Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 41 – Report No. 31 August 1-5, 2016

By Bob Katzen 

   THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ and representatives’ votes on roll calls from July sessions. Some of the roll calls are from both branches’ overrides of some of Gov. Charlie Baker’s 256 vetoes of spending and other items in the recently signed $38.92 billion fiscal 2017 state budget.
   In his veto message, Baker cites the state’s projected shortfall of $650 million to $950 million in the fiscal 2017 budget that the Legislature sent him. He said the vetoes are necessary to help close that gap. “This budget addresses a projected fiscal year 2017 budget shortfall which recently developed as a spillover effect from fiscal year 2016,” said Baker. “Economic trends resulted in a projected $425 million to $475 million below benchmark performance in fiscal year 2016 state tax revenue collections, leading to a projected fiscal year 2017 shortfall of $650 million to $950 million.”
    He also gave a reason for reducing funding for each item that he vetoed. The reasons, however, as has been the case with governors of both parties in recent times, are vague and general. He used three phrases to explain many of his vetoes. “I am reducing this item to the amount projected to be necessary.” “I am vetoing this item because it is not consistent with my House 2 [original budget] recommendation.” And “I am striking language which earmarks funding for a program not recommended.”  
   Democratic legislative leaders disagree with Baker and say that all 256 of his vetoes could be overridden without pushing the state budget out of balance. They say that Baker’s cuts would have affected many important programs and hurt many people including minorities, women, seniors and children.
CUT $20,940 FROM STATE ETHICS COMMISSION (H 4450)

   House 120-34, Senate 33-6, overrode the governor’s veto of $20,940 (from $2,093,969 to 2,073,029) for the operation of the state’s Ethics Commission. The commission is an independent 5-member state agency that is responsible for the administration and enforcement of the state’s conflict of interest and financial disclosure laws.
   (A “Yes” vote is for spending the $20,940. A “No” vote is against spending it).

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
CUT ENTIRE $1 MILLION FOR “REACH OUT AND READ” PROGRAM (H 4450)

   House 151-2, Senate 38-1, overrode Gov. Baker’s veto of the entire $1 million in funding for the Reach Out and Read (ROR) program. ROR is a national nonprofit group that began in 1989 at Boston Medical Center to address the problem that most pediatricians’ waiting rooms did not have books available to read. Nationally, the group annually distributes 6.5 million books. 
   The Massachusetts ROR program trains pediatricians and nurses to advise parents about the importance of reading aloud to their children in order to prepare them for school. The program also funds the purchase of books to give to children who are six months to five years old during their visits to their doctors. Some 254 hospitals and clinics in Massachusetts participate in the program, serving 186,000 children and families.
   (A “Yes” vote is for spending the $1 million. A “No” vote is against spending it.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
CUT ENTIRE $350,000 FOR STROKE PROGRAMS (H 4450)

   House 132-21, Senate 38-1, overrode Gov. Baker’s veto of the entire $350,000 for stroke treatment and prevention programs to provide educational programming on the signs and symptoms of stroke. The program would focus on communities that have the highest incidence of stroke. 
   The money would fund the operation and administration of designated primary stroke service hospital programs and require those hospitals and emergency medical services agencies to report data consistent with nationally recognized guidelines on the treatment of individuals with strokes.
    (A “Yes” vote is for spending the $350,000. A “No” vote is against spending it.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
CUT ENTIRE $150,000 TO ADDRESS TEEN DATING VIOLENCE (H 4450)

   House 121-32, Senate 37-2, overrode Gov. Baker’s veto of the entire $150,000 for a competitive grant program in public schools from grades 5 to 12, to promote healthy relationships and address teen dating violence. The grants would be awarded to schools in which the majority of students are eligible for free or reduced lunches.
   (A “Yes” vote is for spending the $150,000. A “No” vote is against spending it.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
CUT $400,000 FROM PEDIATRIC PALLIATIVE CARE (H 4450)

   House 135-17, Senate 39-0, overrode the governor’s veto of $400,000 (from $2,204,578 to $1,804,578) for the pediatric palliative care program that improves the quality of life for children under age 18 with life-limiting illness and their families who are caring for them. 
   (A “Yes” vote is for spending the $400,000. A “No” vote is against it.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
$50 MILLION TO COMMUNITIES FOR SMALL BRIDGE REPAIRS (H 4457)

   House 158-0, Senate 38-1, approved and sent to Gov. Baker a $750 million package for transportation projects across the state. The package includes $700 million for highway improvements and $50 million for a new grant program to fund the repair of cities’ and towns’ bridges that are 20 or less feet in length. 
   Supporters said the bill would fund critical improvements to highways across the state. They noted the $50 million for bridge repairs would go directly to cities and towns in need of funds to repair bridges that are crumbling.
  The lone opponent opposed a provision that exempts from the state’s debt ceiling large amounts of borrowing authorized in a 2014 transportation bond bill. He said this action is fiscally irresponsible.
   (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                                     
REGULATE UBER AND LYFT (H 4570)

   House 142-15, Senate on a voice vote without a roll call, approved and sent to the governor a measure that would regulate Uber, Lyft and other Transportation Network Companies (TNCs). The measure would establish a new division within the Department of Public Utilities, funded by the companies themselves, to oversee the licensing of the companies and drivers, enforcing penalties and all other issues. A key provision requires drivers to pass two annual background checks — an internal one by the company and one by the state.

 

   A driver’s record cannot contain any crimes of violence, sexual abuse, drunken driving, hit and run, felony robbery or felony fraud. In addition, anyone with one major traffic violation or four minor traffic violations within the past three years would be ineligible to drive. The measure also requires TNCs to pay a tax of 20-cents per ride into a new Municipal Transportation Infrastructure Trust Fund. The fund would distribute some of the money to provide financial assistance to small businesses operating in the taxicab, livery or hackney industries and some to cities and towns to address the impact of TNCs on municipal roads, bridges and taxis.
   The bill prohibits surge pricing in weather emergencies and requires drivers to carry certain levels of auto insurance.
   Supporters said these regulations were compiled after extensive input from both the TNCs and taxi industries. They said the new rules will foster growth and competition while protecting consumers.
   Opponents were divided into two groups. Supporters of Uber and Lyft said the regulations hurt the consumer by limiting consumer choice and restricting competition. Supporters of the taxi industry said the regulations are minimal, do not level the playing field and will do nothing to help cab drivers who have seen much of their business taken away by these new companies.
   (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                                     

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
   CLOSE THE GENDER WAGE GAP (H 4509) – Gov. Baker signed into law 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, 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. Sen. Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville), who first filed the bill in 1998 said, “Our daughters and granddaughters, and our sons and grandsons, will face a fairer work environment than we have. This will help reduce income inequality.” Jehlen continued, “Fewer women will raise their children in poverty and those children will have a better chance to succeed in life and succeed in school. Today in Massachusetts we say, equal pay for equal work is not just a slogan, it’s the law.”
   PAID FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE (S 2477) – The Senate approved and sent to the House a proposal that would allow workers in Massachusetts to take paid leave to recover from a serious illness or injury, to care for a seriously ill or injured family member or to care for a new child. Employees would be eligible for benefits after 1,250 hours of work. The proposal prohibits employer retaliation against workers who take time off under these conditions.
   Under the proposal, employees would be eligible for up to 16 weeks to care for a family member or new child, and up to 26 weeks for his or her own serious illness or injury. Benefits would be funded through employer and employee premium contributions to a new Family and Employment Security Trust Fund. The benefits would begin at 50 percent of an employee’s average weekly wage in 2018, increase to 70 percent in 2019 and to 90 percent in 2020, with a maximum weekly benefit of $1,000.
  Supporters said workers should not have to choose between a paycheck and their own health or their family’s health. They noted nations all over the world offer these benefits and it is time for Massachusetts to join in.
   MEDICAL ASSISTANTS CAN GIVE FLU SHOTS (H 3895) – The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker 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 measure is designed to free up the time of doctors and nurses so they can work on more urgent medical issues.
  DANGEROUS LEAD IN CHILDREN’S JEWELRY (H 253) – The House approved and sent to the Senate legislation that would require all children’s jewelry sold in the Bay State to meet certain federal safety standards. 
 Supporters said a child who swallows or licks jewelry containing lead or cadmium is at high risk of developing very serious and potentially life-threatening health problems including kidney, bone and liver disease.
   PREVENT ANIMAL SUFFERING AND DEATH (S 2369) – The House approved a Senate-approved proposal that would prohibit persons from leaving their pet in a car when high or low temperatures could endanger the animal’s health and safety. Violators would be hit with up to a $150 fine for a first offense, $300 for a second offense and $500 for any subsequent offense. The bill also leaves open the possibility of criminal animal cruelty charges being brought against the offender in the most egregious cases. 
  The measure, which still needs final approval in each branch before it goes to the governor, allows law enforcement officers, after making reasonable efforts to locate the motor vehicle’s owner, to enter a motor vehicle by any reasonable means to protect the health and safety of an animal. It also extends a similar right to ordinary citizens and makes them immune from criminal or civil liability that might result from the removal.
   Other provisions prohibit leaving a dog outdoors during harsh weather conditions and prohibit a dog from being chained or tethered outside for more than five hours per day or between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. for more than 15 minutes. Violations under the tethering law include penalties of up to $500 or relinquishment of ownership of the dog.
  Supporters said it is time to crack down on irresponsible and cruel dog owners. 
QUOTABLE QUOTES
  “I am thankful that the Legislature took action on several important pieces of legislation … I will continue to work across the aisle with our partners in the Legislature to make Massachusetts a better place to live, work and raise a family.” 
  Gov. Baker on the passage of several bills at the recent rare weekend marathon sessions held by the Legislature.

  “This isn’t sausage-making, which requires some skill. It’s tossing meat into a grinder and punching the ‘on’ button before walking away.”
  Chip Ford, Executive Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, on the marathon sessions.

  “As a legislator and as a father, I recognize that there is more we should be doing to help prevent incidents of sexual assault on our college campuses. Through improved training, transparency and enforcement of policies, this bill supports initiatives that work to protect students, and ensure that postsecondary institutions are implementing systems that students can trust.”
  Sen. Michael Moore (D-Millbury) on Senate approval of his bill to address the issue of on-campus sexual assaults including requiring all students and staff to receive mandatory annual sexual violence prevention and awareness programming.

  “As healthcare workers, we strive every day to provide quality care to our patients and consumers. But far too often, we can’t provide that same care to our families for fear of losing our jobs. We should never be forced to make the difficult decision between the people in our care and our families who need us too.”
  Tyrek Lee, Executive Vice President of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, on Senate passage of paid family and medical leave legislation.

   “Legislative leaders are to be commended for their recognition that bullying and harassing are epidemic in government subsidized housing, especially afflicting the elderly and people with disabilities. People have the right to live out their final years in dignity and peace.”
  Michael Kane, Executive Director, Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants, on the passage of a bill that establishes the nation’s first state legislative study commission on bullying of residents of multifamily public and subsidized housing.
   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 August 1-5, the House met for a total of 30 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 21 minutes.
Mon. August 1 No House session

                   No Senate session
Tues. August 2 No House session

                   Senate 11:04 a.m. to 11:11 a.m.
Wed. August 3 No House session

                   No Senate session
Thurs. August 4 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:33 a.m.

                  Senate 11:09 a.m. to 11:23 a.m.
Fri. August 5 No House session

                   No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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