Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 41 – Report No. 48 November 28-December 2, 2016

By Bob Katzen 

   THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.
   This week, with the end of the 2016 session only weeks away, Beacon Hill Roll Call, in the first of a series of special reports, looks at some of the bills that were approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker in the 2016 session.
OPIOID ABUSE PREVENTION (H 4088)

   House 155-0, Senate 37-0, approved a new law aimed at reducing the opioid abuse crisis in the Bay State. It is designed to reduce the number of opioid pills in circulation by working with many parties involved in the process including schools, doctors, insurance companies and pharmacists. Key provisions require all public schools to have a policy regarding substance abuse prevention; to advise students about the dangers of substance abuse, and to perform an annual verbal screening of pupils for substance use disorders. Parents can opt their children out of the screening requirement. 
   Other provisions include limiting initial opioid prescriptions by doctors to a seven-day supply except for chronic pain management, cancer and palliative care; requiring drug manufacturers to create a program to secure, transport and safely dispose of unwanted drugs; establishing a rehabilitation program for registered pharmacists, pharmacy interns and pharmacy technicians who have a substance abuse issue and allowing them to volunteer for the program instead of being subject to disciplinary action; and requiring patients admitted to the emergency room for an overdose to be subject to a detailed substance abuse evaluation within 24 hours before discharge.
   Supporters, noting there were 1,256 accidental drug-related deaths in 2015, said this new law is a balanced and practical approach that will improve schools’ approach to teaching kids about drug prevention and increase access to treatment for those who are addicted. They argued it will save lives and spare the heartache of many families by helping to stem the rising tide of drug addiction and drug-related deaths across the state. 
   (A “Yes” vote is for the new law.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Didn’t Vote Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
DRUG OFFENSES AND DRIVER’S LICENSES (S 1812)

   House 157-0, Senate 38-0, approved a new law that repeals a 1989 law that required anyone convicted of a non-violent drug crime to have his or her license suspended, regardless of whether the crime itself involved driving a vehicle. The new law does allow automatic license suspension for anyone convicted of trafficking in illegal drugs, except for marijuana. The new law is retroactive and applies to all people who are without a license because of the 1989 law.
   Supporters said 1989 law is outdated, illogical and counterproductive because it prevents many offenders from driving to work, getting ta new job, driving their children to school, traveling to a doctor and using their car for the things necessary in day-to-day life.

                

  (A “Yes” vote is for the new law.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
$200 MILLION FOR ROADS AND BRIDGES (H 4133)

   House 151-0, Senate 35-0, approved authorizing the state to borrow $200 million in one-time funding for the maintenance and repair of local roads and bridges in cities and towns across the state.
   Supporters said this helps cities and towns improve their roads and bridges and keep them safe.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the $200 million.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
PUBLIC RECORDS (H 4333)

   House 154-0, Senate 40-0, approved a new law designed to ensure that the state and local municipalities comply in a timely way with requests for public records. It also reduces costs to people making the requests.

  

   This new law requires each state agency and municipality to appoint at least one public records access officer to serve as the point of contact for all public records requests; limits to $25 per hour the fees municipalities and state agencies can charge for time spent responding to requests; allows municipalities to request additional time for compliance and the right to charge higher fees to cover reasonable costs; enables courts to award attorneys’ fees when government agencies wrongly deny access to public records; and requires agencies and municipalities to make documents available in electronic form.
   Supporters said this is the first update to the state’s public records laws in 40 years and noted that it makes state and local government more transparent. They argued it is not acceptable for members of the news media or for ordinary citizens to face unreasonable delays and high costs to gain access to information that is supposed to be public. They argued that the new law balances access to public records with protection for local municipalities from unreasonable procedures and unfunded mandates.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the new law.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
$39.15 BILLION FISCAL 2017 STATE BUDGET (H 4450)

   House 150-3, Senate 38-1, approved a conference committee’s compromise version of a $39.15 billion fiscal 2017 state budget. The conference committee reduced expected revenues by $750 million and cut $413 million in proposed spending. Those actions were in response to warnings about unexpected ever-decreasing revenue projections.

   Supporters of the budget said it is a balanced one that makes vital investments in the state while continuing fiscal responsibility.
   Some opponents said that the budget does not make sufficient cuts and argued that state spending has grown too much over the past few years. Others noted they opposed spending taxpayer money on government services given to illegal immigrants.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the budget. A “No” vote is against it.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
PROHIBIT DISCRIMINATION AGAINST TRANSGENDER PEOPLE (S 2407)

   House 118-36, Senate 33-4, approved a new law that expands prior law prohibiting discrimination against transgender people by adding “gender identity” to existing Massachusetts civil rights laws that already prohibit discrimination in public accommodations based on age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, sex, religion and marital status. Public accommodations are defined as “a place, whether licensed or unlicensed, which is open to and accepts or solicits the patronage of the general public.” This includes hotels, restaurants, retail stores, malls, theaters, parks, medical offices, libraries and public transportation. The major controversy centered around the fact that the new law also allows access to legally gender-segregated public facilities, including restrooms and locker rooms, based on a person’s gender identity rather than on their sex.
   In 2011, the Legislature approved and former Gov. Deval Patrick signed a law that added “gender identity” to the state’s non-discrimination laws, to prohibit discrimination in employment, education, housing and credit against transgender persons. That law, however, did not prohibit discrimination in public accommodations.
   Supporters, noting 17 other states have approved similar laws protecting transgender people, said this is a new civil rights law that helps many transgender people lead safe and more productive lives. They argued that transgender individuals still face the threat of discrimination in many public accommodations. They noted that under prior Massachusetts law, there was no protection ensuring that transgender people cannot be turned away from a restroom, locker room, hotel, restaurant, retail store and many other places simply because they are transgender. 
    Opponents said the privacy rights of children matter and asked how youngsters might react to a transgender classmate using the same bathroom. They argued that bathroom and locker room use should be based on the gender on one’s birth certificate, not on an inner sense of feeling or expression. They said that male predators could use this law as cover to excuse their presence in women-only spaces.
   Opponents have gathered the necessary signatures to put the law on the 2018 ballot and let voters decide whether to repeal it or not.
   The Senate did not have a roll call on the final version of the law. The Senate roll call listed is on an earlier version.
    (A “Yes” vote is for the new law. A “No” vote is against it.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
SUPPORT FOR VETERANS (H 4278)

    House 153-0, Senate 39-0, approved a new law that helps veterans by improving their access to housing and education and protecting them from discrimination. Provisions include establishing the new Office of State Veterans’ Homes and Housing; giving veterans preference in public housing; allowing cities and towns to permit property taxpayers to check off a box on their property tax bill and donate money, above their tax liability, to help local veterans with food, transportation, heat and oil expenses; and making all children of all prisoners of war eligible for the Public Service Scholarship. Prior to passage of this new law, the scholarship was limited to children of Vietnam War POWs. 
    Supporters said the state should provide these additional benefits and opportunities to the thousands of Bay State veterans who have served and are still serving our nation. They noted that one in three homeless people in the nation are veterans. They pointed out that one in five Massachusetts veterans suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and 11 percent suffer traumatic brain injuries. 
  (A “Yes” vote is for the new law.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     

  ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
   PAY HIKES FOR HOUSE LEGISLATIVE STAFFER – On Thanksgiving eve, House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office announced that 468 House employees will receive a 6 percent pay raise that will cost $1.3 million.

 

   Seth Gitell, Speaker DeLeo’s Director of Communications, told Beacon Hill Roll Call, “House of Representatives employees received salary adjustments based on a two-year annual 3 percent COLA factor. The adjustments will be supported by existing appropriations. The last COLA received by House employees was in 2014.”
   Chip Ford, Executive Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, responded, “Apparently they think President-elect Trump’s promise to turn around the nation’s economic malaise begins with them.”
   DUCK BOAT TOURS (S 2473) – The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker a measure that would prohibit a driver of any amphibious sightseeing vehicle, commonly known as Duck Boats, from providing commentary about the tour while driving. Companies would be required to add a second worker to narrate the tour. 
   The proposal would also require the vehicle to be equipped with safety equipment including blind spot cameras and proximity sensors. Violators would be fined up to $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for any subsequent offenses. The bill also requires the Registrar of Motor Vehicles to set new rules for the operation of duck boats by April 1, 2017.
    The bill was filed in June in response to the tragic death in April in which a Duck Boat struck and killed Allison Warmuth. The vehicle ran over Allison’s moped near her Beacon Hill residence, killing the graduate of Messiah College, a Christian school in Pennsylvania, who was a senior underwriter for hospitals and medical practices.
   ASSIST FAMILY CAREGIVERS (H 3911) – The House and Senate approved a new version of a measure that would require hospitals to allow patients to designate a caregiver who would be given all the patient’s health information and a copy of his or her discharge plan.

 

   Hospital staff would be required to discuss with the patient and caregiver the after-care assistance needs of the patient including medication management, injections and wound care. Other required information includes available community resources and long-term care support services near the patient’s residence that may be used to support the discharge plan.

 

   Supporters said the new law makes life a little easier for caregivers and provide better services for the patient. They noted more than 800,000 people in Massachusetts, mostly unpaid family caregivers, are helping an aging parent or other loved one to live independently in their own homes. They argued that many of these caregivers have a regular full or part-time job and are overwhelmed by their caregiver duties.

 

   The measure needs final approval in each branch prior to going to Gov. Baker for his signature.
   DELAY IN LEGALIZING MARIJUANA – In November, voters approved the ballot question legalizing, licensing, regulating and taxing marijuana for adults over 21 effective December 15. Now word is that it is possible the official results of the four ballot questions may not be certified by the Governor’s Council by December 15 and there may be a delay in implantation of the law. The December 15 effective date applies to the legalization of the possession by anyone over 21 of ten ounces of marijuana in their home, one ounce outside the home and the right to grow up to six marijuana plants in their residences. The regulations for the actual retail sale of marijuana won’t happen for some time.

 

   Results of all state elections must be certified by local officials, Secretary of State William Galvin’s office and finally the Governor’s Council. Galvin’s office has not yet certified the results.
   At last week’s Governor’s Council meeting, Councilor Robert Jubinville said that he has heard from residents who are getting a feeling that the state’s certification of the ballot question legalizing marijuana is getting dragged out because of “people in high places that were against it.” Gov. Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh all opposed the legalization. 
   Michelle Tassinari, the Director of the Elections Division in Galvin’s office, said the delay in certifying the results is because it is time-consuming, not because of some policy position. “Since the election itself, we’ve been working diligently with the cities and towns for their certification process,” she said.
   Brendan Moss, Deputy Communications Director for Gov. Baker, when asked about Jubinville’s comment about the delay told Beacon Hill Roll Call, “Gov. Baker looks forward to working with lawmakers, educators, and public safety and public health professionals to develop a responsible and timely approach that honors the will of the voters while also addressing public safety and health issues in our communities.”
   “Our position is clear,” said Jim Borghesani Director of Communications for “Yes on 4,” the campaign to legalize marijuana. “The possession and home grow provisions should go into effect on December 15, and we will vigorously oppose all attempts to alter or delay those provisions.”
   CHANGE DATE OF HALLOWEEN – A late-filed bill would move the date of Halloween from October 31 to the last Saturday in October. 
   Supporters say that October 31 often falls on a weekday when children are in school and their parents are at work and trick or treating doesn’t begin until after dark. They argue that a Saturday celebration would allow trick or treating in the day time and be a lot safer for children.
   Some opponents hesitate to destroy the traditional date of Halloween. Others say that there is currently an increase in violence and trouble when the holiday falls on a weekend night.
   MBTA HOLIDAY GIFT SHOP – The MBTA issued a press release encouraging shoppers to check out the decommissioned station and bus signage for sale. Other items include unique T-themed products including authentic MBTA memorabilia and quirky merchandise ranging from MBTA map shower curtains to vintage T token cuff links. The online store also sells decommissioned station and bus signage. Gifts can be found at MBTAgifts.com.
   QUOTABLE QUOTES
   “If Scott Brown is the nominee for Veterans Affairs I have no doubt that he would put his heart and soul into trying to help veterans and I would put my heart and soul into trying to help him do that.”
   U.S. Sen. Liz Warren, on former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, her 2012 former bitter rival for the U.S. Senate seat she now holds.

   “Too many of us at Logan struggle on low wages and are forced to cobble together two, three jobs to make ends meet. We do it to survive, but our fight for $15 is about more than just survival. It’s about dignity for all workers.”
  Lazaro Monterrey, wheelchair assistant at Logan, at a rally supporting raising the current $10 per hour minimum wage to $15.

   “We want to remind people that while most charities are reputable and need our support, it is important to make informed decisions and understand how much of a donation will ultimately go to the charity and the mission it supports.”
   Attorney General Maura Healey on her new report finding that less than half of the funds raised by professional solicitors on behalf of charities in 2015 were transferred to charitable organizations.

   “According to the Center for Disease Control, one in two black gay men and one in four Latino gay men will get an HIV diagnosis within their lifetime.”
   Amir Dixon, Program Director for Connect Boston, speaking on World AIDS Day. 
   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 November 28-December 2, the House met for a total of one hour and 30 minutes while the Senate met for a total of four hours and 57 minutes.

 

Mon. November 28 House 10:59 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.

                      Senate 11:08 a.m. to 3:23 p.m.
Tues. November 29 No House session

                      No Senate session
Wed. November 30 No House session

                      No Senate session
Thurs. December 1 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.

                      Senate 11:07 a.m. to 11:49 a.m.
Fri. December 2 No House session

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

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