THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call reports on the $361 million supplemental budget approved by the Senate last week. There were no roll calls on the budget itself or on any of the 23 proposed budget amendments.
$361 MILLION SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET (S 21)
Senate, on a voice vote without a roll call, approved a $361 million supplemental budget to fund various state programs and agencies until fiscal year 2015 ends on June 30.
Provisions include $50 million for state costs of removing snow and ice during the severe winter; $35 million for the Department of Children and Families for foster care, adoption, shelter services, substance abuse and education and counseling services; $34.7 million for the operation of the Committee for Public Counsel Services that pays for lawyers to represent indigent persons in criminal and civil cases; and $51.5 million for emergency housing services.
Other sections mandate a review and study of the current law that requires persons who are applying for a reverse mortgage to be counseled in person rather than by phone; allow cities and towns to waive penalties for homeowners who were not able to pay their property taxes if a local community closed its offices on February 2 because of the snow storm; and increase from two years to five years the period when cities and towns could gradually pay the costs associated with snow and ice removal this winter.
Proposed amendments that were defeated on voice votes without a roll call include $943,000 for the METCO program that allows urban students to attend suburban schools; $50 million for additional unrestricted local aid to cities and towns; and requiring that applicants for some state university tuition and fee waivers be a United States citizen or an eligible noncitizen.
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
LIMIT SALE OF E-CIGARETTES – Attorney General Maura Healey unveiled a proposed set of regulations to prevent the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. Provisions include prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18; prohibiting sampling, promotional giveaways and other free distributions; prohibiting the sale of nicotine liquid or gel without child-resistant packaging; and prohibiting the product to be sold in stores with vending machines open to persons under 18.
Members of the public can submit comments to the Attorney General’s office until Friday, April 24, by e-mailing AGOregulations@state.ma.us
TAX AMNESTY FROM MARCH 16 TO MAY 15 – The Department of Revenue (DOR) announced another tax amnesty program. If you owe the state back taxes, you will be issued a “Tax Amnesty Notice” from DOR. If you pay the full amount of tax and interest due by May 15, DOR will waive all penalties already incurred.
This year’s program includes several tax types not included in the amnesty program held last fall including corporate excise tax(including financial institutions, insurance, public utilities and banks), estate taxes, fiduciary income taxes and individual use tax on motor vehicles. A similar tax amnesty program implemented in September 2014 collected just over $57 million from 61,000 taxpayers. For more information, go to http://www.mass.gov/dor/amnesty or call DOR’s Customer Service line at 617-887-6367 or toll free in Massachusetts at 800-392-6089.
$30 MILLION FOR CITIES AND TOWNS FOR ROAD AND POTHOLE REPAIRS – The Baker Administration announced the Winter Recovery Assistance Program, a $30 million program for cities and towns to repair potholes and roads and bridges. The funds will be distributed to cities and towns based on the Chapter 90 highway funds formula, which the Baker Administration says is based on a weighted average of a city’s or town’s population, employment and total mileage of roads. The $30 million will come from the existing fiscal 2015 bond authorization for the Department of Transportation.
Gov. Charlie Baker said, “After an unprecedented winter of heavy snowfall and frigid temperatures, this additional support will allow municipalities to patch up potholes and address local repairs as needed.” The program requires all work on local roads and bridges to be completed by June 30, 2015, and that all work invoices be provided to state by July 31, 2015, in order for cities and towns to get reimbursed.
ANALYZE CITIES AND TOWNS – The Pioneer Institute unveiled MassAnalysis, its new online tool designed to provide detailed fiscal and other information on every city or town in the state.
“Understanding your town’s position relative to the rest of the state is key to recognizing and addressing deficiencies,” the institute said in a press release. The site can be accessed at http://massanalysis.com
STATE GETS AN “A” FOR TRANSPARENCY IN SPENDING MONEY (S 21) – Massachusetts received an “A” in government spending transparency, according to “Following the Money 2015: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data.” The report is issued annually by the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG) Education Fund.
“Massachusetts’ commitment to spending transparency is a success story,” said MASSPIRG’s Legislative Director, Deirdre Cummings. “Back in 2010 when we released our first report, so little spending data was available online that the Commonwealth was graded an ‘F.’ After steady improvement, Massachusetts this year has reached near the top with an ‘A.’” You can see the full report at http://www.masspirg.org
“I appreciate the opportunity to join today’s important ceremony and will welcome future conversations about ways to make the Commonwealth and our communities better for LGBTQ youth and all our children.”
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito at the swearing-in of members of the Massachusetts Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning Youth. Polito, a former opponent of same-sex marriage, now supports it.
“These regulations make clear that in Massachusetts an e-cigarette is a cigarette when it comes to protecting our kids.”
Attorney General Maura Healey announcing a proposed set of regulations to prevent the sale of e-cigarettes to minors under 18.
“While we wish Republican Gov. Charlie Baker the best during his stay at his time-share in Park City, Utah, the real question is why he’s forgoing the seven open ski ranges we have in Massachusetts right now. Voters are left wondering why just one month after saying our local economy needed a boost because of losses suffered during inclement weather, Gov. Baker is taking his tourism dollars elsewhere.”
Democratic Party spokesman Pat Beaudry in a statement to the State House News Service.
“It’s one opportunity I have to get all of my kids in the same place and I’m going to take advantage of it. The Baker family loves to spend money and vacation and enjoy all the retail and hospitality around the Commonwealth and we do, all the time.”
“Since adopting the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test, student achievement in Massachusetts has become the envy of the nation and among the best in the world. It is a record that hardly merits scrapping the test, particularly for one that is likely to be less effective at preparing students for college and careers.”
Former Sen. Thomas Birmingham on why he is against the Common Core standards.
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 16-20, the House met for a total of nine minutes and the Senate met for a total of three hours and 58 minutes.
Mon. March 16 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:05 a.m.
Senate 11:05 a.m. to 11:08 a.m.
Tues. March 17 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. March 18 No House session
No Senate session
Thurs. March 19 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:08 a.m.
Senate 1:01 p.m. to 4:56 p.m.
Fri. March 20 No House session
No Senate session
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