Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 41 – Report No. 1 January 4-8, 2016

By Bob Katzen 

   With today’s edition, (name of newspaper) begins coverage of the 2016 Massachusetts legislative session with our weekly Beacon Hill Roll Call report. This feature is a clear and concise compilation of the voting records of local state representatives and senators.
   Beacon Hill Roll Call provides an unbiased summary of bills and amendments, arguments from floor debate on both sides of the issue and each legislator’s vote or lack of vote on the matter. This information gives readers an opportunity to monitor their elected officials’ actions on Beacon Hill. Many bills are reported on in their early stages, giving readers the opportunity to contact their legislators and express an opinion prior to the measure being brought up for final action.
   The feature “Also Up on Beacon Hill” informs readers of other important matters at the Statehouse. 
   Beacon Hill Roll Call is provided by Bob Katzen, a former Boston radio talk show host at WRKO, WITS and WMRE. Bob has been providing this feature to hundreds of newspapers across the Bay State for 41 years.
   THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives on roll calls from the week of January 4-8. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.

   House 152-0, approved a bill that would allow cities and towns to reduce and spread out the annual tax that homeowners pay when they are the beneficiary of a sewer betterment. A special assessment is permitted to be levied by a city or town when property within a limited area receives a special benefit or advantage, other than the general advantage to the community, from the construction of a sewer.


   The proposal would increase from the current 20 years to 30 years the time period over which homeowners can spread out their payments. Current state law requires towns to charge 5 percent interest on the unpaid balance of the tax or 2 percent above the rate at which the town borrowed the money for the project. The bill would allow cities and towns to charge less, possibly as little as 0 percent interest.
   Supporters said the bill is a local-control one that would provide the cities and towns in the Commonwealth with options to keep the cost of any sewer betterments as low as possible for the homeowner. They noted communities will have the choice whether or not to opt into the system.
   The Senate approved the measure on a voice vote without a roll call and sent it to Governor Charlie Baker.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Didn’t Vote Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes                                     

   House 150-0, approved legislation that would repeal a 1989 law which automatically suspends for up to five years the driver’s license of anyone convicted of a drug offense even if the offense is unrelated to driving a vehicle. The proposal allows automatic license suspension for anyone convicted of trafficking in illegal drugs, except for marijuana. It also repeals the current law that requires offenders to pay a $500 fee to get their license back.
   Supporters said the current archaic law does not make sense and is counterproductive because it prevents many offenders from having the mobility to find and/or retain a job, drive their children to school, travel to a doctor and do many other things necessary to help them rebuild their lives. They noted the bill is retroactive and also applies to people who currently are without a license because of this law.
   The Senate approved a different version of the bill in September. The House version now goes to the Senate for consideration.
      (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Didn’t Vote Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes                                     

   CREATE SENIOR SAFETY ZONES (H 531) – The House gave initial approval to legislation allowing cities and towns to implement senior safety zones in which the speed limit would be lowered to 20 mph. The zones would be near senior citizen housing, hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, senior centers and other senior establishments. Supporters said these zones, similar to current school safety zones, would reduce accidents and injuries and save lives.
   REPORT DRIVERS WITH SUSPENDED OR REVOKED LICENSES – A law that went into effect on January 1 requires the Registry of Motor Vehicles to notify the local police department when the driver’s license of a local resident is suspended or revoked. The notification is only required in certain cases including vehicular homicide, drunken driving, if the person is a habitual traffic offender or poses an immediate threat to public safety. Included in the notification would be the offender’s name, address, license plate number, type of car and driving record.
   Supporters say this new law would enable local police to spot and track drivers who are driving without a license. They noted it could prevent injuries and even save lives.
   REDUCED INCOME TAX – A law that reduces the income tax rate and long-term capital gains tax from 5.15 percent to 5.10 percent went into effect on January 1. The tax cuts do not need the approval of the Legislature. They are part of a system devised by the Legislature when it approved a $1 billion-plus tax hike package in 2002. The package set the long-term capital gains tax at 5.3 percent and froze the income tax rate at 5.3 percent instead of allowing it to drop to 5 percent in January 2003 — a reduction that was approved by voters in 2000. The 2002 law also includes an automatic trigger that reduces both taxes by one-half of one percent each year that the state’s economic growth is at least 2.5 percent until each tax is reduced to 5 percent. The 2015 growth was 5.37 percent, more than twice the amount necessary for the cut. The Department of Revenue estimates that the tax cuts will reduce state revenue by $74 million in fiscal year 2016 and $152 million in fiscal year 2017.
   CORPORATE TAX DELAY AND EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT – Also taking effect January 1 is a new law increasing the earned income tax credit for low-income working families with children living at home from 15 percent to 23 percent of the federal credit. The credit is applied toward the taxpayer’s liability, and if it exceeds the liability, the taxpayer receives the excess credit as a refund.
   The law also again delays implementation of a long-delayed tax break for national corporations that was passed into law in 2008 but has never been implemented.
   Supporters say this increased earned income tax credit will help thousands of low-income working families who are struggling to make ends meet and will result in many of them paying little or no state income tax. They argue that delaying the unaffordable business tax break is fair and leaves the door open to future implementation.
   BICYCLISTS AND HOSPITALS – The Transportation Committee held a hearing on a bill prohibiting drivers from parking or idling their vehicles on any bicycle path or to generally interfere with the safety and passage of bicyclists (S 1808). The committee also is considering a proposal requiring signs indicating the direction of a hospital with an arrow to include the distance in miles to the hospital (S 1847).
    “TOY” GUNS (H 3476) – The Public Safety Committee held a hearing on a bill that would require all imitation firearms to have a non-removable one-inch orange stripe, visible from every side, and to be a color other than black, blue, silver or aluminum, the traditional colors of real weapons. Imitation firearms include any air rifle, pellet gun and BB gun or any device that substantially duplicates or can reasonably be perceived to be a real gun or rifle. Current federal law requires guns to have only an orange tip.
   Supporters said orange tips are not visible enough and can be easily painted over or removed. They argued this new proposed law will make it a lot easier for law enforcement and the public to determine whether a person is holding a real or fake gun or rifle. They cited the case in Cleveland in which 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot to death by police after his air gun was mistaken for the real thing.
   Opponents said the proposal is flawed because people could put the orange stripes on a real gun to fool police and others into thinking it is fake. They said that to add to the confusion, criminals could easily paint their real weapons a bright color to confuse police.
   “We must seize every opportunity possible to help residents reintegrate into society, find fulfilling jobs and support their families.” 
   House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop) on the bill that would repeal a 1989 law which automatically suspends for up to five years the driver’s license of anyone convicted of a drug offense even if the offense is unrelated to driving a vehicle.

   “Denying transgender people access to facilities that are necessary for all of us to go about our daily lives, like restrooms, contributes to minority stress and can exacerbate negative health outcomes already affecting transgender people.”
   Laura Durso, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, on a pending bill that would prohibit discrimination against transgender individuals in the state’s public accommodations.

   “The Registry and the Merit Rating Board have an opportunity with this legislation to introduce 21st century technology and to eliminate what is a very paper-driven, manual processing-based administrative process.”
   Registrar of Motor Vehicles Erin Deveney talking about a bill allowing cities and towns to stop issuing paper traffic citations and instead use an electronic system.

   “We’ve found that disability placards registered to deceased people have been used [as well as] expired placards, counterfeit placards and placards of individuals who currently reside out-of-state.”


    Inspector General Glenn Cunha on legislation to increase fines for misuse of handicapped placards. 

   “I have absolutely no idea what the rules of the game are with regard to what’s legally permissible and what’s not.”
   Gov. Baker commenting on the debate whether President Barack Obama’s gun control executive orders overstepped his authority and bypassed Congress.
   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 January 4-8, the House met for a total of six hours and 16 minutes while the Senate met for a total of two hours and 46 minutes.
Mon. January 4 House 11:02 a.m. to 11:06 a.m.

                  Senate 11:07 a.m. to 11:11 a.m.
Tues. January 5 No House session

                  No Senate session
Wed. January 6 House 11:00 a.m. to 4:55 p.m.

                  Senate 11:05 a.m. to 1:42 p.m.
Thurs. January 7 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:18 a.m.

                  Senate 11:17 a.m. to 11:22 a.m.

Fri. January 8 No House session

                     No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at

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