Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 40 -Report No. 40 October 5-9, 2015

By Bob Katzen 

  THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of October 5-9.

   House 152-0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would create the crime of trafficking of the drug fentanyl in amounts greater than 10 grams and impose a prison sentence of up to 20 years for those convicted of the crime. Under current law a person can only be charged with manufacturing, distributing, or possessing fentanyl, but not with trafficking.
   Supporters said use of this dangerous drug is accelerating; it is estimated to be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. They noted traffickers sometimes mix fentanyl with heroin, often without the knowledge of the buyer. They argued it is important to have the penalty fit the crime. 
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

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

   House 110-43, approved a motion that would indefinitely delay an amendment establishing a tiered system of mandatory minimum sentences depending on the weight amounts of fentanyl being trafficked. The amendment would allow the measure to take effect only after the state has furnished a study of the legislation’s impact on the local economy and the revenue cost to the state and local cities and towns. 


   Some supporters of the delay said the House should get more information on the impact of mandatory sentences prior to voting on the amendment. Others acknowledged that they oppose mandatory sentencing and voted to study the issue in order to kill it. 
   Opponents of the delay said it is time to get tough with drug traffickers who sell this dangerous drug, which results in many deaths and injuries. They argued that voting to delay the amendment is tantamount to killing it. 
   (A “Yes” vote is for the delay. A “No” vote is against the delay.)

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

   Senate 31-1, approved a $341.7 million fiscal 2015 supplemental budget. Provisions include $3 million to fund Department of Children and Families training services for foster families and adoptive families, and congregate care and adoption support services; $31.5 million for snow and ice removal costs; $120 million for the state’s “Rainy Day Fund”; and $100 million to pay down some of the state’s long-term debt obligations.
  Supporters said the package is a balanced one that makes vital investments in the state while continuing fiscal responsibility.
   The lone opponent offered no arguments during debate and did not respond to a request by Beacon Hill Roll Call for his arguments.
   The House has already approved a $360 million budget. A House-Senate conference committee will eventually hammer out a compromise version.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the budget. A “No” vote is against it.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
DIAPERS (S 2050)

   Senate 35-0, approved an amendment requiring the state’s Department of Public Health to request approval from the United States Department of Agriculture to allow recipients of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to use some of the benefits to buy diapers. Current law prohibits families from using WIC to buy diapers.
   Amendment supporters said it is impractical and unfair to prohibit families from using their benefits to buy one of the basic necessities for their children.
   (A Yes” vote is for the amendment.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     

   PROPERTY TAX BREAKS FOR SOME BUSINESSES (H 3781) – The House gave initial approval to a bill allowing cities and towns to offer a property tax abatement, of up to 50 per cent of the business’ total property tax, to businesses whose commercial real estate and personal property suffer ill effects as a result of public works projects like bridge construction or actions by a municipal utility company. The abatement would last for up to two years.
   Supporters said this would be a new tool to help cities and towns retain current businesses by providing tax relief when these projects have a negative effect on local businesses. They noted that these infrastructure projects are necessary but argued a business that is affected financially should be able to get some help.
   SENIORS’ PROPERTY TAXES (H 3780) – The House gave initial approval to a bill that makes a change in the current law that allows cities and towns to establish a program permitting homeowners over age 60 to volunteer their services to the community in exchange for up to a $1,000 property tax reduction. The proposal caps the credit at 125 times the minimum wage, which under the current wage of $10 would amount to $1,125.
   Supporters said an adjusted scale is better than a flat $1,000 maximum. They noted it will enhance the law and ensure that the maximum amount keeps up with the minimum wage, which is scheduled to increase in Massachusetts over the next two years.
   PROHIBIT DISCRIMINATION AGAINST TRANSGENDER PEOPLE (S 735) – The Judiciary Committee heard heated testimony on legislation that would expand current law prohibiting discrimination against transgender people by adding “gender identity” to existing Massachusetts civil rights laws that already prohibit discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, sex, religion and marital status. Public accommodations is defined as “a place, whether licensed or unlicensed, which is open to and accepts or solicits the patronage of the general public.” This includes hotels, restaurants, retail stores, malls, theaters, parks, medical offices, libraries and public transportation.   
   The proposal would also allow access to legally gender-segregated public facilities, including restrooms and locker rooms, based on a person’s gender identity rather than on their sex.
   In 2011, the Legislature approved and former Gov. Deval Patrick signed a law that added “gender identity” to the state’s non-discrimination laws, to prohibit discrimination in employment, education, housing and credit against transgender persons. That law, however, does not prohibit discrimination in public accommodations.
   Supporters said transgender individuals still face the threat of discrimination in many public accommodations and noted that 65 percent of transgender people report experiencing discrimination in an area of public accommodation. They argued that under current Massachusetts law, there is no protection ensuring that transgender people cannot be turned away from a restroom, locker room, hotel, restaurant, retail stores and many other places simply because they are transgendered. 
   They said it is time to have Massachusetts join the other 17 states that offer these protections. They argued that discomfort is not a sufficient reason to continue to allow discrimination against transgender individuals in restrooms and locker rooms. 
   Some opponents said the privacy rights of children matter and asked how youngsters might react to a transgender classmate using the same bathroom. They argued that bathroom use should be based on one’s anatomical being, biology, and DNA, not on some sort of inner sense of feeling or expression.


   Other opponents said that scientific evidence suggests that gender identity disorder can be successfully treated in young people and that youngsters who adopt a transgender identity do not experience an improvement in their overall mental health.


   BAN CELL PHONES UNLESS HANDS-FREE (H 3315) – The Transportation Committee heard testimony on a bill that would prohibit all drivers from using a hand-held cell phone but allow drivers over 18 to use a hands-free one. Use of any cell phone by persons under 18 would be banned.
   Supporters testified that the bill would save lives and prevent accidents. They noted that the measure does not ban cell phone use by adult drivers but simply requires the use of hands-free ones. They pointed to accidents, deaths and injuries involving cell phones.
   Although no one testified against the bill, some opponents say that the restriction is another example of government intrusion into people’s cars and lives. Others noted that there are already laws on the books prohibiting driving while distracted. 

   ELECTION LAW CHANGES – The Election Laws Committee held a hearing on several bills including one that would prohibit cities and towns from using public schools for polling places in the General Election for president (H 545).
   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. 
   Other measures include allowing cities and towns to establish electronic scanning for voters to expedite the check-in and check-out procedures at polling places (H 3407); a constitutional amendment increasing the terms of state legislators from two years to four years (H 3350); and modifying the current law that requires a poll worker, after the voter checks in to vote and says his or her own name, to announce the name of the voter. The bill changes “announce” to simply “repeat” the name of the voter. The measure also requires any oral statement of the voter’s name and residence to be done in a manner that protects the privacy of the voter as much as practicable.
   ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS (S 1703) – The State Administration and Regulatory Oversight Committee held a hearing on a bill that would mandate that companies that employ illegal immigrants be automatically banned from receiving any state contracts for work. Current law allows but does not mandate the ban. 
   ELECTION OF U.S. PRESIDENT (H 568) – The Election Laws Committee will hold a public hearing on October 19 at 2:00 p.m. in Room A-1 at the Statehouse on a bill that that would repeal a 2010 that made Massachusetts a member of the Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote. The agreement requires states that join the pact to cast all of their electoral votes for the presidential candidate who wins a majority of the national popular vote in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The pact would become effective when states representing at least 270 electoral votes — a majority of the 538-vote Electoral College — join this compact.
   The campaign is led by Fair Vote, a national group that says there are currently 10 member-states and the District of Columbia, possessing 165 electoral votes — 61 percent of the 270 necessary to activate the compact.


   SEX SELECTION ABORTIONS, 911 CALLS, HEIGHT AND WEIGHT – Bills heard by the Judiciary Committee include prohibiting physicians from performing sex selection abortions in which the mother is seeking the abortion solely because of the sex of the unborn child (H 1547); prohibiting the release of the audio recording of a 911 telephone call without the written consent of the caller except if there is a court order finding that the right of the public to the release of the recording outweighs the privacy interests of the individual who made the call (S 855); and prohibiting discrimination on the basis of a person’s height or weight (H 1764).
   “Ordering a cup of coffee, catching a movie at the local theater, walking through the park with your family — these are simple moments that most of us take for granted. But for the transgender community, the ongoing threat of discrimination and prejudice can darken even the most ordinary of everyday experiences.”
   U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy on his support for the bill that would expand a current law that prohibits discrimination against transgender people. 

   “We never hear anyone testify in opposition to the bill.”
   Rep. Timothy Madden (D-Nantucket) musing on why the proposal to allow only the use of hands-free cell phones when driving has never been approved.

   “It’s not really sexy.” 
   State Treasurer Deb Goldberg when asked how she broke her foot. Goldberg said the story was so “lame” that she solicited better injury excuses from people on Facebook.  

   “I am a guy so it took me over a week to go visit somebody.”
   Gov. Charlie Baker on why it took so long to see a doctor after he aggravated a foot tendon injury. Baker is wearing a boot and is on crutches.  
   “There are no other hearty, brave souls willing to join him. Drugs are a third-rail issue in politics and you don’t want to associate with it publicly because just studying it is enough for people to say, ‘Oh, he must be in favor of it because he is studying it.'”
   Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) on why Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) is currently the only member of the Senate’s Special Committee on Marijuana. 
   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 October 5-9, the House met for a total of seven hours and six minutes while the Senate met for a total of seven hours and 35 minutes.
Mon. October 5 House 11:02 a.m. to 11:11 a.m.

                      Senate 11:05 a.m. to 11:14 a.m.
Tues. October 6 No House session

                      No Senate session
Wed. October 7 House 11:00 a.m. to 5:33 p.m.

                      No Senate session
Thurs. October 8 House 11:00 a.m. to 11:24 a.m.

                      Senate 11:04 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Fri. October 9 No House session

                      No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at

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