By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JULY 27, 2012….Gov. Deval Patrick on Friday afternoon signed legislation restricting certain purchases by recipients of public cash assistance benefits and vetoed a bill that would require vehicle registration applicants to show proof of legal residency.
Though the governor signed the EBT reform bill banning the use of public benefits for things like alcohol, pornography and firearms and said he supported most of the bill, he warned lawmakers that his administration would not enforce the ban in establishments where the technology does not exist to differentiate between acceptable and prohibited purchases.
“I sign this bill with the understanding and on due notice that this administration will not enforce what cannot be enforces with respect to the use of EBT cards,” Patrick wrote to the Legislature in his veto letter.
In response, Seth Gitell, a spokesman for House Speaker Robert DeLeo said, “We applaud the governor for signing the EBT reform legislation into law and expect him to fully enforce it.”
Supporters of the vehicle registration bill said it would prevent people in the country illegally from registering their cars without being in possession of a driver’s license, but Patrick called the bill “flawed” and in a letter to lawmakers said it was “hard to understand” how a non-resident owning a vehicle in Massachusetts was a threat to public safety.
“Without a legitimate public safety purpose, this bill appears to be aimed at using the RMV to identify and police undocumented people,” Patrick said.
The governor said the recent Supreme Court ruling on Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration law reaffirmed the importance of states “treading lightly” when trying to enforce federal immigration laws, and said the bill approved by the Legislature was “inappropriate.”
Patrick had until Saturday to act on the two proposals, which had been passed by the House and Senate as part of the fiscal 2013 budget, but were returned by the governor with amendments. Both branches rejected the governor’s amendments by veto-proof majorities.
Patrick said he had attempted to strike a “commonsense and balanced approach” to motor vehicle registration rules with his proposal returned to the Legislature requiring proof of residency in Massachusetts to register a vehicle, rather than “legal residency.”
A two thirds vote is required in both branches to override Patrick’s veto and legislative leaders will have to decide by early next week whether to attempt an override since formal sessions end for the year on Tuesday. An aide to DeLeo said a House override attempt would be undertaken early next week.
Sen. Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge) wrote earlier this month that it was “very likely” that the House and Senate would override a veto, adding, “While some advocates have decried these actions as ‘anti-immigrant’ the truth is they are pro-public safety.”
With regard to the cash assistance spending restrictions, Patrick had tried to narrow the scope of the proposal to focus on establishments where EBT spending would be banned, rather than on individual items that can be sold in a variety of stores.
The Patrick administration on Friday said that Massachusetts’ EB vendor Xerox made clear that there is no existing system to block the purchase of specific items, and neither the federal government nor other states appear to be moving in that direction.
Though the administration said the Department of Transitional Assistance would work with retailers and clients to notify them of the new restrictions, it would be up to law enforcement to make sure retailers comply with the law or face fines.
According to officials, since the implementation of the ban on alcohol, tobacco and Lottery purchases with public EBT benefits, no fines or charges have been issued against retailers or beneficiaries “proving the difficulty of rooting out fraud and abuse by focusing on purchase restrictions.”
The bill restricts the use of EBT cards for the purchase of alcohol, tobacco, Lottery tickets, jewelry, manicures and at liquor stores; casinos, strip clubs, adult bookstores or adult paraphernalia shops, firearms and ammunitions dealers, tattoo parlors, spas, bars and drinking establishments, and cruise ships.