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May 5, 2003

House votes to restore cuts for deaf , blind

From:, MA  - May 5, 2003

By Ken Maguire, Associated Press, 5/5/2003 18:51

BOSTON (AP) The House restored funding for disability agencies, veterans services, and domestic violence prevention Monday on the first day of debate on hundreds of amendments to their proposed $22.5 billion budget.

House lawmakers also gave tentative approval to a Republican proposal to sell naming rights for state parks before breaking for dinner. The victory may be fleeting, however. Democrats called for the measure to be reconsidered after a dinner break.

''I wouldn't be surprised,'' if the naming rights vote is reversed, said House Minority Leader Rep. Brad Jones, R-North Reading.

The measure would direct the Department of Environmental Management to develop guidelines for the sale of naming rights for state forests and parks. The department would provide a report and recommendations to the Legislature by November.

In all, $3.3 million in proposed cuts were restored to the budget.

Legislators voted unanimously to raise $1.7 million to restore proposed cuts to the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, and the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

The Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, which provides assisted living and employment assistance for severely disabled adults, would get back $754,500, which still leaves it slightly under this year's budget.

House leaders did not indicate what would be cut to make room for the $3.3 million in restored spending.

However, the House voted Friday to create a series of new fines to raise about $4 million a year. Those funds were intended, lawmakers said, to restore money cut from rape crisis centers and battered women's shelters.

On Monday, lawmakers voted to restore $1.1 million for shelters and support services for women and children at risk of domestic violence.

They also restored $474,000 for veterans services, about $312,000 of which would go to the Soldier's Home in Chelsea.

Amendments regarding disability agencies, social services and economic development were planned Monday. There were more than 1,000 amendments filed and debate was scheduled to continue all week.

Despite a $3 billion fiscal 2004 deficit and massive cuts, House lawmakers on Monday still were able to earmark funds for their home districts.

Rep. Eugene O'Flaherty, D-Boston, got $200,000 allocated for Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission services in Charlestown. O'Flaherty, who did not return a call for comment, is chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a top lieutenant of House Speaker Tom Finneran.

Rep. Marie St. Fleur, D-Boston, chairwoman of the Education Committee, secured nearly $349,000 for Casa Esperanza, a residential substance abuse treatment program in her district.

''The money is going to keep the program going,'' said Nigel Simon, a spokesman for St. Fleur. ''It helps families.''

The funding is the same as last year's appropriation, he said.

''It's not like we took the money from anywhere else,'' he said. ''We just said 'we're going to do what we did last year.'''

Rep. John Rogers, D-Norwood, included $300,000 in the original House budget for the Summerhill House in Norwood to provide assistance to young families. Rogers, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, is the top budget writer in the House.

''When you single out a particular program, it always raises the concern of whether all districts are on an even playing field,'' said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts. ''There's more than enough good causes to go around.''

© Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company