By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ and representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of March 7-11.
OPIOID ABUSE PREVENTION (H 4056)
House 155-0, Senate 37-0, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a bill aimed at reducing the opioid abuse crisis in the Bay State. The measure is designed to reduce the number of opioid pills in circulation by working with many parties involved in the process including schools, doctors, insurance companies and pharmacists. A key provision would require all public schools to have a policy regarding substance abuse prevention, require that students be advised about the dangers of substance abuse and require an annual verbal screening of pupils for substance use disorders. Parents would be allowed to opt their children out of the screening requirement.
Other provisions include limiting initial opioid prescriptions by doctors to a seven-day supply except for chronic pain management, cancer and palliative care; requiring drug manufacturers to create a program to secure, transport and safely dispose of unwanted drugs; establishing a rehabilitation program for registered pharmacists, pharmacy interns and pharmacy technicians who have a substance abuse issue and allowing them to volunteer for the program instead of being subject to disciplinary action; and requiring patients admitted to the emergency room for an overdose to be subject to a detailed substance abuse evaluation within 24 hours before discharge.
Supporters, noting there were 1,256 accidental drug-related deaths last year, said this landmark legislation is a balanced and practical approach that will improve schools’ approach to teaching kids about drug prevention and increase access to treatment for those who are addicted. They argued it will save lives and spare the heartache of many families by helping to stem the rising tide of drug addiction and drug-related deaths across the state.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Didn’t Vote Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
REGULATE UBER, LYFT AND OTHERS (H 4049)
House 139-16, approved a measure that would regulate Uber, Lyft and other “ride-hailing” companies by establishing a new state agency, Ride For Hire Division, funded by the companies themselves, to oversee all matters licensing the companies and drivers, enforcing penalties and all other issues. A key provision requires drivers to pass both an internal background check by the company and a background check by the state. Drivers’ records cannot contain any crimes of violence, sexual abuse, DUI, hit and run, attempting to evade the police, driving with a suspended or revoked license or have felony robbery within the past seven years. In addition, anyone with one major traffic violation or three minor traffic violations within three years would be ineligible to drive.
Other provisions include requiring all vehicles to undergo a standard annual inspection for passenger cars and a more in-depth commercial safety inspection; prohibiting companies from picking up and dropping off passengers at Logan Airport, the Boston Convention Center, cab stands, from street hails; prohibiting surge pricing in weather emergencies; and requiring drivers to carry certain levels of auto insurance.
Supporters said these regulations were compiled after extensive input from both the ride-haling and taxi industries. They said the new rules will foster growth and competition while protecting consumers.
Opponents were divided into two groups. Supporters of Uber and Lyft said the regulations hurt the consumer by limiting consumer choice and restricting competition. Supporters of the taxi industry said the regulations are minimal, do not level the playing field and will do nothing to help cab drivers who have seen much of their business taken away by these new companies.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Didn’t Vote Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes
BAN ON BUSINESS AT LOGAN AIRPORT AND BOSTON CONVENTION CENTER (H 4048)
House 37-118, rejected an amendment that would have allowed Lyft, Uber and other ride-hailing companies to pick up and drop off passengers at Logan Airport and the Boston Convention Center. Without the amendment, the bill would ban the companies from those two locations until August 1, 2021.
Amendment supporters said it is not fair to ban these companies from these two busy locations while allowing taxis to pick up and drop off passengers there.
Amendment opponents said the ban is part of a balanced bill that is aimed at being fair to both sides.
(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Denise Provost Didn’t Vote Rep. Timothy Toomey No
IMPROVE PATIENT CONFIDENTIALITY (S 2138)
Senate 30-5, approved and sent to the House a bill that would ensure that confidential healthcare information is given only to the patient being treated and not to other family members who are on the same health insurance plan.
Supporters said many people avoid medical or psychiatric care because they fear that confidential information will be provided to their spouse, child or parents who are also on the same plan. They argued that this proposal would encourage people to seek care for many problems including sexually transmitted infections (STI), substance abuse, depression, domestic violence and other conditions a patient might wish to withhold from family members.
Some opponents said this system would be very costly for health insurance companies to implement. Others said the person who is paying the premiums has a right to know the kind and cost of procedures his or her family members are receiving. Some said the measure would allow minors and adults covered under their parents’ insurance to be able to get procedures, such as an abortion, without prenatal knowledge or consent.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
THREE NEW REPRESENTATIVES SWORN IN – The Democrats increased their lopsided majority in the House, which now is comprised of 125 Democrats and 34 Republicans, when three new Democratic state representatives were sworn into office last week. All three won special elections to fill seats vacant by the resignation of a legislator. Rep. Gerard Cassidy (D-Brockton) filled the seat of Democrat Michael Brady; Rep. Stephan Hay (D-Fitchburg) replaced Democrat Stephen DiNatale and Rep. Tom Walsh (D-Peabody) took over from Republican Leah Cole. Walsh served as a state representative from 1987 to 1995. Brady resigned after he was elected to the Senate in a special election to fill the seat of the late Sen. Thomas Kennedy. DiNatale resigned when he was elected mayor of Fitchburg and Cole resigned to pursue her nursing career.
CLOSING OF POLICE BARRACK (S 2154)- The Senate approved and sent to the House a bill requiring the secretary of public safety and security to provide written notice to the Legislature 120 days prior to the of a closure of a state police barrack. It also requires the secretary to hold hearings in at least two cities or towns that are impacted by the closure and to determine the public safety and financial impact on local communities of closing a barrack. The bill was filed in November in response to the state’s announcement that it was going to close the Brookfield State Police barrack that serves eleven surrounding communities. As it turns out, local law enforcement officials and local leaders raised objections and the closing was canceled.
PAVING CONTRACTORS (H 217) – The House gave initial approval to a bill that would include paving contractors in the laws regulating home improvement contractors.
Supporters said many of these paving companies are fly-by-night ones that drive up to homes, tell the consumer that the company has leftover concrete from a previous job and offer to do their driveway at a fraction of the price. In the end, the company does a very poor job, hikes the price and pressures customers, often seniors over 65, to pay in cash. They said these companies are ripping off consumers and are not sufficiently regulated.
CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECKS FOR HORSEBACK RIDING INSTRUCTORS (S 2155) – The Senate approved and sent to the House a bill that would require that criminal background checks be conducted on all applicants for jobs in which the applicant works with children under 18 at riding schools and horse stables.
Supporters said there have been many reports of incidents in which a student has been sexually or physically abused by the horseback riding instructor. They noted under current law, there is no requirement for these background checks. They said that instructors often work with students alone in remote places.
GOLD STAR LICENSE PLATES (S 3917) – The House gave initial approval to a bill that would allow nieces, nephews and cousins of veterans who were killed in action to be issued the special “Gold Star Family” license plate for their cars. Current law allows only the spouse, parents, children, sibling, grandparent or grandchild of these veterans to be issued the special plates.
LEAVING ANIMALS IN UNATTENDED VEHICLES (H 4018) – The Judiciary Committee held a hearing on legislation that would make it illegal and punishable to leave an animal unattended in a vehicle under conditions that endanger the health or well-being of the animal — including heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation and lack of food or water. First-time violators would be fined up to $100 per animal. First-time violations in which the animal suffers great bodily injury and any subsequent violations, would result in a punishment of up to $500 per animal and/or a six-month prison sentence.
Supporters said that leaving animals unattended inside closed vehicles in the heat or cold, even for short periods of time, has caused severe injury and death to animals.
MEDICAL INFO ON DRIVER’S LICENSE (S 1811) – The Transportation Committee held a hearing on legislation that would allow persons with diabetes, epilepsy or other serious illnesses to voluntarily request from the Registry of Motor Vehicles a sticker that would display their condition on the back of their driver’s license or identification card.
DRIVER’S LICENSES FOR ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS (H 2985) – The Transportation Committee held a hearing on legislation allowing illegal immigrants without social security numbers to obtain driver’s licenses.
Supporters said these immigrants are currently driving without proper training and the proposal would ensure that they learn the state’s driving rules. They noted that a lack of license prohibits families from doing important tasks like getting to work, taking their children to school and going to medical appointments.
Opponents testified it is outrageous to grant licenses to lawbreakers who are here illegally. They said the state should enforce the current law prohibiting this practice and support immigration reform and efforts to secure the nation’s borders.
LOCAL POLICE AND MILITARY EQUIPMENT (H 2169) – The Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security held a hearing on a measure that would prohibit local police and fire departments from obtaining military-grade equipment without approval by city and town officials. These weapons include aircraft, armored vehicles, bayonets, bombs, grenade launchers, nuclear weapons and chemical weapons.
Supporters said local communities across the nation are offered this military equipment by the federal government at no cost and without any oversight. They argued it is time to control or stop the militarization of state and local law enforcement agencies.
No one testified against the bill but opponents say that some of these weapons are very helpful to law enforcement. They argue police departments should not be micromanaged.
“The current policy of linking eligibility of driving with immigrant status means that we have tens of thousands of drivers currently out on our roads who are not trained, who are not licensed and who are not insured.”
Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield) on her legislation allowing illegal immigrants without social security numbers to obtain driver’s licenses.
“This legislation has been offered to accommodate a new class of people who are in our country illegally and have chosen not only to violate immigration law, but then decided to disrespect and violate our state law. Laws are created for the purpose of maintaining order and civility in a democracy and this can only be accomplished through strict enforcement of those laws.”
Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson in opposition to granting the driver’s licenses.
“The law will save hundreds of Massachusetts families from the agony of losing a family member to this disease. The devastation to our families is directly linked to the overprescribing of painkillers. We’re thrilled that this law will mean fewer pills on the streets and in our homes.”
Gary Mendell, founder and CEO of Shatterproof, an organization committed to protecting people from addiction to illicit and prescription drugs and alcohol, on the bill aimed at reducing the opioid abuse crisis in the Bay State
“This ballot question is the wrong prescription for Massachusetts. Based on the clear evidence and concern for our patients and our communities, the hospital answer to whether recreational marijuana use should be legalized in Massachusetts is a resounding ‘no.'”
Lynn Nicholas, CEO of the Massachusetts Hospital Association on the possible November 2016 ballot question legalizing, licensing, regulating and taxing marijuana for adults over 21.
“Ending the failed policy of marijuana prohibition and replacing it with a regulated system that will generate tax revenue, create jobs, drive down youth access to marijuana and decimate the underground market.”
Will Luzier, Manager of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol on the marijuana ballot question
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 March 7-11, the House met for a total of nine hours and 9 minutes and the Senate met for a total of five hours and 18 minutes.
Mon. March 7 House 11:04 a.m. to 11:39 a.m.
Senate 11:07 a.m. to 11:23 a.m
Tues. March 8 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. March 9 House 11:01 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
No Senate session
Thurs. March 10 House 11:08 a.m. to 12:53 p.m.
Senate 11:05 a.m. to 4:07 p.m.
Fri. March 11 No House session
No Senate session