Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 40 – Report No. 22

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June 5, 2015

By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ votes on roll calls from debate on the $38.1 billion fiscal 2016 state budget. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

BOSTON CONVENTION CENTER (S 3 – Amendment #55)
Senate 13-25, rejected an amendment that would repeal a law authorizing $1 billion in state borrowing to fund a 1.3 million square-foot expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. The expansion was approved by the Legislature and signed by former Gov. Deval Patrick in July 2014 but was put on hold by Gov. Charlie Baker.

Amendment supporters said the state is facing up to a $1.8 billion deficit this year. They argued that stopping this dubious expansion will save up to $100 million that could be used to increase local aid to cities and towns.

Amendment opponents said the expansion was approved after years of discussion, debate and hearings and should not be repealed by a budget amendment that does not even have a public hearing.

(A “Yes” vote is for repealing the expansion. A “No” vote is for the expansion.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

$700,000 TO PROMOTE FLIGHTS OVERSEAS (S 3 – Amendment #184)
Senate 30-7, approved an amendment providing $700,000 to Massport to “encourage tourism and travel to Boston from Israel, the Middle East and Asia.” According to Massport, El Al Airlines starts nonstop service between Logan International Airport and Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport on June 28.

Amendment supporters said this opens up new international commercial and economic opportunities for Massachusetts and the region. They argued the $700,000 was part of the agreement between Massport and El Al for instituting nonstop flights.

Amendment opponents said subsidizing foreign travel is costly and unnecessary. They argued that market forces can decide where there is a need for additional flights.

(A Yes” vote is for the $700,000. A “No” vote is against it.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Didn’t Vote

UNFUNDED STATE MANDATES (S 3 – Amendment #584)
Senate 39-0, approved an amendment requiring the state to review and analyze all unfunded local mandates and deliver a report on the cost and economic impact of those mandates on cities and towns.

Amendment supporters said many cities and towns are struggling to fund and implement various state mandates. They argued the amendment would finally take a thorough look at the cost of these mandates to cities and towns.

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

HEALTH CONNECTOR AND OPEN MEETING LAW (S 3 – Amendment #709)
Senate 16-23, rejected an amendment that would make the state’s Health Connector website subject to the open meeting law and public records requests. It would also require the governor’s office to annually review and evaluate the return on investments made by the Connector. Another provision would require that board votes, meeting minutes, financial records, contracts and staff salaries be published on the Connector’s website.

Amendment supporters said the site has been a disaster that has cost hundreds of millions of dollars. They argued the amendment will increase transparency and keep the Health Connector accountable.

Amendment opponents said requiring detailed information on the website might violate privacy rights.

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

Sen. Patricia Jehlen No

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

BAN SHADOWS (H 715) – The Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture held a hearing on a bill that would prohibit the construction of any new building that would cast a shadow in Boston on the Charles River Esplanade, Christopher Columbus Park, Commonwealth Avenue Mall, Copley Square Park, Magazine Beach Park or the Back Bay Fens.

Supporters say some new construction would cast shadows on many Boston parks and interfere with enjoyment by people of scarce open space while benefiting a few wealthy property owners and developers.

Some opponents say the proposal is another example of government interference on issues that are often silly. Others note that perhaps there could be a compromise that protects parks but also is not harmful to developers.

FIREFIGHTERS/POLICE OFFICERS AND SMOKING (H 3284) – The Public Service Committee held a hearing on a proposal that would amend the current law providing for the automatic firing of any firefighter or police officer hired after 1988 who is caught smoking. The bill would give the individual the option to keep his or her job if he or she enters a smoking cessation program.

REVENUE COMMITTEE HEARING – The Revenue Committee held a hearing on several bills last week including:

TAX PLASTIC BAGS (S 1501) – Imposes a tax on shoppers who choose “plastic over paper.” The measure imposes an initial two-cent per bag tax on each plastic bag and then increases the tax over a six-year period to 15 cents per bag. The revenue would be split evenly between the stores and the state with all the funds being used to promote recycling.

Supporters said that the bill would help the environment. They noted that Americans annually use more than 380 billion bags and argued that most of them end up as litter or trash.

Opponents said that this is another example of unnecessary government intrusion and is simply another unwarranted tax. They argued that this decision should be left up to the stores and consumers.

TAX DEDUCTION FOR HOME ENERGY AUDIT (S 1462) – Gives companies a corporate tax deduction if they provide employees with a home energy audit as a benefit. The deduction would be capped at one-half of the cost of the audit.

TAX BREAK FOR FUEL EFFICIENT CARS (S 1505) – Provides an income tax credit of up to 50 percent of the cost of the purchase of an alternative fuel vehicle. Also allows cities and towns to reserve some public parking spaces to be used only by reduced emissions vehicles.

TAX CREDIT FOR RECYCLING OYSTER SHELLS (S 1553) – Provides a tax credit of one dollar per five gallon bucket of oysters for taxpayers and corporations that recycle oyster shells. The Massachusetts Oyster Project’s website explains that oyster shells provide a scaffold for young oysters to settle on and grow. And since an oyster shell accumulates and builds up into hard sponge-like reefs, they also provide habitat for other marine animals including fish, shrimp, crab, eels, starfish and mussels. The reefs also protect against erosion and protect shorelines as their lumpy shape helps reduce wave energy.

EARTH DAY TAX EXEMPTION (H 2623) – Exempts from the sales tax all Energy Star products as well as hybrid and electric motor vehicles purchased on Earth Day.

$82.7 MILLION FOR MBTA – Gov. Baker announced an MBTA Winter Resiliency Plan that would invest $82.7 over the next five years in improving the T’s operation in the winter. The package includes snow removal equipment, infrastructure upgrades and operation enhancements to improve the reliability of service during harsh weather. The proposal is in response to the disastrous problems that crippled the T this past winter.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“This is not a cure-all and there remains significant work ahead to overcome the structural and financial challenges we face at the T. Our legislation, we believe, addresses many of those concerns to set the T on the right track, pun intended, toward efficiency and dependability.”

Gov. Baker on his $82.5 million plan to prepare the MBTA for the 2015 winter.

“(NFL President) Roger Goodell may have a hearing date. We got a trophy!”

Rep. Dan Cullinane’s (D-Dorchester) tweet following a Statehouse gathering at which legislators had a chance to hold the Patriots’ Lombardo Trophy.

“By instituting paid parental leave in the Treasurer’s Office, we are creating a culture that treats families with the dignity and respect they deserve. These are critical steps to building a more committed and more productive workforce, and I hope government agencies and private employers across the state will consider doing the same.”

State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg announcing a new policy providing up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave for about 175 eligible employees in the Treasurer’s Office.

“Income inequality has been a decades-long problem resulting in stagnant wages, income insecurity and a shrinking middle class. As a Legislature we need to adopt policies and programs that help all residents share in the prosperity of a growing economy.”

Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst).

“To ensure our communities have a clear pathway to the jobs and utility bill benefits of solar, we should remove all barriers to clean energy, expanding shared solar projects and apprenticeship programs while working with employers to hire a local, diverse workforce.”

Darlene Lombos, Executive Director of Community Labor United.

“We are proud that the League of Women Voters has been able to provide young people across Massachusetts with a platform to share their concerns as well as their solutions. It is inspiring to see the range and quality of the students’ work.”

Anne Borg, Co-President the League of Women Voters Massachusetts, on the three winners of the League’s “There Oughta Be a Law” student video contest.

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 June 2-6, the House met for a total of four hours and 12 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 27 minutes.

Mon. June 1 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.
Senate 11:03 a.m. to 11:14 a.m.

Tues. June 2 No House session
No Senate session

Wed. June 3 House 11:00 a.m. to 2:52 p.m.
No Senate session

Thurs. June 4 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:12 a.m.
Senate 11:03 a.m. to 11:19 a.m.

Fri. June 5 No House session
No Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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