By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of September 28-October 2.
$360 MILLION SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET (H 3773)
House 152-0, approved and sent to the Senate a $360 million fiscal 2015 supplemental budget. The federal government is expected to reimburse $112 million to the state, making the bottom line cost to the state $248 million.
Provisions include $7 million for staffing and training at the Department of Children and Families (DCF), $29 million to fight opiate abuse, $75 million for the state’s “Rainy Day Fund,” $113 million to pay down some of the state’s long-term debt obligations and $500,000 for the Outside the Box Festival in the city of Boston. According to its website, the summer festival includes more than 100 artists and organizations performing free on Boston Common.
Supporters said the package is a balanced one that makes vital investments in the state while continuing fiscal responsibility.
(A “Yes” vote is for the budget.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes
OPIOID ABUSE PREVENTION (S 2020)
Senate 38-0, approved and sent to the House a bill aimed at reducing the opioid abuse crisis in the Bay State. The legislation focuses on prevention and education. It would reduce the number of opioid pills in circulation by working with many parties involved in the process including schools, doctors, insurance companies and pharmacists. Other provisions include requiring physicians, nurses or other personnel approved by the Department of Public Health to conduct verbal substance use disorder screenings on public school students at least once annually in grades seven and ten, increasing access to chronic pain management with a focus on creating a holistic plan for each patient, requiring pharmaceutical companies to establish or participate in drug-take back programs to further reduce the number of pills accessible in homes and requiring doctors prescribing opioid medication to minors to obtain written consent from the parent or guardian.
Supporters said this landmark legislation will help stem the rising tide of drug addiction and drug-related deaths across the state. They noted there were 1,256 accidental drug-related deaths last year. They said the legislation focuses on prevention and education and will save many lives and spare the heartache of many families.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
MENTAL HEALTH PARITY (S 2020)
Senate 10-27, rejected an amendment that gives patients the right to file suit and to recover damages and attorney’s fees from health insurers that don’t provide coverage for mental health and substance abuse treatment equal to what they provide for physical illnesses. Current law already requires the parity. The amendment would give individuals the right to sue and receive triple damages and attorney fees.
Amendment supporters said some health insurers routinely ignore this parity law, and patients currently have little recourse. They argued that insurers are already required to provide this coverage and the amendment simply allows those aggrieved to sue.
Amendment opponents said the Division of Insurance is already allowed to bring claims against insurers that violate the law.
(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against it.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ALOW CITIES AND TOWNS TO OPT INTO SCREENINGS (S 2020)
Senate 11-27, rejected an amendment to a provision in the bill that requires physicians, nurses or other personnel approved by the Department of Public Health to conduct verbal substance use disorder screenings on public school students at least once annually in grades seven and ten. The provision also allows parents to opt their children out of the program. The amendment would give cities and towns the option to implement the screenings or not.
Supporters of the local option said there is research that these screenings do not work very well for students. Others argued the bill does not provide any funding to schools to implement the program and noted they opposed an unfunded state mandate.
Opponents of local option said these screenings are the heart and soul of the bill. They noted that the state already mandates hearing and vision screenings and noted that substance abuse screenings are just as important, if not more so. Ways and Means Chair Sen. Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) said the screenings are not an unfunded state mandate because the Legislature and governor intend to provide $1.2 million to fund them.
(A “Yes” vote is for the local option. A “No” vote is against it.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
IMPERSONATE A VETERAN, FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION, BOOKING OF PRISONERS MURDER VICTIMS – The Judiciary Committee held a hearing on several bills including a “Stolen Valor Bill” that would make it a crime for a person to misrepresent himself or herself as a veteran if he or she is not one (H 1641). Violators would be subject to a one-year prison sentence and/or $1,000 fine.
Other proposals would make it a crime to perform female genital mutilation (H 1530), require that all bookings of persons arrested by state police officer be videotaped or digitally recorded (H 1619) and create the Murder Victims Families Assistance Fund to provide aid to immediate families of murder victims (S 951). The fund would be funded by voluntary contributions from publishers, authors and movie or television studios that create books, movies or television shows based on murders committed in the Bay State.
REDUCE SALES TAX AND CAP SALARY OF STATE EMPLOYEES (H 2450) – The Revenue Committee held a hearing on legislation that would reduce the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent and prohibit any state employee from earning more money than the governor, who currently earns $151,800 per year.
INSURANCE RECORDS FROM HOLOCAUST (S 488) – The Financial Services Committee held a hearing on a bill that would require all insurance companies to provide the state with their records on all policies that were issued and in effect in Europe between 1920 and 1945. The bill is designed to help many victims of the Nazi regime and their families who were never paid insurance claims for various policies they owned because the owners were killed and the families did not have proof of the policy.
In many cases only the insurance companies still have records of these policies. The measure would force them to release the records and either prove payment was already made or be required to pay now.
TELEMEDICINE (H 1944) – The Public Health Committee held a hearing on legislation requiring health insurance companies to cover the cost of telemedicine — the practice of physicians using telecommunication and information technologies to provide health care remotely.
LAUREATES – The Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development Committee held a hearing on bills creating several new official state laureate positions. A laureate is a person who has been honored for achieving distinction in a particular field or with a particular award. The unpaid positions include poet laureate (H 2927), architect laureate (H 2931) and musician laureate (S 1802).
“I have lost 15 of my classmates to opiate abuse.”
Sen. Kenneth Donnelly (D-Arlington) during debate on the opiate abuse bill.
“Stepped-up monitoring and enforcement can save lives and prevent tragedies before they happen. Operation Safe Campus takes immediate and effective steps that result in the direct prevention of underage drinking and acts as a long-term deterrent to bar and package store owners serving and selling to minors.”
State Treasurer Deb Goldberg on her initiative to target underage drinking on college campuses.
“The taxpayers aren’t the piggy bank for every politically connected scheme that rolls into town. It’s outrageous to talk about special road construction for a few race car drivers when the roads and bridges and public transit used by millions of people are in such bad shape.”
United Independent Party Chairman Evan Falchuk on a proposal to bring the Grand Prix to Boston.
“After last winter we take all weather stuff very seriously.”
Gov. Baker on how the state will handle this winter’s snow.
“Despite the many positives associated with overcoming obstacles to win political office, the number of women of color elected to office today not only in Massachusetts but throughout the country remains dismal, diminishing diversity of opinion, political discourse and stunting effective and inclusive public service.”
From the “Women of Color Elected Officials in Massachusetts Report” that reveals that of the 200 state legislators, there are only four women of color, including an African American, Asian American, Haitian and multi-ethnic woman.
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 28-October 2, the House met for a total of one hour and six hours and 22 minutes while the Senate met for a total of eight hours and 33 minutes.
Mon. September 28 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:48 a.m.
Senate 11:03 a.m. to 11:16 a.m.
Tues. September 29 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. September 30 House 11:04 a.m. to 4:29 p.m.
No Senate session
Thurs. October 1 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:13 a.m.
Senate 11:05 a.m. to 7:25 p.m.
Fri. October 2 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org