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Wind power siting bill, casino bill are dying

BOSTON – Two major bills aimed at creating jobs are dying on the vine, as the two-year legislative session draws to a close.

One bill would make it easier to site wind power facilities, the other is the ongoing and controversial bill to expand gaming in Massachusetts.

Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray said yesterday he would like to see the Legislature approve the wind turbine siting bill that has cleared the House, and could still be approved during informal sessions in the Senate before the end of the year. But it will likely be well into next year before the casino bill is considered again.

The wind power siting bill, which would set up a new system for approving land-based wind turbines and wind farms, passed the House and has gotten a green light from Senate Democrats. Action on the bill in the Senate however has been held up for months by Senate Republicans.

Sen. Michael Knapick. R-Westfield, and Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, have blocked informal approval of the siting bill more than 20 times over the last several months, taking advantage of rules that allow a single member of the Senate to block action on a bill during informal sessions that are normally attended by only a handful of lawmakers.

Mr. Knapick said yesterday that opposition to the wind siting bill is twofold. Not only is wind power viewed by Republican opponents as “too costly and inefficient,” but the bill could force wind power towers into communities that do not want them, he said.

The legislation would establish local siting boards to review and approve land-based wind project permits and provide for appeals to a state administrative panel.

Mr. Murray was holding out hope that Republicans would drop their objections and allow the wind siting bill to move forward.

“The wind siting bill is something we would like to see moved and have been anxious to see that move because we think it provides job opportunities as well as opportunities for Massachusetts to continue to lead in clean energy and renewables,” Mr. Murray said.

If GOP opposition continues through next month, the wind bill would have to be re-filed in January to begin the legislative process all over again.

Likewise legislation to license three casinos and racinos at two racetracks that passed the House and Senate – but was rejected by Gov. Deval L. Patrick in August – is technically still alive, but now stands little chance of action before the end of the year.

Mr. Patrick sent the bill back to the Legislature after cutting out provisions for racetrack slot parlors, and the Legislature has not been willing to return to a full formal session to consider acting on the scaled-down legislation.

The day after winning re-election, the governor expressed hope that the Legislature would come back into a special full formal session to hold roll call votes on the casino bill in the form he returned to them.

But legislative leaders are insisting they will not return to formal sessions until January, even though the governor argued the gaming bill would create a major distraction to budget discussions and other issues facing lawmakers early next year.

A return to formal sessions to vote on the bill before the end of the year would require a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate, and gaming opponents have enough votes to block a call to a formal session.

Mr. Murray, serving as acting governor while Mr. Patrick is in California on vacation, said at the Statehouse yesterday there is little hope left any action will be taken on gaming before the legislation dies at the end of December.

“The governor did suggest there was an opportunity to come back this session. It doesn’t appear that that is likely, based on some of the comments from the House and Senate in terms of the gaming bill,” Mr. Murray said.

He said the issue will come back next year, but he is not expecting quick action as the administration will focus first on putting together a budget plan, which is due in late January.

“As sure as the calendar will turn in January, I am sure there will be a whole slew of bills filed that will have to do with gaming,” Mr. Murray said. “Our first focus right now is the budget and jobs, and the casino piece, I am sure, is something that will be part of the discussion in January.”

Even if filed in January, a casino bill could be subjected to lengthy committee reviews, public hearings and other procedures before coming to votes in either chamber later in the year.