SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

June 5, 2014

Anderson: Checking in on Massachusetts: gun controls, welfare and more

Barbara Anderson
The Salem News

---- — Spring has finally arrived in Massachusetts: The birds are singing; I need a break from national and international insanity. Time to again check in on Massachusetts.

This week, there was a hearing at the Statehouse on H.4121, Speaker DeLeo’s proposed gun legislation. A member of the Gun Owners Action League, I trust the analysis of GOAL’s chairman, Jim Wallace, who testified that his organization had hoped it could support the bill because it has some good provisions: addressing mental health issues, punishing criminals who commit carjacking and home invasions with firearms, and streamlining license renewals.

However, GOAL is disappointed that the issue of chiefs’ discretion has not been addressed and has actually been expanded to include FID cards. For years now, GOAL has documented the many abuses of this clause, which essentially gives the 351 Massachusetts chiefs of police final say over who has civil rights in their own town, with no due process for the citizen.

In my town, the police chief seems to understand the Second Amendment, but citizens in some other Massachusetts communities aren’t so lucky.

Gov. Deval Patrick doesn’t think the bill goes far enough to stem the tide of illegal gun trafficking, but I don’t see what that has to do with most of us. However, I’m glad to hear that his administration understands some part of “illegal,” though it doesn’t seem inclined to stem the tide of illegal immigrants.

There’s just a short time left to get the gun bill right; the legislative session ends July 31. Other important issues remain in conference committee to be resolved before that, or held until after the election. One that should be done immediately is the welfare reform bill, with some provisions added by Rep. Shaunna O’Connell (R-Taunton) and her House supporters to address EBT card reform.

Supporters of the Tank the Gas Tax petition are now collecting the second round of signatures required to place it on the ballot; if you haven’t already signed it, go to that website to learn where they will be petitioning until the deadline of June 18.

I’d been very concerned about a provision in the Senate version of the Election Laws bill that would have made it even more difficult to win a ballot question in the future. Sen. Stan Rosenberg, long an opponent of the initiative petition process, had inserted language that would require the governor’s Secretary of Administration & Finance to write a paragraph with his opinion of a ballot question, to be inserted in the red voter information booklet provided to every household by the Secretary of State.

Not hard to imagine what would be written about a tax limitation petition of which a governor didn’t approve: “If this ballot question passes, civilization as we know it will end. Paying this costs taxpayers only a slice of pizza a day. This tax is an investment in whatever. And what about the children?”

In the Senate bill as written, the requirement for this paragraph wouldn’t take effect until next year, but I could imagine a change in date being inserted at the last minute, letting it apply to this year’s ballot questions. “If you repeal the annual automatic gas tax increase, roads will crumble. A bridge will fall on your head. Prove that it won’t.”

I hadn’t expected an assault on ballot questions in an Election Laws reform bill; was alerted by Sen. Bob Hedlund (R-Weymouth), who’d been appointed to the conference committee on the different House and Senate versions. I contacted House Ways & Means Chairman Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill), along with the House Minority Leader, Brad Jones (R-North Reading), hoping that the House Democratic leadership would join Republicans in rejecting the Senate language. Finally, I called Secretary of State Bill Galvin, asking for his help in protecting the initiative petition process.

Thanks to them all, the offending language was not included in the final bill, but with Sen. Rosenberg scheduled to become the next Senate president, it could be back someday. He’s also a major supporter of a constitutional amendment for a graduated income tax, so strategy on that issue is quietly being discussed now by various advocates around the commonwealth. Fortunately, constitutional amendments must be approved by voters, who’ve rejected the grad tax five times.

So far this year, the Legislature hasn’t passed anything too awful, not counting the $2 billion dollar increase in the state budget. I’m still waiting for the income tax rate to return to 5 percent, as the voters mandated 14 years ago; it’s presently 5.25 percent.

With inflation allegedly low (which we could argue about, but that would take us back to federal issues, where I’m not going today), Massachusetts could be run with less revenue if it focused on better management. A good manager would insist on EBT reform, oversee the Department of Children and Families, cease subsidizing illegal immigration, modernize treatment of the mentally ill, make the state infrastructure a priority, and stop education and health care in Massachusetts from being controlled by the massively incompetent federal government.

Darn, can’t stop thinking about federal issues. What? Obama released five dangerous Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay? Some crazy people want to impeach him? I need a vacation.

Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is president of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a Salem News columnist.