THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ votes on roll calls from prior sessions on the debate on Senate operating rules for 2015-2016. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.
FOUR HOURS TO READ BILLS (S 6)
Senate 8-30, rejected a Republican-proposed rule that would give committee members at least four hours to review the text of any bills on which they are asked to vote. The rule could be suspended by a majority vote of the committee members.
Supporters of the rule said senators should have at least four hours to read bills before being asked to vote on them. They noted if there is an emergency and reason that the Senate cannot wait that long, the rule could be suspended by a majority vote of the committee. They argued that often the bill they are asked to vote on is a new version that they have not even seen yet.
Opponents of the rule said sometimes the Ways and Means Committee has to act quickly on important bills and cannot wait four hours. They argued that the Senate should hold off on the proposal until the new chair of the Ways and Means Committee has been appointed so that chair can have some input. They said that committee members should be familiar with these bills, which have often been before the committee for weeks.
(A “Yes” vote is for the rule. A “No” vote is against it.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen No
TEXT OF AMENDMENTS ONLINE (S 6)
Senate 38-0, approved a GOP-proposed rule that would require the Senate clerk, when posting any Senate roll calls on the state’s website, to also include the text of the bill or amendment on which the Senate voted. Current rules require the posting of the roll call but not the text.
Rule supporters said this would increase the Senate’s transparency and allow people to see what the vote was about instead of just the vote.
(A “Yes” vote is for the rule.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
PROVIDE COPY OF BILL (S 6)
Senate 37-0, approved a Republican-sponsored rule that would require the Senate Ways and Means Committee to provide a Ways and Means Committee member, when he or she requests it, with a copy of any bill involving public money or a grant of public property. Under current Senate tradition, the committee usually provides a summary of the bill.
Supporters of the rule said that senators should have a copy of the text of the bill and not just a summary that is limited in details.
(A “Yes” vote is for the rule.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
EARLY RETIREMENT – The House and Senate approved and Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law 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 May 11, 2015, and June 12, 2015, and must retire no later than June 30, 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.
REQUIRE SUPPLY OF EPINEPHRINE IN SCHOOLS (H 415) – The Education Committee gave a favorable report to a bill that would require all schools to have a supply of epinephrine, a drug that is injected to counteract allergic reactions. Current law allows students to bring their own epinephrine and requires schools to store it for them in a secure but unlocked place.
Supporters say that there has been a rise in the number of children with allergic reactions and argued it is time for schools to be proactive on this.
EDUCATION COMMITTEE HEARING – The Education Committee held a hearing on several bills including:
PILOT PROGRAMS FOR SILENT PANIC BUTTONS IN SCHOOLS (H 368) – This would require 12 randomly selected schools to install silent alarm systems that would link the schools to the emergency 911 system in their area. These panic buttons are available on key fobs, pendants and as actual panic buttons to place around the building, including under desks.
Supporters said school children deserve this same protection that is currently used for less valuable things like money, jewelry and fur.
NO SCHOOL ON ELECTION DAY (S 251) – This would prohibit public schools from scheduling classes on statewide Election Day. The measure would designate those days as professional development days, currently required under state law, to train principals, teachers and other professional staff in various skills.
Supporters say many schools serve as polling places on Election Day. They argue that crowds entering the schools on those days reduce safety at the schools and put children in danger.
SCHOOL DRESS CODES (H 357) – This would give local school committees the option of establishing dress codes for their public schools. The measure requires that any adopted dress codes be published in student handbooks or handed out to each student and parent.
Current law prohibits schools from dictating students’ dress and appearance unless school officials determine they violate reasonable standards of health, safety and cleanliness. Other provisions include requiring schools to help low-income students purchase clothing that meets the code and giving parents the option to exempt their children from the code.
RELIGION VIEWPOINTS (H 369) – This would require all public schools to implement a policy that allows for a limited public forum and voluntary student expression of religious viewpoints at school events, graduation ceremonies and class assignments. The schools would be required to treat these expressions in the same manner as the expression of a secular or other viewpoint. The proposal also prohibits the district from discriminating against a student based on his or her expressed religious viewpoint.
Supporters say the bill would ensure students can pray on school grounds and express their faith and religious viewpoints without fear of punishment or discrimination.
TAXES, TAXES AND TAXES – Taxes dominated a hearing held by the Revenue Committee, which was called the Taxation Committee up until a few years ago. One bill would require consumers to pay the state’s 6.25 sales tax only on the price they actually pay for a cell phone. Under a current regulation by the Department of Revenue, the sales tax on the purchase of a bundled package — a cellular phone discounted because it is sold along with the customer’s one-, two- or three-year commitment to the seller’s calling plan — is based on the wholesale price that the store paid for it, not on the price actually paid by the consumer. That wholesale price is almost always higher than what the consumer paid for the phone.
For example, a phone has a suggested retail price of $500, but the store purchased it wholesale for $200 and then sold it at a discount for $50 because it came with a service agreement. Under current regulations, the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax would be based on the $200, not on the $50 the customer actually paid. In that case, the retailer may choose to pay the additional sales tax, share it with the consumer or pass it entirely on to the consumer.
Supporters of the new proposal say it is ridiculous that a customer and/or a retailer is currently forced to pay a sales tax on an amount that was more than the actual transaction. They argued it is time to change this antiquated and unfair regulation and save retailers and consumers millions of dollars.
Opponents of the proposal say the state cannot afford the estimated $12 million revenue loss.
Other items on the committee’s agenda included legislation to reduce the income tax from 5.15 percent to 5 percent (H 2598); freeze the income tax rate at 5.15 percent instead of allowing it to eventually be reduced to 5 percent (H 2667); reduce the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent (H 2557); raise from $175 to $250 the cost of a single piece of clothing that is exempt from the sales tax (H 2636); and prohibit any tax hike from becoming effective sooner than one year after it is approved (H 2641).
“I grew up in Massachusetts, I went to school here, and I want to stay here when I graduate. But if the film tax credit is eliminated, my fellow students and I will have no choice but to move elsewhere. The work just won’t be here anymore.”
Kristen Levesque, student at Fitchburg State University, urging the Legislature to retain the state’s tax credit for companies that make films in the Bay State.
“Alarmingly, one in four nurses (25 percent) report patient deaths directly attributable to having too many patients to care for at one time and the same number report they wouldn’t feel safe admitting their own family member to the unit on which they work.”
From a new Massachusetts Nurses Association study of registered nurses in Massachusetts.
“You may view me as the Lowell chancellor, but I’m paying attention for eight years to everything that’s going on in this system. There’s no such thing as status quo and there’s no such thing as mediocrity. That’s not the way I’ve ever operated.”
UMass Lowell Chancellor and former Congressman Martin Meehan following his appointment by the Umass Board to serve as the system’s next president.
“We’re going to make sure that the executive side of government continues to perform.”
Gov. Baker upon signing the early retirement bill that is expected to cut 4,500 employees from the state payroll.
“Over the last 20 years, charter schools across the commonwealth have consistently proven themselves to be outstanding educational institutions, producing some of the best academic results for a diverse cross-section of students.”
Secretary of Education James Peyser at a ceremony celebrating 20 years of charter schools in the Bay State.
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 May 4-8, the House met for a total of one hour and 55 minutes and the Senate met for a total of two hours and two minutes.
Mon. May 4 House 11:05 a.m. to 12:52 p.m.
Senate 11:02 a.m. to 12:55 p.m.
Tues. May 5 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. May 6 No House session
No Senate session
Thurs. May 7 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:09 a.m.
Senate 11:00 a.m. to 11:09 a.m.
Fri. May 8 No House session
No Senate session
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