SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET (H 3899, S 2010)
House 146-2, Senate 37-0, approved different versions of a supplemental budget to pay expenses for the current fiscal year. The price tag on the House version is estimated to be $154 million while the Senate package came in at $196 million. A conference committee will likely hammer out a compromise version. One of the major differences is that the Senate version does not include a freeze in unemployment insurance rates adopted by the House. The payments are made by employers and go into a fund that provides benefits to laid-off workers.
Supporters said the package is fiscally responsible and funds necessary programs including several that are running out of money.
Opponents said they cannot vote for this additional $196 million in spending that is on top of the massively excessive $34 billion state budget that was based on unnecessary tax hikes and provided insufficient local aid.
(A “Yes” vote is for the budget. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Carl Sciortino Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
GAS LEAKS (H 3873)
House 152-0, approved and sent to the Senate 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 5,700 miles of leak-prone distribution pipe and 20,000 known leaks. They noted the bill will help avoid gas leak tragedies, save lives and have a positive impact on the environment by reducing methane gas.
( A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Carl Sciortino Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes
FOSTER CARE MORATORIUM (S 2010)
Senate 32-5, approved an amendment that would impose a six-month temporary moratorium on the Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) placement in foster homes any individuals or family members convicted of a felony unless an investigation finds that the placement poses no threat to the safety of the child. The amendment also requires the state to examine all existing foster care placements to ensure each placement is appropriate and the child is safe.
Amendment supporters said current DCF policies do not automatically disqualify prospective foster parents who have been convicted of crimes such as soliciting sex from a minor, possessing “obscene pornographic” material and assault and battery and instead allows them to seek a waiver. They cited recent media reports that there are currently 552 homes caring for children where the guardian has a prior criminal conviction.
Amendment opponents said the state commissioned the Child Welfare League of America to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the state’s foster care system. They urged set comes out so that a comprehensive solution can be developed to solve the many problems at the troubled DCF.
(A “Yes” vote is for the moratorium. A “No” vote is against it.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen No
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
GOOD SAMARITAN LAW (S 1993) – The House approved a Senate-approved bill that would protect off-duty firefighters and EMTs from liability when providing emergency care. The current “Good Samaritan” law only protects civilian who are not trained in emergency response. Only final House and Senate approval are needed prior to the bill going to Gov. Deval Patrick for his signature.
Supporters said under current law, these firefighters and EMTs would be liable if anything went wrong as a result of their efforts to provide emergency care. The proposal has gained steam since the Boston Marathon bombing, in which hundreds of off-duty personnel were running in the race and then responded immediately after the bombing.
VACCINES (S 1971) – Gov. Patrick signed into law a measure that would create the Vaccine Purchase Trust Fund to fund the purchase, storage and distribution of routine childhood immunizations. The state would charge an assessment on insurance companies for the costs. The new law also requires insurers to provide benefits for immunizations on each health care plan and exempt the immunizations from copayments and deductibles.
Supporters say this law now makes all these important vaccines available at no cost to all children. They note
passage of this law was more important than ever as an increasing number of states are granting exemptions from childhood vaccinations, causing the return of preventable illnesses including mumps and measles.
EZ-ID VEHICLE RECOGNITION (S 1712) – The Transportation Committee heard testimony on legislation that would create a task force to study the feasibility of requiring all Massachusetts license plates to feature a symbol, like a star, diamond or heart, along with four numbers and letters. This system would replace the current system, which has six random letters and numbers.
Supporters said the new plates would make it easier for adults and children to remember license plate registrations and report them to law enforcement officials to track down vehicles used in child kidnappings and other crimes. They cited studies showing both children and adults have trouble recalling the current plates.
The two chairs of the committee both said they wanted more information on scientific studies that prove these symbols will make plates easier to remember.
DUAL LIQUOR LICENSES (H 3420) – A bill before the Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee would allow cities and towns to issue a liquor license allowing supermarkets to sell packaged alcohol and serve alcoholic drinks inside the store. Current law prohibits any establishment from offering both. The measure was filed on behalf of Wegman’s Supermarket in Northborough, which noted it is allowed to do this in other states.
Supporters say this archaic law should be changed to leave the decision up to local communities.
Opponents say the new law would damage smaller local supermarkets, restaurants and liquor stores that do not have the space to do this.
PRICE GOUGING DURING EMERGENCIES (S 1113) – The Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee’s hearing agenda also included legislation making it a crime to price gouge during a declared state emergency. The measure imposes up to a 2.5-year prison sentence and/or $50,000 fine on anyone who charges excessive prices for necessities including food, fuel and shelter.
WOMEN’S DEFENSE CORPS (H 2836) – The House gave initial approval to a bill designating April 2 as Massachusetts Women’s Defense Corps Remembrance Day. The day would recognize “the generous contributions of the approximately 18,000 women who volunteered to train as air raid wardens, drivers, communications personnel, canteen workers medics, chemical detections personnel and as emergency fire fighters during World War II.”
OFFICIAL STATE SEASONING (H 3753) – The House gave initial approval to a measure designating Bell’s Seasoning as the official state seasoning. The seasoning was created by William Bell, a Boston inventor, in 1867 and has been manufactured in East Weymouth since 1971. The measure is sponsored by Bob Tallent, who is the National Sales Manager at Brady Enterprises which owns Bell’s Seasoning.
“For a progressive state such as Massachusetts, spending less than one percent (of the $34 billion state budget on environmental protection) is a disgrace.”
George Bachrach, President of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, proposing a “green budget” designed to ensure that there is sufficient funding for environmental projects.
Senate President Therese Murray at the Senate session during last Thursday’s snowstorm after Sen. Richard Ross (R-Wrentham) asked to delay action on an amendment.
“Massachusetts desperately needs additional funding for transportation improvements, and right now, the gas tax is the best means to that end. Indexing the tax to inflation protects our investment in infrastructure for future generations.”
Mark Shaw, President and CEO of AAA Southern New England, announcing he is opposed to repealing the law that indexes the gas tax to inflation and provides automatic hikes based on the Consumer Price Index.
“Restaurants and businesses didn’t know when they built stores, signed leases, and hired people that this rule change would happen. We’re concerned that this rule change will damage small, local restaurants and liquor stores that do not have this same opportunity.”
Dave Andelman, President of the Restaurant and Business Alliance, on a proposal allowing supermarkets including Wegman’s to sell packaged alcohol and serve alcoholic drinks inside the store.
“These leaks can only get worse. They’re not going to get better on their own.”
Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead) on her support for legislation that would require gas leaks to be repaired faster by the gas company.
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 February 10-14, the House met for a total of eight hours and 52 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 12 hours and 24 minutes.
Mon. February 10 House 11:05 a.m. to 12:43 p.m.
Senate 11:05 a.m. to 4:20 p.m.
Tues. February 11 No House session
Senate 11:01 a.m. to 3:13 p.m.
Wed. February 12 House 11:01 a.m. to 6:09 p.m.
No Senate session
Thurs. February 13 House 11:08 a.m. to 11:14 a.m.
Senate 1:16 p.m. to 4:13 p.m.
Fri. February 14 No House session
No Senate session
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