Ayotte’s Opposition Deals Blow to Gun Control Amendment

Image: Official portrait of US Senator Kelly AYotte.

By Edward Donga
BU News Service

WASHINGTON – Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., dealt what turned out to be the fatal blow to a gun control proposal compromise in the Senate on Wednesday.

The so-called Manchin-Toomey amendment, sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., was struck down in a 54-46 vote. The amendment would have expanded the existing system of background checks for those seeking to purchase a firearm to include intrastate as well as interstate sales, along with all sales at gun shows.

Supporters of the Manchin-Toomey proposal were still scrambling to secure the 60-vote supermajority needed to move to a final vote on the measure when Ayotte released a statement saying that she would not support the plan.

“While steps must be taken to improve the existing background check system, I will not support the Manchin-Toomey legislation, which I believe would place unnecessary burdens on law-abiding gun owners and allow for potential overreach by the federal government into private gun sales,” said Ayotte.

Ayotte had previously been one of a handful of Republicans who had voted to allow gun control legislation to be debated on the Senate floor, fueling speculation that she might support the Manchin-Toomey amendment.

According to a running vote tally by the Washington Post, Ayotte and Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp – who represents the Republican-leaning state of North Dakota – Wednesday became the 41st and 42nd senators to announce their opposition, denying the Manchin-Toomey amendment the 60-vote supermajority needed to move ahead.

While the amendment would have required background checks on all firearm purchases made both at gun shows and online, it held an exemption for a person selling a firearm to a family, friend or neighbor as well as an exemption for temporary transfers of a firearm.

It also contained a provision that would have made it a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison to create a federal registry of gun owners, as well as another provision for a national commission to examine the causes of mass violence in the United States.

In her statement, Ayotte said she would support an alternative measure sponsored by Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

“There are responsible steps that can be taken to stop criminals and others who are already prohibited from possessing firearms under federal law from obtaining them,” Ayotte declared. “With those principles as a guide, I am cosponsoring the Protecting Communities and Preserving the Second Amendment Act, which includes needed reforms to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, addresses mental health gaps in the criminal justice system, and criminalizes gun trafficking and straw purchases.”

Given the connection between mental health and recent episodes of mass killings, Ayotte said she is co-sponsoring legislation to bolster mental health care.

“This bipartisan measure includes provisions of legislation I helped introduce that seek to improve mental health first aid training and increase the effectiveness of mental health care across the nation,” she said.

Three Bills Aim to Bar “Fracking”

Image: As the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to vote on gun control legislation in the coming weeks, one of Capitol Hill’s key players on the issue – Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. – already has staked out some positions in the debate. But he is awaiting more information before he makes up his mind on several key questions.

by Cole Chapman

BOSTON —Although Massachusetts is not known for petroleum exploration, two bills have been filed in the Legislature to pre-emptively ban hydraulic fracturing – a natural gas extraction process better known as “fracking.”

Rep. Denise Provost, D-Somerville, and Rep. Peter V. Kocot, D-Northampton, have co-sponsored one bill that would bar the exploitation of shale located deep beneath the ground for natural gas production.

Meanwhile, Rep. Sean Garballey, D–Arlington, has two bills filed regarding fracking. One, filed last year, would require disclosures about what chemicals are being used in the fracking process while the other is a ban similar to Provost’s.

Even though there is little interest in what geologists believe are meager pickings for petroleum in the state, and state regulation now bars the fracking process, both lawmakers are in earnest about their proposals.

“I’d love her support and she certainly has my support for her legislation but basically I think we all agree on the issue which is to protect the public health of our constituents,” said Garballey.

Fracking has become a polarizing topic over the past decade. The American Petroleum Institute touts it as a “game-changer” while environmentalist groups such as Environment Massachusetts say fracking would contaminate drinking water, dry up water reserves, and even cause minor earthquakes.

Anika James, a field associate for Environment Massachusetts, considers fracking a threat to the Connecticut River, the Mohawk Trail, the Quabbin Reservoir, “and our most picturesque farms and forests.”

Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping a highly pressurized liquid mixture of water and chemicals into underground shale layers to release natural gas deposits.

According to the Petroleum Institute, fracking has already produced a surplus of natural gas in the U.S., generated $62 billion in government revenue and created 1.7 million jobs in 2012.

But the debate over jobs and revenue versus the environment is largely a conceptual one in Massachusetts, which only has one potential source of petroleum in an area known as the Hartford Basin.

Springfield sits within the borders of the basin, which extends 34 miles north out of Connecticut. The basin is about 15 miles wide where it crosses the Massachusetts border before thinning out to a close near the northern part of the state.

Fracking became an issue in Massachusetts when the U. S. Geological Survey released a two-page study in June assessing five underground shale areas along the East Coast. The study also identified a series of other basins, including the one in Massachusetts, which were not assessed because of a lack of information.

VIDEO: Scott Brown is Defeated

BOSTON – Incumbent Senator Scott Brown lost a key Republican seat in the U.S. Senate won by Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

Brown admitted defeat, but supporters say this is not the last time we will see Brown on the political stage. BU News Service reporter Lindsey Reese has the story.