THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Gov. Deval Patrick was very busy on Beacon Hill before he left office and signed several bills that were approved by the Legislature in the waning days of the 2014 session. The new laws include the following:
REPORT DRIVERS WITH SUSPENDED OR REVOKED LICENSES (H 4521) – Requires the Registry of Motor Vehicles to notify the local police department when the driver’s license of a local resident is suspended or revoked. The notification is only required when the offense is a specific crime committed by the offender including vehicular homicide and drunken driving, and if the person is a habitual traffic offender or poses an immediate threat to public safety. Included in the notification would be the offender’s name, address, license plate number, type of car and driving record.
Supporters said this would enable local police to spot and track drivers who are driving without a license. They noted this could prevent injuries and even save lives.
WINE SALES (H 4571)- Reinstates a law allowing small farmer wineries and cider makers in the Bay State to continue to sell their products directly to restaurants and liquor stores. This law was repealed by a section of a separate law approved in July 2013 that ended the ban on direct shipments of out-of-state wine to Massachusetts customers. Legislative leaders say the repeal was unintentional and an oversight.
Supporters said that without this fix, these farmers would be required to sell only through third-party distributors who might not even be willing to get involved in the low-volume sales of these items.
TAX EXEMPTIONS OFFERED BY LOCAL COMMUNITIES (H 4553) – Requires 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 whether their costs are reimbursed by the state or not.
TOWN MEETINGS (S 2121) – Allows town moderators, after consultation with local public safety officials and selectmen, to recess and continue a town meeting at a future time, date and place because of a weather-related or public safety emergency. The bill also repeals the current law that requires the moderator to be present at the physical location of the town meeting in order to declare the recess.
Supporters cited the example of the town of Georgetown, which had to postpone its town meeting during Hurricane Sunday but could only legally do so if the moderator actually braved the hurricane and went to the location of the meeting. They said this is unnecessary and dangerous.
STERILIZE MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS (H 4384) – Gives local cities and towns the choice to opt into a law requiring that schools inform parents of children who are using a borrowed wind instrument that while the instrument has been sanitized, parents have the option to also have it sterilized to eradicate all microbial life within the instrument. The school would arrange to have the instrument sterilized but the parent would be required to pay the cost. The law would only take effect in cities or towns that choose to adopt it. Wind instruments include the flute, piccolo, clarinet, oboe, trumpet and trombone.
The measure has been proposed for several years but has never made it through the entire legislative process until this year. In past years, some versions of the bill were stricter and would have required all schools that opt into the law to sterilize each wind instrument and also pay the cost.
Supporters of the tougher version point to studies showing that bacteria that cause strep and staph infections can thrive for months inside the instrument.
Supporters of the local option version argued it is a reasonable compromise and noted there is no proof anyone has ever contracted an infection from a musical instrument.
EXPAND PALLIATIVE CARE (H 4520) – Establishes a State Advisory Council on Palliative Care and Quality of Life and a Palliative Care Consumer and Professional Information and Education Program.
Supporters said the law will expand awareness of palliative care services and access to this system of patient-centered, family-focused care for those fighting cancer and other deadly illnesses. They noted that patients who receive palliative care live longer and more comfortable lives with reduced symptoms including less pain and nausea.
PATIENTS’ RIGHTS (H 3804) – Requires Bay State inpatient mental health facilities to provide reasonable daily access to the outdoors in a manner consistent with a patient’s clinical condition and safety as determined by the treating clinician. The Department of Mental Health would issue regulations defining what constitutes reasonable access.
Supporters said this will ensure that these patients get outdoors and are not stuck inside. They noted that fresh air has been shown to have a therapeutic effect on patients.
MAKE MATERNITY LEAVE GENDER-NEUTRAL (S 865) – Changes 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.
Supporters said this would bring this law into the current century. They noted it is outrageous that coverage is currently reserved for women.
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
BAKER TEMPORARILY BANS NEW STATE REGS – Gov. Charlie Baker announced a temporary ban until March 31 on any new state regulations except for ones that are essential for public health and safety or ones that repeal current onerous regulations. This ban comes on the heels of the Baker Administration’s recently announced hiring freeze in the executive branch of state government.
During the gubernatorial campaign, Baker said that the regulatory environment in Massachusetts is one of the factors routinely cited by businesses as making it a difficult state in which to start or grow a business.
“WRITE YOUR OWN LAW”- Friday, January 16, at 5 p.m. was the deadline for legislators and citizens to file legislation for consideration during the 2015-2016 legislative session. The deadline, however, is not set in stone as many late-filed bills are admitted to the Legislature following the deadline but the vast majority of proposals are filed by January 16.
Massachusetts offers citizens the “right of free petition” — the power to propose their own legislation. A citizen’s proposal must be filed in conjunction with a representative or senator. Sometimes a legislator will support the legislation and sponsor it along with his or her constituent. Other times, a legislator might disagree with the bill proposed by a citizen but will file it anyway as a courtesy. In those cases, the bill is listed as being filed “by request” — indicating that he or she is doing so at the request of the citizen and does not necessarily support it. Citizens who are interested in filing legislation should contact their own or any other representative or senator.
PATRICK TO MIT, COAKLEY TO HARVARD – The Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced that former Gov. Patrick will be a visiting fellow at the school’s Innovation Initiative. Harvard University’s Institute of Politics (IOP) at the John F. Kennedy School of Government revealed that outgoing Attorney General Martha Coakley has been selected as one of five 2015 IOP Spring Resident Fellows. The IOP was established in 1966 as a memorial to President Kennedy and aims to inspire, motivate and encourage undergraduates to consider careers in politics and public service.
According to an MIT press release, the Innovation Initiative provides “formal cross-campus organization and a corresponding set of programs expanding the Institute’s capacity to contribute to global innovation. It aims to enhance MIT’s ‘innovation infrastructure’ by accelerating the process for moving basic research out of the lab and into the market.” The release notes that in layman’s terms, this means creating partnerships among academia, industry and government.
Patrick will have formal office hours and is expected to make regular appearances at campus events and seminars.
As a Resident Fellow, Coakley will interact with students, develop and lead weekly study groups and have many opportunities to participate in the intellectual life of the Harvard community.
FORMER STATE SEN. DICK MOORE MAY JOIN OBAMA ADMINISTRATION – The resignation of Christie Hager, the previous regional director of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has left an opening that ex-Sen. Dick Moore (D-Uxbridge) has applied to fill. Moore, formerly a powerful part of the Senate leadership team, was defeated in his re-election bid in November by GOP Sen. Ryan Fattman. The director is appointed by President Barack Obama.
The region covers Massachusetts and the other five New England states — Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. The office is at the John F. Kennedy Federal Building in Boston’s Government Center.
According to HHS’s website, regional directors “ensure the department maintains close contact with state, local and tribal partners and addresses the needs of communities and individuals served through HHS programs and policies.”
“My big concern, to tell you the truth, was I started to feel really sick on Monday. It got worse on Tuesday and my thought was I could hang around here and infect everyone (and then) go to (Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s) State of the City (speech) and every single person I met would have an opportunity to be infected by me. Or I could just go home and get out of the way and do the public health appropriate thing to do, which I did.”
Gov. Baker on WGBH Radio (89.7 FM) with talk show hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on his coming down with the flu last week.
“The city has taught all of us what it means to be Boston Strong.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest on President Barack Obama’s support of bringing the 2024 Olympics to Boston.
“Anyone who thinks this major international project is going to be done on the cheap — ‘on time and on budget’ — and won’t cost us taxpayers a fortune before and if it’s done hasn’t lived in Massachusetts for very long or hasn’t been paying attention.”
Chip Ford of Citizens for Limited Taxation on the Boston Olympic bid.
“It was totally engaging. We were very deeply involved in discussion of issues. I love (former) Gov. Weld, but (the meetings with Weld) were much more social events than they were substantive. Mr. Baker is very substantive, and we spent the entire time digging deep in the weeds of policy.”
Senate President Stanley Rosenberg on his first weekly meeting with Gov. Baker and House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop).
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 January 12-16, the House met for a total of 12 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 11 minutes.
Mon. January 12 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:06 a.m.
Senate 11:01 a.m. to 11:02 a.m.
Tues. January 13 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. January 14 No House session
No Senate session
Thurs. January 15 House 11:11 a.m. to 11:20 a.m.
Senate 11:02 a.m. to 11:12 a.m.
Fri. January 16 No House session
No Senate session
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