Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 39 -Report No. 24 June 9-13, 2014

Copyright © 2014 Beacon Hill Roll Call. All Rights Reserved.
By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives on five roll calls and local senators on seven roll calls from the week of June 9-13.

GAS LEAKS (H 4164)

House 147-0, Senate 38-0, 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 15 months, while Grade Three leaks are non-hazardous and would have to be reevaluated every six months. Other provisions align civil penalties for pipeline facility and gas transportation safety violations with federal law and require gas leaks that are identified within a school zone to be prioritized.

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 prevent gas leak tragedies, save lives and have a positive impact on the environment by reducing methane gas.

The bill needs one more round of approval in each branch before it goes to Gov. Deval Patrick.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Carl Sciortino has resigned Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

House 125-23, approved and sent to the Senate an economic development package which includes a two-day sales tax holiday in August. Other provisions include $2.5 million for loan guarantees to small businesses; $10 million for brownfields redevelopment; $2 million in the Talent Pipeline initiative that encourages students and young innovators to get a head start on their futures by matching stipends for interns at innovation start-ups; $1.5 million for MassVentures to fund early-stage, high-growth startups in Massachusetts as they move from concept to commercialization; $15 million for the Middle Skills Job Training Grant Fund that provide grants to vocational-technical schools and community colleges to support advanced manufacturing and IT training; and a new tax credit for investors in qualifying Massachusetts startup companies.

Supporters said the package would bolster the economy and create jobs. They noted it will encourage private sector investment, support the manufacturing sector and expand economic opportunity beyond I-495.

Opponents said that government cannot fix the economy by throwing money at it. They said they favored proposals that would reduce taxes, cut regulations and create greater predictability for the business community.

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

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

House 132-14, approved a bill allowing consumers to buy most products that cost under $2,500 on Saturday, August 16, and Sunday, August 17, without paying the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax.

Supporters of the bill said that the holiday would boost retail sales and noted that consumers over the past several years have saved millions of dollars during similar tax-free holidays. They argued that the state’s sales tax revenue loss would be offset by increased revenue from the meals and gas tax revenue generated by shoppers on those two days.

Some opponents of the bill said the state cannot afford the up to $40 million revenue loss and argued the holiday actually generates little additional revenue for stores because consumers would buy the products even without the tax-free days. They said that the Legislature should be looking at broader, deeper tax relief for individuals and businesses and not a tiny tax-free holiday. Others said that legislators should not vote for this tax holiday when they have not yet restored all the local aid, education and other program cuts made over the past few years.

(A “Yes” vote is for the tax-free holiday. A “No” vote is against it.)

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

House 44-102, rejected an amendment waiving the state’s minimum $456 annual corporate excise tax for the first three years that a corporation is in business but does not make a profit. Under current law, the tax must be paid annually even if the corporation does not make a profit.

Amendment supporters said this temporary tax reduction does not apply to large corporations that are making huge profits but rather is designed to provide relief to many small, struggling start-up businesses that often have only one employee. They argued the waiver would pay off down the road when these small businesses thrive, create jobs and pay more taxes.

Amendment opponents said that the waiver would cost the state millions in lost revenue that it cannot afford to absorb. They argued that the $456 per year is not going to make or break a business and noted that waiving the tax would not affect a person’s decision on whether or not to start a business. Some said that the waiver should be considered in the context of a broader tax bill that would be the subject of a public hearing.

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment waiving the $456 tax. A “No” vote is against the waiver.)

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

House 108-38, approved a Democratic-sponsored amendment indefinitely delaying a Republican-sponsored proposal that would exempt diners from paying the state’s 6.25 percent meals tax from July 27-31, 2014. The amendment would require the state to study the impact of tax holidays on the state’s economy.

Some supporters of the study said they oppose the meals tax holiday and acknowledged the study kills the proposal while avoiding a direct vote on it. Some said the state simply cannot afford the estimated $8 million revenue loss while others said they are open to the idea but favor the study so legislators can see the positive and/or negative impact of the exemption.

Opponents of the study said rising food costs, high fuel prices, high unemployment and a poor economy have hurt the restaurant industry and resulted in fewer customers. They argued the “study” is a blatant, age-old tactic by Democrats to kill tax relief by studying it “to death” and avoiding an up or down vote on it. They noted past experience shows that none of these “alleged” studies are actually done, and the meals tax holiday will be defeated without representatives having to take a direct vote on it.

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

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

Senate 35-4, approved a conference committee version of a bill hiking the current $8 per hour minimum wage by $3 over the next three years, beginning in January 2015, to $11 per hour by July 2017. The measure also makes changes in the state’s unemployment insurance system; creates a Council on the Underground Economy to combat the growing exchange of goods and services which are conducted “off the books;” and raises the minimum hourly wage for tipped employees over three years from its current level of $2.63 to $3.75. The bill was hammered out by a conference committee after the House and Senate approved different versions of it. The measure does not include a provision, originally in the Senate version, that automatically raises future wages to reflect increases in the Consumer Price Index.

Supporters said this pro-worker bill would ensure economic justice and help thousands of families who are living near the poverty level despite the fact that the breadwinner works 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 is unfair to businesses that are already faced with skyrocketing health care and energy costs and would also hurt consumers by forcing businesses to raise prices. Some said they supported a smaller increase to $9.50.

The measure needs additional House and Senate approval before it goes to the governor.

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

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

Senate 31-6, approved a $1.1 billion borrowing bill to fund a 1.3 million square-foot expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Funding is provided by existing fees and taxes including a tax on hotel rooms in Boston and Cambridge and a $10 fee on all car rentals in Boston. A controversial provision automatically raises the Boston hotel tax from 12 percent to 14 percent if the funding to pay off the debt fall short.

Supporters said the project will create an estimated 4,000 construction jobs and 2,000 permanent jobs while generating an estimated $15 million annually in taxes and $185 million in private sector business. They noted Massachusetts is losing valuable and profitable business from events that the center is too small to accommodate.

Opponents said the state was scheduled to pay off the existing loans that built the convention center by 2034 but noted this new expansion will require the state to continue servicing the debt on the $1.1 billion project until 2050. They said the state should be spending money on more important projects including repairing the state’s crumbling infrastructure.

The House has approved a different version of the bill. The Senate version now goes to the House for consideration.

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

Sen. Patricia Jehlen No

Senate 5-32, rejected an amendment requiring the governor and the Legislature to agree on the amount of debt service that will be allowed each fiscal year. The amendment also requires a public hearing on the state’s debt and the economy.

Amendment supporters argued that the way the state sets its bond cap is inadequate and largely left to the governor. They noted the amendment mirrors the process of how the state determines a consensus revenue estimate by requiring the governor and Legislature to come together and agree on the amount of money that the state can spend for debt service.

Amendment opponents said there are already systems set up to ensure the state’s debt does not get out of control. They noted the system has worked because the state has excellent bond ratings from Moody’s.

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

Sen. Patricia Jehlen No

Senate 15-22, rejected an amendment that would prohibit revenue from the hotel/motel tax in non-Boston cities and towns from being used to pay off the bonds if the state cannot pay its debt on the $1.1 billion convention center project. This revenue would come from both the state hotel tax of 5.7 percent and the up to 6 percent additional local hotel tax imposed by some cities and towns, which is revenue that goes to the community, not the state.

Amendment supporters said it is outrageous and unfair to rob other cities and towns of their hotel tax revenue in order to fund a convention center in Boston.

Amendment opponents said allowing the non-Boston hotel tax to be used will give the state a lower borrowing rate. They argued that if other communities’ money is actually used, the bill allows the Boston hotel tax to be raised to pay back them back.

(A “Yes” vote is for prohibiting non-Boston funds from being used. A “No” vote is for allowing it.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen No

Senate 6-31, rejected an amendment that would strike a section of the bill that automatically increases the Boston hotel tax from 12 percent to 14 percent if the funding to pay off the debt falls short.

Amendment supporters said they oppose any automatic increases and argued the Legislature should deal with a situation like that if and when it happens.

Amendment opponents said having the automatic hike provision gives the state a lower borrowing rate and noted the Legislature can always repeal the increase if and when the time comes.

(A “Yes” vote is for prohibiting the automatic tax hike. A “No” vote is for allowing it.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

Senate 37-0, approved a $1.31 billion capital spending bill that would allow the state to borrow funds for various projects including $354 million for the acquisition of state property, $50 million for the Massachusetts Cultural Fund, $35 million for State Police cruisers, $20 million for renovations to the Massachusetts Senate Chamber, $6.2 million for a new vault in the state archives building, $378 million for general state facility improvements and $312.5 million for health and human services state facility projects.

Hundreds of millions of dollars of earmarks to fund projects proposed by individual legislators for their districts were also included in the package. In reality, 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 the bill is a fiscally responsible one that will fund important projects while maintaining the state’s excellent bond rating.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes


TASER GUNS (H 3315) – The House gave initial approval to a bill that would require all newly purchased taser guns used by police officers to include an audio recording device. The proposal would only take effect in cities or towns that approve it and also “grandfather in” existing taser guns already owned by the city or town.

Supporters said this will ensure there is an accurate audio recording when a taser gun is used so there won’t be any questions about what was said by the police officer or the person who is tased.

BREAST CANCER EARLY DETECTION (S 2181) – The Senate approved a measure requiring hospitals and doctors to inform patients when their mammograms reveal dense breast tissue and that dense breast tissue is common and not abnormal but may increase the risk of breast cancer by making it more difficult to find cancer on a mammogram. Patients would also have to be told that sometimes additional testing is needed and the patient has the right to discuss the results of the mammogram with the physician and radiologist.

The House has approved a different version of the bill and the Senate version now goes to the House for consideration

PROTECT CELEBRITIES’ IMAGES (S 1630) – The Senate approved and sent to the House a bill that would protect Massachusetts celebrities’ images and voices after they die. Current law prohibits the use of the voice, portrait or photograph of anyone for commercial purposes without that person’s approval, but only while the person is alive. The proposal would protect the person’s image and voice for 70 years after his or her death.

Comedian and actor Bill Cosby, a resident of Shelburne Falls in Western Massachusetts, is leading the charge for passage of the measure. At a hearing on the bill last May, two of Cosby’s attorneys, Melinda Phelps and Bill Hart, spoke in favor of the proposal.


“As President Reagan said, the nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'”

Rep. Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica) on whether the government can fix the economy.

“I hope the gentleman from Gloucester delivers my eulogy.”

Sen. Brian Joyce (D-Milton) making reference to the oratory skills of Senate Minority Leader Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester).

“Massachusetts led the nation passing the first state minimum wage a century ago in June 1912, and with passage of an $11 state minimum wage … will be leading the nation again with a wage floor that is good for business, good for customers and good for our economy.”

Holly Sklar, Director of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage.

“I fear that an increase of this magnitude will prove onerous to the economy and detrimental to small businesses throughout the Commonwealth by stifling job growth.”

Senate GOP Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) on the minimum wage hike.

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 June 9-13. the House met for a total of 14 hours and 11 minutes and the Senate met for a total of eight hours and 28 minutes.

Mon. June 9 House 11:05 a.m. to 12:08 p.m.
Senate 11:01 a.m. to 11:17 a.m.

Tues. June 10 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:12 a.m.
Senate 11:03 a.m. to 12:24 p.m.

Wed. June 11 House 11:04 a.m. to 12:03 a.m. (Thurs.)
No Senate session

Thurs. June 12 No House session
Senate 1:00 p.m. to 7:51 p.m.

Fri. June 13 No House session
No Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at

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