Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 40 – Report No. 4

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By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives votes on roll calls from the week of January 26-30. There were no rolls in the Senate last week.

HOUSE RULES FOR 2015-2016 SESSION (H 2015)
House 114-40, approved a set of rules under which the House will operate during the 2015-2016 session.

Changes from the 2013-2014 session include eliminating the rule that prohibits any member from serving as speaker for more than eight consecutive years; requiring all House committee votes to be posted within 48 hours on the Legislature’s website; and banning the taking of photographs and videos in the House chamber while the House is in session.

Supporters said that these changes will make the House and its operations more transparent.

Opponents objected to several provisions including abolishing term limits for the speaker. They said that some of the changes are a beginning but they do not go nearly far enough to really open up the House.

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

Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes

TERM LIMITS FOR SPEAKER (H 2015)
House 45-110, voted against reinstating a rule that prohibits any member from serving as speaker for more than eight consecutive years. The rule was originally adopted by the House as part of a rules package that was approved in 2009. There was not a specific roll call vote on the limit itself in 2009.

Elimination of the limit allows current House Speaker Robert DeLeo to run again for speaker in the 2017-2018 session and beyond. If the term limit had remained in place, the current 2015-2016 session would have been DeLeo’s last.

Speaker DeLeo was a champion of the eight-year limit when it was approved in January 2009. Last week he said that his position on term limits has “evolved” during his six-year tenure as speaker that began in 2009. “I wouldn’t say I’m going back on my word as much as the fact that over six years, rightly or wrongly, I feel I have learned in terms of what the importance is of doing away with the term limits we have in the rules.”

Supporters of term limits said its elimination is a step backwards and a complete flip-flop that leads to cynicism and mistrust among voters. They argued that term limits prevent anyone from becoming “Speaker for Life.” They noted that the indictments and convictions of the three prior speakers, Charlie Flaherty, Tom Finneran and Sal DiMasi, prove that too much power for too long is a problem.

Opponents of term limits said this restriction would make a speaker serving his final two years a lame duck. They noted that it would reduce the speaker’s power in dealing with Gov. Charlie Baker and Senate President Stan Rosenberg.

(A “Yes” vote is for the eight-year term limit. A “No” vote is against the limit.)

Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey No

LOCAL AID GUARANTEE BY MARCH 15 (H 2015)
House 38-118, rejected a rule requiring the House to annually adopt by March 15 resolutions stating the minimum amount of local aid that the Legislature will give to cities and towns for that year.

Supporters said that cities and towns often do not know how much local aid they will receive until the Legislature approves the state budget in July. They noted that most communities assemble their local budgets in March and can better prepare if they know how much local aid they will receive.

Opponents said the House Ways and Means Committee has not even crafted a budget proposal by March 15 and argued that minimum statutory increases in Chapter 70 Education Aid and the governor’s budget, which precedes the House version, provide a good estimate to cities and towns. They said that being forced to set dollar figures for local aid too early can result in conservative estimates that are lower than what communities will actually receive.

(A “Yes” vote is for the March 15 deadline. A “No” vote is against it.)

Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Denise Provost No Rep. Timothy Toomey No

REQUIRE ROLL CALL VOTE TO APPROVE TAX HIKES (H 2015)
House 34-121, rejected a rule prohibiting the House from approving any tax hikes without a two-thirds roll call vote. The rule also would allow the House to approve tax hikes only up to 30 days prior to the deadline for filing nomination papers to run for a seat in the Legislature. The rule could be suspended by a two-thirds vote.

Supporters said this would ensure voters know how their legislators vote on any tax hikes and that taxes are hiked only if they have overwhelming support. They noted that it would also prevent what occurred several years ago year when the House approved a $1 billion-plus tax hike two days after the filing deadline for candidates who may have chosen to run for office if they knew an incumbent had voted for the tax hike.

Opponents said this goes too far and the two-thirds requirement is unreasonable and would make it very difficult for the House to approve any tax hikes. They argued that the proposed rule is too broad because it applies equally to a $10 fine and a $1 billion tax hike.

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

Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Denise Provost No Rep. Timothy Toomey No

PUT HOUSE COMMITTEE ROLL CALLS ON WEBSITE (H 2015)
House 155-0, approved a rule that would require all House committee votes to be posted within 48 hours on the Legislature’s website. The current rule is vague and requires committee votes to be “kept in the offices of the committee and be available for public inspection.”

Supporters said this long overdue proposal would 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 House committee votes be posted on the Legislature’s website.)

Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes

EQUAL REPRESENTATION ON ETHICS COMMITTEE (H 2015)
House 35-120, rejected a rule that would change the current 11-member Ethics Committee to an eight-member one that would include four Democrats and four Republicans. Current rules provide for seven Democrats and only four Republicans on the 11-member committee.

Supporters said a balanced membership, regardless of which party controls the House, would create a truly bipartisan committee and ensure that investigations into any representative’s or state worker’s conduct are fair and nonpartisan. They noted that the U.S. Congress’ Ethics Committee has an equal number of members from both parties.

Opponents said no one has challenged the fairness or integrity of the current Ethics Committee with its Democratic majority. They noted it is illogical to have an equal number of members from each party on the committee when the current makeup of the House membership is 124 Democrats and 34 Republicans.

(A “Yes” vote is for an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. A “No” vote is against it.)

Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Denise Provost No Rep. Timothy Toomey No

MAKE IT HARDER TO SHIP BUDGET AMENDMENTS OFF TO STUDY COMMITTEES (H 2015)
House 34-120, rejected a rule requiring a two-thirds vote to ship proposed amendments off to a study committee unless the sponsor of the original amendment agrees with conducting a study.

The rule was designed to stop what Republicans describe as successful attempts by Speaker DeLeo and his Democratic leadership team to prevent Democratic members from having to vote directly against many GOP proposals including ones to reduce taxes.

Here’s an example of how the GOP says it works: The Republicans offer a proposal to reduce the income tax from 5.3 percent back to 5 percent. If the Democratic leadership does nothing, there would be a roll call vote directly on the tax reduction. Most Democrats would vote against the reduction and then would be open to charges of being against tax relief.

Instead, a Democratic member offers a “delaying” amendment that would prohibit the tax reduction from taking effect until the Department of Revenue studies its economic impact.

Under House rules, the amendment to study and delay the tax cut is voted upon first. If it passes, which it always does, no other amendments can be introduced and the original proposal that would simply cut the tax is dead without ever having a direct vote on it. Republicans say the studies are a sham because they are never done.

They say this is all pre-planned by the Democratic leadership, that the presiding officer at the podium calls upon a representative who is loyal to him and the member proposes the delay and study. Even if a Republican member is waving his or her hand and shouting to be recognized, he or she will not be called upon because he or she would not propose the delay and study.

Some Democrats say the study is often a legitimate option to examine the impact of the tax reduction. Other Democrats acknowledge that the study is proposed to prevent a direct vote on the tax reduction.

Supporters of the rule said this Democratic ploy is used to confuse the voters. They argued that the new rule would at least give supporters of tax reduction amendments a better opportunity to successfully force a vote directly on the tax cuts.

Opponents of the rule said the current system has worked fine and argued that requiring a two-thirds majority for further amendments was simply another procedural delaying tactic by the minority party. They said that raising the bar to a two-thirds majority is a slippery slope that will lead to proposals to require a two-thirds vote for all kinds of legislation.

(A “Yes” vote is for the rule requiring a two-thirds vote. A “No” vote is against the rule.)

Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Denise Provost No Rep. Timothy Toomey No

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

NOW AND THEN – During the debate on whether to limit members from serving more than eight consecutive years as speaker of the House, a line by Rep. Garrett Bradley (D-Hingham) provided some comic relief.

Bradley was only 28 years old when he lost his first campaign for state representative against 24-year incumbent Rep. Mary Jeanette Murray in 1998. He is now a 14-year incumbent and part of Speaker DeLeo’s leadership team. During debate in the House last week, Bradley joked that his slogan in 1998 was “New Blood” while his slogan now is “Experience Counts.”

MORE BILLS SIGNED INTO LAW

Here are some bills that were signed into law in January by former Gov. Deval Patrick.

HEADLIGHTS (H 4567) – Requires drivers to turn on their headlights when visibility is less than 500 feet or when the use of windshield wipers is necessary. These requirements are in addition to the existing law that mandates the use of headlights during the period from a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour before sunrise.

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. Prior to passage of this law, the state had only tracked these tax exemptions and deferrals if they are reimbursed by the state.

ALLOW CONSUMERS TO USE COUPONS AND REBATES TO PURCHASE PRESCRIPTIONS (S 2286) – Extends 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.

QUOTABLE QUOTES – By the Numbers Edition

5,333

The number of bills filed for consideration in the 2015-2016 session.

64,750

The initial number of signatures that will have to be collected by former gubernatorial candidate Evan Falchuck in order to get a binding statewide referendum on the 2016 ballot asking voters whether Boston should host the 2024 Olympic Games.

Between $20 million and $30 million

Gov. Baker’s estimate of how much last week’s blizzard will cost the state.

2 percent

The dropout rate for the 2013-2014 school year in Massachusetts. Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester says this is the lowest rate in more than 30 years.

3.18 per 100,000 people

The gun death rate in the Bay State according to an analysis by the Violence Policy Center. Massachusetts had the second lowest rate in the nation.

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 26-30, the House met for a total of eight hours and 16 minutes while the Senate met for a total of three hours and 57 minutes.

Mon. January 26 House 11:02 a.m. to 11:22 a.m.
Senate 11:02 a.m. to 11:18 a.m.

Tues. January 27 No House session
No Senate session

Wed. January 28 No House session
No Senate session

Thurs. January 29 House 11:04 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Senate 11:00 a.m. to 2:41 p.m.

Fri. January 30 No House session
No Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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