work at hand," Dempsey said, emerging from a Democratic caucus on Tuesday where lawmakers discussed a $131 million budget bill scheduled for debate on Wednesday. Dempsey said the House has been able to tune out distractions in the past, alluding to last year's trial and conviction of former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi. "You've seen the successful legislative session last year, and there were some distractions then, so I think we continue to stay focused on the work," Dempsey said.
EXPERT CITES 'COMPLEX RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TURBINES AND ANNOYANCE"
There is no scientific evidence or medical studies to prove the existence of "wind turbine syndrome," but further study is needed to look at health impacts stemming from "annoyance" for residents who live near turbines, experts convened by state health and environmental officials said Tuesday afternoon after releasing their report. Panelists said they did not find any association between turbine noise and pain and stiffness, diabetes, high blood pressure, tinnitus, hearing impairments, cardiovascular disease and headaches and migraines. But "there is a very complex relationship between wind turbines and annoyance," said Susan Santos, a facilitator for the panel. "Annoyance" cannot be clinically defined, panelists said. There is some possibility that turbines lead to sleep disruption among those who "self-report" health problems, they said. Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell said DEP and the Department of Public Health formed the group of independent experts and scientists to look at questions raised by the public about the health effects of wind turbines. "We hope and expect this report will advance the public dialogue about the impact of wind turbines," Kimmell said during a conference call. He declined to say if the conclusions would have an impact on pending legislation to streamline the permitting process for land-based wind turbine projects, which remains stalled in committee. "The study will be an important part of the dialogue. It is too early to comment on how it relates to a particular piece of legislation or regulations," Kimmell said. Panelists said it was not their charge to decide or recommend state policies, but to look at the abundance of existing research and medical evidence to draw conclusions.
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