By Bob Katzen
A “pairing” process, used only in the Senate, is a procedure that allows an absent senator to express how he or she would have voted on a roll call. Under the arrangement, the absent senator contacts a senator who is present and plans to vote the opposite way. The present senator agrees to “pair” his or her vote with the vote of the absent senator. Neither vote is counted in the official total–they cancel each other out. This process allows both senators to be unofficially recorded on the roll call.
This week’s report follows:
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ and representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of April 4-8.
SOLAR ENERGY (H 4173)
House 152-1, Senate 35-0, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a bill that would raise the cap on solar net metering by 3 percent while decreasing the reimbursement rate paid to solar energy producers by 40 percent. The bill was hammered out by House and Senate negotiators for four months after each branch had approved its own version in November.
Supporters said the bill is a fair and balanced one that keeps the solar industry moving forward while watching out for the ratepayers at the same time. They argued that the legislative impasse has delayed more than 500 solar projects worth about $618 million.
The lone opponent, noting the bill isn’t based on good data, said it will unnecessarily slow the development of solar in the Bay State and make it harder to meet the state’s legally-required climate change targets. He argued the bill is regressive and discriminates against community-shared and low-income solar projects, which will hurt mainly middle-income and low-income people who can’t put solar on their own roofs.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
CHARTER SCHOOLS (S 2203)
Senate 22-13, approved and sent to the House a controversial and complicated bill that links a gradual increase in the cap on charter school enrollment with new funding of an estimated $200 million a year in public education. The bill maintains the current statewide charter school cap but increases net school spending for charters from 18 percent to 23 percent for the lowest performing districts over the next ten years, allowing for an increase in the number of charter school seats in these districts. Beginning in fiscal year 2019, this increase in seats will be tied to increases in Chapter 70 funding of public schools.
Other provisions eliminate the cap on charter schools that specifically serve at-risk students; require public disclosure by charter schools of their finances, policies, contracts and board meetings; require charter schools to abide by the same procurement requirements under state law that traditional public schools are required to follow; and give local school committees the power to vote on whether a charter school in their district should receive funding from the district of students that enroll in the charter school. If this district funding is rejected by a school committee, the charter school would be funded by the state.
Supporters said the bill is a reasonable compromise between groups that oppose charter schools and those that support them and brings necessary reforms in admissions, funding, and transparency. They argued the Senate bill would cost $1 billion over seven years and have a positive effect on all students in charter schools and public schools. They noted that a proposed 2018 ballot question on charter schools would authorize up to 12 new charters a year and would affect just four percent of students in the Bay State at a cost of $1.5 billion over six years.
Some opponents said the bill essentially places a moratorium on new charter schools and will do very little for the 34,000 students currently on waiting lists for charter schools. Others said the bill does not say from where the $200 million commitment to public education would come.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
SUBSTITUTE BAKER’S VERSION OF CHARTER SCHOOLS (S 2203)
Senate 5-30, rejected an amendment that would substitute Gov. Baker’s charter school bill in place of the one being debated by the Senate. The key provision of Baker’s bill allows 12 new charter schools per year but only in districts performing in the bottom 25 percent on standardized tests.
Supporters of Baker’s bill noted there are some 34,000 currently on waiting lists to attend a charter school. They said the governor’s bill will dramatically increase the number of students who attend these highly successful charter schools.
Opponents of Baker’s bill said it goes too far and kills the more reasonable bill being debated by the Senate. They argued Baker’s bill would cost $1.5 billion over six years and affect a mere four percent of students in Massachusetts.
(A “Yes” vote is for Baker’s version. A “No” vote is against it.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen No
NEED LOCAL APPROVAL (S 2203)
Senate 24-10, approved an amendment giving local school committees the power to vote on whether a charter school in their district should receive funding from the district of students that enroll in the charter school. If this district funding is rejected by a school committee, the charter school would be funded by the state.
Amendment supporters said that this gives local cities and towns more control over the funding process. They noted it ensures that local taxpayers are not unfairly forced to pay for a charter school which they did not create and might not want.
Some amendment opponents said the amendment would result in all cities and towns voting not to fund a new charter school because if they refuse to do so, the state is forced to pay. Others said the amendment goes too far and essentially gives cities and towns the power to veto a charter school because the state has consistently failed in funding these schools.
(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against it.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
EXEMPT SOLDIERS FROM AUTO EXCISE TAX (H 4073) – The Revenue Committee held a hearing on a bill that would exempt members of the armed forces serving on active duty from the automobile excise tax. The measure also allows cities and towns to raise from $10 to $13 the fee for serving a warrant to any taxpayer who has not paid his or her auto excise tax bill.
FIRST RESPONDER DAY (H 4161) – The House and Senate both approved a bill designating the day before Patriots’ Day as First Responder Day. Patriots’ Day falls annually on the third Monday of April. Further approval in each branch is needed before the bill goes to Gov. Charlie Baker.
Supporters said this will honor these police officers, firefighters, EMTs and other first responders who save lives. They argued the day before Patriots’ Day is an appropriate one because the Boston Marathon Bombing took place on Patriots’ Day and first responders saved many lives on that day in 2013.
ABANDONED PROPERTY (H 1860) – The House gave initial approval to a bill that would require property owners to safely secure vacant and abandoned buildings. All owners would be required to pay an annual $100 fee to register these properties with the state. Owners would also be required to maintain the buildings in accordance with all applicable sanitary, building codes and local regulations.
Supporters said the measure would provide a high level of security and discourage and counter the drug crimes and other illegal activity on the property.
FUND “WATER BANKS” IN CITIES AND TOWNS (H 657) – The House gave initial approval to a bill allowing the charging of a fee by cities and towns that currently have a “water bank” or are planning to have one. Creation of water banks is a local option for communities to collect a reasonable fee to be used to remedy and offset the impacts on the natural environment of new and/or increased water withdrawals, sewering, wastewater and stormwater discharges and to sustain the quantity, quality and ecological health, of the state’s waters.
Supporters said the bill would support communities that already have these water banks and encourage the creation of new ones. They argued it is important to maintain the quantity and quality of the state’s waters.
BEWARE OF AIR TRAVEL VOUCHERS (H 3214) – The House gave initial approval to a bill prohibiting companies from sending free or reduced cost offers of air travel to consumers unless the voucher discloses the name and contact information of the business entity sending the offer. Companies are also prohibited from using vague language like “some restrictions apply,” without specifically including a detailed description of the specific restrictions that applies.
Supporters said that many consumers are being tricked into purchasing these shady offers which often end with the consumer paying way more money than the original offer.
SAFETY OF NURSES AND OTHERS (S 1313) – The Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security has recommended passage of legislation that would require all health care facilities to conduct annual risk assessments to determine all factors that may put any employees at risk of workplace assaults and homicide. Based on the findings, each facility would be required to develop and implement a program to minimize the danger of workplace violence to employees, including appropriate employee training and a system for the ongoing reporting and monitoring of incidents and situations involving violence or the risk of violence.
Supporters said that violence in hospitals and other health care facilities is on the rise across the nation. They argued these facilities are no longer automatically safe and said that it is time to ensure hospitals are more prepared to deal with any violence.
TAX MILLIONAIRES ANOTHER 4 PERCENT (H 3933) – The House and Senate will convene in a constitutional convention on May 18 to consider a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the state to have a graduated income tax and impose an additional 4 percent income tax, in addition to the current 5.10 percent tax, on taxpayers’ earnings of more than $1 million. Language in the amendment requires that the revenue goes to fund quality public education, affordable public colleges and universities, and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges and public transportation.
Supporters say the amendment will affect only 14,000 extremely wealthy individuals and will bring up to $1.9 billion in additional tax revenue. They argue that using the funds for public education, public colleges, and universities, and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges, and public transportation will benefit millions of Bay State taxpayers.
Opponents argue the new tax will result in the loss of 9,500 private sector jobs, $405 million annually in personal disposable income and some millionaires moving out of state. They argued that the earmarking of the funds for specific projects is illegal and said all the funds will go into the General Fund and be up for grabs for anything.
The proposal could eventually go on the 2018 ballot if approved by 25 percent (50 members) of the 2016 Legislature and the 2017-2018 Legislature. The amendment is being spearheaded by the group Raise Up Massachusetts, which recently gathered the necessary signatures to bring the measure to the Legislature.
“I’m the queen of boring amendments today.”
Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston) who offered several amendments to the charter school bill.
“The bill has more poison pills [in it] than Dr. Kevorkian’s Apothecary.”
Senate GOP Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) arguing that the charter school bill has many flaws.
“Harvard Pilgrim Health Care has long stood for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality because we know the importance of making all of our employees and members we serve feel welcome and valued. The transgender protection bill would ensure that all Massachusetts residents are treated fairly in all aspects of their lives, and would echo the policies we already have in place and that we know work well at our company.”
Karen Young Vice President and Chief Inclusion Officer of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.
“The buying and selling of human lives is an abhorrent practice that is still taking place in Massachusetts, and we owe it to those who find themselves unwilling participants in it to take steps to stop it.”
Gov. Baker on his administration’s new policies to stop human trafficking.
“The Wampanoag people have lived off this land for 12,000 years. And though some doubted we would ever see this day come to pass, here we are on track to open a first-class resort and be the first to market.”
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell on the groundbreaking ceremony that begins construction of the historic tribe’s billion-dollar First Light Resort and Casino in Taunton.
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 April 4-8, the House met for a total of five hours and 57 minutes and the Senate met for a total of nine hours and 49 minutes.
Mon. April 4 House 11:04 a.m. to 11:13 a.m.
Senate 11:14 a.m. to 11:23 a.m
Tues. April 5 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. April 6 House 11:04 a.m. to 4:10 p.m.
No Senate session
Thurs. April 7 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:43 a.m.
Senate 11:03 a.m. to 8:43 p.m.
Fri. April 8 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org