THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local senators and representatives on the only roll call vote from the week of April 6-10.
$200 MILLION FOR ROADS AND BRIDGES (H 3187)
House 157-0, Senate 38-0, approved and Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a measure 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 brings this year’s total for bridge and road repairs for local communities to $330 million, which includes $100 million for local roads released by Baker in January and the governor’s recently announced Winter Recovery Assistance Program, providing $30 million for cities and towns to repair potholes, roads and bridges.
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.
The bill has previously been approved by both branches. This final vote in each branch was necessary to send the bill to the governor.
(A “Yes” vote is for the $200 million.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
TURN ON HEADLIGHTS – A new law requiring drivers to turn on their headlights when visibility is less than 500 feet or when the use of windshield wipers is necessary went into effect last week. These requirements are in addition to an existing law that mandates the use of headlights during the period from a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour before sunrise. Any violation is a surchargeable offense that could result in higher auto insurance rates for the offenders.
The proposal was sponsored by Rep. David Linsky (D-Natick), who argues this new law will prevent accidents and even save lives. Supporters note that studies show collisions in Canada have decreased since that nation required more frequent use of headlights.
Rep. James Lyons (D-Andover) last week filed a bill to repeal the law. “The drivers of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts can be relied upon to use common sense when deciding if headlights are needed,” said Lyons. He added, “Making your windshield wipers and headlights a moving violation is completely ridiculous. It looks more like another Beacon Hill money grab than a reasonable safety measure, and the penalty is particularly harsh on working families, who will be assessed insurance surcharges in addition to fines.”
Lyons has also criticized the way he says the bill was approved. “This was passed under the cover of darkness with no transparency or open debate,” Lyons said. Rep. Shaunna O’Connell (R-Taunton) agrees, “Passing a bill like this during an informal session is why Massachusetts gets an F in transparency.”
Beacon Hill Roll call has reviewed the legislative history of the law. It was proposed in January 2013. A public hearing was held on September 23, 2013, and the measure was given initial approval in the House at a formal session on July 31, 2014, without debate and without a roll call vote. Any member could have debated the proposal, and if 16 members had asked for a roll call, the House would have been required to hold one.
The law was given final approval by the House and Senate at informal sessions on January 6, 2015, which was the last day of the 2014 session. Former Gov. Patrick signed it on January 7, his last day in office. Under House rules, any member can basically delay and ultimately kill a bill during informal sessions. When asked why she didn’t debate the bill and request a roll call vote in July 2014, or delay and ultimately kill the bill in January 2015, O’Connell responded, “Republican leadership covers informals to keep an eye on and hold anything that is controversial or questionable. I cannot answer why they did not object to this bill.” Lyons did not respond to repeated attempts to reach him for a comment.
Linsky, the bill’s sponsor, said, “Any single representative [at an informal session] who objected to this bill could have stopped it by himself or herself. All he or she had to do was pay attention.” He argued that the bill went through the entire legislative process including public hearings and that opponents had ample time to debate it, bring it to a roll call vote and try to kill it.
Linsky also told Beacon Hill Roll Call that he and Rep. William Straus (D-Mattapoisett) will be sponsoring an amendment to make the offense non-surchargeable. They plan to try to attach it to the state budget, which will be debated by the House in a few weeks.
NO MORE BRAND NAME WATER IN SENATE – Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) is attempting to put an end to the practice of senators bringing brand name water bottles into the Senate chamber. The water bottles often end being very visible on television when the Senate sessions are broadcast. Rosenberg is responding to a long-time complaint by Sen. Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth) that it is inappropriate to display these commercial products in the Senate chamber.
Upon arriving at last week’s Wednesday session, senators were greeted with a commercial-free bottle of water on their desks. The bottles had the seal of the Senate on them. Pete Wilson, Rosenberg’s press secretary, said, “Historically, the decorum of the Senate chamber did not allow for brand name water bottles and we are returning to this practice. If senators would like water at their desks, the president is encouraging them to use the new bottles.”
Hedlund has said the practice has deteriorated over the years to the point where some senators are now bringing Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and even a 7-11 Big Gulp into the chamber. Hedlund said he was happy that Rosenberg has stopped a practice that’s generally been frowned upon for many years and that Hedlund has brought up several times in the past.
According to Rosenberg’s office, the water is paid for out of the Senate operations account and the water bottles are paid for by Rosenberg’s campaign account. Wilson said that Rosenberg encourages but does not mandate that senators use them instead of brand name bottles.
NEW LAWS TAKE EFFECT
The Legislature approved and former Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law many bills at the close of the 2014 session, which ended in January. It takes 90 days for most new laws to become effective. Here are two of the new laws that took effect in early April.
CANCER VICTIMS AND DRIVER’S LICENSES (S 2417) – Effective April 2: Gives cancer patients who have lost their hair as a result of treatment a one-year extension on having a new photo taken for their driver’s license. A Massachusetts driver’s license photo must be updated every ten years.
Supporters say it is unfair that cancer patients who have lost their hair are required to take a psychologically harmful new photo while they are bald. They argue this compassionate law would give them time to grow back their hair before taking a new photo.
AMBER ALERT (S 2173) – Effective April 7: Improves and enhances the state’s Amber Alert System, which interrupts regular radio and TV programming to broadcast information that could help recover an abducted child. Information is also broadcast on electronic signs along highways, in airports and on cell phones.
Provisions include codifying the entire Amber Alert System into law; requiring more descriptive information in the missing child database including identifying marks, prosthetics or surgical implants, photographs, description of clothing, items that may be with the missing child, and his or her means of transportation; allowing the State Police to coordinate with law enforcement agencies in other states; and establishing training guidelines for 911 operators.
Supporters say this important law would enhance the state’s invaluable Amber Alert System. They note since its inception in the Bay State in 2002, the alert has been activated 15 times and successfully recovered and reunited 23 children with their families.
QUOTABLE QUOTES – Special MBTA edition.
Reaction to the Baker administration’s proposal to make several changes at the T including placing the MBTA under the oversight of a five-member fiscal control board.
“A disappointing rehash of other government reports over the last decade, just updated with the latest grim statistics. The report has no vision for the future and seems written to give political cover for Gov. Baker to take more direct control of the MBTA.”
United Independent Party Chairman Evan Falchuck.
“We commend Gov. Baker and his special panel for performing an in-depth diagnostic review of the MBTA’s core functions. And [we] support the panel’s recommendations to put the system back on track.”
The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.
“Today’s report makes clear the actions that need to be taken to confront the problems at the MBTA. I hope the legislature moves quickly to take those actions.”
Senate Republican Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester).
“The recommendations contained in this report have the potential for delivering long-term stability and meaningful improvements to the MBTA’s finances and operations.”
House Republican Minority Leader Bradley Jones (R-North Reading).
“Baker clearly got the scripted report he wanted from his commission. But the time for politics is over. After devastating winter storms that paralyzed our transportation infrastructure and economy, Gov. Baker owns the transportation system and voters are demanding he produce real results, not empty rhetoric.”
Massachusetts Democratic Party Executive Director Matt Fenlon.
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 April 6-10, the House met for a total of three hours and 59 minutes and the Senate met for a total of two hours and 44 minutes.
Mon. April 6 House 11:02 a.m. to 11:20 a.m.
Senate 11:13 a.m. to 11:20 a.m.
Tues. April 7 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. April 8 House 11:03 a.m. to 2:36 p.m.
Senate 2:02 p.m. to 4:24 p.m.
Thurs. April 9 House 11:07 a.m. to 11:18 a.m.
Senate 11:03 a.m. to 11:18 a.m.
Fri. April 10 No House session
No Senate session
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