Beacon Hill Roll Call

20150209-224301.jpg
Volume 40 – Report No. 5
February 6, 2015

By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on roll calls from prior sessions on the debate on House operating rules for 2015-2016. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

24 HOURS TO READ LEGISLATION (H 2015)
House 38-115, rejected a rule that would require 24-hour notice, not including weekends and holidays, between the release of a bill from an executive session and its consideration on the House floor. The 24-hour rule could be suspended for an emergency if waived by a two-thirds vote.

Supporters said this would prevent bills from being rushed onto the House floor and voted upon without legislators having time to read them. They cited the uproar a few years ago in the U.S. Congress when members were not given time to read the 1,000-page health care bill.

Opponents said the amendment goes too far and that requiring a two-thirds vote would make it very difficult for the rule to be suspended even during an emergency. They argued members usually are given sufficient time to read bills.

(A “Yes” vote is for the 24-hour notice. A “No” vote is against it.)

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

PUT AUDIT ONLINE (H 2015)
House 38-115, rejected a rule that would require the House Clerk to post copies of the annual audit of the Legislature online. The current rule only requires that copies of the audit be “made available to the members and the general public upon request.”

Supporters said the audit of the Legislature’s finances should be made available on the state’s website. They argued this new rule would foster transparency.

Amendment opponents said individual legislators can request a copy and place it on their own website. They argued that posting by the clerk would make the clerk liable for the posting.

(A “Yes” vote is for requiring online posting. A “No” vote is against it.)

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

ALLOW 48 HOURS TO READ BUDGET AMENDMENTS (H 2015)
House 34-121, rejected a rule increasing from 30 minutes to 48 hours the period given to legislators to read any proposed consolidated amendment to the House budget prior to debate and a vote on it. Representatives file dozens of amendments on the same general subject matter. Legislators who are interested in that subject are invited to a meeting during budget debate to pitch their amendment. A consolidated amendment that includes some of the individual amendments, is eventually drafted by the House leadership and brought to the floor for debate and a vote.

Supporters said these amendments are often 30 or more pages long and legislators are asked to vote on them while the paper is still warm from the printer or copying machine. They said that this system is anti-democratic and results in members voting blindly on something that they have not even read.

Opponents said the current 30-minute rule has worked well.

(A “Yes” vote is for the 48 hours. A “No” vote is against it.)

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

ACTION ON LOCAL HOME RULE BILLS (H 2015)
House 34-116, rejected a rule requiring all late-filed home rule bills to be reported out of committee for action by the full Legislature within 120 days of appearing on the House agenda. Home rule petitions are proposed laws that have already been approved by a local city or town but also require legislative approval prior to taking effect.

Supporters of the rule said home rule bills are very important to cities and towns and should not be delayed. They argued they have already been approved by the local community and should not be held up.

Opponents said all proposed bills are important and that making an exception for home rule petitions would set a bad precedent. They noted that sometimes there are problems with local bills and the House needs more time to review and act upon them.

(A “Yes” vote is for the 120-day rule. A “No” vote is against it.)

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

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

CLOSE $768 MILLION STATE BUDGET DEFICIT – Gov. Charlie Baker proposed legislation and unilateral executive cuts to what he estimates is a $768 million deficit in the state’s fiscal budget that keeps the state operating until June 30. The package offers a two-month corporate tax amnesty program in which participating businesses would be exempt from financial penalties if they pay their outstanding taxes. The Baker Administration estimates the program, which first has to be approved by the Legislature, will generate about $18 million in revenue.

The package also includes $150 million in executive branch spending cuts that the governor is allowed to make without legislative approval. These include $5 million in kindergarten grants, $10 million for various mental health services and more than $5 million for the state police.

Other provisions which require legislative approval include the diversion to the General Fund of $131 million in capital gains taxes scheduled to go to the state’s Rainy Day Fund; $40 million in transportation cuts including $14 million from the MBTA; $168 million from various administrative changes at MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program that provides health insurance for nearly 1 million low-income and disabled persons; $53 million in cuts to the Judiciary, Executive and Legislative budgets; $22 million from a hiring freeze; and $108 million in unspent money for programs that have not yet started.

SIDEWALK SAM – The Senate adjourned its Thursday session last week in memory of Robert Guillemin who passed away on January 26. This renowned 76-year-old street artist from Newton was better known as Sidewalk Sam. Guillemin gained fame in the 1970s with the chalk drawings he did on sidewalks in Boston and Cambridge. He earned a master’s of fine arts at Boston University and later returned to the city after going to Paris to work at the Louvre Museum.

In 1984, Guillemin was named the state’s official screever — an artist who draws pictures on sidewalks. In 1994, he was paralyzed from the neck down in a fall while working on his roof. Being confined to a wheelchair did not deter him, and he was soon back on the streets doing his job.

REGULATE UBER AND LYFT – The Baker Administration announced it is working on drafting legislation to regulate controversial transportation services like Uber and Lyft that use a smartphone application to receive ride requests. Temporary Registry of Motor Vehicle regulations on these services took effect on January 16. They require the companies to be licensed by the state and permit drivers who work with licensed companies to use private vehicles to drive paying passengers for six months.

Baker said that Uber and Lyft present an opportunity for the state’s transportation system to more efficiently serve residents and visitors to the state. “We also have a responsibility to step up to ensure consumer choice and public safety prevail and that Massachusetts continues to develop as a global destination for business and tourism,” said Baker.

Opponents, led by the taxi industry, say this new service should be treated the same as taxis. The Boston Taxi Owners Association is suing the city of Boston and has requested an emergency injunction that would block the temporary new state regulations that took effect January 16.

STORAGE UNITS (S 2297) – A law making changes in the laws governing storage units took effect on January 15. This law allows owners of storage facilities to send notices about overdue rent and other matters through electronic mail if the consumer agrees. Other provisions set a maximum on the charge for late fees, allow an auction for a unit to be advertised online in addition to the current option of a newspaper ad and create a process by which self-storage operators must confirm property in fact is abandoned.

Supporters, noting there are more than 700 storage facilities in Massachusetts, said the law will improve consumer protection and at the same time lower the cost of doing business for the facility owners.

COACHES MUST LEARN CPR (S 1918) – A law requiring all school coaches to complete a course in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) from the American Heart Association, American Red Cross or other state-approved agency by August 2015 took effect on January 28. The measure exempts coaches with a physical disability and prohibits local cities and towns from being responsible for the costs.

Supporters said there are creative ways to pay for the training or to get the fee waived. They argued that this invaluable training costs about $50 per person and could save many lives.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“Prior tax amnesties offered to individual taxpayers have proven to be highly successful, and there is no reason to believe that a corporate tax amnesty won’t be just as popular.”

House Republican Minority Leader Bradley Jones (R-North Reading) on Gov. Baker’s proposed program that offers a two-month corporate tax amnesty in which participating businesses would be exempt from financial penalties if they pay their outstanding taxes.

“We have had disproportionate cuts over time that we’ve not recovered from. [Without restoring the cuts], we won’t clean up brownfields to revitalize urban areas and we won’t have clean parks for working class families that can’t jet away.”

Environmental League of Massachusetts President George Bachrach urging that the funding for environmental programs be returned to the higher 2009 levels.

“Gov. Baker is only one month into his administration and yet again he’s broken another promise to voters … he’s already showing disregard for the people behind every line item he cuts.”

Democratic Party Executive Director Matt Fenlon on Baker’s budget cuts.

“Massachusetts finds itself in a $768 million sea of red ink precisely because of the broken promises and out-of-control spending by Democrats on Beacon Hill. For them now to complain about the tough decisions Gov. Baker is having to make to clean up their mess, especially as we learn today of the lavish pay hikes doled out to top Democratic staff by Speaker DeLeo, strains credulity.”

Kirsten Hughes, chair of the state Republican Party.

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 February 2-6, the House met for a total of 11 minutes and the Senate met for a total of seven minutes.

Mon. February 2 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:03 a.m.
Senate 11:05 a.m. to 11:07 a.m.

Tues. February 3 No House session
No Senate session

Wed. February 4 No House session
No Senate session

Thurs. February 5 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:07 a.m.
Senate 11:07 a.m. to 11:12 a.m.

Fri. February 6 House 11:02 a.m. to 11:07 a.m.
No Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.