Seniors disrupt State House budget talks, deliver policy demands
April 24, 2012
By Kyle Cheney and Michael Norton, Mass Live
Senior citizens frustrated with the Legislature's handling of transportation and other public policy issues disrupted House budget deliberations Tuesday, prompting House leaders to declare a recess and instruct court officers to clear the public gallery of protesters.
"We got kicked out. I've never been kicked out of anyplace," Cathy Laroche, 70, of Fall River told the News Service while standing outside the gallery with her sisters, Ruth Grant, 76, and Claire Karl, 75.
The protest began shortly after 3 p.m. with House Speaker Robert DeLeo presiding. As protesters began to express themselves, Rep. Paul Donato (D-Medford) took the gavel and asked them “respectfully” to quiet down. When they didn’t, Donato quickly declared a recess, after which court officers swarmed the gallery, shouting at the protesters, including some in wheelchairs, and directing them to the exits.
As lawmakers resumed work on the budget, protesters outside the gallery warned of life-threatening consequences of pending fare hikes on the MBTA. Assembled by the Massachusetts Senior Action Council and the T Riders Union, the noisy but swift protest was the tensest moment of largely staid budget deliberations that began Monday and have primarily unfolded behind closed doors.
“It’s an emergency situation for people with disabilities and seniors because they’re facing fare hikes that could endanger their living situation,” said John Robinson, a Somerville resident and member of Senior Action Council. Robinson said seniors and disabled residents might be forced to choose between paying for rides to work or their medical appointments and putting food on their table.
As they were ejected, protesters serenaded lawmakers with a rendition of “God Bless America” and then resumed chanting outside the House chamber, yelling “Banks got bailed out. We got sold out.” The Senior Action Council’s slogan, according to the group’s web site is, “Don’t just take it. Take charge!”
Protesters were equipped with a list of budget priorities assembled by the council. The priorities include investing in public transportation and blocking planned service reductions, ending the waiting list for home care services, restoring a program intended to help seniors pay for prescription drugs, and raising revenues and taxes.
“Massachusetts is facing a nearly $1.5 billion budget deficit yet the services and programs that help keep our communities strong are needed now more than ever,” according to the council. “We must take a balanced approach to the fiscal crisis and raise additional revenue so that we can maintain the services we need and value. We support tax reforms that will raise substantial new revenue while holding down increases for low and middle income families.”