Tensions rise as Senate debates casino amendments
September 28, 2011
Tempers erupted on the second day of the casino debate as senators argued over an amendment proposed by a local lawmaker that would prohibit legislators from working for a casino within five years of leaving office.
After some heated exchanges, Senate leaders went into recess. They returned and – without discussion – quickly voted to shorten the ban to one year.
“We need to make it clear that this is a bill for the commonwealth of Massachusetts and not for the legislators,” Sen. James Eldridge, D-Acton, said before the vote.
Eldridge, who proposed the five-year restriction, was met with strong opposition from fellow Democrats Sen. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre, Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, and Sen. Gale Candaras, D-Wilbraham.
“I’ve worked here for 34 years, and 98 percent of the people I’ve worked with have been honest people,” said Brewer, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
Directing his growing anger at Eldridge, he repeated himself, his voice getting louder as he stressed each word.
“To have the implication, to have the implication, to have the implication that we are not people of intelligence, integrity and commitment, I resent and reject that implication,” he said.
Eldridge assured Brewer that his amendment was not meant to call into question the integrity of fellow legislators.
“We have to recognize that there is cynicism among the electorate,” he said. “This is a legitimate step we can take towards more transparency. The problem, I think, is perception.”
Rosenberg stressed his own consistency in voting for bills that promote transparency.
“When we take actions that are driven by the perception and not the reality, we contribute to the cynicism,” he said. “If we ourselves stand up and say that the only way to protect integrity is to prevent us from doing something, we lose our integrity.”
Candaras also opposed the amendment, saying it adds to the trouble legislators face when moving into the private sector.
“What industry is next?” she said. “If we work with green technologies, can we not work with green technologies for five years? Where does it end? We have the strictest ethics laws in the United States of America.”
Senate President Teresa Murray called a recess to allow Democrats to caucus. When they returned, Murray announced that the amendment had been redrafted and, with no explanation of the new draft, began the vote.
The amendment passed 36-1, with Eldridge, Brewer, Candaras and Rosenberg all voting for the amendment and Sen. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, dissenting.
Murray’s office later sent out a press release explaining that the redraft reduced the ban on casino jobs for legislators to one year from the original five years.
After the vote, Sen. Robert Hedlund, R-Weymouth, questioned the procedures but was overruled by Murray, who said the roll call was already ordered on the amendment.
Hedlund argued that the roll call had been taken on the amendment but not on the redraft. After a short discussion, the redrafted amendment remained passed and the Senate went on to other amendments, including another of Eldridge’s that would have required casinos to provide health insurance. That amendment failed.