Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 41 – Report No. 27 July 4-8, 2016


By Bob Katzen 

  THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ and representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of July 4-8, 2016
SUPPORT FOR VETERANS (H 4278)

   House 153-0, Senate 39-0, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a bill that would help veterans by improving their access to housing and education and protecting them from discrimination. Provisions include establishing the new Office of State Veterans’ Homes and Housing; giving veterans preference in public housing; allowing cities and towns to permit property taxpayers to check off a box on their property tax bill and donate money, above their tax liability, to help local veterans with food, transportation, heat and oil expenses; and making all children of prisoners of war eligible for the Public Service Scholarship. Currently, the scholarship is limited to children of the Vietnam War POWs. This legislation would extend eligibility to all children of POWs.
   Supporters said the state should provide these additional benefits and opportunities to the thousands of Bay State veterans who have served and are still serving our nation. They noted that one in three homeless people in the nation are veterans. They pointed out that one in five Massachusetts veterans suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and 11 percent suffer traumatic brain injuries. 
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
PROHIBIT DISCRIMINATION AGAINST TRANSGENDER PEOPLE (S 2407)

   House 117-36, approved and Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill that would expand current law prohibiting discrimination against transgender people by adding “gender identity” to existing Massachusetts civil rights laws that already prohibit discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, sex, religion and marital status. Public accommodations are defined as “a place, whether licensed or unlicensed, which is open to and accepts or solicits the patronage of the general public.” This includes hotels, restaurants, retail stores, malls, theaters, parks, medical offices, libraries and public transportation. The major controversy has centered around the fact that the proposal would also allow access to legally gender-segregated public facilities, including restrooms and locker rooms, based on a person’s gender identity rather than on their sex.
   This new version of the bill was hammered out by a conference committee after each branch had passed its own version. The Senate approved the bill on a voice vote without a recorded roll call.
   Supporters, noting 17 other states have approved similar laws, said this new civil rights law will help many transgender people lead safe and more productive lives. They argued that transgender individuals still face the threat of discrimination in many public accommodations. They noted that under current Massachusetts law, there is no protection ensuring that transgender people cannot be turned away from a restroom, locker room, hotel, restaurant, retail store and many other places simply because they are transgender. 
   Opponents said the privacy rights of children matter and asked how youngsters might react to a transgender classmate using the same bathroom. They argued that bathroom and locker room use should be based on the gender on one’s birth certificate, not on an inner sense of feeling or expression. They said that male predators could use this law as cover to excuse their presence in women-only spaces.
   (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                                     
$915 MILLION ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PACKAGE (H 4461)

   House 152-1, approved and sent to the Senate a bill allowing the state to borrow $915 million over five years as part of an economic development package aimed at boosting the economy, creating jobs, workforce development and infrastructure investment. The biggest ticket item is $500 million for the MassWorks infrastructure grant program which is promoted as one-stop shopping for cities and towns and other eligible public entities seeking public infrastructure funding to support economic development and job creation. Municipalities could use the money for a variety of things including housing construction, city and town center revitalization projects; and mill redevelopment opportunities.
    Supporters said the package will stimulate the economy, help cities and towns and private companies, strengthen the manufacturing sector, create new housing, make some repairs to the infrastructure and provide the training and equipment for workforce development.
   The lone opponent said the bill gives autocratic powers to individuals in the Executive branch to unilaterally make large tax expenditures and makes decisions to transfer public funds to private businesses unreviewable by any court or administrative agency. She argued that there is no evidence that making payments to private companies actually brings about real economic growth.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost No Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes                                     
TAX CREDIT FOR LIVE THEATER SHOWS (H 4461)

   House 127-27, approved an amendment providing tax credits of up to $5 million to live theater shows that run in Massachusetts before opening on-Broadway or off-Broadway. The credits would also be available to touring productions of shows that begin in Boston and go on a national tour rather than to New York.
   Amendment supporters said Boston used to be the main “tryout city” for pre-Broadway shows but other states including neighboring Rhode Island have lured them away with tax incentives. They noted the tax credit will help spur the economy and create jobs. They argued that some of the state’s tax revenue loss would be offset by increased revenue from the meals and gas tax generated by employees of the production company and theatergoers.
   Amendment opponents questioned how much benefit to the economy the tax incentives would be. They argued that the state should not be offering tax cuts to the entertainment business when local aid, education and human service programs are still underfunded. 
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill offering tax incentives. A “No” vote is against the bill.)

 Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Denise Provost No Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes                                     
CHILD CUSTODY (S 2392)

   Senate 39-0, approved and sent to the House a bill updating the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. The measure establishes a set of guidelines designed to make interstate custody and jurisdiction issues uniform across the country.
   Supporters, noting Massachusetts is the only state that has not opted into this law, said joining the pact will make the Bay State’s interstate custody laws consistent with the 49 other states.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
BILITERACY (S 2395)

   Senate 39-0, approved and sent to the House a bill that would give school districts the power and flexibility to offer other English Language Learner (ELL) programs in addition to or instead of the current sheltered English immersion program. Another key provision establishes a Seal of Biliteracy, an award given by a school to recognize students who have attained proficiency in more than one language. 
   Supporters said schools need the flexibility to implement a program that will fit the needs of their students and noted many other states already offer students the Seal of Biliteracy. They argued that the current ELL policies are not working and noted that these students continue to lag behind their peers in high school graduation rate and going to college. They expressed concern that Massachusetts students will quickly be left behind when applying for jobs that require bilingual skills in the growing global market.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
BETTER ACCESS TO COLLEGE FOR DEVELOPMENTALLY DISABLED (S 2392)

   Senate 39-0, approved and sent to the House a bill that requires state-owned colleges to offer inclusive opportunities that support people with severe intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities. 
   Supporters said that students with disabilities deserve equal access to the academic, social and work training benefits of college. They noted the bill will enrich the lives of these students and of all the current students of the college community who will benefit from working with students who are different from them.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
   GOV. BAKER SIGNS $38.92 BILLION FISCAL 2017 STATE BUDGET (H 4001) – Gov. Baker vetoed $256 million in spending and then signed into law a $38.92 billion fiscal 2017 budget that increases spending by 1.3 percent. The Legislature has until July 31 to override any of the governor’s vetoes.

    

   “I am proud of our administration’s progress over the last two years to increase investments in education, local aid and efforts to fight the “I appreciate the Legislature’s collaboration to address the lower-than-anticipated revenue growth over the past few months and I look forward to continuing our work together to ensure state government lives within its means for the taxpayers of Massachusetts.”

   PRIMARY ENFORCEMENT OF SEAT BELTS LAWS (H 4105) – The House gave initial approval to a bill allowing police officers to issue tickets for seat belt violations even if the driver is not stopped for another violation as required under current law. Other provisions prevent officers from searching the vehicle or occupants solely because of the seat belt violation and prohibit a seat belt violation from resulting in a surcharge on motor vehicle insurance premiums.
   Supporters said states which go from secondary to primary enforcement see an automatic 12 to 15 percent increase in seat belt use. They argued the bill will save lives, reduce injuries and save millions of dollars in medical bills.
  Opponents said this is another example of unnecessary government intrusion and argued people should have the personal freedom to make their own decisions. They expressed concern that primary enforcement will result in more minorities being pulled over for suspected violations of the seat belt law.
   PROPERTY TAX REDUCTION FOR SENIORS (S 1494) – The House gave initial approval to a Senate-approved bill that would raise from $55,000 to $80,000 the maximum annual income a senior over 65 can earn and still be eligible for a property tax deferral. The local community decides whether to allow a tax deferral in the first place. Communities can charge up to 8 percent interest on the amount deferred. The amount of the deferral plus interest must be paid when the senior moves or dies.
   Amendment supporters said this will reduce expenses for seniors and allow more of them to remain in their homes.
   The measure still needs further approval in both chambers before it can go to the governor’s desk. 
    SHOOTING AT A HOUSE OR APARTMENT (H 4314) – The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill imposing up to a 5-year prison sentence and/or $10,000 fine on anyone who discharges a firearm into a dwelling.  
   Supporters said there have been 123 of these incidents in Boston since 2013. They pointed to many examples of bullets almost killing innocent victims including the September 2014 incident in which a little girl was almost hit by a bullet while sleeping in her room. They argued the penalties should reflect the serious nature of these crimes.
   RECORKING WINE (H 199) – The House approved and sent to the Senate a measure that would expand the current law allowing restaurant and hotel customers to bring home an unfinished bottle of wine. The proposal would expand the law to taverns, clubs and veterans’ organizations like American Legion posts. The wine would have to be resealed and then placed in a one-time-use tamper-proof, transparent bag.
   Supporters said it is time to expand this law to ensure that people do not finish their bottle of wine just so it doesn’t go to waste. They noted that often leads to drunken driving.
   ALLOW MORE CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS (S 542) – The Senate approved a proposal that would allow donors to contribute the maximum $1,000 twice per year to a candidate who runs for the Legislature in a special election and a regular election in the same year. Current law only allows donors to give a maximum of $1,000 in any calendar year. The House has approved a different version and the Senate version now goes to the House for consideration.
    Supporters said it is unfair for a candidate who runs in a special election and then runs for re-election in the same year to be limited to $1,000 per donor for the entire year. They argued current law gives an advantage to some candidates who are only running in the regular election.
   DISCLOSE TOP FIVE DONORS (H 543) – The Senate approved a measure that would require the names of the top five contributors who donate over $5,000 to a super Political Action Committee (PAC) and other groups or political committees to be listed on all campaign billboards and mailers. Current law requires the listing of the top five donors only on television, Internet and print ads. The House has approved a different version and the Senate version now goes to the House for consideration.
   Super PACs are created to help candidates and are often run by the candidate’s former staffers or associates who use the PAC to fund positive ads about the candidate and/or run negative ads against the candidate’s opponents. There is a limit on how much money can be donated to a candidate’s own election committee but super PACs can legally accept unlimited donations.
    Supporters said this will increase transparency and allow more voters to see who is funding these influential PACs. They said it will shine the light on this “dark” money.
   Opponents said the bill does not go far enough on several counts to make true campaign finance reforms. They noted it still allows unions to contribute excessive money to campaigns.
FOUR QUESTIONS ON NOVEMBER 2016 BALLOT – Supporters of four questions have gathered the necessary signatures required to appear on the 2016 ballot. The four include legalizing, licensing, regulating and taxing marijuana for adults over 21; allowing the state to open up to 12 new charter schools annually; allowing one more slot parlor with 1,250 machines to be built near Suffolk Downs; and prohibiting any farmers from confining any pigs, calves or hens in a way that prevents the animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs or turning around freely.

   These groups have been working on signature gathering for several months. They originally gathered 64,750 signatures in December 2015 to pass the first hurdle and they needed another 10,792 by last Wednesday. There were 22 other laws proposed when this process began in early 2015 but those groups either didn’t collect sufficient signatures or withdrew their question voluntarily.
GUNS IN COURTHOUSES (S 940) – The Senate approved and sent to the House a bill that would impose up to a 1-year prison sentence and/or $1,000 fine on anyone, except law enforcement personnel or a person with the court’s prior permission, caught with a loaded or unloaded firearm in a courthouse. The punishment would increase to up to a 5-year prison sentence and/or $5,000 fine if there is intent to use the firearm during the commission of a crime.

   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 July 4-8, the House met for a total of 13 hours and 18 minutes and the Senate met for a total of five hours and 53 minutes.
Mon. July 4 No House session

                     No Senate session
Tues. July 5 House 11:10 a.m. to 2:07 p.m.

                     Senate 11:12 a.m. to 11:44 a.m. 
Wed. July 6 No House session

                     No Senate session

 

Thurs. July 7 House 11:05 a.m. to 9:26 p.m.

                     Senate 1:04 p.m. to 6:09 p.m.

 

Fri. July 8 No House session

                     Senate 11:06 a.m. to 11:22 a.m. 
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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