Beacon Hill Roll Call – Regular weekly report – April 11, 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 two roll calls and local representatives’ votes on six roll calls from the week of April 7-11.

House 117-29, voted strictly along party lines and approved a set of
Democratic leadership-sponsored rules to be followed when the House considers the fiscal 2015 state budget beginning on April 28. A key provision bars members from proposing amendments dealing with local aid or welfare.

Supporters said that these rules are fair and responsible and will help make the budget debate go smoothly.

Opponents said it was unfair and undemocratic to prohibit amendments on local aid and welfare.

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

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

House 29-117, voted strictly along party lines and rejected a Republican-sponsored rule requiring a two-thirds vote to ship proposed amendments off to a study committee unless the sponsor of the original amendment agrees with conducting a study.

The rule is designed to stop what Republicans describe as successful attempts by Speaker Robert DeLeo and his Democratic leadership team to prevent Democratic members from having to vote directly against many GOP proposals including ones to reduce taxes.

Here’s an example of how the GOP says it works: The Republicans offer a proposal to reduce the income tax from 5.3 percent back to 5 percent. If the Democratic leadership does nothing, there would be a roll call vote directly on the tax reduction. Most Democrats would vote against the reduction and then would be open to charges of being against tax relief.

Instead, a Democratic member offers a “delaying” amendment that would prohibit the tax reduction from taking effect until the Department of Revenue studies its economic impact.

Under House rules, the amendment to study and delay the tax cut is voted upon first. If it passes, which it always does, no other amendments can be introduced and the original proposal that would simply cut the tax is dead without ever having a direct vote on it. Republicans say the studies are a sham because they are never done.

They say this is all pre-planned by the Democratic leadership, that the Speaker at the podium calls upon a representative who is loyal to him and the member proposes the delay and study. Even if a Republican member is waving his or her hand and shouting to be recognized, he or she will not be called upon because he or she would not propose the delay and study.

Some Democrats say the study is often a legitimate option to examine the impact of the tax reduction. Other Democrats acknowledge that the study is proposed to prevent a direct vote on the tax reduction.

Supporters of the Republican-proposed rule said this Democratic ploy is used to confuse the voters. They argued that the new rule would at least give supporters of tax reduction amendments a better opportunity to successfully force a vote directly on the tax cuts.

Opponents of the rule said the current system has worked fine. They argued raising the bar to a two-thirds majority is a for all kinds of legislation.

(A “Yes” vote is for the rule requiring a two-thirds vote. A “No” vote is against the rule.)

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

House 31-115, voted mostly along party lines and rejected an amendment allowing members to offer budget amendments dealing with local aid. The rules proposed by the Democratic leadership prohibit consideration of any local aid amendments. Two Democrats voted with GOP legislators to allow members to file local aid amendments.

The House, three weeks prior to this roll call, approved resolutions stating the intent of the Legislature to hike Chapter 70 school aid by $100 million and unrestricted local aid by $25 million.

Amendment supporters said it is undemocratic and restrictive to prohibit members from offering increases in local aid. They noted that the non-binding local aid promise already approved by the House should represent the minimum amount of local aid that would be delivered and argued that members should still have the power to offer additional amendments to increase local aid when the budget debate begins.

Amendment opponents said that the House debated for several hours before approving the hike in Chapter 70 school aid by $100 million and the hike in unrestricted local aid by $25 million, and noted that members should not deviate from that promised amount. They said that it is important for cities and towns to know now how much local aid they will receive and argued that if are allowed and approved, communities would not know how much aid they would receive until several weeks from now when the House and Senate agree on a final version of the budget.

(A “Yes” vote is for allowing members to offer budget amendments dealing with local aid. A “No” vote is against allowing it.)

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

House 31-115, voted mostly along party lines and rejected an amendment allowing members to offer budget amendments dealing with welfare laws and Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards. The rules proposed by the Democratic leadership prohibit consideration of any welfare and EBT amendments. Two Democrats voted with GOP legislators to allow members to file those amendments.

Amendment supporters said it is undemocratic to suddenly decide that legislators are banned from offering amendments to reform the welfare system.

Amendment opponents said in November the House and Senate approved different versions of a comprehensive bill reforming the welfare system. They noted that a conference committee is currently trying to hammer out a compromise version and argued the House should let that committee do its work rather than opening up the issue again.

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

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

House 29-116, voted strictly along party lines and rejected an amendment that would give members eight days instead of three days to file amendments to the state budget.

Supporters of the new rule said the budget is a massive document that members must have time to read and understand before proposing amendments.

Opponents said the three-day window has worked well and should not be changed.

(A “Yes” vote is for allowing more time to file amendments. A “No” vote is against allowing it.)

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

House 142-0, approved a bill that would require employers with 50 or more employees to allow workers who are victims of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault to take a paid or unpaid annual 15-day leave of absence to address court, housing, health and other issues arising from the incident. Another key provision would prohibit the use of an “accord and satisfaction” agreement in domestic violence cases. These agreements allow the courts to dismiss a domestic violence charge over the prosecutor’s objection if the victim acknowledges in writing that he or she has signed an out-of-court private agreement with the offender.

Other provisions create a new charge for a first offense of domestic assault; delay bail for domestic violence offenders by six hours, allowing victims an opportunity to find a safe place and get the necessary help; require training on domestic violence for judges, assistant district attorneys, law enforcement officers and medical professionals; and allow the purchase of self-defense sprays like Mace and pepper spray without a license. Massachusetts is the only state that requires a Firearms Identification Card to carry these sprays.

Supporters said this long overdue bill is a critical step toward protecting victims of domestic abuse. They argued it is time to ensure that victims don’t have to choose between dealing with problems from their assault and losing their jobs because of excess absences. They noted that Massachusetts is the only state that still allows “accord and satisfaction” agreements and argued banning these would protect victims from being victimized again by being coerced into signing one.

The Senate in October approved a different version of the bill. A conference committee will draft a compromise version.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

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

GAS LEAKS (S 2073)
Senate 39-0, approved 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 one year, while Grade Three leaks are non-hazardous and must be reevaluated during the next scheduled survey or within one year.

Other provisions align civil penalties for pipeline facility and gas transportation safety violations with federal law; require gas leaks that are identified within a school zone to be prioritized; and mandate that gas companies be notified of any significant projects for public ways that expose natural gas infrastructure and that the company survey the project area for the presence of gas leaks.

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.

The House has approved a different version of the measure and a conference committee will hammer out a compromise version.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

Senate 6-32, rejected an amendment requiring that the state’s Department of Public Utilities determine that all programs in the bill are consistent with the state’s environmental and public health policies including the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008. That act requires the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.

Amendment supporters said it is essential to make sure that the bill complies with the Global Warming Solutions Act — a landmark law that will help put Massachusetts in the forefront of the vital effort to stop global warming.

Amendment opponents said state law already requires compliance with the Global Warming Solutions Act. They argued the Legislature should take action only when an administration has gone astray and is not living up to the requirements under law.

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

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes


TAX CREDIT FOR HOMEOWNERS (H 2627) – The House reversed its vote last week in which it gave initial approval, on a voice vote without debate, to a bill making more homeowners eligible for a tax credit. The House revoked approval and sent the measure to the House Ways and Means Committee. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington), chairman of the Revenue Committee. A spokeswoman for Kaufman said that the bill was given initial approval by mistake and that Kaufman’s intent was that the bill go to the Ways and Means Committee.

The tax credit would be 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.

ASSIST MILITARY FAMILIES (S 2052) – Gov. Patrick signed into law a bill that would expand financial and education benefits and many other services for veterans, active-duty military personnel and their families. Provisions include allowing private-sector employers to give preference to veterans and spouses of 100 percent disabled veterans; increasing penalties for disturbances of military funerals; allowing college students who are called to active duty the option to complete their courses at a later date or withdraw and receive a refund of all tuition and fees; and waiving the initial application fee for vets seeking any kind of business license.

“BOSTON STRONG” LICENSE PLATES (S 2072) – The House and Senate have agreed on a version of legislation that would allow drivers to purchase “Boston Strong” license plates for an additional $50 or more above the regular biennial $50 fee for a license plate. Proceeds would benefit the One Fund that raises funds for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. Further approval by each branch is necessary prior to the measure going to the governor.

BENEFITS FOR FALLEN FIREFIGHTERS AND POLICE OFFICERS (H 4023) – The House and Senate gave final approval to and sent to Gov. 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.

LOCAL DISABILITY COMMISSION MEETINGS (S 1985) – The Senate approved and sent to the House a measure allowing local commissions on disability to permit remote participation by commission members and others at any or all of their meetings. Under current law, only the attorney general can authorize remote participation.

Supporters said this would ensure that disabled people who have great difficulty getting to the meeting are afforded the opportunity to participate.

BAN SMOKING IN SENIOR HOUSING (H 1157) – The House gave initial approval to legislation that would designate at least one residential building within each regional and local housing authority as a smoke-free building. Any housing authority that oversees fewer than 100 units would be required to make at least 20 percent of their units smoke-free. The policies would be phased-in and current tenants would be grandfathered in and exempt from the measure.

OFFICIAL COWBOY, SCULPTOR AND TEXTILE – The House gave initial approval to bills designating Rex Trailer as the official state cowboy (H 2905), gingham as the official state textile (H 2862) and Cyrus Dallin as the official state sculptor (H 2812).

Trailer, the iconic Massachusetts children’s television host, passed away in January 2013. The Town of Clinton was a world leader in the manufacture of cotton gingham fabric. Dallin, best known for Native American subjects and the statue of Paul Revere in the North End, lived in Arlington the last 40 years of his life.

QUOTABLE QUOTES – “Special Bay State Ranking Edition”

“Beacon Hill may not be able to run a government efficiently, but it can strive to be Number One in federal, state and local taxation.”

Barbara Anderson, President of Citizens for Limited Taxation, on a report that Massachusetts residents work until April 24 to earn enough money to pay their federal, state and local taxes. The report placed the Bay State’s date as the 4th-latest of all 50 states.

“The Election Laws Conference Committee should move swiftly to advance a comprehensive package of election modernization measures and make Massachusetts a national leader in ensuring efficient, accessible and secure elections.”

Pam Wilmot, Executive Director of Common Cause Massachusetts, on a PEW Charitable Trusts report that ranked the performance of elections in Massachusetts as 22nd in the nation.

“We have worked hard to make state government more transparent for taxpayers, and this superb grade from MASSPIRG reflects that.”

The Patrick Administration’s Secretary of Administration and Finance Glen Shor on a MASSPIRG report that ranks Massachusetts fifth in the nation in transparency in government spending.

“We congratulate Boston for once again representing New England on this list of cities across America that are taking tangible steps to conserve energy and thereby reduce emissions of air pollution and greenhouse gas.”

Curt Spalding, regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency’s New England office, on the EPA report that Boston ranked 13th on the list of top 25 U.S. cities with the most certified Energy Star buildings in 2013.

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 April 7-11, the House met for a total of ten hours and 6 minutes and the Senate met for a total of eight hours and 11 minutes.

Mon. April 7 House 11:02 a.m. to 3:36 p.m.
Senate 11:01 a.m. to 3:42 p.m.

Tues. April 8 House 1:06 p.m. to 6:13 p.m.
No Senate session.

Wed. April 9 No House session
No Senate session

Thurs. April 10 House 11:02 a.m. to 11:27 a.m.
Senate 1:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Fri. April 11 No House session
No Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at

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