Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 41 – Report No. 28 July 11-15, 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 11-15.
CLOSE THE GENDER WAGE GAP (H 4509)

   House 158-0, approved a bill that would strengthen the Bay State’s pay equity law by closing the wage gap between men and women doing the same job. The measure requires that women be paid equal pay for comparable work unless the variation is based upon mitigating factors including seniority; a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, sales or revenue; and education, training or experience. 
   The proposal establishes pay transparency, prohibits screening of prospective employees based on salary history, requires fairness in hiring practices and increases fines for violations. Other provisions prohibit employers from reducing salaries in order to comply with the new law and from preventing employees from talking about their salaries.
  Supporters said it is far past time to approve this historic bill and noted women comprise 50 percent of the workforce yet make only 80 cents for every dollar earned by men. 
   The Senate has approved a different version of the bill and a House-Senate conference committee will hammer out a compromise version.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes                                     
WAGE THEFT (S 2416)

   Senate 38-2, approved and sent to the House a bill to prevent wage theft by employers. Wage theft includes paying below the minimum wage, neglecting to pay overtime and paying workers in cash to avoid paying taxes. Key provisions of the proposal make companies that contract with a subcontractor that withholds wages liable for those wages, and give the attorney general the power to shut down a company within 96 hours if a wage theft violation is found and left uncorrected.
   Supporters there are $700 million of wages stolen annually in Massachusetts from about 350,000 workers. They argued it is time to crack down on businesses that cheat their hard working employees and to hold employers accountable for these illegal practices. 
   Opponents said the bill unfairly punishes unknowing contractors for the illegal actions of their subcontractors. They said it is unfair and anti-business to require companies to police the payroll of their subcontractors.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
ANGEL INVESTORS’ TAX CREDIT (S 2423)

   Senate 34-6, approved an amendment giving “angel investors” a state tax credit equal to 20 percent of the amount of the investment they make in a qualifying business. In order to qualify, the business must have its principal place of business in the Bay State, have at least 50 percent of its employees located in the business’s principal place of business, employ 20 or fewer full-time employees and have gross revenues equal to or less than $500,000. The tax credit rises to 30 percent if the business is located in one of the state’s struggling cities, known as gateway cities.
   Amendment supporters said this will encourage investment in small companies that seek startup and expansion capital. They argued it will stimulate the economy and create jobs and is a win-win for investors and the small businesses.
   Amendment opponents said the state should not be giving tax breaks to wealthy investors.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the tax credit. A “No” vote is against it.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen No                                      
RESTRICT CREDIT CHECKS ON EMPLOYEES (S 2425)

   Senate 39-0, approved and sent to the House a bill that would restrict employers from requiring credit checks of potential and current employees. The measure permits credit checks under limited circumstances including if the applicant or employee applies for or holds an executive or managerial position at a financial institution or a position that requires national security clearance.
   Supporters said 43 percent of U.S. employers look at a person’s credit history and argued a credit report should not have any effect on whether someone gets hired or promoted. 
   Although no one voted against the bill, critics say that the restriction would hurt small businesses who are looking for the best employees.
  (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
MODERNIZING LOCAL GOVERNMENTS (S 2410)

   Senate 40-0, approved a lengthy bill aimed at modernizing municipal finance and government. The bill updates or outright repeals several archaic laws and creates a new law allowing communities to issue driver citations electronically. Many provisions in the bill are technical and the measure has been called “the most boring weed-whacking stuff you ever saw in your life,” by Gov. Charlie Baker.
   The proposal gives municipalities more control over local funding decisions, local regulations and the issuing of local liquor licenses, as well as the option to enter into joint powers agreements to provide services regionally.
   

   Supporters said the bill removes some obsolete state laws and updates others to help government be more efficient at the local level by enhancing the delivery of services and promoting regional cooperation among neighboring communities. They noted the measure is supported by the Massachusetts Municipal Association, an entity that lobbies for the state’s cities and towns. 
  The House has approved a different version of the bill and a House-Senate conference committee will likely hammer out a compromise version.
    (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
NEW LOCAL TRANSPORTATION TAX (S 2410)

   Senate 33-7 approved an amendment giving cities and towns an option to levy a local payroll, sales, property or vehicle excise tax to pay for local transportation costs including maintaining, repairing and building roads, bridges, bikeways and pedestrian pathways, as well as making improvements in public transportation and transit systems. The tax would have to be approved by a city council or selectmen, and then by local voters on a ballot.
   Amendment supporters said this allows, but does not force cities and towns to raise taxes to pay for vital improvements to their crumbling infrastructure and public transportation. 
   Amendment opponents said this is nothing more than another unwarranted tax on already overburdened taxpayers.
   (“Yes” vote is for allowing cities and towns to raise taxes. A “No” vote is against allowing it.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
GAS TAX EXEMPTION FOR CITIES AND TOWNS (S 2410)

   Senate 9-29, rejected an amendment exempting cities and towns’ vehicle fuel purchases from the 24 cents-per-gallon gas tax. 
   Amendment supporters said that the exemption would save cities and towns an estimated $30 million in what would essentially be local aid which they could use to fund important items. They argued that this would simply replace the current system under which communities pay the gas tax to the state which then distributes the revenue to communities in the form of Chapter 90 money for road and bridge repairs. 
   Amendment opponents said that the proposal is misguided and does nothing more than rob Peter to pay Paul by taking money away from one local aid program and giving it to another. They argued the state simply cannot afford the estimated $30 million loss in revenue.
  (A “Yes” vote is for exempting cities and towns’ fuel purchases. A No” vote is against the exemption).

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen No                                      
ALLOW LOTTERY ONLINE (S 2423)

   Senate 22-17, approved an amendment allowing the Lottery to sell tickets online.

 

   Amendment supporters said it is time to bring the Lottery into the computer age and raise revenue that goes to cities and towns in the form of local aid. They noted the amendment includes many safeguards that will protect consumers.
   Amendment opponents said online gambling is the most regressive way to raise revenue because poorest people are most likely to gamble. They argued that online gambling will hurt convenience store owners who depend on lottery sales for revenue and to bring in customers for other purchases.
   (A “Yes” vote is for allowing online gambling. A “No” vote is against it.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen No                                      

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
   ALLOW MORE CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS (S 542) – The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker 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.
   BALLOT QUESTIONS ARE ASSIGNED NUMBERS – The four questions that will be on the November ballot have been assigned numbers by Secretary of State Bill Galvin. The four questions are: 1. Allowing one more slot parlor with 1,250 machines to be built near Suffolk Downs; 2. Allowing the state to open up to 12 new charter schools annually; 3. 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; and 4. legalizing, licensing, regulating and taxing the sale of marijuana for adults over 21.
   “RIGHT TO DRY” (S 1056) – The Senate approved a local option proposal that would prohibit a city or town from outright banning any homeowner or tenant from using a clothesline to dry clothing. The law would only take effect in cities or towns that opt into it. Condominium associations and landlords would be allowed to place reasonable restrictions on the placement and use of clotheslines, but could not ban them completely.
   Supporters said the bill would ensure people are able to dry their clothes outside and help save energy and the environment. 

    

   Opponents say clotheslines all across a community are not very attractive and would bother neighbors and decrease the value of homes in the neighborhood.
   HORSEBACK RIDERS UNDER 18 MUST WEAR HELMETS (H 4510) – The House gave initial approval to a bill that would require all horseback riders under 18 to wear a helmet. A $50 fine would be imposed on violators or the violator’s parents if the violator is under the age of 17.
   Supporters said the mandate will prevent many injuries and save lives.
   Opponents said parents should have the authority to make a decision on whether their child wears a helmet. They said to watch out for a slippery slope which will eventually lead to a law requiring adults over 18 to wear helmets.
  BAKER SIGNS LEGISLATION HELPING SOLDIERS – Gov. Baker signed into law 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.
   “We are grateful to the brave men and women who have answered the call for our nation and Commonwealth,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “I am honored to sign this legislation enhancing the services Massachusetts provides to those active service members, veterans and families who selflessly serve to secure our safety and freedom.”
QUOTABLE QUOTES
  “With the passage of this bill, the House of Representatives has made a historic commitment to attacking the wage gap. The new protections and policy will make the Massachusetts equal pay statute the strongest in the nation.”

 

   Rep. John Scibak (D-South Hadley), House Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.
   

   “Authorizing municipalities to levy a tax on income would be precedent-setting in Massachusetts and open a Pandora’s Box of complexities and further precedents.”
   Chip Ford, Executive Director of Citizens for limited Taxation, on a Senate-approved proposal giving cities and towns an option to levy a local payroll, sales, property or vehicle excise tax to pay for local transportation improvement costs including maintaining, repairing and building roads, bridges and bikeways.

  
   “The fact that today so many workers in this Commonwealth are being cheated out of wages is just simply unacceptable. This legislation takes a very important step towards stopping the illegal practice of wage theft in Massachusetts and towards leveling the playing field for honest businesses.”
   Steve Tolman, President, Massachusetts AFL-CIO on Senate passage of a bill a bill to prevent wage theft by employers.

   “Predatory debt collection practices undermine the financial security of many of the most vulnerable members of our Commonwealth. People who are struggling with financial difficulties should not be subject to harassment and intimidation by collection agencies.”
     Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) on a bill designed to stop undue and deceptive practices of the debt collection industry.
  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 11-15, the House met for a total of nine hours and 11 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 30 hours and eight minutes.
Mon. July 11 House 11:05 a.m. to 11:18 a.m.

                     Senate 11:07 a.m. to 2:06 p.m.
Tues. July 12 No House session

                     Senate 11:04 a.m. to 6:20 p.m. 
Wed. July 13 House 12:02 a.m. to 1:14 p.m.

                     Senate 11:03 a.m. to 6:54 p.m.

 

Thurs. July 14 House 11:02 a.m. to 6:48 p.m.

                     Senate 11:37 a.m. to 11:08 p.m.

 

Fri. July 15 No House session

                     Senate 1:05 p.m. to 1:36 p.m. 
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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