Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 39 – Report No. 47 November 21, 2014

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By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

Beacon Hill Roll Call this week examines the voting records of local senators on Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick’s 88 vetoes during the 2013-2014 session. A two-thirds vote is required to override a gubernatorial veto in the 40-member Senate that
includes 36 Democrats and only four Republicans. The governor needed the support of 15 senators to sustain a veto when all 40 senators voted — and fewer votes if some members were absent. Patrick fell far short of that goal. Five votes were the most support he received on any veto. The Senate easily overrode all 88 vetoes, including 18 that were overridden unanimously.

The vetoes had little support among Patrick’s fellow Democrats. Only 15 of the chamber’s 36 Democrats voted with Patrick to sustain any vetoes and nine of those supported the governor on only one. The other 21 Democratic senators did not side with the governor even once. Sen. Sonia Chang Diaz (D-Boston) gave him the most support, siding with him 44 times (50 percent).

On the GOP side, all four Republican senators supported the governor at least once. The senator who voted with Patrick the most was Sen. Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), who supported him 27 times.

PERCENTAGE OF TIMES SENATORS SUPPORTED GOV. PATRICK
The percentage next to the senator’s name represents the percentage of times the senator supported Patrick’s vetoes.

The number in parentheses represents the number of times the senator supported Patrick’s vetoes.

Some senators voted on all 88 roll call votes. Others missed one or more of the votes. Their records are based on the number of roll calls on which they voted and do not count the roll calls for which they were absent.

Sen. Patricia Jehlen 1.1 percent (1)

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

PAY RAISES LOOMING ON BEACON HILL? – The Special Advisory Commission on the Compensation of Public Officials, created by the Legislature in June as part of the fiscal 2015 state budget, is wrapping up its work. It is close to issuing its final report and recommendations on the compensation of the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary, treasurer, attorney general, auditor, governor’s councilors, senators and representatives. Its mission is to compare the salaries with the same elected officials in other states and the private sector and to examine the method by which biennial adjustments are made to legislative base pay. The committee’s website says it plans to issue its report on whether there should be pay hikes by early or mid-December.

The chair of the committee is Ira Jackson, former state revenue commissioner and now Dean of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. People who want to weigh in with their opinions can do so by going to the commission’s website MassPublicComp.umb.edu.

LOCAL AID – Gov. Patrick’s plan to cut local aid to cities and towns by $25.5 million as part of his effort to close a $329 million budget gap seems to be dead on arrival on Beacon Hill. House Speaker Robert DeLeo said, “Understanding the vital role cities and towns play in providing services and jobs, I will not support a reduction of unrestricted local aid. Local aid is integral to helping municipalities accurately assess and plan their budgets so that they can contribute to the overall growth of the Commonwealth’s economy.” Without DeLeo’s support, the cut is headed for the graveyard.

PROTECTING ANIMALS – A law increasing the prison time and fines for committing animal abuse took effect on November 18. The new law increases the maximum fine for a first offense from $2,500 to $10,000 while raising the maximum prison sentence for a first offense from five years to seven years. It also increases the fines and prison time for second offenses to maximums of $20,000 and ten years. Under prior law, the fines and prison sentences for subsequent offenses were the same as first offenses.

Other provisions require veterinarians to report suspected animal abuse and create a special taskforce of experts to review methods to prevent animal abuse and punish those who commit it. The task force would also look into the possibility of establishing an animal abuse registry. The legislation was filed in response to the “Puppy Doe” case in which a dog was euthanized after she suffered extensive injuries, including a stab wound to her eye and burns to her body.

Supporters say the Puppy Doe case is one of many similar incidents that have occurred in the state. They argued it is time to increase the punishment and fine for those who commit such heinous crimes.

Some animal advocacy organizations, while applauding the increased penalties, express concern about removal of a provision from the original bill that would have created an animal abuse registry. They say that without this important provision, shelters, breeders and pet stores, as well as people seeking new homes for their pets, can’t know whether the person to whom they give or sell vulnerable animals has a history of animal abuse or neglect.

INTERIOR DESIGNERS – November 19 was the effective date of a new law that establishes the right of interior designers to bid directly on state contracts. Under prior law, designers were prohibited from doing so and were only allowed to subcontract their services with architectural firms that are bidding on projects.

Supporters say the old law was unfair and put interior designers at a disadvantage. They note that allowing direct bidding will create competition, reduce costs and save taxpayers’ money.

ELIMINATE MANDATORY SENTENCES FOR DRUG OFFENDERS – A special commission studying the state’s criminal justice system voted 9-2 to recommend eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for all drug offenses in the Bay State. The Massachusetts Special Commission to Study the Commonwealth’s Criminal Justice System, created by the Legislature in 2012, is now working on an official report, including its recommendations to the Legislature.

“Drug offenses are a huge reason we have so much overcrowding in the prison system,” said commission member Patty Garin, co-director of the Northeastern University Law School Prisoners Assistance Program. She argued that mandatory minimum sentences disproportionately impact poorer communities and people of color.

Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe, also a commission member said, “We utterly reject this notion that the criminal justice system is warehousing these non-violent drug offenders. That simply is not the case. People have to work extremely hard to get themselves into jail here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

FREE TUITION (S 2106) – A bill that would expand the current law that provides free tuition, fees and room and board at state universities for children of police officers, firefighters, corrections officers, prisoners of war during the Vietnam era and all veterans killed in action is languishing in a House committee since it was give unanimous approval by the Senate in April.

The bill would provide the same benefits to the children of several others killed in action including any call, volunteer, auxiliary, intermittent or reserve police officer, firefighter or emergency medical technician as well as college campus police officers and public prosecutors.

Supporters said this would be a huge help to the families of these fallen heroes. They noted it would help ease the financial stress related to paying for college and allow them to focus on the healing process and their daily lives.

MAKE MATERNITY LEAVE GENDER-NEUTRAL (S 865) – Also stuck in a House committee is Senate-approved legislation that would change the state’s female-only maternity leave law to a gender-neutral one. The law gives parents of a newborn or adopted child eight weeks off, with or without pay at the discretion of the employer, and the right to return to their job after that period. The House gave initial approval to the bill in October 2013 but it has been stuck in committee since then.

Supporters said this would bring this law into the current century. They noted it is outrageous that coverage is currently reserved for women.

QUOTABLE QUOTES – “By the Numbers Edition”

“$2.5 million.”

The estimated cost of renovations to the State Library of Massachusetts located at the Statehouse.

“14,211.”

The number of elevators across Massachusetts operating with expired inspection stickers as of October 2012, according to an audit released last week by Auditor Suzanne Bump.

“$195 million.”

The amount of money the state has so far received from casino and slots parlor license fees.

“2.”

The number of cabinet secretaries so far appointed by Governor-elect Charlie Baker. He appointed Rep. Matthew Beaton (R-Shrewsbury) as Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs and Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash as Secretary of Housing and Economic Development.

“8.”

Months in prison received by Former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien, convicted of mail fraud and racketeering for his role in rigging the probation department’s hiring process so that unqualified, politically connected candidates would get hired.

“$25,000.”

The limit that Governor-elect Charlie Baker’s inaugural committee has placed on single contributions to the committee organizing Baker’s inauguration festivities on January 8.

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 November 17-21, the House met for a total of 22 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 16 minutes.

Mon. November 17 House 10:12 a.m. to 10:20 a.m.
Senate 11:04 a.m. to 11:08 a.m.

Tues. November 18 No House session
No Senate session

Wed. November 19 No House session
No Senate session

Thurs. November 20 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:17 a.m.
Senate 11:00 a.m. to 11:12 a.m.

Fri. November 21 No House session
No Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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