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Massachusetts lawmakers to consider immigrant driver's license, sports betting legislation

A view looking down an uncongested city street in Massachusetts.
Dylan Passmore
Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/dylanpassmore
A view looking down an uncongested city street in Massachusetts.

This week, Massachusetts state senators plan to take up a bill that would give immigrants without legal status a pathway to get a state driver's license. House lawmakers passed a version of a similar bill earlier this year.

Reporter Matt Murphy from the State House News Service said it remains to be seen whether or not this measure has a ‘glide path' ahead.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: Senator Adam Gomez of Springfield seems to be confident that when this bill comes up on Thursday in the Senate, and if it passes as expected, it will have the support to withstand any potential veto from Gov. Charlie Baker.

That is the big question mark at this point. The House had the margin, had the numbers and support, to override any veto when it passed its version. The Senate, we know support has been strong in that branch in the past with co-sponsorships for legislation. We're expecting a similar vote this week.

And if that comes to pass, even the governor's objections over things like the potential for voter fraud or other concerns that he has raised with this bill, would be moot. It would take a bit of time, maybe, to get this over the finish line, but it does seem like Beacon Hill is moving in this direction despite an interesting Boston Globe and Suffolk University poll published in the Globe over the weekend, suggesting that the electorate is pretty evenly split over this issue.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Another long-debated proposal is sports gambling. Last week, Massachusetts senators passed their version of the bill that House lawmakers approved last summer. Originally, Democrat Eric Lesser of Longmeadow requested a roll call vote, but then he later withdrew that request and it passed by a voice vote. Matt, what happened there?

It's a very interesting development there. And we won't really know until we can get Senator Lesser to explain his thinking behind withdrawing that request. We have not been able to connect with him yet on that topic, but it's fairly routine for senators to request roll call votes on these major bills.

The decision to withdraw it most likely came after some negotiations and talks with Senate leadership. And there could be several things at play here. There's the margin of support for this bill, knowing that they're heading into negotiations with the House over the final look and structure of what sports betting would be in Massachusetts. So, perhaps the Senate leadership not wanting to show where the votes lie in that branch. There could also be political considerations for individual members that leadership maybe wanted to protect, who either a vote for or against, maybe in a tight race in a swing district, could have complicated an incumbent’s path towards reelection this fall. By taking this voice vote, it insulates them somewhat. But again, we won't really know until we can get Senator Lesser to explain what happened there.

Lawmakers in 32 states, including Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, have all worked out details on sports wagering before us. What are the details that House and Senate lawmakers in massachusetts still disagree about?

The structure, in terms of allowing this type of betting at the casinos and online platforms like DraftKings and FanDuel, that seems to be there, but there are still big differences, namely, college sports. Whether or not to allow it, and whether or not to allow full betting on college sports, or if you put some restrictions in, like some of those other states you mentioned have, such as no betting on college sports teams that play within the state, for instance. There's also differences on the tax rate. The Senate having a much higher tax rate in their bill than the House.

Some senators are suggesting that this could make Massachusetts a bit uncompetitive compared to some of its neighbors. That will need to be negotiated. And then there's the issue of advertising. The Senate putting restrictions into its bill that weren't in the House version that would prohibit advertising online sports betting from companies, like DraftKings, during sporting events. If you've watched a game, basketball, baseball, if you've watched any sports on TV, you've seen these ads. The Senate bill proposes to restrict those while the game is ongoing. And that could impact certain types of betting that these platforms like to offer, like in-game betting on real time actions in the game. So, those are three big things to look for.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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