Senator Chang-Diaz’ Inspired Response on the EBT Card Debate

In this the second night of the State Senate budget debate, the Senate Republicans are sponsoring amendments to impose the kind of severe nanny-state restrictions on EBT card users that the Boston Herald and others have been pushing for the last couple of months.

Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz is turning the tables on this whole debate by proposing a further amendment that would impose these nanny-state restrictions not on recipients of cash assistance, but instead on recipients of state tax exemptions, deductions and credits , which typically are received not by poor individuals but instead by businesses, some of them wealthy businesses. In other words, a CEO who accepts state tax credits may not spend any money on gambling, pornography, cruises or “luxury bathing quarters” — that last one an apparent reference to the extravagances being indulged in at Liberty Mutual.

The Senate is in recess now to determine whether Chang-Diaz’ amendment would violate the “money bill” provision of State Constitution, an argument that Senator Tarr has raised. Under the “money bill” provision, only the House of Representatives may originate bills that transfer money or property from the people to the State. Chang Diaz’s amendment is not a money bill, it seems to me – her amendment does not propose to transfer money from the people to the state, it merely imposes conditions on those who accept the tax breaks the state offers. So I predict her amendment will be ruled to be in order.

Update: Senator Chang-Diaz withdrew her amendment, but all 3 of the EBT card amendments offered by the GOP were defeated pretty soundly. Now they’re debating a proposal by Sen. Jennifer Flanagan for additional protections (but less punitive ones) against the misuse of EBT cards. That amendment passed 38-0.

Game, set and match to the Dems on this one, and the best political theater of the Senate budget debate.

PS – it should be noted that in addition to Sen. Flanagan’s amendment, the Senate budget includes other measures against EBT card abuse, including restrictions on where the cards may be used, fees for replacement cards and penalties for food stamp trafficking. Sections 47-50.

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