Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 40 – Report No. 52

  

December 28, 2015 – January 1, 2016

By Bob Katzen 
   MEMO TO EDITORS: The following may be useful to you if you want additional information on local senators’ 2015 per diems that are included in this week’s report. Per diems are paid by the state to legislators for mileage, meals and lodging.
    The amount of the per diem for senators varies and is based on the city or town in which the senator resides and its distance from the Statehouse. To find the amount allowed based on specific cities and towns, refer to paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 at the following Massachusetts General Laws link: http://www.state.ma.us/legis/laws/mgl/3%2D9b.htm  
    This week’s report includes the total, from January 1, 2015 through December 30, 2015, of per diems filed by senators with the state treasurer’s office. 
   If you would like to receive a breakdown that shows how many days a senator who filed for per diems certified that he or she was at the Statehouse each week during 2015, you should file a Freedom of Information Act request by sending an e-mail to Mary Wilkins at the state treasurer’s office: mwilkins@tre.state.ma.us  
   The e-mail should include your name, mailing address, e-mail address and telephone number. Also, specify that you want the weekly per diem information for 2015 and be sure to list the specific senator(s) that you want to include. You can also request information from any prior year. 
   Keep in mind that the information will only indicate the total number of days the legislator certified he or she was at the Statehouse each week during 2015. Legislators are not required to list the specific days they were at the Statehouse.
   If you have any questions about the process, contact Mary Wilkins at 617-367-3900, x621.
   This week’s report follows:
   THE HOUSE AND SENATE. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week. Beacon Hill Roll Call has obtained the 2015 official list from the state treasurer’s office of the “per diem” travel, meals and lodging reimbursements collected by the Legislature’s 40 state senators from January 1, 2015 through December 30, 2015. The list reveals that senators collected a total of $63,590.
   Under state law, per diems are paid by the state to senators “for each day for travel from his place of residence to the Statehouse and return therefrom, while in the performance of his official duties, upon certification to the state treasurer that he was present at the Statehouse.” These reimbursements are given to senators above and beyond their regular salaries.
   The amount of the per diem varies and is based on the city or town in which a senator resides and its distance from the Statehouse. The Legislature in 2000 approved a law doubling these per diems to the current amounts. The payments range from $10 per day for senators who reside in the Greater Boston area to $90 per day for some Western Massachusetts lawmakers and $100 per day for those in Nantucket. Senators who are from areas that are a long distance from Boston’s Statehouse most often collect the highest total of annual per diems.
   Some supporters of the per diems say the system is fair and note the rising costs of travel, food and lodging. They argue many legislators spend a lot of money on travel to Boston and some spend the night in Boston following late sessions. Others say that some legislators accept the per diem but use all of the revenue they receive to support local nonprofit causes. They say that not taking the per diem would leave that money in the state’s General Fund to be spent on who knows what.
   Some opponents argue most private sector and state workers are not paid additional money for commuting. They say the very idea of paying any per diem is outrageous when thousands of workers have lost their jobs and homes and funding for important programs has been cut. Others say the per diem is especially inappropriate given the 3-cent-per-gallon hike in the state’s gas tax that the Legislature approved in July 2013. 
   The 2015 statistics indicate that 18 of the state’s 40 senators have received reimbursements ranging from $850 to $9,810, while 22 senators have chosen not to apply for any money.
   The senator who received the most per diem money in 2015 is Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield), who received $9,810.   
   The other four senators who received the most are Sens. Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport), $6,480; Donald Humason (R-Westfield), $5,280; Daniel Wolf (D-Harwich), $4,900; and Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst), $4,800.
SENATORS’ 2015 PER DIEMS

   The dollar figure next to the senator’s name represents the total amount of per diem money the state paid him or her in 2015. The number in parentheses represents the number of days the senator certified he or she was at the Statehouse during that same period. Senators who have not requested any per diems have “0 days” listed. That is not meant to imply that these senators didn’t attend any sessions but rather that they chose not to request any per diems.

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen $1,410 (141 days)                   

  ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
   AUTO AND HOME INSURANCE DISCOUNTS (H 3922) – The House and Senate approved and Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law legislation waiving for one year the current law that requires businesses and groups to have a 35 percent participation rate in order to qualify for group auto insurance discount rates. The measure permits groups with less than the 35 percent participation to take advantage of group rates, which save members between 5 percent and 8 percent. The law has been suspended annually for many years.
   Supporters said if the bill is not approved, insurance discounts for 322,000 vehicles and 142,000 homes in the Bay State will disappear.
   TEACHERS FORFEIT PENSIONS FOR CHILD PORNOGRAPHY AND SEX OFFENSE (H 20) – The House gave initial approval to a proposal that would prohibit teachers who are convicted of sex crimes involving children or child pornography from receiving their retirement pensions. Under the bill, the state’s Pension Fund would return to the convicted person any payments, without interest, he or she paid into the system. The measure is being pushed by the Teachers’ Retirement Board, the state agency that administers disability and survivor benefits to more than 90,000 active educators and 62,000 retirees and survivors. 
   Supporters said that teachers convicted of these crimes have no place in the retirement system. 
   BAN CELL PHONES UNLESS HANDS-FREE (S 2032) – The Senate on January 21 is scheduled to debate and vote on a bill that would prohibit all drivers from using a hand-held cell phone but allow them to use a hands-free one. The measure was approved by the Transportation Committee on October 15.
   Supporters say the bill would save lives and prevent accidents. They note that the measure does not ban cell phone use but simply requires the use of hands-free ones. They point to accidents, deaths and injuries involving hand-held cell phones.
   Opponents say the restriction is another example of government intrusion into people’s cars and lives. Others note that there are already laws on the books prohibiting driving while distracted.
   The House has given initial approval to a similar version of the bill.
   RECYCLE PAINT (S 408) – Also on the Senate’s January 21 agenda is a bill that would create the Massachusetts Paint Stewardship Program, run by paint manufacturers to coordinate the collection, recycling, reuse and environmentally sound disposal of used leftover house paint purchased by consumers. The program would be funded by adding a fee to paint sold in the Bay State. The bill mandates that under the plan, at least 90 percent of residents have a collection site within a 15-mile radius and that at least one collection site is established in each city and town with a population of 50,000 or more.
   Supporters say this environmentally friendly and fiscally responsible program will increase the recycling of paint, save millions of dollars in paint disposal costs for cities and towns and create many green jobs.
   Some opponents say the fee is nothing more than an unnecessary tax on consumers already overburdened with taxes. Others say this would create a slippery slope that could lead to this type of recovery system and tax on other items, including spray cans, pillows, mattresses and tires, the government would decide needed to be handled the same way.
   PAY EQUITY FOR WOMEN (S 883) – On the Senate’s January 28 agenda is a bill providing pay equity for women. The measure clarifies language in the existing law to effectively implement equal pay for comparable work. Other provisions permit employees to discuss their salaries with other employees, require employers who advertise job openings to include the minimum salary the job pays and prohibit employers from paying wages less than what they advertised.
   Supporters say it is unfair that currently women who work full time earn approximately 80.8 percent of what men who work full time earn. They note that 40 percent of households with children under 18 included mothers who were either the sole or primary earner for the family.
QUOTABLE QUOTES
  “Raising the minimum wage is the best way to sustain the economic stability of low-wage workers and ensure that they can support their families.”
   Harris Gruman, co-chair of Raise Up Massachusetts and Massachusetts State Director of the Service Employees International Union, on the January 1 hike in the minimum wage from $9 to $10 per hour. 

   “The legislation strikes a fine balance between the critical need to reduce opioid overdoses with the imperative to effectively and responsibly treat pain.”
   Statement from the Massachusetts Medical Society on a new version of a bill on opioid abuse prevention.

   “Restoring a customer-service centered approach at the Registry of Motor Vehicles has brought about substantial progress toward decreasing wait times and giving people back precious hours of their working day.” 
   Gov. Baker on the improvements in service at the registry.
   

   “He must be going to an imaginary ‘V.I.P. Registry’ because I waited two hours at my registry the other day.”
   A state legislator who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

 

   “Take a minute to make sure you have working carbon monoxide alarms in your home. Test them and replace the batteries if need be. And if the alarm is more than 5-7 years old, the entire unit may need to be replaced.”
    State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan issuing a warning following the recent fatal carbon monoxide poisoning in Milford.

 

   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 December 28-January 1, the House met for a total of three hours and 40 minutes while the Senate met for a total of three hours and 47 minutes.
Mon. December 28 House 11:00 a.m. to 2:05 p.m.

                     Senate 11:02 a.m. to 2:06 p.m.
Tues. December 29 No House session

                     No Senate session
Wed. December 30 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:36 a.m.

                     Senate 11:00 a.m. to 11:43 a.m.
Thurs. December 31 No House session

                     No Senate session
Fri. January 1 No House session

                     No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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