Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 41 -Report No. 42 October 17-21, 2016

By Bob Katzen 

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll calls in the House and Senate last week.
   NO 2016 SALES TAX HOLIDAY – The Retailers Association of Massachusetts (RAM) released the results of a study of the effect on retailers of the Legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker’s decision not to hold a Sales Tax Holiday this past August as it has done every year except one since 2004. The holiday allows consumers to buy most products that cost under $2,500 on a weekend in August without paying the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax. RAM said that the state was “penny-wise and pound-foolish” and that there was no clear benefit to the state but rather a “dramatic drop in local sales and hours worked.”
  “This is no surprise to anyone who understands consumers and the rapidly changing marketplace driven by mobile commerce,” said RAM’s president Jon Hurst. “RAM firmly believes the real winners of not holding the Massachusetts Sales Tax Holiday were the tax-free mobile commerce sellers [on the Internet].”
  Hurst continued, “In these times of 365 days-per-year government-granted tax advantages of 6.25 percent to out-of-state sellers, the state chose to not give local employers a lousy two days to fairly compete on the same playing field. The state did not give our own residents the clear incentive to invest their important consumer dollars locally. And that decision backfired miserably for our local employers, their employees, and for the state.”
   In July, Gov. Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg all expressed concern over the state’s anticipated $750 million shortfall. Rosenberg said the holiday was too expensive to the state. DeLeo noted, “When you’re talking about the shortfall that we’re in, we considered to add another $26 million to that shortfall, just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.” Baker said the decision was out of his hands. “They control the ball a bit on this one,” Baker said. “And I certainly have expressed my concerns about the fiscal situation we find ourselves in fiscal 2017 as well.”
   Legislative supporters of the past 11 holidays note that in 2015, consumers saved some $26 million. Over the years, they have argued that the state’s loss of that revenue is offset by increased revenue from the meals and gas tax revenue generated by shoppers on those two days.


   Revenue Committee Chairman Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington), who has voted against the holiday in the past said, “Most credible economists agree that sales tax holidays are a gimmick that produces the illusion of retail profits and the reality of lost revenues for critical public services.” He noted that an August sales tax holiday increases sales in August but suppresses them in June and July in anticipation of the holiday and in September and October after the holiday.


   The Legislature did not hold a vote on the holiday this year. Beacon Hill Roll Call reviews local legislators’ votes from July 2015 on the 2015 holiday.

   House 136-20, Senate 27-11, approved and Gov. Baker signed into law a 2015 Sales Tax Holiday.
    (A “Yes” vote is for the tax-free holiday. A “No” vote is against it.)

 Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Denise Provost No Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen No                                      

   Senate 6-32, rejected an amendment establishing an annual two-day sales tax holiday on a Saturday and Sunday in August for the next three years. The state’s revenue commissioner would designate the date by July 15 of each year.
   Amendment supporters said the Legislature has approved a tax-free holiday one year at a time for many years and argued that it is time to establish it for a longer period of time. They noted that this would give consumers the opportunity to plan big purchases in advance and not have to sit around and see if the Legislature approves the holiday each year for the next three years.
  Amendment opponents said that it is fiscally irresponsible to approve a three-year tax holiday. They argued that the Legislature should reserve the option to look at the state’s finances each year and then decide whether the state can afford a sales tax holiday that year.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the 3-year holiday. A “No” vote is against it.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen No                                      

   DRIVERLESS VEHICLES – Gov. Baker signed an executive order creating a special working group on automated vehicles. The “AV Working Group” would encourage the development of driverless vehicles in the Bay State and work with companies to support innovation and development of these vehicles. It would also consider proposing changes to state law or regulations that would facilitate the widespread deployment of highly automated vehicles in the state while ensuring the safety of the public. 
   The group would include the Secretary of Transportation, Secretary of Public Safety, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, Registrar of Motor Vehicles, Highway Administrator, and four members designated by the House and Senate leadership. 
   “The Commonwealth is home to many world-class innovation companies and academic institutions intimately involved in autonomous vehicle technology, which makes Massachusetts uniquely qualified to responsibly host this emerging field to foster innovation and economic growth,” said Gov. Baker. “The guidance the AV Working Group provides will be instrumental in ensuring companies can further develop autonomous vehicle technology in the Commonwealth and do so while maintaining the safety of our roadways.”
   “Massachusetts is pioneering the new technologies that are enabling autonomous vehicles, including robotics, artificial intelligence, advanced materials, and internet-enabled sensors,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash. 
   PRESERVE RAPE EVIDENCE FOR 15 YEARS (H 4364) – Gov. Baker signed into law a bill that would require all rape kits to be preserved and retained for at least as long as the 15-year statute of limitations for sexual assault and rape and that rape victims be notified immediately of this new law.
   Prior law allows a kit to be kept for 15 years but initially only requires they be kept for six months unless the victim files an extension every six months to have it preserved.
   Lt. Governor Karyn Polito said that preserving this type of evidence will be a big help in convicting defendants on trial for sexual assault or rape. She said, “Removing the burden from the victim to keep evidence from being destroyed is a very important step for our criminal justice system, and most of all, for the well-being of survivors of sexual assault and rape.” 


   WELDING COMMISSION (H 4455) – Gov. Baker signed into law a proposal that would create a special commission to study welding regulations in Massachusetts and report back to the Legislature with recommendations by June 1, 2017. 
   The legislation was prompted by the March 2014 deaths of firefighters Edward Walsh and Michael Kennedy who perished while fighting a fire that was caused by welders, working without a city permit, on a building next door to the brownstone in which they died. The commission would study current regulations and recommend whether changes and new regulations are warranted.”
  “Today, an individual can purchase a welding unit and go into business for himself without any education or certification requirements,” said State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey. “Recommendations from this commission will be extremely helpful to public safety as to whether training and certification should be required, whether we can strengthen or improve existing regulations or should increase penalties for violations.”
   STERILIZING SURGICAL INSTRUMENTS (S 2070) – The Senate approved and sent to the House a bill regulating central service technicians who decontaminate, inspect, assemble, package and sterilize reusable medical instruments or devices in a surgical facility. The measure would require any newly-hired technician to pass a nationally accredited exam and annually complete 10 hours of continuing education credits. Current technicians would be grandfathered in and would not have to pass a test but would still be required to complete the 10 hours of continuing education each year.
   Supporters said there are currently no regulation of these technicians and no qualifications that must be met to be hired for this position that is integral to patient safety. They argued these new requirements will ensure surgical instruments are sterilized and cared for and will save many patients from infection or even death.
   NO SCHOOL ON ELECTION DAY (S 251) – Election Day is just around the corner but a bill that would prohibit public schools from scheduling classes on any statewide Election Day is still in a study committee where it was sent in June and where it will die. The measure would designate Election Day as professional development days, currently required under state law, to train principals, teachers and other professional staff in various skills. 


   Supporters say many schools serve as polling places on Election Day. They argue that crowds entering the schools on those days reduces safety at the schools and puts children in danger.
    “[We] strongly recommend that the Legislature and governor take steps necessary to increase tax revenues available to meet the state’s urgent unmet educational and infrastructure needs.” 
   Board of Editors of MassBenchmarks, a journal of the Massachusetts economy published by the UMass Donahue Institute.

   “You mean there are actually people existing in Massachusetts who think we need more taxes?”
  Chip Faulkner, Director of Communications for Citizens for Limited Taxation (CLT.)

   “Marty for Governor.”
  Cheers from a pro-union rally after Boston Mayor Marty Walsh told the crowd that he stands with them and opposes the Baker Administration’s plan to privatize the MBTA’s “money room” in Charlestown, the center of the T’s cash handling operation.

   “The money room has been a perennial source of operational, financial and public embarrassment to the MBTA for years and years … I’m old enough to remember the stories in the 90s and the 80s associated with the money room. It’s not the core mission of the MBTA.”
   Gov. Baker on the privatization.
      “I’ve made my decision. I’m going to run. But – but – I haven’t talked to Shonda, my wife. And ultimately it’s going to come down to how her (sic) and I feel this would affect our marriage and our kids.”
   Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling announcing his intention to run against U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2018.
   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 October 17-21, the House met for a total of 29 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 30 minutes. 
Mon. October 10 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.

                      Senate 11:07 a.m. to 11:21 a.m.
Tues. October 11 No House session

                      No Senate session

Wed. October 12 No House session

                      No Senate session
Thurs. October 13 House 11:02 a.m. to 11:22 a.m.

                      Senate 11:17 a.m. to 11:33 a.m.
Fri. October 14 No House session

                      No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at

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