Legislature Ends without Welfare Reform Action
No Move on Teen Driving, Child Labor Laws
August 1, 2006

Boston -- State lawmakers ended the formal portion of their two-year session at midnight on Monday without taking final action to overhaul the state's welfare rules or several other anticipated proposals.

House and Senate lawmakers did not complete action on rules for teen drivers, reporting of child sex abuse crimes and amending child labor laws. They did, however, vote to give the state's 250,000 minimum wage workers a raise from $6.75 an hour.

Lawmakers can convene for informal sessions until January to deal with items many consider non-controversial and some that were not completed Monday.

Items not dealt with in this session can be brought up next year.

The day started with the House and Senate quickly voting to restore spending Gov. Mitt Romney had cut from a wide range of proposals, including $31 million for the Rose Kennedy Greenway, the 27-acre ribbon of parks and development being built in Boston.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature later voted to override Romney's veto of a bill that raised the minimum wage to $8 an hour by 2008, the highest in the nation.

Romney, a Republican considering a run for president in 2008, had proposed increasing the rate to $7 an hour, starting in January 2007, and requiring the state to review the amount every two years based on the consumer price index and other data such as state unemployment, joblessness and minimum wage in competing states. Lawmakers rejected that.

"Between health care and the minimum wage, we've made Massachusetts the best state to live in for struggling working families," Carl Nilsson, campaign chairman for Neighbor To Neighbor, said after the votes.

But by 11 p.m., many big ticket items were still being worked out, including an overhaul of the state's welfare rules intended to protect some recipients from tougher work requirements while making sure federal funds keep flowing into the state.

Just before midnight, House and Senate leaders took up the measure, but ultimately never sent it to the governor's desk, anticipating it would be vetoed. It can be taken up next year.

The legislature's bill passed earlier this month would require more welfare recipients to work but, according to critics, not enough to meet federal requirements. The discrepancy could cost the state up to $56 million in federal penalties the first year, with increases in subsequent years.

Romney filed amendments to the bill last week that he said would bring Massachusetts in line with federal standards.

Massachusetts shifted to a welfare system requiring some participants to work in 1995. A year later, Congress overhauled the federal welfare law, making the work requirements in Massachusetts less strict that the federal ones.

For Massachusetts to receive the full amount of $469 million in federal welfare dollars, the state must put in $359 million for services and programs that strengthen families and help people become self-sufficient. Also, half of the welfare recipients required to work must be working. Only 32 percent of recipients required to work are working now.

Legislators on Monday were also were working on hammering out differences between legislation cracking down on sex offenders and easing the statute of limitations on reporting child sex abuse crimes; changing the rules for teen drivers; and updating child labor laws.

The legislation on sex abuse crimes would give childhood victims until they are 43 years old to report sexual crimes. Currently, the law gives victims 15 years to report a sex-abuse crime after the victim's 16th birthday.

The bill regulating teen driving would require teenagers to log more hours in behind-the-wheel training before they would be able to get their drivers' licenses, among other proposals.

The labor bill would allow civil penalties be imposed against violators of the child labor laws.


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