THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local senators on the only roll call vote from the week of March 30-April 3. There were no roll calls in the House last week.
$200 MILLION FOR ROADS AND BRIDGES (H 3187)
Senate 39-0, approved a bill allowing the state to borrow $200 million to give to local cities and towns for road and bridge repairs. The funding would be allocated using the same formula that is used for distributing Chapter 90 transportation money annually.
The funding would be on top of $100 million for local roads released by Gov. Charlie Baker in January and the governor’s recently announced Winter Recovery Assistance Program, which provides $30 million for cities and towns to repair potholes, roads and bridges. The measure needs final approval by each branch before it goes to the governor.
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.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
TWO NEW MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE – A Democrat and a Republican won the two House seats that were filled in special elections last week. Democrat Adrian Madaro was elected to the East Boston seat vacated by former Rep. Carlo Basile, a Democrat. Republican Hannah Kane won the seat previously held by Shrewsbury Republican Matt Beaton. The House’s 160 members now include 125 Democrats and 35 Republicans.
Both Basile and Beaton resigned at the beginning of the year to take jobs with the Baker administration. Beaton holds the position of energy and environmental affairs secretary while Basile is Baker’s chief secretary. Basile’s position involves overseeing appointments to boards and commissions and helping as a liaison to the legislative leadership.
REVIEW ALL REGULATIONS – Gov. Baker signed an executive order requiring a comprehensive review of all regulations enforced by the executive branch of state government. The order, which has the force of law, mandates that each department and agency review all its regulations by March 31, 2016.
Following the review, a regulation is allowed to be retained or modified only if it is mandated by law or essential to the health, safety, environment or welfare of the state’s residents. In order to meet that standard, the agency conducting the review must demonstrate that: “There is a clearly identified need for governmental intervention that is best addressed by the agency and not another agency or governmental body; the costs of the regulation do not exceed the benefits; the regulation does not exceed federal requirements or duplicate local requirements; there are not any less intrusive or restrictive alternatives; the regulation does not unduly and adversely affect Massachusetts citizens and customers of the Commonwealth, or the competitive environment in Massachusetts; there is a formal process in place for measuring the effectiveness of the regulation; and, the regulation is time-limited or provides for regular review.”
Agencies are required to ensure that each regulation is clear and concise and written in plain and easily understandable language. Any new regulations would also be reviewed before being implemented and would have to meet the same standards as existing regulations.
“State government must speak with one voice in its commitment to providing exceptional customer service for citizens, municipalities, businesses, non-profit groups, healthcare providers and educational institutions,” said Gov. Baker. “This will be an intensive process that ultimately makes Massachusetts a more efficient and competitive place to live and work, while driving economic growth. I encourage all other areas of state government to put in place a similar process.”
EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT VS. FILM TAX CREDIT (H 62) – The Revenue Committee held a hearing on Gov. Baker’s proposal to expand the earned income tax credit (EITC) for low-income families and pay for it by eliminating $80 million in tax incentives for the film industry. The EITC would increase from 15 percent to 30 percent over three years. The EITC is designed to help low-income working families with children living at home. The credit is applied toward the individual’s tax liability, and if it exceeds the liability, the taxpayer receives the excess credit as a refund.
Supporters of the bill said that by increasing the average value of the EITC from $937 to $1,873, state officials estimate an increase in disposable income of $196 million, and the addition of 1,000 to 2,000 jobs per year. They pointed to a Department of Revenue study showing that the film credits are not working as hoped and that in 2012 only $50 million of the $300 million in spending generated by the film industry went to in-state vendors while 74 percent went to out-of-state ones.
Opponents defended the tax incentives for the film industry and called the study flawed because it doesn’t take into account the indirect jobs and increased tourism generated by moviemaking in the Bay State. They said repealing the film tax incentives will strike a death blow to the film industry in Massachusetts because movie companies rarely consider making films in states without the incentives.
There were some testifiers who support both the expanded EITC and the film incentives. They said that state can find other ways to fund the EITC.
BAN HAND-HELD CELL PHONES – Rep. Cory Atkins (D-Concord) held a luncheon at the Statehouse to discuss and gain support for her bill that would ban the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. The measure would have Massachusetts join ten states that allow only hands-free phones. In 2010, the House supported a similar ban on hand-held phones 92-66, but it was rejected 16-18 in the Senate. However, that same year the Legislature approved a law banning the typing, sending or reading text messages and e-mail while driving. That law also prohibits drivers under 18 from using any type of cell phone or mobile electronic device.
Supporters say the bill would save lives, prevent injuries and make the roads safer. They note that the state’s current law banning texting while driving is hard to enforce because drivers are allowed to dial phone numbers and use GPS systems, making it difficult for police to prove a driver was reading an e-mail.
Opponents say the ban goes too far and is the same old unnecessary government intrusion into people’s lives. They note that there are already many existing laws that prohibit distracted driving.
$363 MILLION SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET (H 65)
The House and Senate, on voice votes without a recorded roll call, approved and Gov. Baker signed into law a $363 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 and shelter services, and 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; $2.1 million for a prescription drug program for seniors; and $44.2 million for emergency housing services.
The bill also raises from $600 to $1,200 the threshold at which gamblers playing any machines at the state’s future casino and slot parlors must temporarily stop gambling and fill out a form informing the state that he or she has won the money. The casino would also subtract 5 percent of the winnings as a withholding tax.
Supporters said the package is a fiscally responsible one that funds necessary programs including several which are running out of money.
ALLOW PHARMACY INTERNS TO GIVE SHOTS (S 2127) – A law allowing pharmacy interns to give immunization shots to consumers takes effect April 7. Pharmacy interns are students who have completed at least two years at an accredited school of pharmacy registered by the state. The intern will only be allowed to give the shots under the direct supervision of a registered pharmacist.
Supporters say getting shots at pharmacies is easier, faster and less expensive than at doctors’ offices. They note that allowing interns to give the shots will increase the number of customers the pharmacy can handle and free up the time of the pharmacist to focus on filling prescriptions.
“I’m happy for Senate President (Stan) Rosenberg and Bryon (Hefner) on their engagement. They’re friends.”
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who accepted an invitation to officiate at Rosenberg and Hefner’s wedding. Polito, a former opponent of same-sex marriage, now supports it.
“This continuing gap is disappointing because improving racial and ethnic disparities in access was a key objective of the reform. Although a higher percentage of black and Latino residents than white residents gained insurance under the reform, a higher percentage remains currently uninsured than white residents.”
Amresh Hanchate, one of the authors of a new Harvard/Boston University study of the quality of health care following the state’s 2006 health care reform law.
“(The earned income tax credit) could be the most effective anti-poverty program that we know.”
Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash testifying in support of Gov. Baker’s proposal to increase from 15 percent to 30 percent the earned income tax credit (EITC) for low-income families and pay for it by eliminating $80 million in tax incentives for the film industry.
“(The Legislature) has an awful lot of smart people.”
Rep. Ron Mariano (D-Quincy), a supporter of both the film tax credit and the increased earned income tax credit (EITC) on his confidence that the Legislature can come up with cuts in programs in other areas to fund the EITC while keeping the film tax credit in place.
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 30-April 3, the House met for a total of 12 hours and 53 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 14 hours and 37 minutes.
Mon. March 30 House 11:05 a.m. to 5:44 p.m.
Senate 11:02 a.m. to 5:47 p.m.
Tues. March 31 House 11:04 a.m. to 4:55 p.m.
Senate 11:02 a.m. to 4:57 p.m.
Wed. April 1 No House session
Senate 2:02 p.m. to 3:55 p.m.
Thurs. April 2 House 11:05 a.m. to 11:28 a.m.
Senate 11:02 a.m. to 11:06 a.m.
Fri. April 3 No House session
No Senate session
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