Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 41 – Report No. 29 July 18-22, 2016

By Bob Katzen 

  THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ votes on roll calls from mid-July sessions.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PACKAGE (S 2423)
Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 41 – Report No. 29 July 18-22, 2016

   Senate 39-1, approved $743.9 million in capital spending over a period of three years for a range of economic development initiatives. The biggest ticket item is $330 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.
  The measure increases the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) by 5 percent, from 23 percent to 28 percent of the federal refund, and closes a loophole that has allowed nonresidents to claim this credit in Massachusetts. The tax credit would be funded by a new 5.7 percent tax on the rental of a primary residence house, condominium or apartment to vacationers, even if it is a short-term rental.

  

   Another key provision creates a new tax incentive to encourage families to put away money for higher education costs. Under the program, individual filers would get a $1,000 tax deduction for contributions to a prepaid tuition or college savings program, also known as a 529 plan. The deduction would increase to $2,000 for married couples.
   Supporters said the package makes targeted investments in workforce training, infrastructure and job creation strategies that will stimulate the economy. They noted it also help cities and towns and private companies, strengthens the manufacturing sector and creates new housing.

 

   The lone opponent said she voted against the package because of the new unnecessary 5.7 percent tax on the rental of a primary residence.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
TAX RENTAL OF PRIMARY RESIDENCE (S 2423)

   Senate 10-29, rejected an amendment to a proposal that would expand the state’s 5.7 percent hotel and motel tax to the rental of a room or the entire space of a person’s primary residence, house, condominium or apartment to vacationers, even if it is a short-term rental. The amendment would exempt from the tax any primary residence that is rented out for less than three weeks. Many of these rentals are handled on line by companies such as Airbnb.

  

  Amendment supporters said is unfair to impose a tax on the private rental of a person’s primary residence and noted that it makes more unnecessary paperwork for hardworking taxpayers who rent out their home in order to make a few extra dollars. They also noted it would increase the price of the rentals and perhaps lead to reduced rentals.
   Amendment opponents said that a person who decides to rent out his or her primary residences is engaged in a business transaction and should be treated the same as other establishments like hotels and motels.
   (The roll call vote is on the exemption. Therefore, a “Yes” vote is against the 5.7 percent tax on primary residences that are rented out for less than three weeks. A “No” vote favors imposing the tax on those residences.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen No                                      
JUVENILE JUSTICE (S 2417)

   Senate 31-9, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would make major changes in the state’s juvenile justice system. The bill excludes very young children from juvenile delinquency proceedings by raising the lower limit of juvenile court jurisdiction from 7 to 11 years of age, but helping them with services from the Department of Youth Services. Other provisions include banning the automatic shackling of children in court but giving a judge the discretion to allow shackling in cases where there is a safety or flight concern; create a system under which certain juvenile records can be expunged for misdemeanor offenses committed before age 18; and codify the constitutional right of indigent juvenile offenders to counsel and expert assistance for parole hearings.
  Supporters said the bill will help reduce crime, save the state money, give children a second chance and help them learn from their mistakes. They argued the measure balances the state’s obligation to attempt to rehabilitate juveniles with its duty to protect citizens. 
   Opponents took issue with a provision that they say gives the Legislature the power to micromanage school resource officers. These officers have proficient crisis intervention training and skills to help students in crisis and know how and when to use other options instead of arrests. 
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
REGULATE DEBT COLLECTION (S 2409)

   Senate 29-9, approved and sent to the House a bill making major changes in the regulation of debt collection companies. A key provision reduces from six years to four years the statute of limitations for the collection of consumer debt and prohibits a debt collector from bringing suit after the limitations period has expired. It also prohibits consumer payments made after the statute of limitations period begins to run from being used to revive or extend the limitations period.

 

   Another key provision protects a debtor’s weekly earnings that are less than 90 times the hourly minimum wage from wage garnishment to satisfy a judgment for the collection of consumer debt. If a debtor’s earnings are greater than 90 times the minimum hourly wage amount, the amount of wages subject to garnishment is limited to 10 percent of the excess earnings.
  Supporters said the Attorney General’s Office handles an average of 1,300 complaints per year related to the debt collection industry’s tactics. They argued the bill will protect consumers who are struggling through the debt collection process.
  Opponents said the bill would limit the flexibility of people to restructure their debt or secure modification of their mortgages. They argued it would lead to lenders taking fewer risks and to a reduction in lending to borrowers who have poor credit.

 

  (A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
TRIPLE DAMAGES (S 2416)

   Senate 13-26, rejected an amendment that would give judges the option to not impose triple damages in wage violations cases. 
   Amendment supporters said current law that mandates triple damages without exceptions takes away all discretion from judges despite the circumstances of the case. They argued that the law should be flexible because employers who make an honest error should not be required to pay triple damages.
    Amendment opponents said that triple damages should automatically be awarded in order to discourage employers from holding back wages. They said this will send a message to other employers who are thinking about cheating their workers.
    (A “Yes” vote is for giving a judge discretion. A “No” vote is against discretion and favors the automatic triple damages.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen No                                      

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
  PROTECT BICYCLISTS (H 3071) – The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill prohibiting drivers from parking in bike lanes and from placing their vehicle in a manner that would interfere with the safety and passage of bicyclists. Violators would be fined up to $100.
   Supporters said currently cities and towns pass local ordinances addressing this issue and the result is a patchwork of inconsistent rules and enforcement. They noted that when drivers park in these lanes they endanger bicyclists who are forced to merge into traffic.  
   CLOSE THE GENDER WAGE GAP (H 4509) – The House and Senate have agreed on a new version of 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 given 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 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. 
   NEWSPAPERS MUST PUBLISH PUBLIC NOTICES ONLINE (H 1566) – The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill that would require newspapers that are paid to publish official state and local public notices in the paper’s print edition to also include them on the paper’s website at no additional cost. The measure also requires the papers to include the notices, at no extra charge, on a new statewide website, created and operated by a joint venture of Massachusetts newspapers. 
   Supporters said that readership of print copies of newspapers is way down and public notices in these papers are never seen by the majority of people.
   MEDICAL ASSISTANTS CAN GIVE FLU SHOTS (H 3895) – The House and Senate approved a bill that would allow certified medical assistants who work in a doctor’s office to give flu and other immunization shots to patients. A certified medical technician is an individual who is a graduate of a post-secondary medical assisting education and performs basic administrative, clerical and clinical duties under the direct supervision of a doctor. The proposal needs additional approval in each branch before it goes to the governor.
   Supporters said this will free up the time of doctors and nurses so they can work on more urgent medical issues.
   PRESCRIPTIONS DURING AN EMERGENCY (H 1988) – The House approved and sent to the Senate a measure requiring the state to develop and publicize a statewide plan for ensuring the availability of prescription medications during a state of emergency. The plan would include allowing early refills of prescriptions; ensuring that vehicles delivering medications to pharmacies and hospitals be treated as emergency vehicles; and establishing a toll-free telephone number and a website for citizens to get assistance in locating prescription medication if no medications are available to them locally.
   NELSON MANDELA (S 2426) – The House and Senate approved a bill creating a special commission to consider establishing a designed space or facility on the Esplanade, and/or Madison Park High School in Boston commemorating the visit and speeches of Nelson Mandela to Boston in June 1990. Final approval is needed in each branch before the measure goes to Gov. Charlie Baker.
   QUOTABLE QUOTES – Special Gov. Baker Presidential Election Edition. 
   Gov. Baker was on WGBH Radio 89.7 FM with talk show hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan last week for his monthly appearance on “Ask the Governor.”

   “This is the first time since I’ve been able to vote that I don’t anticipate voting in a presidential election.”
   On whether he’ll vote for Donald Trump for President.

  “Donald Trump doesn’t have the temperament to be president and I think Hillary Clinton has an enormous believability problem.”
   On Trump and Clinton. 

   “People should vote. And I’m going to show up and I’m gonna vote. I’m gonna vote on everything on that ballot except for president”
   On whether he’ll vote in the non-presidential contests on the ballot.

   “I don’t usually get home until those things are pretty far underway.”
   On whether he is watching the Republican National Convention.

“He sent me a heads up AFTER he declared that said, ‘By the way, you’ve probably heard this.’ And I said ‘Ya I did. That’s really helpful, Bill.’”
  On when former Gov. Bill Weld told Baker that he was running for Vice-President on the Libertarian ticket.
   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 18-22, the House met for a total of 11 hours and two minutes while the Senate met for a total of eight hours and 15 minutes.
Mon. July 18 House 11:06 a.m. to 4:10 p.m.

                     Senate 11:07 a.m. to 4:25 p.m.
Tues. July 19 House 11:03 a.m. to 1:29 p.m.

                     Senate 11:10 a.m. to 1:31 p.m. 
Wed. July 20 House 1l:05 a.m. to 12:09 p.m.

                     No Senate session

 

Thurs. July 21 House 11:06 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

                     Senate 11:15 a.m. to 11:51 a.m.

 

Fri. July 22 House 11:02 a.m. to 6:48 p.m.

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

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