Democrats in the state Senate killed a Republican measure this afternoon that would have barred illegal immigrants from receiving state aid.
By a 32-6 vote, which fell mostly along party lines, senators voted instead for a more limited measure that would reinforce residency screening for those receiving welfare and unemployment benefits. Republicans called the measure a "poison pill" intended to thwart a vote on their more comprehensive measure.
"The federal government has totally failed in this regard," said Senator Richard Tisei, the Republican leader and candidate for lieutenant governor. As a result, he said, state governments around the nation have been debating further measures.
Democrats, who frequently mentioned the strong political passions generated by the issue, tried to cast their measure as one that would crack down on fraud, arguing that the checks required in the Republican bill would cost money to enforce.
"It reaffirms what we already do in the state to make sure we are using our tax dollars wisely," said Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Boston Democrat.
The vote and discussion was among the most contentious issues so far raised in the debate over the state budget, now taking place in the Senate. The budget includes hundreds of amendments, not all directly related to state spending.
On Tuesday Senate President Therese Murray said Republicans were targeting a problem that does not exist, because the state already checks applicants for public benefits using the federal Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements program, or SAVE.
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