Eldridge amendment sparks contentious casino debate
BOSTON — A local lawmaker’s push to create a cooling-off period before legislators can be employed by the casino industry led to a heated argument on the Senate floor Tuesday.
In the second day of Senate debate on a bill that would legalize casino gambling in Massachusetts, Sen. Jamie Eldridge proposed an amendment that would have prohibited legislators from getting a job with any gambling business for five years after leaving office.
Eldridge, the Acton Democrat, who represents Shirley, said this measure is crucial to prevent any appearance of conflict of interest, but some senators argued that lawmakers would take advantage of their position if no restrictions were in place, leading to increased cynicism among voters.
“One of the problems we have as legislators is to improve the perception of us without throwing ourselves and our colleagues and the government and democracy under the bus,” said Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst.
Eldridge said a cooling-off period would keep the public from thinking legislators sought to profit from the legalization of casinos.
“This is an economic development bill for the people of the commonwealth,” he said. “This is not an economic development bill for legislators.”
Some senators said that although they support the idea of a cooling-off period, they took offense at Eldridge’s reasoning.
“To have an implication that we are not people of intelligence, integrity and commitment troubles me deeply,” said Sen. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Sen. Gale Candaras, D-Wilbraham, dismissed Eldridge’s amendment as “just plain wrong-thinking,” though she later voted in favor of a modified version of the amendment.
Eldridge said the problem he was looking to solve was not a lack of integrity within the Legislature, but a lack of public faith.
“I know that each of us works hard each and every day, but the problem is the perception,” he said.
After about 20 minutes of passionate debate, Senate President Therese Murray called for a closed Democratic caucus, in which the limit on legislators taking gambling-industry jobs was reduced to one year from the original five years.
The redrafted amendment passed on a roll-call vote of 36-1, with Sen. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, voting against it. Changes to the amendment were not read before the vote.
The Senate rejected three other Eldridge amendments, including one that would have created a similar cooling-off period for gaming-commission members and one that would have required casinos to provide their employees with health-care benefits.
Debate on the gambling bill will resume Tuesday.