Beacon Hill Roll Call – Regular weekly report – Jan. 31, 2014

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THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on three roll calls from the week
of January 27-31. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.

$12.7 BILLION TRANSPORTATION BOND PACKAGE (H 3882)
House 151-0, without debate, approved and sent to the Senate an estimated $12.7 billion transportation borrowing bill that includes $300 million for local road and bridge repairs. Other provisions include $2.2 billion for the South Coast Rail and a section supported by former Gov. William Weld renaming Boston’s South Station The Governor Michael S. Dukakis Transportation Center at South Station.

Dozens of amendments costing hundreds of millions of dollars were also approved by the House without debate and without a roll call vote. These earmarks were proposed by individual representatives and were designed to fund projects in their districts. The projects are actually more of a “wish list”: The Patrick administration is required to adhere to the state’s annual bond borrowing cap and ultimately decides which projects are affordable and actually get funded.

Supporters said this will give communities their share of the $300 million they are anxiously waiting to receive. They noted the package also includes hundreds of millions of dollars for state roads and other important transportation projects.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Carl Sciortino Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes

MAKE MBTA NOTES AVAILABLE (H 3882)
House 29-126, voted strictly along party lines and rejected a Republican-sponsored amendment requiring the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) pension fund managers to make available to outside auditors all management’s discussion and analysis notes.

Amendment supporters said auditors have requested these notes for years but have never been given access to them. They cited the recent loss of $25 million placed with an assets management company that went bankrupt and argued the loss could have been prevented or at least discovered earlier.

Amendment opponents said the House last year approved tougher laws requiring the pension fund managers to hand over information. They argued this amendment was also poorly drafted and confusing.

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against it.)

Rep. Denise Provost No Rep. Carl Sciortino No Rep. Timothy Toomey No

CONTINUE SESSION AFTER 9 P.M. UP UNTIL MIDNIGHT
House 125-29, suspended rules to allow the House to meet beyond 9 p.m. and continue until midnight if necessary.

Supporters of rule suspension said it is important to remain in session to finish action on the very important transportation projects.

Opponents of rule suspension said it is irresponsible for the House to act on the budget late at night when taxpayers are asleep.

The House session continued until 10:45 p.m.

(A “Yes” vote is for allowing the session to continue beyond 9 p.m. A “No” vote is against it.)

Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Carl Sciortino Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

GAS LEAKS (H 3873) – The House gave initial approval to legislation that would require gas leaks to be repaired by the gas company in a time frame based on a three-tier classification system of dangerousness. Grade One leaks are most likely to cause an explosion and would have to be repaired immediately. Grade Two leaks are expected to create a hazard in the future and would have to be fixed within 15 months, while Grade Three leaks are non-hazardous and would have to be reevaluated every six months.

Another key provision requires gas companies to file major repair plans for aging infrastructure and pipes with the state and to apply for a rate increase from their customers to fund the repairs.

Supporters said the state’s gas delivery system is the second oldest in the nation and has 20,000 known leaks known to exist. They noted the system is in dire need of repairs in order to avoid gas leak tragedies such as recent ones that have caused death and destruction.

GOOD SAMARITAN LAW (S 1993) – The Senate approved a proposal that would protect off-duty firefighters and EMTs from liability when providing emergency care. The current “Good Samaritan” law only protects civilian bystanders who are not trained in emergency response.

Supporters said the bill is long overdue and has gained more support since the Boston Marathon, in which hundreds of off-duty personnel were running in the race and then responded immediately after the bombing. They noted that under current law, these firefighters and EMTs would have been liable if anything went wrong as a result of their efforts to provide care.

VACCINES (S 1971) – The House approved a Senate-approved bill that would create the Vaccine Purchase Trust Fund to fund the purchase, storage and distribution of routine childhood immunizations. Other provisions include establishing a Vaccine Purchase Advisory Council to recommend the types of vaccines that should be purchased; requiring the Public Health Commissioner to annually assess health insurers and self-insured entities for the amount needed for the fund; and requiring insurers to provide benefits for immunizations on each health care plan and exempting these immunizations from copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles. Further approval is necessary in both branches before the measure goes to the governor for his signature.

RAISE REGISTRY OF MOTOR VEHICLES’ FEES – It looks like motor vehicle fees paid by millions of drivers may be going up soon. That means drivers would be paying more for things perhaps including vehicle inspections, registration renewal and license renewals. The topic was discussed at last week’s meeting of Transportation Department officials, who were discussing ways to close a projected $55 million budget gap for fiscal 2015.

OFFICIAL GROUNDHOG (H 2864) – The House gave initial approval to a bill making Ms. G., the popular groundhog at the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Drumlin Farm, the official groundhog of Massachusetts. Ms. G. is the Bay State counterpart to Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil. The measure also requires that the popular groundhog be used as a mechanism to educate elementary school children on the importance of meteorology.

The bill was filed by Rep. Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley) on behalf of elementary school students at the Hunnewell School in Wellesley. Many of these types of bills are filed by legislators on behalf of classes of students as part of an exercise for youngsters to learn about the legislative process.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“I think anybody who voted for it ought to stand up and stand tall. This is an investment in the safety of our roads and the future of public transit and to not do that is irresponsible. I don’t make any apologies for the vote I cast last year and I’m happy to go before the voters and defend it.”

Rep. Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington), on the likely question on the 2014 ballot asking voters if they want to repeal the recent law that provides for automatic hikes in the gas tax by tying future increases to the Consumer Price Index.

“I don’t know how one stands tall when one has taken a vote never to stand tall again, but to forever let a tax automatically increase rather than ever vote for another gas tax increase. Cowards do not stand tall, cowards cringe from accountability.”

Barbara Anderson, President of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

“Without any new taxes or fees.”

House Speaker Robert DeLeo describing the fiscal 2015 state budget the House will approve in April.

“It’s nearly four months now since it’s (the Health Connector insurance signup website) been officially and completely dysfunctional. And now we know that the Administration was warned of this impending calamity as early as last July. If there has not been a conspiracy of silence in leveling with the public about what’s gone wrong and how it will be fixed, our responsible state officials, including Gov. Patrick, are all doing a fine imitation of one.”

John McDonough, former state representative and current professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

“The folks who are worried about the website, yeah, it’s concerning, but the website is not the main event and I’ve said that over and over again. People are not going to fall through any crack. They’re going to be covered if what it takes to work around failings of our private vendor is to have people sit on folks’ front stoops with a clipboard and make sure they’re signed up.”

Gov. Deval Patrick’s response.

HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION? Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time that the House and Senate were in session each week. Many legislators say that legislative sessions are only one aspect of the Legislature’s job and that a lot of important work is done outside of the House and Senate chambers. They note that their jobs also involve committee work, research, constituent work and other matters that are important to their districts. Critics say that the Legislature does not meet regularly or long enough to debate and vote in public view on the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been filed. They note that the infrequency and brief length of sessions are misguided and lead to irresponsible late night sessions and a mad rush to act on dozens of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of an annual session.

During the week of January 27-31, the House met for a total of eight hours and 32 minutes and the Senate met for a total of two hours and 48 minutes.

Mon. January 27 House 11:08 a.m. to 11:49 a.m.
Senate 11:04 a.m. to 11:53 a.m.

Tues. January 28 House 11:06 a.m. to 3:52 p.m.
Senate 6:33 p.m. to 8:11 p.m.

Wed. January 29 House 11:00 a.m. to 10:45 p.m.
No Senate session

Thurs. January 30 House 11:06 a.m. to 1:46 p.m.
Senate 1:03 p.m. to 1:26 p.m.

Fri. January 31 No House session
No Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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