Mass. Casino Debate Turns To Lawmaker Corruption

Debate on opening Massachusetts to casino gambling was waylaid on the floor of the state senate this afternoon, when a legislative argument broke out over whether lawmakers should be barred for five years from taking a job with applicants for gaming licenses. New England Public Radio's Fred Bever reports.

The amendment was proposed by Marlborough Senator James Eldridge. He says the legislature's reputation has been tarred by corruption scandals involving individual lawmakers.

"It causes the public to think less well of elected officials of the Legislature in general. This would be a measure to take a stand for each one of us, to say that we stand up for the public integrity of this bill, whatever side you are on, in making sure that if this does create economic activity, it's not benefiting any one of us individually," Eldridge said.

He drew quick rebukes from several senators, who argued that the Legislature is dominated by hard-working citizens of integrity. Amherst Senator Stanley Rosenberg said a legal prohibition against lawmakers pursuing legitimate work after leaving office would actually contribute to the unfair public perception of rampant corruption on Beacon Hill.

"It suggest that we are fundamentally lacking in integrity. This is one of the more significant challenges that we have as current elected officials, is to change the perception, without throwing our colleagues and ourselves and government and democracy, under the bus," Rosenberg said.

The debate came to an abrupt halt when Senate President Therese Murray called for a Democratic caucus in her office. An hour later, floor action resumed, and the senate quickly passed a revised version of the amendment — without a roll call. the new amendment would bar lawmakers from working for a casino or slot parlor applicant for only a year. Senate debate on the overall casino bill is expected to continue into next week.