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Families Fight For Nursing Care As House Approves Pay Raise For Legislative Leaders

BOSTON (CBS/AP) - A major pay-hike package for top legislative leaders and judges cleared a key hurdle on Wednesday.

Just last month, lawmakers approved a hike of more than four percent that was tied to changes in the state's median household income.

But this round of pay raises is for the folks who run the show, 40 percent hikes for the Speaker of the House and Senate President and large increases for committee chairs. And the roughly $18 million price tag has some wondering about the priorities on display.

The legislature usually moves slowly. But this bill moved through the house with lightning speed to correct a longstanding inequity, argued this pay hike backer.

"Changes relative to legislative stipends have not occurred for many decades," said Rep. Brian Dempsey.

While the bill does not change the current $62,547 annual base pay for members of the Legislature, it would increase — dramatically in some cases — additional stipends paid to Democratic and Republican leaders, and to the chairs of key legislative committees.

The annual salary for House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg would climb about $45,000 to more than $142,000 a year, for example, while the heads of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committee would get a raise of $35,000. The bill would boost Baker's annual salary from $151,800 to $185,000, and for the first time would provide the governor a $65,000 housing allowance.

As the house deliberated, Angela Ortiz, the mother of a child with severe medical needs, was also in a rush to get relief for herself and more than 900 similar families across the state from an acute shortage of in-home nursing care, caused in part by state reimbursement rates that haven't kept up with the times.

"We need this problem to be solved immediately," said Angela Ortiz of the Massachusetts Pediatric Nursing Care Campaign. "Right now there's no more skilled nurses to go around anymore, because there hasn't been a reimbursement rate increase for ten years."

Actually, the state did authorize a one dollar hike on the eve of a State House rally, a lackluster response that leaves Ortiz baffled.

"It is so bad, that you can talk to families across the state who are authorized to receive continuous skilled nursing and you hear their stories - you want to say to yourself how can this be happening in Massachusetts?" Ortiz asks.

In the House, some questioned the prioritizing of pay raises.

"The folks outside this building that pay all those taxes are suffering, having a hard time putting food on their tables, a hard time paying for health care and housing, and they cannot fathom some of the percentages of the increases in these raises," said Rep. Shaunna O'Connell.

But to no avail.

The final vote was 115 to 44, enough to override a possible veto from Gov. Charlie Baker once the raises clear the Senate on Thursday.

To end the nursing crisis, $16 million must be appropriated by the legislature and budgeted by the governor. Ortiz vows her group will keep the pressure on.

(TM and © Copyright 2017 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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