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Bay State lawmakers missed key vote

On the final major vote before Congress took its 10-day Columbus holiday recess, House Republican leaders pushed through a bill that would promote construction of oil refineries by easing the environmental review process.

An initial 210-212 vote defeating the measure -- a rare victory for the Democrats -- did not stand as Speaker Dennis Hastert and his top lieutenants kept the roll call open an extra 40 minutes. They ended up convincing two of their members to switch and passed it by a mirror-image vote of 212-210.

Six Republicans and six Democrats missed the vote. Three of those Democrats were from Massachusetts. And the three who were absent -- Representatives William D. Delahunt of Quincy, Richard Neal of Springfield, and John Olver of Amherst -- have the lowest voting percentages of the state's 10-member House delegation.

Delahunt's 86.5 percent voting rate also ranks near the bottom in the entire 435-member chamber. An Associated Press review of all 520 House roll call votes so far this year found the congressman has missed entire days on the floor, as he did Oct. 7, the day of the refinery vote, and March 17, St. Patrick's Day.

Among the six members with worse records is Hastert, who does not vote except for the most extreme circumstances. One of those occasions was the refinery vote.

Delahunt, a member of the House International Relations Committee, missed the refinery vote because he was traveling in Mexico, his staff said at the time. By contrast, Representative James McGovern, a Worcester Democrat, has the delegation's best voting record, 99 percent, as measured by a Democratic vote-tracking service. McGovern lives in Washington full-time.

Voting is a fundamental part of being a congressman. Votes are most frequently held between Tuesdays and Thursdays and during designated weeks between congressional recesses, allowing members large blocks of time to work in their districts and engage in official and personal travel.

All votes -- including absentees -- are automatically logged by computer. Overall, Delahunt has made 450 of the 520 roll-call votes.

The AP review also showed Delahunt has cut corners, missing the first and last votes of the day, and, as he did on July 29 and Sept. 6, the first and last votes bracketing Congress's monthlong summer recess.

Delahunt's spokesman, Steve Schwadron, did not return repeated calls from the AP seeking comment, including one yesterday.

Olver joined Delahunt in missing all the House votes on Oct. 6 and Oct. 7, and he, too, has missed the first or final votes of a congressional session. Overall, he has made 488 of 520 votes, for a voting rate of 93.8 percent.

A spokeswoman said Olver missed the refinery vote because it came on a day when the House initially had not been scheduled to hold votes. In the absence of votes, the congressman scheduled a personal trip. ''When the House changed its schedule, he decided not to forgo his plans," said spokeswoman Nicole Letourneau.

Another bloc of missed votes came just after Labor Day, when Olver was treated for a brain infection, which he disclosed in a statement at the time.

Neal also missed all the votes on Oct. 7, the day of the refinery vote, after leaving the chamber following an 8:43 p.m. vote the prior evening. Two more votes followed. Overall, he has made 487 of 520 votes, for a voting rate of 93.6 percent.

In response to an inquiry by the AP, his spokesman said Neal attended a funeral that morning, as well as the investiture of a college president in Chicopee later.

Most of the other votes Neal missed came on Mondays, when he teaches a class at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

''You try and balance your commitments in the district with your obligations in Washington, but there are conflicts and every member has to decide how to best use their time," said Neal's spokesman, William Tranghese.

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