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Area legislators claim 'per diem' payments for travel, meals, lodging

Three state senators who represent Hampshire County communities are among the nine who have claimed “per diem” travel, meals and lodging reimbursements this year through Sept. 4.

The nine senators have collected a total of $33,863.

And the four state representatives are among the 75 who received the reimbursements totaling $160,572.

Under state law, per diems are paid by the state to legislators beyond their regular salaries. The amount of the per diem varies and is based on the community where a legislator lives and its distance from the Statehouse. The payments range from $10 per day for those who reside in the Greater Boston area to $90 per day for some western Massachusetts legislators.

Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, received the most with $7,470 for 83 days. Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, collected $4,080 for 68 days, and Sen. Michael Knapik, R-Westfield, got $2,904 for 44 days.

Downing’s district includes Chesterfield, Cummington, Goshen, Huntington, Middlefield, Plainfield, Westhampton, Williamsburg and Worthington.

Knapik represents Easthampton and Southampton.

Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst, received $4,620 for 77 days; Rep. John Scibak, D-South hadley, $4,260 for 71 days; Rep. Peter Kocot , D-Northampton, $3,366 for 51 days; and Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, $2,368 for 32 days.

— Beacon Hill Roll Call

Democratic state representatives Peter Kocot of Northampton and Stephen Kulik of Worthington had perfect attendance records during the 2012 session through Aug. 31, missing none of the 194 roll call votes in the House.

Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst, missed three votes for 98.4 percent attendance, and Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, missed 12 (93.8 percent).

— Beacon Hill Roll Call

READ PROFICIENTLY BY THIRD GRADE (H 4243) — The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Deval Patrick a bill creating an Early Literacy Expert Panel to advise the state’s education department on strategies to have all students in the state reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

Supporters said 39 percent of the state’s third grade students read below their grade level. They argued that studies show 74 percent of students who have a difficult time with reading in third grade often continue to struggle throughout high school and are four times as likely to drop out before graduation.

— Beacon Hill Roll Call

IN-STATE TUITION RATES FOR ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS (H 2109) — The Education Committee in September recommended sending to a study committee a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to pay the reduced in-state tuition rates and fees at Massachusetts colleges and universities if they have attended a high school in Massachusetts for at least three years and have graduated or received the equivalent of a diploma.

The measure also would require these students to provide the college with an affidavit stating that they have filed or will file an application to become a citizen or permanent resident.

Supporters say many of these students were babies when they were brought here by their parents and had no choice about entering the country illegally. They note these students are currently required to pay out-of-state tuition rates that are up to five times higher than the in-state rate. Some argue many students are unable to afford the higher tuition and end up skipping college and working in low-paying, low-skill jobs rather than contributing to the economy in a more meaningful fashion.

Opponents say the state should not offer financial rewards to anyone who has broken the law and is in this country illegally. They note it is also important to point out that these students would not even be able to legally obtain a job in Massachusetts following their graduation from college. Some say it is outrageous to offer low tuition rates to these students while legal citizens from outside Massachusetts, including war veterans, are required to pay higher rates if they attend a Massachusetts state school.

Most measures shipped off to a study committee are never actually studied and are essentially defeated.

— Beacon Hill Roll Call

TRANSPORTING AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS (S 2118) — The House in September gave initial approval to a Senate-approved bill that would allow vehicles with farm plates to carry goods with a total weight up to the vehicle’s rated capacity.

Current law restricts the weight to 60,000 pounds, including the truck, even if the vehicle is rated to carry more. Supporters said the current restriction makes no sense and results in more use of fossil fuels and damage to the environment.

— Beacon Hill Roll Call

SELLING A CHILD (H 1308) — The House in August gave initial approval to a bill that would impose up to a five-year prison sentence on anyone who trades, purchases or sells a minor child.

The measure also increases from up to one year in prison to up to 2½ years in prison the penalty for concealing the death of a child. The measure also strikes a section of the current law that applies the concealment penalty only to a child “born out of wedlock.”

— Beacon Hill Roll Call

CHILD SEX ABUSE (H 4329) — The House, without debate and on a voice vote without a roll call, in July approved and sent to the Senate a bill increasing the statute of limitations during which a person can file a civil suit for child sexual abuse.

Current law allows victims to file a suit up until the age of 21 while the bill would increase the age to 43. Another key provision allows victims currently aged 43 and under, who were barred under current law from filing because they already turned 21, a year to file a suit retroactively.

Supporters say the extension will result in many more suits because many victims are unable to face the perpetrator or talk about the abuse until they are in their 30s and 40s.

Opponents say the extension is too long and argued that accurate memories fade after many years.

— Beacon Hill Roll Call

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