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Mass. Senate Votes To Keep Taunton State Hospital Open

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts senators voted on Thursday to give a reprieve to a psychiatric hospital that Gov. Deval Patrick had planned to close as they made progress toward voting on the Senate's nearly $32.3 billion budget proposal.

The state Senate passed 55 of 250 budget amendments they discussed Wednesday and resumed debate on the remaining proposals Thursday. They recessed shortly before 11:30 p.m. and will continue discussions Friday morning. It's unclear when the chamber will vote on the bill.

Sen. Marc Pacheco said no one ever gets exactly what they want in the budget.

The Taunton Democrat pointed to the amendment that would keep the Taunton State Hospital open by maintaining 72 beds. The proposal passed, despite efforts by Gov. Deval Patrick and the state's House of Representatives to close the over 150-year-old facility.

"Though it's not everything I would like, we now have a proposal I can support," Pacheco said.

In January, the Patrick administration announced it was closing the hospital, saying it was antiquated and not cost effective. The House and governor have suggested moving most of its patients to a new state hospital opening in Worcester.

The Senate's original budget plan calls for one-time revenues and some spending cuts to close a projected $1.4 billion gap between spending and revenues in the next fiscal year, and would tap the state's reserve fund, commonly known as the "rainy day" fund, for $290 million.

During the debate, senators passed a proposal to provide $1 million in new funding for the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity Inc. grant program — a voluntary education initiative that brings inner-city children to suburban school districts.

They also approved an amendment sending $4 million to community colleges to help them create a system that makes it easier for graduates to transfer credits to four-year schools.

Despite this, Republicans raised concerns over the financial impact some amendments would have on the bill.

"The dollars and cents in this budget are very, very tight," said Sen. Michael Knapik, R-Westfield.

Other measures attached to the bill include an amendment that allowing schools to allocate funding to implement suicide and violence prevention efforts for gay and lesbian students and a proposal that would create a "pretrial diversion program" to educate and deter first-time offenders caught soliciting or engaging in prostitution.

Meanwhile, an $11.3 million proposal to reimburse cities and towns for providing school transportation for non-resident homeless children did not pass, despite support from multiple senators. The proposal, which would have funded a school transportation mandate, was included in the House of Representatives' budget proposal.

Additionally, Senate put aside an effort to expand the state's bottle deposit law to include plastic water bottles and other types of non-carbonated beverage containers, voting to study the issue further.

They rejected a similar amendment from Newton Democrat Cynthia Creem calling to ban the sale of plastic water bottles unless they were made subject to the deposit law.

The House's plan included no new taxes and called for a larger withdrawal of $400 million from the rainy day fund.

Once the Senate completes its work, a six-member conference committee will be appointed to iron out differences between the chamber and the House of Representatives, which passed its version of the budget last month.

Before it can be signed into law, the final version of the state's budget must be approved a final time by both chambers and sent to the Democratic governor.

The current fiscal year ends June 30.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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