Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 39 – Report No. 53 January 1, 2015

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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 concludes 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.

BOSTON STRONG LICENSE PLATES (H 3664)
House 147-0, Senate on a voice vote without a roll call, approved a law allowing drivers to purchase “Boston Strong” license plates for an additional $50 or more above the regular biennial $50 fee for a license plate. Proceeds benefit the One Fund that raises funds for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.

Supporters said the revenue from the additional $50 fee would allow people to contribute financial support to the thousands who were impacted by this tragedy. They noted that the plates are one more way to honor the victims and their families.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

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

MERCURY RECYCLING (S 1758)
Senate 36-0, House on a voice vote without a roll call, approved a law that would prohibit the sale and installation of mercury thermostats. The law also requires all thermostat manufacturers to make collection containers available to wholesalers, retailers and local government for the proper disposal of older mercury-filled thermostats. Prior to passage of this law, the disposal program was voluntary. The measure also requires the manufacturers to participate in an education and outreach program to inform the public about this program.

Supporters said mercury pollution can cause serious health problems for people and wildlife. They noted even a few drops of mercury have the potential to contaminate a huge number of fish.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

BAN “UPSKIRT” PHOTOS (H 3934)
Senate 39-0, House on a voice vote without a roll call, approved a law banning the covert photographing, videotaping or electronic surveillance of someone’s sexual or intimate parts, regardless of whether those parts are naked or covered by clothing or undergarments.

The measure was filed and taken up on March 6, 2014, one day after the Supreme Judicial Court had ruled that a man who took “upskirt” cell phone photos on the MBTA did not violate state law because the women photographed did not have a legal expectation of privacy and were not nude or partially nude. It passed both branches quickly and the governor signed it into law the next day.

Supporters said the Legislature acted at lightning speed to close this giant loophole in the law before another perpetrator got away with this outrageous activity.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

PROTECTING ANIMAL WELFARE AND SAFETY (S 2345)
Senate 40-0, House on a voice vote without a roll call, approved a law increasing the prison time and fines for committing animal abuse. The measure increases the fine for a first offense from a maximum of $2,500 to a maximum of $10,000 while raising the maximum prison sentence for a first offense from five years to seven years. Under prior law, the fines and prison sentences for subsequent offenses are the same as first offenses. The law increases the fines and prison time for second offenses to a maximum of ten years and a fine of $20,000.

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 bill 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 said the Puppy Doe case is one of many similar cases that have occurred in the state. They argued it is time to increase the punishment and fines for those who commit such heinous crimes.

Some animal advocacy organizations, while applauding the increased penalties, have expressed 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 and neglect.

Supporters of the bill said that the task force will look into creating an animal abuse registry.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

PROTECT ADDRESSES OF SOCIAL WORKERS (H 4568) – The House gave initial approval to a bill that would prohibit a Department of Children and Families social worker’s home address and home telephone number from being disclosed in any court proceeding.

Supporters said this would give social workers the same protection currently enjoyed by police officers. They noted that many social workers have been the victims of violence and argued that revealing this information makes things more dangerous.

ALLOW SIMULCASTING AT SUFFOLK DOWNS (S 2421) – The Senate approved and sent to the House a bill allowing Suffolk Downs for two years to continue simulcasting horse races from other states without being required to have any live races at the track. Current law only allows simulcasting if the track sponsors a certain amount of live races.

Supporters said that this would give the track’s owners time to decide what they are going to do with the track following their failure to get a casino license. They noted 100 jobs depend on approving the bill.

CONFINEMENT OF MENTALLY ILL PRISONERS (H 4545) – The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Patrick a bill prohibiting mentally ill patients from being housed in a segregated unit at a prison for more than 30 days. The measure provides that these prisoners instead be sent to mental health treatment units. The Senate Ways and Means Committee estimates that the legislation will cost $13 million.

Supporters said the segregation of mentally ill prisoners is counterproductive and often makes the prisoners even worse. They noted that a court agreement imposing this same rule expires in 2015 and argued things will revert back to the old rules of extended confinement in segregation units if this bill is not passed.

MASSAGE THERAPISTS (H 4551) – The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Patrick a bill that prohibits unlicensed masseuses from advertising on the Internet through websites, e-mails or blogs.

Supporters said a loophole in current law prohibits these unlicensed masseuses from advertising in print including newspapers, magazines and signage, but allows them to advertise on the Internet.

SIX-YEAR CAREER PLANNING FOR STUDENTS (H 4527) – The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Patrick a bill that would create a committee to investigate and study the possible development and implementation in the 2016-2017 school year of a six-year career planning project for each sixth grader. The program would be coordinated by licensed school guidance counselors. The committee would present the report to the Legislature with recommendations for any action it feels should be taken.

Supporters said the bill will empower students to set goals and help them receive the necessary education and develop the skills required to succeed in a career.

CANCER VICTIMS AND DRIVER’S LICENSES (S 2417) – The House and Senate approved and sent to the governor a bill giving cancer patients who have lost their hair as a result of 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 it is unfair that cancer patients who have lost their hair are required to take a psychologically harmful new photo while they are bald. They argued this compassionate bill would give them time to grow back their hair before taking a new photo.

ALLOW CONSUMERS TO USE COUPONS AND REBATES TO PURCHASE PRESCRIPTIONS (S 2286) – The House and Senate approved and sent to the governor a bill extending until July 2017 a current law allowing consumers to use coupons and rebate offers when purchasing brand name prescriptions. The law, approved in 2012, was set to expire in July 2015.

Supporters said that banning the use of coupons and rebates prior to 2012 was designed to prevent drug companies from trying to induce customers into buying their drugs. They said that the unintended consequence of the ban is that it resulted in people being prohibited from saving money on prescriptions.

Opponents argued the use of coupons drives up health care costs by luring consumers and encouraging them to request high-priced brand name medication.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“(Buy) a $30 instant (scratch) ticket.”

Retiring State Treasurer Steve Grossman on what he is going to do when he leaves office on January 21. State law prohibits the treasurer and other Lottery officials from buying Lottery tickets.

“$1.3 million.”

The amount of money paid by Verizon to resolve allegations that the company overcharged the Commonwealth for telecommunications services.

“After reviewing the committee’s authority, it has been determined that our jurisdiction does not extend to the scope of your request.”

Rep. David Linsky (D-Natick), Chairman of the House Committee on Post Audit and Oversight responding to a GOP request to investigate the questions surrounding the scandal at the Probation Department in which former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien was convicted of rigging the probation department’s hiring process so that unqualified, politically connected candidates would get hired.

“We are puzzled by your response … We believe the law is clear …’It shall be the duty of the Committee on Post Audit and Oversight to oversee the development and implementation of legislative auditing programs … with particular emphasis on performance auditing.'”

Response to Linsky from Reps. James Lyons (R-Andover) and Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica).

“Gov. Deval Patrick will leave office on Jan. 8, but not before he ensures that dangerous and currently illegal taxi services of companies such as Uber and Lyft are legitimized by placing them under the control of the Department of Public Utilities.”

From a press release by the taxi industry, which is an opponent of Uber and Lyft–transportation services that use a smartphone application to receive ride requests.

“From January to November, a total of 7,027 foreclosure petitions were filed, a 42.4 percent increase compared with 4,935 petitions recorded during the same period last year.”

From a study of Massachusetts foreclosures by The Warren Group, which publishes “Banker and Tradesman.”

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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