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Merrimack Valley

April 11, 2013

Ways and Means approves $33.8B state budget

Proposal, which includes photos on EBT cards, goes to house for debate

BOSTON — Welfare benefit cards would be emblazoned with the photograph of the person authorized to use them, as one of several reform proposals in a $33.8 billion state budget approved yesterday by the House Ways and Means Committee.

The Legislature shied away from putting photos on electronic benefit transfer cards last year when a review commission expressed concern about the cost. Gov. Deval Patrick has also indicated he opposes the idea.

But state Rep. Brian Dempsey, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said the House is prepared to make a strong push for the measure this time.

"EBT card trafficking is a big problem," said Dempsey, who unveiled the Ways and Means budget with Speaker Robert DeLeo yesterday. "We are committed to EBT reform and cutting down on fraud and abuse."

Another reform proposal in the Ways and Means package requires the Department of Early Education and Care to review licensed child-care facilities to make sure no sex offenders are living at the same address. The measure comes in the wake of a report from state Auditor Suzanne Bump that found that 119 sex offenders had addresses that matched the locations of 75 child-care providers.

Level II sex offenders, whose identities are only available now upon request at local police stations, would also be posted online, according to the Ways and Means plan.

In response to another crisis over evidence tampering at state drug evidence laboratories, the Ways and Means budget proposes $3 million to hire 43 short-term employees and $846,000 to build out the headquarters of the State Police drug lab in Maynard to address a backlog of testing samples.

The statewide spending proposal now heads to the full House for debate and then the Senate.

The plan calls for a 3.9 percent increase in spending and $500 million in new gas, cigarette and business taxes.

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