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State House Roundup: I Scream, You Scream

May 25, 2018 05:26AM ● By State House News
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON -- It was a week that saw a significant decision -- and dessert -- deferred.

Recap and analysis of the week in state governmentAt the close of last week, it looked like the University of Massachusetts Boston would meet its next chancellor this week. Instead, campus politics and a long-simmering feud between Columbia Point and UMass President Marty Meehan won out and the three finalists for the chancellorship decided they didn't want to work in the middle of that mess.

Meehan blamed the actions of the UMass Boston Faculty Council, a group that had publicly declared no confidence in Meehan and the trustees over the UMass Amherst acquisition of the now-defunct Mount Ida College, for the abrupt and fruitless end to a national search for a new campus leader.

The toxic situation at Columbia Point doesn't lend itself well to starting another chancellor search, Meehan decided. Instead, UMass Boston will have to live with Meehan's handpicked choice as interim chancellor: Katherine Newman.

"I think the major issue at UMass Boston right now is the relationship with President Meehan and the Board of Trustees is broken," Reyes Coll-Tellechea, a professor in the Latin American and Iberian Studies department, told the News Service this week. "We do not trust them, so maybe this person can repair that trust."

Several speakers from UMass Boston and its Faculty Council are expected to address a meeting of the UMass Trustees' Academic and Student Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

The Senate had UMass on its mind this week when all 38 senators went on record during budget debate in favor of requiring colleges or universities seeking to merge, close, acquire another institution or open a new branch to give advance notice to the Board of Higher Education.

Bleary-eyed senators and staffers put the finishing touches on a $41.49 billion budget in the wee small hours of Friday, just in time to take a quick nap, pack up the car and sit in bridge traffic on Route 3.

Over three days and three nights of debate, the Senate budget grew by $75.5 million as senators worked through some 1,200 amendments. The debate went in fits and starts, and President Harriette Chandler put her experience as a teacher at Worcester's North High School to use as she repeatedly had to bang the gavel and ask, tell, implore and sometimes beg everyone to be quiet and pay attention.

At one point Thursday afternoon, Chandler asked senators to keep their remarks brief so they could get through the 150+ amendments that remained. Instead, senators took to the podium to talk about the importance of the next five amendments, only to then withdraw them.

No matter the time, senators continued their parade to the podiums in Gardner Auditorium to tout their amendments, the pet projects they would fund and, of course, to pose for a picture that could be tweeted in an attempt to climb up the Senate's in-house social media rankings.

After 1 a.m. Friday, once the budget had been adopted unanimously and everyone had been thoroughly thanked, Chandler had one final announcement for her colleagues:

"Because of the lateness of the hour, there will not be an ice cream party as there usually has been in the past. Instead, we are meeting again on Thursday of next week and we will have the ice cream party after that. OK?"

House Democrats celebrated on Wednesday evening, after passing a controversial bill allowing a judge to take away someone's guns if they pose a threat to themselves or others.

The bill picked up steam on Beacon Hill in the wakes of mass shootings around the country this year, though it was fiercely opposed by the Gun Owners Action League and several House Republicans who argued that the bill missed its opportunity to focus on mental health as a cause of gun violence and suicide.

The "red flag" bill ultimately cleared the House 139-14, with two Democrats -- Reps. Colleen Garry of Dracut and Jonathan Zlotnik of Gardner -- joining 11 of 34 Republicans and one independent, Rep. Susannah Whipps, voting against the measure before House Speaker Bob DeLeo and bill sponsor Rep. Marjorie Decker celebrated with advocates in the speaker's chambers.

Passage of the "red flag" bill was a fairly safe bet, but DeLeo this week set the odds on legalizing sports betting in Massachusetts way back when he declared that it is likely too complex of an issue to handle in the two months left of formal sessions.

"I think that there are so many questions that have to be answered and I think that right now for us to be able to expect to do this within the last two months of session, I'm not saying we're not going to talk about it, we're going continue to try to come to some type of an answer yes or no, but what I'm saying is I think it would be very, very difficult," DeLeo said, dashing the hopes of bettors.

By the way: the Boston Celtics are 7-point underdogs as they try to topple LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on the road in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals and secure a trip to the NBA finals Friday night.

Outside the legislative chambers, Massachusetts electric companies and the Baker administration settled on a Danish investment firm-backed wind farm planned for waters 14 miles off the southern coast of Martha's Vineyard to fulfill the state's long-dreamed goal of adding offshore wind power to its energy mix.

If all goes according to plan, construction of Vineyard Wind's project will begin in 2019. The plan calls for as many as 100 turbines, each spaced at least eight-tenths of a mile apart, becoming operational by 2021.

Vineyard Wind projects that its wind farm will produce enough energy to power 450,000 homes and Gov. Charlie Baker touted it as the largest single procurement of offshore wind power by any state in the country and said it positions Massachusetts to become a hub for the offshore wind industry.

The judicial branch also got in on the newsmaking action this week when the Supreme Judicial Court took the rare step of publicly censuring a western Massachusetts judge and ordering his suspension after he admitted to having "an undisclosed sexual relationship" with a woman who worked on a team he oversaw.

Judge Thomas Estes, who shortly after the censure indicated he will resign effective June 15, "engaged in four sexual encounters with [a woman who worked with him] at her home and at least two sexual encounters with [the woman] in his lobby at the Eastern Hampshire Division of the District Court Department," the SJC said.

Had he not resigned, the SJC had ruled that Estes was to be indefinitely suspended without pay because his acts "severely diminished respect in the eyes of the public not only for this judge but also for the judiciary."
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