By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of September 14-18. There were no roll calls in the House last week.
CLEAR TITLE TO PROPERTY (S 1981)
Senate 31-7, approved and sent to the House a bill that supporters said would provide relief to Massachusetts homeowners who currently lack clear title to their homes due to prior faulty foreclosures while opponents argued it would curtail illegally foreclosed homeowners’ right to regain title to their homes.
Supporters said the measure was filed in response to a Supreme Judicial Court decision that voided thousands of foreclosure sales. They noted the court said that a foreclosure is void if the foreclosing lender could not produce a written assignment of its mortgage prior to the first publication of notice. They argued the bill remedies this problem by allowing the affidavit that is recorded during the sale of the property to serve as conclusive evidence that the foreclosing lender is in compliance. They said this will help thousands of homeowners who unwittingly purchased an improperly foreclosed property and are currently without a clear title and consequently unable to sell or refinance their homes.
Opponents said the bill would curtail illegally foreclosed homeowners’ right to regain title to their homes and strip them of their fundamental right to protect their property. They noted that limiting to three years a foreclosed homeowner’s right to raise claims to challenge the validity of their foreclosure is too short.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen No
ALLOW OWNERS OF FORECLOSED HOUSE TO STAY AND PAY RENT (S 1981)
Senate 15-23, rejected an amendment that would allow a homeowner facing foreclosure to continue to live in his or her home and pay a fair market rent until the bank sells the home.
Amendment supporters said this is a good deal for the homeowner, who is allowed to remain in his or her home longer, and for the banks, which will be paid rent instead of having the home sitting vacant. They noted that this will prevent vacant properties from falling into disrepair and resulting in a blight that reduces the value of homes in the neighborhood. They also argued that vacant houses can sit there for months or years and sometimes becomes a place for illegal activity of all sorts.
Some amendment opponents said a bill before the Judiciary Committee accomplishes the same goal. They argued the Senate should not rush this amendment through the Senate as an amendment to an unrelated bill dealing with titles but rather allow the bill to be the subject of a public hearing, public input and the transparent legislative process. Others said they are against the amendment because if the owner of the house cannot afford to pay the mortgage, it is unlikely he or she will be able to afford the rent and will likely get evicted. They said it only prolongs the limbo period.
(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against it.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
REGULATE UBER AND LYFT – The Financial Services Committee heard testimony on several bills regulating controversial car-sharing services like Uber and Lyft that use a smartphone application to receive ride requests. Hundreds of people showed up at the nearly 12-hour hearing that lasted from 11 a.m. until 10:30 p.m.
The proposals include giving the Department of Public Utilities the power to certify and regulate car-sharing services; requiring background, driving record and Sex Offender Registry checks and fingerprint samples on all drivers; and requiring that vehicles used by these companies be registered in Massachusetts.
Representatives of Uber and Lyft companies defended their services noting they create many jobs with flexible hours and good pay. Opponents, led by the taxi industry, said that these services are the same as taxis and should be subject to the same strict regulations as cab companies.
BOSTON POLICE (H 2339) – Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed a bill that would have allowed retired Boston police officers to be appointed as special officers in order to serve on police details. The officers would have to have been be off the force for no longer than 4.5 years, under the age of 68 and pass a medical exam. The measure had already been approved by the city of Boston, which said it currently can’t provide sufficient officers for details and could make great use of trained ex-officers.
Gov. Baker said he supports the intent of the bill but in his veto message noted, “The United States Department of Labor has alerted my administration that if this bill as written were to become law, Massachusetts unemployment insurance law would no longer conform to federal requirements.” The governor urged Boston and the Legislature to draft a new version of the bill that won’t result in the state violating federal law.
PUBLIC HEALTH HEARINGS – The Public Health Committee held a hearing last week on dozens of proposals including:
BAN “JUNK FOOD” IN VENDING MACHINES (H 2005) – Requires vending machines in state-owned buildings to only serve what the bill defines as healthy foods. The measure bans the sale of soda and allows only water and carbonated water, coffee and tea, fat-free or 1 per cent low-fat dairy milk and up to 12 ounces of 100 per cent fruit juice or fruit juice combined with water or carbonated water. On the snack front, each item offered must meet certain standards including containing fewer than 200 calories, no more than 35 per cent of calories from fat, 0 grams of trans fat and no more than 200 milligrams of salt.
MANDATORY BICYLCE HELMETS FOR ALL (S 1117) – Requires all bicyclists to wear a helmet. Current law only requires riders under 16 to do so. The measure also requires The Department of Public Health to pursue ways that would encourage bicycle operators to wear highly-visible fluorescent clothing.
MANDATORY DIAPER-CHANGING AREA (H 19123) – Requires restaurants that serve families with children to have at least one designated diaper-changing area or facility on the premises that is open to all customers.
MUST LABEL FISH (H 1941) – Requires the state to establish a food labeling program for commercially sold saltwater fish including tuna, mackerel, swordfish, grouper, striped bass and bluefish. The label would provide consumers with information about the risk factors and toxin levels of eating these with a focus on the health of young children, women of child-bearing age and pregnant women.
RESTAURANTS MUST LIST ALLERGENS (H 1949) – Requires restaurants to identify any ingredients that contain protein derived from milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat or soybeans. The list would be included on the menu or in some other way readily available to customers.
NO ENERGY DRINKS FOR KIDS (H 2303) – Prohibits the sale of “energy drinks” to anyone under 18 years old. Energy drinks are defined as beverages that exceed a caffeine content of 71 milligrams per 12 ounce liquid.
NO LATEX (H 2055) – Prohibits any employee who handles food from using latex gloves. Non-latex gloves would be permitted.
BAN STYROFOAM PACKAGING (H 2066) – Bans the commercial sale and use of any Styrofoam and other polystyrene containers. Styrofoam is the Dow Chemical Company’s brand name of polystyrene. These containers are the familiar white plastic foam ones that supermarkets, fast food and other restaurants use to package and serve food and drinks. One-year delays from the ban could be applied for each year if the establishment can prove undue hardship. The establishment must prove there are no reasonable alternatives to the use of polystyrene containers and that compliance with this ban would cause significant economic hardship to the business.
MUST PROVIDE HOOKS IN BATHROOMS (S 1182) Requires all public bathrooms to contain a hook so that people can hang a jacket, purse or other personal belongings to avoid placing these items on the floor.
GROCERY STORES (S 1230) – Establishes a committee to examine the lack of grocery stores in some communities across the state, especially in urban and rural areas. The committee would investigate the causes of this limited access and report the effect on public health as well as make suggestions to solve the problem.
QUOTABLE QUOTES – Special Gov. Baker Edition – Gov. Baker was on WGBH Radio 89.7 FM with talk show hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan last week for his monthly appearance on “Ask the Governor.”
“It’s pretty clear I’ve lost my ‘new governor smell’ because there is no one filming today.”
Baker commenting on the fact that there are usually television cameras taping his appearance on WGBH.
“Maybe this makes me an old fuddy duddy at this point. It probably does … I have no problem with the fact that we don’t discount alcohol.”
Baker’s comments to a caller who asked if Baker supported allowing state restaurants and bars to return to holding happy hours during which between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. these establishments offer discounts on alcoholic drinks.
“Eighty percent of the people who end up addicted to heroin, according to federal statistics, started on prescription pain meds.”
Baker on the state’s drug problem.
“Two weeks ago, my wife had minor dental surgery and was handed a prescription for Percocet and basically said, ‘No, not interested, don’t want them. [What followed] was the equivalent of sort of being ordered to fill the prescription. She came home with 20 of these. She took one and then we threw away the other 19. With all the visibility around this issue, you would think that sort of thing wouldn’t still be happening.”
Baker talking about prescription pain medication.
“I’m nervous. I’d be kidding if I said I wasn’t.”
Baker on whether the MBTA would be able to avoid a repeat of last winter’s widespread service problems during and after big snowstorms.
“I did not know that.”
Baker after being told by Margery Eagan that he was recently ranked 35th on the list “Most Influential Pot Smokers in the USA.” In 2014, Baker admitted that he had tried marijuana in the 1970s while in college. He is opposed to legalization of recreational marijuana.
“We talked two, sometimes three, four times a day … as we dealt with all the issues around the snow … That … terror, anxiety, whatever you want to call it, around dealing with all the snow was a great way for us to get to know each other early on.”
Baker on political website Politico’s headline, “Gov. Charlie Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh’s political bromance.”
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 September 14-18, the House met for a total of three hours and 58 minutes while the Senate met for a total of four hours and 52 minutes.
Mon. September 14 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:39 a.m.
Senate 11:01 a.m. to 11:17 a.m.
Tues. September 15 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. September 16 No House session
No Senate session
Thurs. September 17 House 11:01 a.m. to 2:23 p.m.
Senate 11:05 a.m. to 3:41 p.m.
Fri. September 18 No House session
No Senate session
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