Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 40 – Report No. 3 January 19-23, 2015

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By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ votes on four roll calls from the week of January 19-23.

The Senate last week voted on the rules under which it will operate for the 2015 session. The changes from last year’s rules include an increase from 24 hours to 48 hours in the amount of time that the agenda for formal sessions must be made available to the public; creation of three new standing committees – The Committees on Personnel and Administration, Intergovernmental Affairs and Redistricting; requiring any senator who cites a report or study during debate to provide a copy of it to other senators who request it; requiring the text of any bill voted upon by the Senate to be posted online within 24 hours of the vote; requiring a copy of any further or redrafted amendments to the state budget to be distributed to senators to allow a “reasonable amount of time” for review prior to a vote; adding an additional Republican member to some committees; requiring all Senate committee votes to be posted within 48 hours on the Legislature’s website; and an increase from one to three the number of Democratic assistant majority floor leaders and from three to four the number of GOP minority party floor leadership positions.

There was no roll call on approval of the entire package. It was approved on a voice vote. Supporters said these long overdue bi-partisan changes to the rules would make the Senate more transparent and efficient.

PUT SENATE COMMITTEE ROLL CALLS ON WEBSITE (S 6)
Senate 38-0, approved a rule that would require all Senate committee votes to be posted within 48 hours on the Legislature’s website. The current rule is vague and requires committee votes to become “a public record and be available to the public.”

Supporters of the rule said this would simply give the public quick and easy access to the committee votes of their legislators. They noted under current rules, a person has to come to the Statehouse in Boston during regular business hours in order to obtain this information.

(A “Yes” vote is for requiring that Senate committee votes be posted on the Legislature’s website.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

SESSIONS BEYOND MIDNIGHT (S 6)
Senate 6-32, rejected a rule requiring a unanimous vote in order for any Senate session to continue beyond midnight. Current law requires a two-thirds vote to go past midnight.

Supporters said requiring unanimous consent will virtually put an end to post-midnight sessions. They argued it is unnecessary and irresponsible to work while legislators are exhausted and taxpayers are asleep.

Opponents said the rule is undemocratic and will allow one legislator to end Senate debate and action.

(A “Yes” vote is for requiring a unanimous vote to continue beyond midnight. A “No” vote is against requiring it.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen No

REQUIRE TAX HIKE PROPOSALS TO BE ONLINE SEVEN DAYS PRIOR CONSIDERATION (S 6)
Senate 7-31, rejected a rule requiring that all proposals raising taxes be available online for at least seven days prior to their consideration. The amendment also requires the budget-writing Senate Ways and Means Committee to include specific information when it releases the multi-billion dollar annual state budget. The required information includes all new initiatives and major policy changes along with their funding source and the services they offer; any reliance on one-time non-recurring revenues; a diagram that clearly details all the spending recommendations and corresponding revenue sources and shows the spending on each item for each of the previous five fiscal years.

Supporters said that legislators and the public should have at least a week to review proposed tax hikes and make their voices heard. They noted that requiring specific information from Ways and Means will increase transparency and make it easier for everyone to better understand the budget and exactly what it does.

Opponents said the rule is well-intentioned but that compiling the information would be an unnecessary burden on the legislators and staff on the Ways and Means Committee.

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

Sen. Patricia Jehlen No

ADD THREE NEW LEADERSHIP POSITIONS (S 6)
Senate 37-1, approved an amendment that would increase from one to three the number of Democratic assistant majority floor leaders and from three to four the number of GOP minority party floor leadership positions These additions would result in an additional $7,500 stipend for the two Democrats in these two new positions and $15,000 for the additional Republican in this one new position, for a total of $30,000 per year.

Amendment supporters said these changes will help the Senate operate in an efficient and transparent way.

The lone opponent offered no arguments despite repeated e-mails and phone call attempts by Beacon Hill Roll Call.

(A “Yes” vote is for the three new positions. A “No” vote is against them.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen No

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

BAKER SAYS DEFICIT IS $765 MILLION – Gov. Charlie Baker said his aides have crunched the numbers and he projects a $765 million budget deficit for the current fiscal year that ends on June 30, 2015. This is considerably more than the $329 former Gov. Deval Patrick predicted prior to leaving office. The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation’s estimate is even higher. It recently predicted a $1 billion deficit. Baker has said he will not support any new taxes, tax hikes or local aid cuts to close the gap.

MORE BILLS SIGNED INTO LAW – While the 2015 legislative session begins to grind to a start, Beacon Hill Roll Call reports on several more bills that former Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law shortly before he left office and Gov. Charlie Baker moved into his new office on the fourth floor of the Statehouse.

CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE PREVENTION (H 4305) – Creates a task force on child sexual abuse prevention. The task force would develop strategies for incentivizing organizations serving children to develop and implement sexual abuse prevention and intervention plans. It 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 risks and act on suspicions or disclosures. The task force would make recommendations to the Legislature.

MAKE IT EASIER FOR CITIES AND TOWNS TO FUND COLLECTION PROCESS FOR TAX TITLE FORECLOSURES (S 2298) – Allows Massachusetts cities and towns to establish a revolving fund into which legal and administrative fees and charges recovered during legal proceedings for tax title foreclosures would be deposited. The municipality could then use the money directly to pay for the necessary expenses the community incurs during the collection process. Current law places the funds into the community’s General Fund. The revolving fund could be created only in cities and towns that receive local approval to do so through passage of a by-law or by a vote of the town meeting or city council.

Supporters said this new fund would make collections easier by providing a dedicated source of funding without the problems and delays that come with having to get the money from the General Fund.

THEFT FROM RETAIL STORES (H 1474) – Creates new crimes relating to theft from retail stores. The new crimes include using duct tape or other devices that block sensors designed to set off an alarm if not removed by the cashier; using an emergency exit to escape following the theft; and creating a bogus sales receipt or UPC code. The measure also creates a new crime of working in an organized retail theft ring.

Supporters said that these theft rings are estimated to cost Massachusetts retailers more than $160 million annually.

HOMELESS YOUTH UNDER AGE 24 (H 4517) – Creates a commission to study and make recommendations to provide adequate resources for unaccompanied homeless youth under the age of 24. The state would then enter into contracts with organizations and agencies to provide housing and support services to these youths.

Supporters said there are thousands of youths who are living on their own without adequate food and shelter. They argued there is desperate need for increased housing and shelter options and noted homelessness often leads to poor health, exposure to violence, susceptibility to exploitation, high-risk behaviors and a dependence on public systems and benefits.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“We’re clear that we do not believe the taxpayers want to pay for any operating deficit for it. We’re prepared to do the public infrastructure projects we were already going to do and perhaps accelerate them so they’re in place by the time [the Olympics are here]. That’s for the benefit of our economy, not just benefitting the Olympics.”

Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) on the potential cost of the 2024 Olympics to the state.

“My administration will commit significant resources to our Gaming Enforcement Division to investigate and prosecute any attempts by organized crime to infiltrate the gaming industry.”

Attorney General Maura Healey on casinos.

“You know those big terminals, the blue boxes that print the tickets you see everywhere? They are almost two decades old. They are going! This new system will increase our capacity to be innovative and savvy.”

State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg on putting out to bid the replacement of the Lottery’s outdated and inefficient operating system and terminal hardware.

“I’ve always been a fan of John Andrew. Sam Adams obviously he’s part of the gang that got us here in the first place. And [Leverett] Saltonstall who was governor during World War II.”

Gov. Charlie Baker on the three new portraits of former governors he chose to be placed in the Governor’s Council chamber.

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 19-23, the House met for a total of eight minutes while the Senate met for a total of two hours and 57 minutes.

Mon. January 19 No House session
No Senate session

Tues. January 20 House 11:00 a.m. to 11:05 a.m.
Senate 11:04 a.m. to 11:05 a.m.

Wed. January 21 No House session
Senate l:01 p.m. to 3:56 p.m.

Thurs. January 22 House 11:07 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.
Senate 11:01 a.m. to 11:02 a.m.

Fri. January 23 No House session
No Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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