BOSTON (AP) – Massachusetts lawmakers take their oath of office for the new legislative session Wednesday and immediately face a slew of woes, from budget gaps and soaring health care costs to the contentious question of casino gambling.
In the 160-member House, Democratic Speaker Robert DeLeo will have to contend with a reinvigorated Republican minority that doubled its numbers in the last election to more than 30 members.
WBZ News Radio’s Bernice Corpuz reports.
“I’m in awe of the responsibility,” Rep.-elect Ryan Fattman, a Republican from Sutton, said as he posed for pictures outside the House chamber with family and friends.
Fattman said that, driving into the Statehouse, he was thinking about who he was and why people voted for him and “never letting those things change.”
Rep.-elect Jerry Parisella, D-Beverly, said: “After a year of knocking on thousands of doors, the reality of being sworn in today is a great feeling.”
In the 40-member Senate, Republicans lost a seat, dwindling their number to just four.
Gov. Deval Patrick, who will be sworn in Thursday to a second term, has already laid out parts of his agenda, saying he’ll push to rein in health care costs, create more jobs and curb youth violence.
Before the swearing-in ceremony, House and Senate Democrats and Republicans planned to elect their leaders. Democrats were expected to re-elect DeLeo, of Winthrop, as speaker and Plymouth Sen. Therese Murray as senate president.
House Republicans were expected to re-elect North Reading Rep. Brad Jones as minority leader. Sen. Bruce Tarr of Gloucester was expected to be tapped by his fellow Republicans to be the new Senate minority leader.
DeLeo said he was ready to work with all new House lawmakers.
“They are coming in with maybe new ideas, and I’m looking forward to that spirit of debate with the new members,” he said.
Jones said the growing number of House Republicans will give the party some breathing room to follow debate and push their agenda. He said the GOP also may try reaching across the aisle to form coalitions with more moderate Democrats.
“You had some Democrats who lost their seats in the last election, and for Democrats who didn’t lose their seats, that makes all of them a little more anxious,” he said.
One bill where Republicans hope to pick up Democratic support is designed to guarantee long prison terms for dangerous repeat offenders. The bill is named after Melissa Gosule, a 27-year-old teacher who was raped and stabbed in 1999 by Michael Gentile, who had been convicted of 27 crimes but served just two years when he killed Gosule.
Republicans say the Dec. 26 killing of Woburn Police Officer John Maguire shows the need for tougher measures. Police say Maguire was shot by Dominic Cinelli, a career criminal paroled in 2008 despite having been sentenced to three life terms.
The biggest challenge facing lawmakers and the administration in 2011 is the state budget.
Patrick’s budget chief has said the state needs to trim $1.5 billion in spending to compensate for lagging tax collections, exploding costs in safety-net programs and dwindling federal stimulus dollars.
Another thorny issue is health care costs.
Democratic leaders say one way to ease health care spending is to gradually move away from a system that pays doctors and hospitals for the number of tests and procedures they deliver and instead rewards them for maintaining the overall health of their patients.
Murray and other top Democrats say a “global payment” system that mandates more coordination among a patient’s physicians, nurses and hospitals is key to preserving the state’s landmark 2006 health care law.
Casino gambling is also expected to resurface.
The casino issue blew up at the end of the Legislature’s formal session in July when DeLeo and Patrick came to loggerheads over the details of a bill to license casinos and allow slot machines at racetracks.
Patrick said if lawmakers want to try again, they should try to reach some consensus with him first.
“It’s not at the top of my list,” he said.
There will be one seat vacant on Tuesday.
The election to fill the 6th Worcester District seat in the House is still undecided. A re-count of votes in the Nov. 2 election placed Republican challenger Peter Durant of Spencer one vote ahead of Democratic incumbent Geraldo Alicea of Charlton.
DeLeo said he’ll wait until an ongoing legal battle is resolved before filling the seat.
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