Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 41 – Report No. 38 September 19-23, 2016


By Bob Katzen 

   MEMO TO EDITORS: The following may be useful to you if you want additional information on local representatives’ 2016 per diems that are included in this week’s report. Per diems are paid by the state to legislators for mileage, meals and lodging.
    The amount of the per diem for representative varies and is based on the city or town in which the representative resides and its distance from the Statehouse. To find the amount allowed based on specific cities and towns, refer to paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 at the following Massachusetts General Laws link: https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleI/Chapter3/Section9B 
    This week’s report includes the total, from January 1, 2016 through September 15, 2016, of per diems filed by representatives with the state treasurer’s office. 
   If you would like to receive a breakdown that shows how many days a representative who filed for per diems certified that he or she was at the Statehouse each week during 2016, you should file a Public Records Law request by sending an e-mail to Mary Wilkins at the state treasurer’s office: mwilkins@tre.state.ma.us  
   The e-mail should include your name, mailing address, e-mail address and telephone number. Also, specify that you want the weekly per diem information for 2016 and be sure to list the specific representative(s) that you want to include. You can also request information from any prior year. 
   Keep in mind that the information will only indicate the total number of days the legislator certified he or she was at the Statehouse each week during 2016. Legislators are not required to list the specific days they were at the Statehouse.
   If you have any questions about the process, contact Mary Wilkins at 617-367-3900, x621.
   If you have any questions about this week’s report, e-mail us at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com or call us at (617)720-1562.
   This week’s report follows:
   THE HOUSE AND SENATE. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week. Beacon Hill Roll Call has obtained the 2016 official list from the state treasurer’s office of the “per diem” travel, meals and lodging reimbursements collected by the Legislature’s 160 state representatives from January 1, 2016, through September 15, 2016. 
   The list reveals that representatives collected a total of $115,485. Combined with the $32,843 that the state’s 40 senators collected as reported in a recent Beacon Hill Roll Call, the grand total for both branches is $148.328.
   Under state law, per diems are paid by the state to representatives “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 representatives above and beyond their regular salaries.
   The amount of the per diem varies and is based on the city or town in which a representative resides and its distance from the Statehouse. The Legislature in 2000 approved a law doubling these per diems to the current amounts. The payments range from $10 per day for legislators who reside in the Greater Boston area to $90 per day for some Western Massachusetts lawmakers and $100 per day for those in Nantucket. Representatives who are from areas that are a long distance 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 many legislators spend a lot of money on travel to the Statehouse and some spend the night in Boston following late sessions. Others say that some legislators accept the per diem but use all of the revenue they receive 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 on who knows what.
   Some opponents argue most private sector and state workers 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 funding for important 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 61 (38 percent) of the state’s 160 representatives have received reimbursements ranging from $252 to $6,030 while 99 (61 percent) have so far chosen not to apply for any money. 
   The representative who received the most per diem money in 2016 is William “Smitty” Pignatelli (D-Lenox) who received $6,030. 
   The other nine representatives who received the most are Reps. Sarah Peake (D-Provincetown), $5,402; Patricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield), $4,680; Robert Koczera (D-New Bedford), $3,960; Benjamin Swan (D-Springfield), $3,780; Stephen Kulik (D-Worthington), $3,256; Todd Smola (R-Palmer), $3,195; Brian Mannal (D-Centerville), $3,050; Timothy Madden (D-Nantucket), $3,000; and Jim Arciero (D-Westford), $2,964.
REPRESENTATIVES’ 2016 PER DIEMS THROUGH SEPTEMBER 15, 2016

    In the list below, the dollar figure in the first column following the representative’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 representative certified he or she was at the Statehouse during those eight and a half months.
   Representatives who have not requested any per diems have “0 days” listed. That is not meant to imply that these representatives didn’t attend any sessions but rather that they chose not to request any per diems.

 Rep. Christine Barber $0 (0 days) Rep. Denise Provost $900 (90 days) Rep. Timothy Toomey $0 (0 days)                         

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
   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.
   EXEMPTION FROM HEALTH CARE PENALTY (H 1037) – The House gave initial approval to a bill that exempts Massachusetts residents who live overseas for at least 330 days of a 12-month period from the financial penalty for not adhering to the state’s requirement to obtain and maintain health insurance coverage. 
   Current law imposes a penalty on most adult residents of the state age 18 and older who don’t carry health insurance that meets minimum coverage standards. The penalty varies and is based on a number of factors. Current law also exempts from the penalty anyone who has a “sincerely held religious beliefs that are the basis of his or her refusal to obtain and maintain creditable coverage.”
   RECORKING WINE (H 199) – The House and Senate gave final approval to and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a bill 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.
  REGISTRY OF DEEDS (H 3862) – The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill allowing the Registries of Deeds to keep their records in electronic form. Current pre-computer age law requires the records to be kept in a book.
  Supporters said it is long past time to bring these registries into the computer age.
   PEACE DAY (S 2181) – On Thursday, September 22, one day too late, the House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill declaring Wednesday, September 21 as Peace Day to recognize and advance the goals of Peace Day in the United States and International Peace Day, in memory of those lost to acts of violence.  
   The bill was filed way back in March but the two branches were too slow to approve it and Peace Day came and went without the bill being approved and signed into law. International Peace Day was created by the United Nations in 1981 and was first celebrated in 1982. If Baker signs the bill into law, it would apply to 2017 and all future years.
  MOST INCUMBENTS DO NOT HAVE OPPONENTS IN NOVEMBER – Secretary of State William Galvin released the official list of all the candidates for election to the Legislature in November. It looks like a free ride and no opposition for many of the incumbents. Twenty-five (62 percent) of the 40 senators have no opposition while 116 (72 percent) of the 160 representatives have no opposition.
   BAN CELL PHONES UNLESS HANDS-FREE (H 3315) – The latest attempt to prohibit all drivers from using a hand-held cell phone but allow them to use a hands-free one has met the fate of previous efforts. The measure was given initial approval by the House in November but is still languishing in a House committee where it will likely stay and die when the 2016 session ends in early January.
   Supporters say the bill would save lives and prevent accidents. They noted that the measure does not ban cell phone use but simply requires the use of hands-free ones. They pointed to accidents, deaths and injuries involving cell phones. They plan to file the bill again next year.
   Opponents say the restriction is another example of government intrusion into people’s cars and lives. Others note that there are already laws on the books prohibiting driving while distracted.
   BAN SEXUAL ORIENTATION CONVERSION THERAPY (H 97)- Another bill that won’t emerge for further debate this year would prohibit psychiatrists and other mental health professionals from providing conversion therapy to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender minors under 18, designed to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill has been approved by three committees including the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, the Committee on Health Care Financing and the Steering and Policy Committee but is hasn’t moved anywhere since January. 

 

   Supporters of the ban say being gay, bisexual or transgender is not a disease and therefore does not need a cure. They argue this type of “junk therapy” is very destructive and argue there is no sound evidence that it ever works.
   Opponents of the ban say the treatment has been successful for children whose sexuality was influenced by sexual abuse. They note that the conversion therapy should not be used on any patient who believes that he or she is simply born with a specific sexual preference.
   PROPERTY TAX EXEMPTION FOR SENIORS (H 4030) – Also stuck in a committee since March, when the House gave it initial approval, is a bill that would allow cities and towns to exempt up to 50 percent of property taxes for seniors over 65 whose annual property taxes exceed 10 percent of their annual income. The house or condo would have to be owner-occupied and applicants must have lived in the city or town for at least 10 consecutive years.
   Supporters say this targeted tax relief would help thousands of senior citizens living on fixed incomes remain in their hometowns. They noted that the bill is a local option one that leaves the decision up to local communities.
QUOTABLE QUOTES – By the Numbers Edition
   74,678 
   The current record-breaking current enrollment at UMass’ five campuses.

   $10,000
   The maximum amount that can be granted by the state to municipalities and non-profit organizations, such as libraries, historical societies and museums, under a new program to preserve objects, sites and document collections that are significant to the history and experiences of military veterans in the Bay State.

34 and 19
   The number of legislators who scored zero and the number who scored 100 percent on Citizens for Limited Taxation’s rating of each legislator on taxpayer-related votes.

   $750,000
   The amount of money donated to the state by Google to launch a new BlindWays app that makes it easier for customers who are blind or have low vision to find bus stops.

   88,000
   The number of problem gamblers in the Bay State according to a new study that was mandated as part of the 2011 law that legalized casino gambling here.
   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 19-23, the House met for a total of 34 minutes while the Senate met for a total of two hours and 13 minutes.
Mon. Sept. 19 House 11:07 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.

                    Senate 11:10 a.m. to 11:22 a.m.
Tues. Sept. 20 No House session

                    No Senate session
Wed. Sept. 21 No House session

                    No Senate session
Thurs. Sept. 22 House 12:34 p.m. to 1:00 p.m.

                    Senate 11:05 a.m. to 1:06 p.m.
Fri. Sept. 23 No House session

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

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