Beacon Hill Roll Call

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Volume 39 – Report No. 15
March 30-April 3, 2014
Copyright © 2014 Beacon Hill Roll Call. All Rights Reserved.
By Bob Katzen


THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ votes on one roll call and local representatives’ votes on seven roll calls from the week of March 31 – April 4.

BENEFITS FOR FALLEN FIREFIGHTERS AND POLICE OFFICERS (H 4023)
House 149-0, Senate 39-0, approved and sent to Gov. Deval Patrick a bill increasing the benefits for families of public safety employees killed in the line of duty from $100,000 to $150,000. This change applies retroactively to the families of Firefighter Michael Kennedy and Lt. Edward Walsh, who were killed on March 26 while fighting a fire in Boston’s Back Bay, and Plymouth Police Officer Gregg Maloney, who died in the line of duty on April 1.

Supporters said it is time to increase this benefit, which has not been raised since 1994. They argued this should be approved quickly in honor and memory of these fallen heroes, who made the ultimate sacrifice.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Carl Sciortino Didn’t Vote Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

INCREASE MINIMUM WAGE (H 3983)
House 125-24, approved a bill hiking the current $8 per hour minimum wage by $2.50 over the next three years, beginning on July 1, 2014, to $10.50 per hour. Another provision raises the minimum hourly wage of waiters, waitresses and other tipped employees from $2.63 to $3.75. The measure also makes changes in the state’s unemployment insurance system and provides some protections for domestic workers.

Supporters said this pro-worker bill would ensure economic justice and help thousands of families that are living near the poverty level despite the fact that the breadwinners work in excess of 40 hours weekly. They argued that a minimum wage hike is one of the best anti-poverty programs available.

Opponents said the hike would cost businesses $500 million while they are already faced with skyrocketing health care and energy costs. They noted it would also cost jobs and hurt consumers by forcing companies to raise prices.

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

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

SMALLER HIKE TO $9.50 PER HOUR (H 3983)
House 27-120, rejected an amendment that would hike the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour over three years.

Amendment supporters said this is a more reasonable hike that is fair to both workers and employers.

Most amendment opponents said $9.50 will not provide sufficient help to families living near the poverty level despite working 40 or more hours per week.

Two Republican representatives who voted against the hike to $9.50 said they oppose any hike in the minimum wage.

(A “Yes” vote is for the hike to $9.50. A “No” vote is against it.)

Rep. Denise Provost No Rep. Carl Sciortino Didn’t Vote Rep. Timothy Toomey No

TERMINATION OF BENEFITS (H 3983)
House 19-131, rejected an amendment that would require workers who receive unemployment benefits to accept any similar job offer from their former company or lose their unemployment benefits. The offer must be for at least a two-month period and must entail a similar skill level and substantially similar hours, wages and distance from their home. Workers are eligible for a hearing on whether the job meets all the requirements.

Amendment supporters said this would strongly encourage people to accept these job offers and get off of unemployment. They said there are many cases of workers refusing these positions and noted that current law is not as specific as the amendment.

Amendment opponents said current law already provides that a person’s unemployment benefits end if he or she refuses to take a job in his or her “usual occupation or any other occupation for which he or she is reasonably fitted.”

(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

WAGE VIOLATIONS (H3983)
House 29-121, rejected an amendment that would repeal a 2008 law which requires employers who are convicted of not paying wages to an employee in a timely fashion to pay him or her triple the amount of money owed. The 2008 law was passed in response to a 2005 court ruling that left the amount of the award to the discretion of the judge.

Amendment supporters said that the 2008 law goes too far and takes away all discretion from judges despite the circumstances of the case. They argued that the law should be flexible because employers who make an honest error should not be required to pay triple damages.

Amendment opponents defended the 2008 law and argued that triple damages should automatically be awarded in order to discourage employers from holding back wages.

(A “Yes” vote is for repealing the law and is against mandating triple damages. A “No” vote is against repeal and favors mandating triple damages.)

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

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Beacon Hill Roll Call urges you to read the next two roll calls carefully and be aware that the studies were proposed in place of the amendment, so a “yes” vote is for the study and essentially is against the amendment. Conversely, a “no” vote is against the study and generally favors the amendment.

INDEFINITELY DELAY ALLOWING LOWER TRAINING WAGES FOR FIRST 90 DAYS (H 3983)
House 119-30, indefinitely delayed an amendment that would allow employers to pay workers 25 percent less than the minimum wage for his or her first 90 days of employment. The delay would require the Patrick administration to study and report back to the Legislature on the impact the training wage would have on the state.

Amendment supporters said the minimum wage hike would discourage employers from hiring inexperienced teens under 18 to train for their first jobs. They said the amendment would give businesses more flexibility to hire those teens.

Amendment opponents said the reduced training wage is simply unfair and would apply to both teens and adults. They argued that unscrupulous employers might just continue hiring teens under 18 for 90 days, pay them the lower wage and then let them go.

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

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

INDEFINITELY DELAY EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT (H 3983)
House 117-31, indefinitely delayed an amendment that would increase over four years the earned income tax credit for low-income working families with children living at home from 15 percent to 25 percent of the federal credit. The credit is applied toward the taxpayer’s liability, and if it exceeds the liability, the taxpayer receives the excess credit as a refund. The delay would require the Patrick administration to study and report back to the Legislature on the impact the amendment would have on the state.

Amendment supporters said this increased credit will help thousands of low-income working families who are struggling to make ends meet and will result in many of them paying little or no state income tax.

Amendment opponents said the increase would cost the state more than $100 million which it cannot afford.

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

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

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

TAX CREDIT FOR HOMEOWNERS (H 2627) – The House gave initial approval, on a voice vote without debate, to a bill making more homeowners eligible for a tax credit equal to the amount by which the taxpayer’s real estate tax payment or the rent constituting real estate tax payment on the person’s primary residence exceeds 10 per cent of the taxpayer’s total income.

The home cannot be assessed at more than $600,000 and the maximum credit is $750. In order to qualify, a taxpayer’s total income cannot exceed $40,000 for an individual and $60,000 for a couple. Currently, only taxpayers over 65 are eligible for this tax credit. The bill would repeal the age requirement and make all taxpayers who qualify financially eligible.

SUICIDE PREVENTION TRAINING (H 443) – The Education Committee approved a bill that would require all public school personnel to receive a minimum of two hours of suicide awareness and prevention training annually.

Supporters say that suicide is the third leading cause of death among youths between 10 and 19 years old. They note that there are often warning signs that training will help teachers pick up. They argue that suicide is often preventable and that this training will save many lives.

FINANCIAL LITERACY (S 234) – The Education Committee also gave a favorable report to a bill requiring the state to develop and allow cities and towns to institute a program to teach students financial literacy including understanding banking and financial services, loans, interest, credit card debt, online commerce, renting or buying a home, saving, investing and planning for retirement, balancing a checkbook, state and federal taxes and charitable giving.

ASSISTED SUICIDE (H 1998) – The Public Health Committee has recommended that a bill allowing physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill be sent to a study committee. Voters defeated a similar measure on the 2012 ballot by a slim 51 percent to 49 percent margin. Most measures shipped off to a study committee are never actually studied and are essentially defeated.

OFFICIAL GROUNDHOG (H 2864) – The House approved and sent to the Senate 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 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.

STUDENT RIGHTS (H 3942) – The Higher Education Committee held a hearing on legislation that would require college officials to inform students of their right to call their parents and their right to have an attorney present in the event of a disciplinary hearing that may result in expulsion.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“With this vote to increase the minimum wage and to reform our unemployment insurance system, the House has strengthened two important aspects of our state’s social and economic fabric.”

House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop).

“At a time when the so-called ‘recovery’ is still sputtering, it’s simply bad policy to make it even harder to run a business and employ people. It’s very saddening to see that so many representatives chose to feel good, not do good, by joining the speaker in advancing this misguided bill.”

Paul Craney, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance.

“We encourage housing authorities to adopt smoke-free housing policies in state-aided public housing units to protect the health of residents from second-hand smoke, prevent fires and fire-related deaths from smoking, and reduce unit turnover costs.”

Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary for the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

“$59,328.”

The amount of money left at the end of 2013 in retiring Senate President Therese Murray’s campaign account. Murray held a “Thank You Madame President” Boston fundraiser last week at the UMass Club on Franklin Street. A recommendation on the invitation encouraged donations of $200 to $500.

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 March 31-April 4, the House met for a total of ten hours and 37 minutes and the Senate met for a total of one hour and 46 minutes.

Mon. March 31 House 11:04 a.m. to 11:14 a.m.
Senate 11:00 a.m. to 11:24 a.m.

Tues. April 1 No Senate session
No Senate session.

Wed. April 2 House 11:02 a.m. to 8:58 p.m.
No Senate session

Thurs. April 3 House 11:02 a.m. to 11:33 a.m.
Senate 3:00 p.m. to 4:22 p.m.

Fri. April 4 No House session
No Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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