Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 40 -Report No. 8 March 6, 2015

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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 legislative operating rules for 2015-2016. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

SYSTEM TO INFORM MEMBERS (H 2015)
House 36-119, rejected a rule that would require the House Clerk to prepare and post on the Legislature’s website for both formal and informal sessions a calendar that includes matters that are on the House agenda. Current rules only require this to be done for formal sessions.

Informal sessions are ones in which there can be no roll call votes and a single legislator can hold up consideration of a bill until the next formal session. The rule would also require the clerk to e-mail and tell the members that the calendar is online at least 30 minutes before the session begins. Current rules only require the e-mail to be sent “reasonably promptly.”

Supporters said the rule would ensure that members are better informed about matters that might be taken up at a House session.

Opponents said the proposed rule would just create more confusion and bureaucracy and argued this responsibility and power should remain in the hands of the House Clerk, a nonpartisan position elected by both parties.

(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

CONSOLIDATED AMENDMENTS (H 2105)
House 34-121, rejected a rule that would prohibit more than one consolidated amendment from being considered in a single vote. The consolidated amendment system works as follows when the House is considering the state budget: Individual representatives file dozens of amendments on the same general subject matters including local aid, social services and public safety. They are then invited to “subject meetings” in Room 348 at which they pitch their amendments to Democratic leaders who draft “consolidated amendments” that include some of the individual representatives’ amendments while excluding others. Current rules allow several of these consolidated amendments, each on different subjects, to be lumped together into a single, omnibus consolidated amendment and put to a vote. The proposed rule would prohibit that practice.

Supporters said the omnibus consolidated amendment creates a dilemma for legislators who support one or more of the consolidated amendments contained within the omnibus consolidated amendment but oppose the others. They argued members should have the right to vote on each consolidated amendment separately.

Opponents said that current rules already allow a single member to separate his or her amendment from any consolidated amendment and request an up or down individual vote on that amendment.

(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

COMMITTEE ROLL CALLS ON WEBSITE (H 2017)
House 154-0, approved a rule that would require all joint House-Senate 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.” The House has already approved this rule but it only applies to House committees. This would apply it to all House-Senate joint committees.

Supporters said this long-overdue proposal would promote transparency and give the public immediate 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 the rule.)

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

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

$38.062 BILLION FISCAL 2015 BUDGET – Gov. Charlie Baker fired the first shot in the likely six-month battle over the state budget. He filed a $38.062 billion state budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2015 — a 3 percent increase over last year. The House will hold hearings on the governor’s package and then draft its own version that will be debated and amended on the House floor. The Senate will follow suit with its own draft, and a House-Senate conference committee will eventually craft a plan that will be presented to the House and Senate for consideration and then sent to the governor.

HAZARDOUS WASTE (S 2105) – Effective March 16, a new law will amend a current law that requires companies responsible for hazardous materials spills to reimburse the city or town for the cost of its emergency response. The new law would expand current law and require reimbursement even for the “threat” of release of the materials.

Another provision releases private homeowners and renters from reimbursing the community for the cost of any cleanup of oil or hazardous material on their property if they notify the local fire department of the incident immediately, the home was only used as a residence, and the owner or renter was not grossly negligent and did not illegally possess oil or hazardous materials.

Supporters say currently communities use lots of resources and dollars to respond to these calls but are not reimbursed unless there is an actual spill. They note that non-commercial private homeowners and tenants should not be liable for cleanup costs if they meet certain conditions.

BED COUNT (H 2050) Effective March 19, hospitals will no longer be required to de-license beds if their annual occupancy rate falls below a certain level. De-licensing means that the bed is no longer available for patient use. Under current law, when the occupancy rate decreases a certain amount, hospitals are required to de-license beds.

Supporters say current law often affects hospitals in tourist areas at which bed counts fluctuate because of seasonal population changes. They noted that while the beds can be reinstated, it is not an easy process and takes time away from administrators who could be doing more important tasks.

COURT UPHOLDS STUN GUN BAN – The Supreme Judicial Court upheld the 2011 conviction of Jamie Caetano who was convicted of possessing a stun gun. Caetano had argued that the state’s ban on private ownership of these weapons violated her Second Amendment right to bear arms. She said she carried the weapon that administers incapacitating electrical shocks to defend herself against an abusive former boyfriend.

The court unanimously ruled that stun guns are not the type of weapons subject to the Second Amendment and said the Legislature retains its right to determine whether stun guns are banned. According to Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners’ Action League (GOAL), 42 states do not have a ban on stun guns.

OPIOID ADDICTION – The Senate created a 10-member special committee to make an investigation and study of opioid addiction prevention, treatment and recovery options. The panel’s eight Democrats and two Republicans are charged with finding ways to further strengthen opioid abuse prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery options.

QUOTABLE QUOTES – “By the Numbers” Edition

49 percent

Sales losses for retail and restaurant employers during the recent snowstorms, according to a survey by the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.

$6.7 billion

According to state Transportation officials, the amount of money it would take to fix and modernize the MBTA system.

5

The number of additional “work” years added when calculating the pension of any state employees who accept the governor’s proposed early retirement program.

$105.3 million

The increase in Chapter 70 education funding proposed by Gov. Baker.

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 March 2-6, the House met for a total of one hour and 24 minutes and the Senate met for a total of two hours and two minutes.

Mon. March 2 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:09 a.m.
Senate 11:00 a.m. to 11:43 a.m.

Tues. March 3 No House session
No Senate session

Wed. March 4 No House session
No Senate session

Thurs. March 5 House 11:03 a.m. to 12:21 p.m.
Senate 11:05 a.m. to 12:24 p.m.

Fri. March 6 No House session
No Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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