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Disappointing year for local legislators - The Sun Chronicle : Local News

Disappointing year for local legislators

With 2013 session nearly over, reviews have been mixed

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Posted: Tuesday, November 26, 2013 12:00 am

BOSTON - With the 2013 legislative session all but over, Attleboro area legislators are giving mixed reviews on the highs and lows of the year - from the passage-followed-by-repeal of the tech tax to a move toward a higher minimum wage.

But if there is one thing they all agree upon, it is that more needed to be done.

"We actually accomplished some things, but there's a lot left on the table," said Rep. Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro.

The Legislature wrapped up business for the year last Wednesday.

It will return to work in January, facing the task of crafting another state budget and following up on unresolved issues, including the melding of House and Senate bills on changes in the welfare system and additional benefits for veterans.

"There really wasn't much in the way of accomplishment," said Rep. Jay Barrows, R-Mansfield. "We didn't get welfare reform, we didn't get the Valour Act II to a conference committee. If there was any success, it would be the technology tax issue."

The repeal of the technology tax on software services, which overwhelmingly passed both chambers as a way to support transportation funding, was also the highlight of the session for Poirier.

"That went through in a flash, with very little input from the industry. We kept saying 'You can't do that, this is the sweet spot of our economic industry.' And, it was repealed, how amazing," she said.

Poirier said although it worked out in the end, the initial passage of the bill showed a weakness in the legislative process.

"A lot of legislators don't have a business background, and if you've never worked in the business world and know what's entailed, you have no knowledge," she said.

State Sen. Richard Ross, R-Wrentham, had a busy session, in part because he is only one of four Republicans in the Senate sharing a multitude of committee duties.

"My life is a very busy life because I'm in a minority party," Ross said.

Ross listed personal accomplishments, such as offering amendments to the state budget and a bill that would require utility company officials to bear more accountability after major storms by providing updates three times a day, instead of "haphazardly whenever they think they should."

Ross also filed a bill that would allow people to purchase and carry pepper spray without a license.

He cited last month's murder of a Danvers school teacher as an example where the availability of pepper spray without a license could have saved a life.

"Were she able to have pepper spray discreetly in her purse, she might have been able to thwart off the attack," he said. "I think about my daughters. If I were to arm them with pepper spray, they would have to get a license, and that's ridiculous."

Freshman Rep. Paul Heroux, D-Attleboro, said he filed 23 bills in 11 months.

"A lot of my job is filing legislation for people when it comes up. Whatever is important to constituents is important to me," he said.

One of Heroux's bills was a $38 million bond amendment that passed out of the House unanimously. The amendment, which provides funds for Internet infrastructure at approximately 600 schools, must still pass the Senate and win the governor's approval.

Heroux said he is "90 percent confident" the amendment will succeed.

Heroux is also optimistic about the minimum wage hike passed last week by the Senate.

"The minimum wage will be raised - there's already the momentum and support. But will it have automatic raises in 2014, in 2015 and 2016? That's something that needs to be debated," he said.

Heroux gave his experience as a freshman legislator mixed reviews.

"It's like anything else," he said. "You have things you're really excited about, and there are things that you're disappointed with."

"One of the things I've found disappointing is quality of reports that are presented to the House from special interest groups, state agencies, think tanks," he said.

"I constantly ask (in committee hearings) for higher standards of empirical evidence because what they almost always give is anecdotal evidence - oh I observed this, I observed this. That's not evidence - that's subject to bias."

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