Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 40 – Report No. 12 March 23-27, 2015

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By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives on roll calls from the week of March 23-27. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.

EARLY RETIREMENT (H 3189
House 152-0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill creating the Employee Retirement Incentive Program that offers early retirement to thousands of state workers in the executive branch. In order to qualify, a worker must have minimum of 20 years of service or be at least 55 years of age.

The plan allows employers to hire replacements for some of the departing workers but caps the amount the employer can spend at 20 percent of the savings resulting from the early retirements. The measure is similar to the one first proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker at the beginning of March. Employees who want to participate in the program must file an application for retirement between April 15, 2015 and July 15, 2015, and must retire no later than July 31, 2015.

Supporters estimate that 4,500 state workers will take the early retirement, resulting in a savings of $173 million. They argued this program is the best way to trim the state’s payroll and balance the budget without massive involuntary layoffs.

(A “Yes” vote is for the program.)

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

$200 MILLION FOR ROADS AND BRIDGES (H 3187)
House 155-0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill allowing the state to borrow $200 million to grant to local cities and towns for road and bridge repairs. This funding would be on top of the governor’s recently announced Winter Recovery Assistance Program, which provides $30 million for cities and towns to repair potholes, roads and bridges, and the $100 million for local roads released by Gov. Baker in January.

Supporters said the total of $330 million would help struggling cities and towns with road and bridge repairs which have increased because of the harsh winter storms.

(A “Yes” vote is for the $200 million.)

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

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

2024 OLYMPICS LIKELY TO BE ON 2016 BALLOT – Boston 2024, the non-profit group spearheading the effort to bring the 2024 Olympics to Boston, announced it plans to put a question on the 2016 ballot asking voters how they feel about the Olympics possibly coming to Boston. “Boston 2024 believes that the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be good for Boston, and will create thousands of jobs, drive economic development, and serve as a catalyst for the long-term plans of Boston,” Boston 2024 Chairman John Fish said. “As we pursue this goal, we are committed to the highest level of transparency and accountability.” Fish also pledged that Boston 2024 would not go forward with its bid if the ballot question does not pass or if a majority of voters in the city of Boston do not support it.

Meanwhile, Rep. Geoff Diehl (R-Whitman) said that not one of the people involved with Boston 2024 are known for being frugal with taxpayer money. “I fear the taxpayers are going to be left with a big bill,” said Diehl. He challenged Boston 2024 to not spend more than $250,000 on the ballot question. “If they truly want the people’s opinion, then they should put aside their big money,” said Diehl. “You can win a ballot question by just talking to voters without all the expensive commercials.”

Former 2014 gubernatorial candidate Evan Falchuck is also involved in the Olympics saga. He said his United Independent Party plans to gather signatures to put its own question on the 2016 ballot asking voters whether they agree that no taxpayer money should be used for the Olympics if Boston is chosen as the site. Falchuck said he is skeptical of Boston 2024 drafting the wording of a ballot question. “Taxpayers have to be protected,” Falchcuk said. “The question for Boston 2024 is this: Do you agree to a vote that says no taxpayer money for the Olympics? If not, what do you propose instead?”

SEVERAL NEW LAWS TAKING EFFECT
The Legislature approved and former Gov. Patrick signed into law many bills at the end of the 2014 session, which ended in January. It takes 90 days for most new laws to become effective. Here are several new laws that take effect in late March and early April.

ACCOSTING AND ANNOYING (S 2362) – Effective March 24: Changes a current law that makes it illegal to annoy or accost people of the opposite sex with behavior that is deemed offensive and/or disorderly. The new law allows the charges to be brought even if the victim were a person of the same sex.

Supporters say the new law changes this antiquated law and is aimed at sex offenders who target children regardless of gender. They cite an incident in Bellingham in which a male offender accosted young boys but the charges were dismissed because under the law, it was only a crime when it was against the opposite sex.

SELL LIQUOR AT CONTINUING CARE COMMUNITIES (S 2407) – Effective April 2: Allows the sale of alcohol at continuing care communities, retirement communities and assisted living facilities.

Supporters say many of these communities already offer top-notch in-house restaurants but noted that the facility is not allowed to serve liquor. They argue that allowing alcohol is simply an extension that will benefit residents and make profits for the homes.

CONFINEMENT OF MENTALLY ILL PRISONERS (H 4545) – Effective April 5: Prohibits mentally ill patients from being housed in a segregated unit at a prison for more than 30 days. It provides that these prisoners instead be sent to mental health treatment units.

Supporters say the segregation of mentally ill prisoners is counterproductive and often makes the prisoners even worse. They note that a court agreement imposing this same rule expires in 2015 and argued things will revert back to the old rules of extended confinement in segregation units if this bill is not passed.

MASSAGE THERAPISTS (H 4551) – Effective April 5: Prohibits unlicensed masseuses in Massachusetts from advertising on the Internet through websites, e-mails or blogs.

Supporters say a loophole in the current law prohibits unlicensed masseuses from advertising in print, including newspapers, magazines and signage, but allows them to advertise on the Internet.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“It’s certainly an opportunity to speak frankly about something that you’re really interested in. And since we’re not really supposed to talk about what we do talk about in those meetings, which I think is appropriate, the one thing I will say is they’ve been terrific.”

Gov. Baker on his weekly meeting with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg.

“For 2014, Boston returned to the number 10 position among the list of top 25 U.S. metropolitan areas, after it had been ranked 13th last year. Boston had 176 buildings that were Energy Star certified.”

From a new report by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We have seen virtually no improvement in the quality of the education the students are getting in Holyoke.”

Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester on the persistent and pervasive problems with the Holyoke school system and why he is recommending the state temporarily take it over.

“Every member of the House has received concern from multiple constituents in our districts about the unusually high spike in electric rates over the past year.”

House Post Audit and Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. David Linsky telling the State House News Service why he and his committee members will meet with officials from the attorney general’s office in April for an informational meeting about electric rates.

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 23-27, the House met for a total of five hours and 54 minutes and the Senate met for a total of four hours and 58 minutes.

Mon. March 23 House 11:04 a.m. to 11:12 a.m.
Senate 11:02 a.m. to 11:32 a.m.

Tues. March 24 No House session
No Senate session

Wed. March 25 House 11:05 a.m. to 3:54 p.m.
No Senate session

Thurs. March 26 House 11:04 a.m. to 12:01 p.m.
Senate 10:02 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Fri. March 27 No House session
No Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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