Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 39 – Report No. 51 December 19, 2014

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By Bob Katzen

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

This week, with the end of the 2013-2014 session approaching, Beacon Hill Roll Call continues its series that takes a look at some of the bills approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick in the 2013-2014 session.

APPROVE $1.4 BILLION FOR HOUSING (H 3727)
House 151-2, Senate 39-0, approved a package allowing the Patrick administration to borrow $1.4 billion over five years for affordable public housing. Provisions include $500 million to renovate and modernize many of the state’s 45,000 public housing units; $55 million in loan guarantees to assist homeowners with blindness or severe disabilities to make their homes accessible; and $45 million for loans for the development of community-based housing for individuals with mental illness and intellectual disabilities.

Supporters said that Massachusetts has the 4th highest average home sale price in the nation. They noted this package will help thousands of people remain in their homes or find new affordable housing in the state.

Opponents expressed concern that another $1.4 billion is being approved for housing without assurances that the benefits will be reserved for people with proper legal documentation.

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

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

$1.31 BILLION CAPITAL PROJECTS (H 4362)
House 147-3, Senate 40-0, approved a $1.31 billion capital spending package that allows the state to borrow funds for various projects including $378 million for general state facility improvements; $312.5 million for health and human services state facility projects; $25.5 million for accessibility improvements at state facilities; $50 million for the Massachusetts Cultural Fund; $60 million for State Police cruisers; $151 million for library projects; $15.6 million for cities and towns to renovate police and fire stations; and $20 million each for renovation and repairs to the Senate and House chambers.

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 package is a fiscally responsible one that funds important projects while maintaining the state’s excellent bond rating.

Opponents urged the Legislature to rein in spending and said the state’s debt is one of the highest in the nation and will be a huge burden to our children.

(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 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

HELP MILITARY FAMILIES (S 2052)
House 146-0, Senate 39-0, approved the VALOR II Act, which expands financial and education benefits and many other services for veterans, active-duty military personnel and their families. Provisions include 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 allowing private-sector employers to give preference to veterans and spouses of 100 percent disabled veterans.

Supporters noted that one in three homeless people in the nation are veterans, one in five Massachusetts veterans suffer post-traumatic stress and 11 percent suffer traumatic brain injuries. They said the state should provide these additional benefits and opportunities to the thousands of Bay State veterans who have served and are still serving our nation.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

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

PROHIBIT SHACKLING OF FEMALE INMATES (S 3978)
House 146-0, Senate 39-0, approved a law that would prohibit the shackling of a female prisoner during pregnancy, labor and delivery except to prevent her from escaping or seriously injuring herself or others. It would also establish minimum standards for the treatment and medical care of pregnant prisoners to promote safe and healthy pregnancy outcomes, including adequate nutrition and prenatal care.

Supporters said that shackling a female prisoner during birth is an archaic practice that should have been banned years ago. They argued that all women deserve a safe, healthy pregnancy and birth of their baby.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

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

BENEFITS FOR FALLEN FIREFIGHTERS AND POLICE OFFICERS (H 4023)
House 149-0, Senate 39-0, approved a law 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 has resigned Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

MINIMUM WAGE HIKE TO BEGIN JANUARY 1 (S 2195)
House 124-24, Senate 35-4, approved a law hiking the current $8 per hour minimum wage by $3 over the next three years. The first hike to $9 will occur in just a few weeks on January 1, 2015. The wage will then go to $10 in 2016 and finally to $11 in 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 that 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.

Supporters said this pro-worker law 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.

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

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

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE (S 2334)
House 152-0, Senate 35-0, approved a law that allows 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 and delay bail for domestic violence offenders by six hours, allowing victims an opportunity to find a safe place and get the necessary help.

Another provision requires local police departments to withhold from their public reports all the information about domestic violence allegations including the identity of the person arrested on these charges. Supporters said this is designed to protect the confidentiality of domestic violence victims. Opponents, led by Robert Ambrogi, executive director of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, said this would in fact violate freedom of the press and protect the alleged perpetrator by hiding his or her name.

Supporters said this long-overdue law 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.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

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

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

CANCER VICTIMS AND DRIVER’S LICENSES (S 2417) – The Senate approved a bill giving cancer patients who have lost their hair to treatment a one-year extension on having a new photo taken for their driver’s license. A Massachusetts driver’s license photo must be updated every ten years.

Supporters said that it is unfair and psychologically harmful that cancer patients who have lost their hair are required to take a new photo while they are bald. They noted it is a reminder of their illness and argued that the extension is compassionate and would give them time to grow back their hair for the photo.

ACCOSTING AND ANNOYING (S 2362) – The House approved a Senate-approved bill that would change a current law that makes it illegal to annoy or accost people of the opposite sex with behavior that is deemed offensive and/or disorderly. The measure would allow the charges to be brought even if the victim was a person of the same sex.

Supporters said the bill will change this antiquated law and is aimed at sex offenders who target children regardless of gender. They cited an incident in Bellingham in which a male offender accosted young boys but the charges were dismissed because under the law, it was only a crime when it was against the opposite sex.

Only final approval in each branch is needed before the measure goes to the governor.

TAX EXEMPTIONS OFFERED BY LOCAL COMMUNITIES (H 4553) – The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill requiring all cities and towns to submit to the state a list of all the exemptions, deferrals or other reductions from locally assessed taxes that are available to individuals in that community. The state would then compile a complete list of what each city and town offers. Currently, the state only tracks these tax exemptions and deferrals if they are reimbursed by the state.

Supporters said this will ensure that there is oversight and tracking of all these programs regardless of whether their costs are reimbursed by the state.

TASK FORCE ON CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE PREVENTION (H 4305) – The Senate approved a House-approved proposal creating a task force on child sexual abuse prevention. The task force would develop strategies to encourage organizations serving children to create and implement sexual abuse prevention and intervention plans. The proposal would also develop a five-year plan for using community education and other strategies to increase public awareness about child sexual abuse including how to recognize signs, minimize risk and act on suspicions or disclosures. The task force would make recommendations to the Legislature.

Only final approval in each branch is needed before the measure goes to the governor.

GROWTH FOREST RESERVES (S 749) – The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would protect old growth forests from logging and development by establishing a system that would prohibit new development, new or expanded recreational facilities and commercial timber cutting in these forests. The Massachusetts Audubon Society describes these extremely rare growth forests as “living laboratories where students, scientists and the public can learn more about forest development, tree genetics and climate change.”

Supporters said that of the three million acres forested in the Bay State, only 1,500 acres are currently old growth forests. They noted that in these forests, which have not been disturbed for hundreds of years, there are canopy layers and fallen trees that create rich and diverse habitats for many species of birds, insects and reptiles.

QUOTABLE QUOTES – Special “Departing Representatives Make Farewell Speeches” Edition

“After 25 years in the exciting but insane world of politics, I am as ready to retire as anything.”

Rep. Christine Canavan (D-Brockton)

“My wife and I ‘licked’ the competition.”

Rep. Ryan Fattman (R-Webster) referring to his campaign brochure with the controversial picture of Fattman licking his wife’s face. Fattman ousted incumbent Sen. Richard Moore and will move to the Senate in January.

“I met a voter at her front door and was chatting with her only to see over her shoulder her very large dog climb onto her kitchen counter, devour two huge steaks that were about to be put on the barbecue … I ran back to my car, I went to the supermarket and I grabbed a couple of steaks. I drove back to the house … and I said … ‘Here’s a couple of steaks, I hope I can make things right here.'”

Rep. Tom Conroy (D-Wayland) telling a story about going door-to-door on his first campaign.

“I hope I will continue to be invited back to the ‘Kowloon Caucus’ as you have your meetings on the way home with the Republican caucus.”

Rep. John Keenan (D-Salem) referring to the sometimes gathering of some GOP members at the Kowloon Restaurant, which is owned by Rep. Don Wong (R-Ipswich).

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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