By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local senators on roll calls from prior legislative sessions. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.
HELP CITIES AND TOWNS (S 2120)
Senate 35-0, approved an amendment to the bill designed to ensure that the state and local municipalities comply in a timely way with requests for public records. The amendment would create a Public Records Assistance Fund to help cities and towns meet the costs of complying with the proposed new law. Funds would come from fines paid by cities and towns which violate the new law, the state budget and any private contributions.
Amendment supporters said this will help municipalities buy the equipment and train and pay the staff necessary to follow the new law. They noted the costs are particularly challenging and burdensome for smaller towns.
(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Didn’t Vote
CHANGE LARCENY LAWS (S 2156)
The Senate, on a voice vote without a roll call, approved a bill that raises from the current $250 to $1,500 the threshold at which larceny becomes a felony instead of a misdemeanor.
Supporters said the bill still holds thieves accountable but will make “smaller” thieves guilty of a misdemeanor instead of a felony. They noted a misdemeanor takes only five years to be removed from a criminal record while a felony takes ten years. They said raising the threshold to $1,500 would result in fewer people with a felony record and make it easier for them to get jobs, find housing and go on to college.
The next two roll call are on amendments to the larceny bill.
CREDIT CARDS (S 2156)
Senate 35-0, approved an amendment that would update laws on credit card misuse. The amendment would require that the penalties for misusing a debit card be treated the same as the penalty for misusing a credit card. It also requires that the penalties be the same if the accused has the stolen card in his or her possession or if he or she stole the number on the phone or any other way.
Amendment supporters said that current law does not technically address these issues. They argue it is time to bring these laws into the 21st century.
(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
SLIDING SCALE FOR LARCENY (S 2156)
Senate 35-0, approved an amendment that would replace the current static fine of $300 for a misdemeanor felony, regardless of how much is stolen, with a sliding scale of fines based on the value of the stolen property. For property worth $250 to $500, the maximum fine would be $300 while the maximum fine for goods valued from $1,000 to $1,500 would be $2,000.
Supporters said this will ensure that the fines are appropriate and noted the cookie-cutter, one size fits all system doesn’t work well.
(A “Yes” vote is for the sliding scale.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
DRUG OFFENSES AND DRIVER’S LICENSES (S 1812) – A House-Senate conference committee has finally agreed on a new version of a bill that would repeal a 1989 law that requires anyone convicted of a non-violent drug crime to have his or her license suspended, regardless of whether the crime itself involved driving a vehicle. The House and Senate had approved conflicting versions of the measure. The new version also 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 measure now goes to the House and Senate for consideration.
EXTENDED UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS FOR LOCKED OUT WORKERS’ BILL (S 2172) – The Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development Committee held a hearing on legislation that would extend unemployment benefits for 26 weeks to workers whose employers have locked them out of their workplace. The proposal was filed in response to Allegheny Technologies’ decision to lock its workers out of some of its nationwide facilities including a six-month lockout for 120 workers at its New Bedford plant.
Supporters said without this law, employees are at a disadvantage because the company just drags on with the lockout, knowing that eventually the workers will run out of money and perhaps concede.
EDUCATION COMMITTEE APPROVES BILLS – The Education Committee has approved bills that would require the Departments of Education and Public Health to develop regulations to allow for training of school employees in the emergency administration of glucagon for students with diabetes when a nurse is not present (S 245); add an additional five points to the test score of any veteran who takes a test to become a provisional teacher (H 365); ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in mainstream physical education programs, and try out for and, if selected, participate in mainstream athletic programs (H 404); require the state to develop and allow cities and towns to institute a program to teach students financial literacy including understanding banking and financial services, loans, interest, credit card debt, renting or buying a home, saving, investing and planning for retirement, balancing a checkbook, state and federal taxes and charitable giving (s 279); and investigate the possibility of raising from 16 to 18 the age at which a student may choose to drop out of school (H 317).
EDUCATION BILLS SHIPPED OFF TO THE GRAVEYARD – The Education Committee shipped dozens of bills off to a study committee. Most measures that are shipped off to a study committee are never actually studied and are essentially defeated.
Last week’s batch included several bills that attempted to require high schools to teach specific courses to their students. Included were civics (H 3017), the history of working people and the labor movement (H 373), acts of genocide around the world (H 473), recycling (S 276) and methods of resolving interpersonal disputes in productive and effective ways and discourage the use of violence and/or other forms of abuse in the resolution of such disputes (S 341).
“This special unit will help bend the trend on addiction and give military veterans who have gone astray of the law due to PTSD and similar afflictions, a road to recovery, employment and successful re-entry into society.”
Gov. Charlie Baker on the opening of the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office Housing Unit for Military Veterans – the state’s first correctional unit specifically designed for incarcerated veterans.
“This is about young people and their families feeling safe when they go to our hospitals, our restaurants, our movie theaters and other public places. We need a law on the books that will make sure everyone is welcome regardless of their gender identity.”
Attorney General Maura Healey on kicking off a social media campaign in support of legislation to protect transgender people from discrimination in public places.
“No one should be faced with having to pay outrageous out-of-pocket costs for much needed medication.”
Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) on legislation that would limit the out of pocket costs insurance companies can impose on patients for their prescription medications, including limiting the cost insurers charge patients for A 30-day supply of medication to $100.
“We need not take actions that could increase availability to, and use of drugs among, young people. If this referendum were to pass, Massachusetts would surely see an increase in the amount of marijuana use and addiction.”
Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins in opposition to a possible 2016 ballot question that would legalize and tax marijuana sales in Massachusetts.
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 14-18, the House met for a total of 11 hours and 31 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 10 hours and 29 minutes.
Mon. March 14 House 11:02 a.m. to 4:02 p.m.
Senate 11:17 a.m. to 11:28 a.m
Tues. March 15 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. March 16 House 10:05 a.m. to 4:28 p.m.
Senate 11:08 a.m. to 4:24 p.m
Thurs. March 17 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:11 a.m.
Senate 11:05 a.m. to 4:07 p.m.
Fri. March 18 No House session
No Senate session