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With Baker's veto, immigrant driver's license bill back in Legislature's hands

Signs for I-90, and  I-93 with detours, in Boston, Massachusetts in 2013.
Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/formulanone
Signs for I-90, and I-93 with detours, in Boston, Massachusetts in 2013.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has vetoed a bill that would allow immigrants without legal status to get driver's licenses. But the legislature gets the final word.

Supporters have the votes to override a veto from Baker, but he did it anyways. The governor said, in part, that the bill could offer a pathway for voter fraud. Matt Murphy of the State House News Service walks us through the issues.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: The governor wasted little time vetoing this bill once it reached his desk, less than 24 hours later on Friday, sending it back to the legislature with a veto.

And the governor knows that the votes are there to override him. The House and Senate leaders made sure of that before they brought it to the floor. But the governor, in his letter to the Legislature, raising a number of concerns. One, being that he does not think that the Registry of Motor Vehicles has the expertise or the capability to verify the types of foreign identification documents that the Legislature delineated that will allow these immigrants without legal status to get a license.

And then, the voter fraud claim that the governor is making. He's concerned because these licenses will look exactly like a standard driver's license given to residents of Massachusetts and citizens of the United States, that people could register to vote and show up at local town halls and cast their ballots.

Democrats have dismissed this, including Secretary of State Bill Galvin, who says there's nothing to this claim. And, in their defense, they point to the fact that there are already groups of people — like green card holders — who can currently get the standard Massachusetts driver's license but aren't eligible to vote. And that has not led to voter fraud that we know of.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: And what's the timeline for overriding this veto?

Well, the Legislature will be off this week. They're not planning any major votes. House Speaker Ron Mariano saying that when they meet next on June 8th, he plans to bring this up for an override vote. And I would expect the Senate to follow soon after, as soon as they meet, if not that day, then in the coming days.

The Massachusetts Senate passed their version of the state's budget last week. That $49 billion price tag is about the same as a version passed by the state House. But there are differences to be worked out by a conference committee. What are some of the main sticking points there?

Yeah, well, there are certainly different spending priorities in these bills. We know that the Senate, for instance, put in a lot of additional money for access to abortion and reproductive health services.

The House has a different approach to spending on early child care, putting in a significant amount of money to increase salaries for early education providers. And then there are the policy sections that the Senate added to this bill during their debate last week, things like a ban on nondisclosure agreements in both the executive and legislative branches of state government. This is something that the Senate has tried to do in the past, and it's gone nowhere in the House. That will have to be negotiated.

The Senate also taking a major step towards protecting abortion providers, passing a form of a shield law, should providers in Massachusetts find themselves the target of lawsuits from other states where abortion gets restricted in light of the impending decision from the Supreme Court. The details are going to have to be negotiated with the House, but there could be a lot of agreement here in principle on some of these topics. They're just going to have to work through the details.

And finally, time is ticking down on that legislative calendar. House Speaker Ron Mariano addressed a business group last week. He said his chamber is putting together a tax relief package that's expected by the end of July. Are there other measures that the House or maybe the Senate are likely to move on now that the big lifting with the budget is more or less complete?

Yeah, the budget in a number of pieces remain in what we call conference committees, these groups of six House and Senate lawmakers to negotiate final packages. In addition to the budget, now we're watching for election reforms. We're watching for energy and offshore wind legislation to come out of a conference committee. And there are several other major pieces in these groups.

But in addition to tax relief, which will get a lot of the attention in the coming weeks as they try to get something done before the end of the session, the House would perhaps act on mental health legislation that the Senate has considered. There is an early childhood education bill that a committee just produced that would reform some of the rules around early childhood education and care. Senate President Karen Spilka and others looking for action on that.

And then there is now this new issue of gun control and whether or not the House and the Senate want to do something more around gun control following the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, with some pushing for a ban on the manufacturing of assault weapons here in Massachusetts.

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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