Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 40 -Report No. 17 April 27-May 1, 2015

By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ and representatives’ votes on six roll calls from the week of April 27-May 1. There were no roll calls in the Senate.

There were only 17 roll call votes during the three days of budget debate in the House on the $38 billion fiscal 2016 state budget. That total is down from the prior two budgets when 40 and then 34 roll calls were held. One of the reasons for this year’s lower number is that not enough Republicans stood to request a roll call vote on several issues. A roll call is required in the House if 16 or more representatives request one. Since there are 35 Republican members in the House, the GOP can demand a roll call whenever it wants. That was not the way it worked last week. A group of GOP members who have far less than a close working relationship with Republican Minority Leader Brad Jones (R-North Reading) stood up several times to request a roll call on various amendments. They were not joined by enough GOP colleagues to reach the magic number of 16.

The proposed amendments that were debated in the House on which an insufficient number of representatives requested a roll call included proposals to: prohibit any use of public funds for the 2024 Olympics; create an annual permanent meals tax holiday on March 22-27; prohibit any tax hike from becoming effective sooner than one year after it is approved; require six regional public hearings before any tax hike is voted upon by the Legislature; increase review of rules and regulations with economic impacts on small businesses; and establish smoking cessation programs for firefighters and police.

Rep. Geoff Diehl (R-Whitman) said that Minority Leader Brad Jones (R-North Reading) directed Republican members to remain seated and not request roll calls, and Diehl called upon Jones to explain his actions. “I stood for all roll calls and I would not think to speak for him or to begin to rationalize his actions,” said Diehl.

Jones responded, “Once again the representative is in error. I never asked nor told anyone not to stand. As Minority Leader I have a great many demands and responsibilities, especially during budget week, and the sponsor of any amendment has primary responsibility, if they want a roll call, to make efforts to ensure there is sufficient support for a roll call. Any member’s inability to secure a roll call lies first and foremost with themselves.”

Jones continued, “The budget week is always a busy week with visitors, advocates and a variety of meetings commanding the attention of members and drawing them away from the chamber. Neither Rep. O’Connell or Diehl ever spoke with me before, during or after the budget debate about their amendments or roll calls for their amendments.”

Rep. Shaunna O’Connell (R-Taunton) said it is important that the people know how their representatives vote in order to hold them accountable. She continued, “I make it a point to be in the chamber the majority of the time. The people expect us to pay attention, not be distracted. I had a meeting that I could not attend because I wanted to make sure I was in the chamber.”

O’Connell added that she sent an email to every GOP member Monday at 7:14 p.m. with the amendments she had left that she expected to ask for roll calls on during the remainder of the debate. “I debated on and stood for roll calls that I did not expect,” she said. “A fundamental part of our job is to vote. There are people in the chamber who do not stand for roll calls. The lack of transparency in this state is stunning and does a great disservice to the people.”

Assistant Minority Whip Rep. Elizabeth Poirier (R-North Attleboro) echoed Jones and commented, “People had meetings and many things to attend to so it may have been just the situation at the time.”

House 158-0, approved and sent to the Senate a $38 million fiscal 2016 budget that increases spending by 2.8 percent.

Supporters said the budget is a fiscally responsible and balanced one that makes vital investments in the state while continuing fiscal responsibility and not raising taxes.

Much of the work on the budget was done behind the scenes. Here’s how it worked: Individual representatives filed dozens of proposed amendments to the budget on similar subject matter, such as the amount of state aid to cities and towns, social services and public safety. The representatives were then invited to “subject meetings” at which they pitched their proposed amendments to Democratic leaders who then drafted “consolidated amendments” that included some of the individual representatives’ amendments while excluding others.

(A “Yes” vote is for the budget.)

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

House 38-120, rejected a proposed amendment requiring the MBTA Retirement Fund to make available online the minutes of its board meetings within seven days of any meeting.

Amendment supporters said that this board has operated mostly in secrecy and that this new requirement would make the board more transparent. They noted the retirement fund receives state money and should be accountable to the taxpayers.

Amendment opponents said the amendment should be considered later, when the House takes up a transportation bill filed by Gov. Charlie Baker. They noted that that route would allow the proposed amendment to be aired at a public hearing, rather than be considered in the budget process without a public hearing.

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against it.)

Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Denise Provost No Rep. Timothy Toomey No

House 37-122, rejected an amendment to the budget that would have repealed a 2008 law which requires employers who are found liable of failing to pay wages to an employee in a timely fashion to pay him or her triple the amount of money owed. The 2008 law was passed in response to a 2005 court ruling that left the amount of the award to the discretion of the judge.

Amendment supporters said that the 2008 law goes too far and takes away all discretion from judges despite the circumstances of the case. They argued that the law should be flexible because employers who make an honest error should not be required to pay triple damages.

Amendment opponents defended the 2008 law and argued that triple damages should automatically be awarded to deter employers from holding back compensation owed to employees.

(A “Yes” vote is for repealing the law and is against mandating triple damages. A “No” vote is against repeal and favors mandating triple damages.)

Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Denise Provost No Rep. Timothy Toomey No

House 159-0, approved an amendment that would require the DFC to conduct stricter background checks on all applicants to be adoptive or foster parents and all their household members age 15 or older.

Amendment supporters said a recent audit showed that 25 of the applicants’ homes matched the address of registered sex offenders. They said the current system is inadequate and puts children already at risk in further risk.

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)

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

House 115-44, approved an amendment requiring the state to establish rules and regulations regarding the disclosure and verification of social security numbers for applicants of public or subsidized housing. The amendment also requires the Department of Housing and Community Development study and submit a report on the matter of public housing eligibility by July 1, 2016. The report would include the number of applicants and household members for state-assisted public housing who would be unable to access it if required to submit a social security number on their application,

The amendment would replace an earlier proposal to require applicants and household members over the age of 18 to provide a social security number upon application for public housing and prohibit anyone who does not supply the number from being eligible for housing.

Amendment supporters said the earlier proposal goes too far and will not solve any problems. They argued the amendment is a thoughtful and fair approach to this problem.

Amendment opponents said the earlier proposal would be simple and effective: if you don’t provide a social security number, you are not eligible for public housing. They argued it is unfair to provide housing to illegal immigrants.

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against the amendment.

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

SICK TIME (H 3400)
House 45-114, rejected a proposed amendment that would delay by 90 days the implementation of the earned sick leave law approved by voters in a referendum last November. The law is scheduled to go into effect on July 1.

Amendment supporters said an initial draft of the regulations was released just a few days ago. They argued that by the time the final regulations are adopted, it will be close to July 1 and businesses will have only a short time to figure out how best to implement the law.

Amendment opponents said the Legislature should not thwart or change a law approved by voters in 2014. They said that an implementation delay would prevent employees from beginning to accrue their sick time hours.

(A “Yes” vote is for the delay. A “No” vote is against the delay.)

Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Denise Provost No Rep. Timothy Toomey No


Here are three more laws that were approved by the 2014 Legislature and went into effect last month.

TAX EXEMPTIONS OFFERED BY LOCAL COMMUNITIES (H 4553) – Requires all cities and towns to submit to the state a list of all the exemptions, deferrals or other reductions from locally assessed taxes that are available to individuals in that community. The state would then compile a complete list of what each city and town offers. Prior to this law, the state only tracked these tax exemptions and deferrals if they were reimbursed by the state.

Supporters say this will ensure that there is oversight and tracking of all these programs regardless whether their costs are reimbursed by the state.

TOWN MEETINGS (S 2121) – Allows town moderators, after consultation with local public safety officials and selectmen, to recess and continue a town meeting at a future time, date and place because of a weather-related or public safety emergency. It also repeals a law that required the moderator to be present at the physical location of the town meeting in order to declare the recess.

Supporters cite the example of the town of Georgetown, which wanted to postpone its town meeting during a hurricane but could only legally do so if the moderator actually braved the hurricane and went to the location of the meeting. They said this is unnecessary and dangerous.

STERILIZE MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS (H 4384) – Gives local cities and towns the ability to opt into a law requiring that schools inform parents of children who are using a borrowed wind instrument that, while the instrument has been sanitized, parents have the option to also have it sterilized to eradicate all microbial life within the instrument. The school would arrange to have the instrument sterilized but the parent would be required to pay the cost. The law would only take effect in cities or towns that choose to adopt it. Wind instruments include the flute, piccolo, clarinet, oboe, trumpet and trombone.

The measure has been proposed for several years but never made it through the entire legislative process until last year. In past years, some versions of the bill were stricter and would have required all schools that opt into the law to sterilize each wind instrument and also pay the cost.

Supporters of the tougher version pointed to studies showing that bacteria that cause strep and staph infections can thrive for months inside the instrument.

Supporters of the local option version that was eventually adopted argued that it is a reasonable compromise and asserted that there is no proof anyone has ever contracted an infection from a musical instrument.


“The House of Representatives’ budget demonstrates that through fiscal prudence and thoughtful investments we can achieve sustainable economic growth and set the standard for aiding citizens facing adversity.”

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop).

“This week’s House budget debate shows a failure of both Republicans and Democrats to engage in transparent, open democracy … When Democrats rubber stamp the decisions of their leadership, and Republican leaders refuse to demand roll call votes, voters see that our legislature is really made up of just one party — the insiders.”

United Independent Party Chairman Evan Falchuk

“When it’s less safe to send your daughter to college than to keep her home with you and have her work at McDonald’s, you know we have a lot of work to do.”

Rep. Tricia Farley Bouvier (D-Pittsfield) on the problem of sexual violence on college campuses.

“It’s time to end the dash to stash offshore cash and let creativity flourish in the market place, not in the tax code to use offshore tax havens to avoid paying their share of corporate taxes.”

Rep. Josh Cutler (D-Duxbury) speaking in favor of his amendment to close corporate loopholes that allow corporations earning profits in Massachusetts to use offshore tax havens to avoid paying their state corporate taxes.

“We cannot thank the Blue Star Mothers of Massachusetts enough for their sacrifices and the sacrifices of their families to protect our safety and freedom.”

Lt. Governor Karyn Polito announcing plans to designate May as Blue Star Mothers of Massachusetts month.

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 27-May 1, the House met for a total of 31 hours and 18 minutes and the Senate met for a total of six hours and 17 minutes.

Mon . April 27 House 10:05 a.m. to 8:35 p.m.
Senate 11:00 a.m. to 2:29 p.m.

Tues. April 28 House 10:02 a.m. to 8:56 p.m.
No Senate session

Wed. April 29 House 10:04 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
No Senate session

Thurs. April 30 House 11:02 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Senate 1:02 p.m. to 3:50 p.m.

Fri. May 1 No House session
No Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at

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