By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week. Beacon Hill Roll Call has obtained from the State Treasurer’s office the 2016 official list of the “per diem” travel, meals and lodging reimbursements collected by the Legislature’s 40 state senators from January 1, 2015 through September 1, 2015. The list reveals that senators collected a total of $32,843.
Under state law, per diems are paid by the state to senators “for each day for travel from his place of residence to the Statehouse and return therefrom, while in the performance of his official duties, upon certification to the state treasurer that he was present at the Statehouse.” These reimbursements are given to senators above and beyond their regular salaries.
The amount of each per diem varies, based on the city or town in which a senator resides and its distance from the Statehouse. In 2000, the Legislature approved a law doubling per diems to the current amounts. The payments range from $10 per day for senators who reside in the Greater Boston area to $90 per day for some western Massachusetts lawmakers and $100 per day for those residing in Nantucket. Senators from areas farthest from Boston’s Statehouse most often collect the highest total of annual per diems.
Some supporters of the per diems say the system is fair and note the rising costs of travel, food and lodging. They argue that many legislators spend a lot of money on travel to Boston and some spend the night in Boston following late sessions. Others say that some legislators accept the per diem but use it to support local nonprofit causes. They say that not taking the per diem would leave that money in the state’s General Fund to be spent frivolously.
Some opponents argue that most state employees, and even people working for private companies, are not paid additional money for commuting. They say the very idea of paying any per diem is outrageous when thousands of workers have lost their jobs and homes, and when funding for important state programs has been cut. Others say the per diem is especially inappropriate given the 3-cent-per-gallon hike in the state’s gas tax that the Legislature approved in July 2013.
The 2016 statistics indicate that 11 of the state’s 40 senators have received reimbursements ranging from $1,296 to $7,290, while 29 senators have so far chosen not to apply for any money. State law does not establish a deadline that a senator must meet in order to collect his or her per diem.
The senator who received the most per diem money in 2016 is Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield), who received $7,290.
The other four senators who received the most are Sens. Donald Humason (R-Westfield), $4,554; Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport), $3,735; Daniel Wolf (D-Harwich), $3,660; and James Welch (D-Springfield), $3,366.
SENATORS’ 2016 PER DIEMS THROUGH SEPTEMBER 15, 2016
In the list below, the dollar figure in the first column following the senator’s name shows the total amount of per diem money the state paid him or her from January 1, 2016 to September 15, 2016. The number in the second column (in parentheses) shows the days that the senator certified he or she was at the Statehouse during those eight and a half months.
Senators who have not requested any per diems have “0 days” listed. That is not meant to imply that these senators didn’t attend any sessions but rather that they chose not to request any per diems.
Sen. Patricia Jehlen $0 (0 days)
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
CLIMATE CHANGE – Gov. Charlie Baker signed an executive order that details a comprehensive approach to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions, safeguard residents, municipalities and businesses from the impacts of climate change. The Order directs the Executive Offices of Energy and Environmental Affairs and Public Safety and Security to develop and implement of a statewide comprehensive climate adaptation plan that will provide a blueprint for protecting the built and natural environment of the state. Each Executive Office within the Baker Administration will be required to designate a Climate Change Coordinator who will work to complete a vulnerability assessment for each office, and assist with implementation and coordination of climate change efforts across state government.
In a written statement, Baker said, “Combatting and preparing for the impacts of climate change will require a holistic approach across state and local government and collaboration with stakeholders from all corners of the Commonwealth. By signing this Executive Order, our administration is taking an important step to protect public health and safety, local infrastructure, small businesses, and our state’s abundant natural resources from the effects of climate change,” he concluded.
REWARD FOR WHISTLE-BLOWERS (H 3943) – The Committee on Labor and Workforce Development sent to a study committee a measure that would reward any person who reports that an individual is participating in the state’s “underground economy.” The whistle-blower would receive ten percent of any tax revenue recovered. Most measures that are sent to study committees are never actually studied and are essentially defeated.
“Underground economy” is a term commonly understood to include people working “under the table” for cash that is not reported to the IRS and Massachusetts Department of Revenue. It also includes many other illegal activities, for example, the misrepresentation by individuals or businesses of the actual number of their employees to avoid payroll taxes, insurance, licensing, safety or other regulatory requirements.
PROHIBIT DISCRIMINATION AGAINST FAMILY CAREGIVERS (H 1682) – The Labor and Workforce Development Committee also sent to a study committee a proposal that would prohibit workplace discrimination against family members who provide medical or supervisory care to a family member with a serious health condition.
Supporters say that there is sometimes workplace discrimination against workers who care for children, older adults, and ill or disabled family members. They argue there are examples of exemplary employees who are treated less favorably than other employees and are passed over for promotion, demoted or even terminated because their employers make personnel decisions based on stereotypical notions of how their caregiving would interfere with work.
MUST CHECK FOR ABANDONED ANIMALS (H 1865) – The Municipalities and Regional Government Committee sent to a study committee a bill that would require landlords and owners who are foreclosing on a property to inspect the property within three days of the tenant’s departure and request that an animal control officer take charge of any abandoned animal he or she may find.
Supporters cited several cases of animals being abandoned, including a 2-year-old Labrador retriever who was found dead after being left in a vacated home for several weeks. They said the bill will help protect animals and save their lives.
CITIES AND TOWNS CAN APPLY FOR SMALL BRIDGE REPAIR FUNDS – The Baker administration announced it is now accepting applications from cities and towns for funds to repair bridges that are 20 feet in length or shorter. This 5-year, $50 million program was approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker last month. It will reimburse cities and towns up to $500,000 per year to repair these small bridges, which are not eligible for federal aid.
Crumbling bridges in many communities are in dire need of repair and are at high risk for closure in the near future due to their present conditions. There will be three opportunities annually for applications. The first applications are due by October 31, 2016. The next two deadlines in this fiscal year will be February 28, 2017 and June 30, 2017. An application form may be found on-line at: http://www.massdot.state.ma.us/highway/DoingBusinessWithUs/LocalAidPrograms/MunicipalSmallBridgeProgram.aspx
PRIMARY TURNOUT WAS VERY, VERY LOW – Secretary of the State Bill Galvin said that 386,174 people cast their votes in the September 8 state primary. That’s a mere 8.84 percent of the state’s 4,366,712 registered voters. The deadline to register to vote for the November 8 presidential election is October 19.
“RIGHT TO DIE” – The Cambridge City Council voted unanimously last week to pass a resolution urging the Legislature to approve a law that allows a terminally ill, mentally capable adult with six months or less to live to request and receive a prescription for self-administered medication that would terminate his or her life. A similar bill filed on Beacon Hill (H 1991) never made it out of committee this year.
The practices described by the Cambridge City Council are known by several names. Supporters call them “medical aid in dying” or “death with dignity” while opponents refer to them as “assisted suicide” or “physician-assisted dying.”
Voters defeated a similar measure on the 2012 ballot by a very slim margin, 51 percent to 49 percent. 1,466,866 voted for the measure and 1,534,757 voted against. There were also 182,573 ballots from people who did not vote on this question.
QUOTABLE QUOTES – “By the Numbers” Edition
The number of different varieties of apples grown in the Bay State, according to a press release announcing that Gov. Baker declared September “Massachusetts Apple Month” to support Massachusetts apple growers.
The amount of a grant given to the state by the federal government to help people with disabilities aged 14 to 24 find employment.
The proportion of people without health insurance in the state, according to an analysis of new Census data. Massachusetts has fewer uninsured people than any other state in the nation.
The MBTA’s structural deficit in fiscal year 2016 – a 28 percent decrease from the previous year.
The number of state-owned buildings that have received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification. This award is given to buildings with an energy performance that is 20 percent better than the existing state energy code
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 September 12-16, the House met for a total of 54 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 48 minutes.
Mon. Sept. 12 House 11:00 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.
Senate 11:06 a.m. to 11:20 a.m.
Tues. Sept. 13 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. Sept. 14 No House session
No Senate session
Thurs. Sept. 15 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:40 a.m.
Senate 11:10 a.m. to 11:44 a.m.
Fri. Sept. 16 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at email@example.com