Massachusetts House, Senate to meet to draft final state budget proposal
BOSTON >> House and Senate negotiators will likely begin meeting next week to draft a final state budget proposal after the Senate gave final approval to a $39.5 billion spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1.
Senate leaders said the budget, approved unanimously late Thursday after three days of debate over hundreds of amendments, invests heavily in education and local aid, and funnels millions into the state's opioid abuse crisis.
The budget "reinforces our commitment to education at every level and provides our children, families and communities with the tools they need to overcome adversity, adapt to economic uncertainty and remain strong," said Sen. Karen Spilka, an Ashland Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.
Attached to the Senate plan is a number of outside sections, or riders, including one that would bring the state into compliance with REAL ID, a federal program that requires residents to provide documented proof of legal U.S. residency before obtaining driver's licenses and other identification cards.
The measure will have to be reconciled with a more restrictive version of REAL ID approved earlier in the House.
The Senate budget also includes a provision that would require large retailers to phase out the use of plastic bags. Supporters of the amendment say plastic bags are harmful to the environment, but a group representing retailers say banning them would add costs for consumers.
Another amendment passed during debate seeks to delay for at least one year a plan by the state to create a colony of endangered timber rattlesnakes on an uninhabited Quabbin Reservoir island. Residents have expressed concerns that the venomous snakes could escape from the island and attack hikers or hunters.
It was not immediately clear if the House would agree to the Senate riders.
The budget includes $4.6 billion in aid to school districts, a $116 million increase that, like the House, would increase per-pupil state aid by at least $55.
It also provides more than $223 million for the beleaguered Department of Children and Families to hire an additional 100 social workers and 125 social worker technicians.
Erin Bradley, executive director of the Children's League of Massachusetts, praised senators for recognizing the needs of vulnerable children.
"We will be working to ensure that the important initiatives related to child well-being and safety, access to community services through Family Resource Centers, and increased independence and funding for the Office of the Child Advocate do not lose momentum as the budget goes into conference," Bradley said in a statement.
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