Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 41 – Report No. 49 December 5-9, 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 second 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.

   House 158-0, Senate 39-0, approved a new law aimed at modernizing municipal finance and government including updating or outright repealing of several prior archaic laws and creating a new law allowing communities to issue driver citations electronically. Many provisions in the bill are technical and Gov. Baker called the measure “a great example of some true weed whacking of outdated, clunky laws that will empower our municipalities and support good-governing at the local level across the Commonwealth.”
   Supporters say the new law is designed to eliminate or update obsolete laws, promote local independence, streamline state oversight and generally provide municipalities with greater flexibility. The new law is supported by the Massachusetts Municipal Association, an entity that lobbies for the state’s cities and towns.
   Upon signing the new law, the governor said, “As two former local officials ourselves, the lieutenant governor and I have a true appreciation for the independence and flexibility created by this commonsense bill, allowing municipal officials to better serve all of our constituents and create stronger communities in all of our 351 cities and towns.”
   (A “Yes” vote is for the new law.)

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

   House 158-0, Senate 38-1, approved 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 of the package say it will fund critical improvements to highways across the state. They note the $50 million for bridge repairs goes 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.
   Another section of the proposed new law, later vetoed by the governor, would have created a pilot program that would charge drivers a fee based on how many miles they drive. The program would include 500 drivers who volunteer for the program.
   Supporters of the pilot program say the current per-gallon gas tax has reached a point of diminishing returns because Bay Staters drive less and there are now many electric and fuel efficient vehicles on the road. They argued that the money is desperately needed to maintain and repair the state’s roads and bridges
   Opponents of the pilot program say this is just another unnecessary tax and note that it is unclear whether this tax would replace the state’s current 24 cents-per-gallon gas tax or if it would be in addition to it. They argue this program would interfere with privacy rights because some mileage meters can track and record all a vehicle’s moves. Some say the tax is unfair and note that under this program, drivers who use the most gas-efficient vehicles could pay just as much as those owning gas-guzzlers.
   (A “Yes” vote is for $700 million for highway improvements and $50 million the repair of cities’ and towns’ bridges. A “No” vote is against it.)

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

   House 157-0, Senate 38-1, approved a new package allowing the state to borrow money over five years as part of an economic development package aimed at boosting the economy, creating jobs, workforce development and infrastructure investment. The biggest ticket item is $500 million for the MassWorks infrastructure grant program which is promoted as one-stop shopping for cities and towns and other eligible public entities seeking public infrastructure funding to support economic development and job creation.
   Municipalities could use the money for a variety of things including housing construction, city and town center revitalization projects and mill redevelopment opportunities.
   The package also gives “angel investors” a state tax credit equal to 20 percent of the amount of the investment they make in a qualifying business. In order to qualify, the business must have its principal place of business in the Bay State, have at least 50 percent of its employees located here, employ 20 or fewer full-time employees and have gross revenues equal to or less than $500,000. The tax credit rises to 30 percent if the business is in one of the state’s struggling cities, known as gateway cities.
   Another key provision creates a new tax incentive to encourage families to put away money for higher education costs. Under the program, individual filers would get a $1,000 tax deduction for contributions to a prepaid tuition or college savings program, also known as a 529 plan. The deduction would increase to $2,000 for married couples.
   Supporters say the package will stimulate the economy, help cities and towns and private companies, strengthen the manufacturing sector, create new housing, make some repairs to the infrastructure and provide the training and equipment for workforce development.
   The lone opponent said the package gives autocratic powers to individuals in the Executive branch to unilaterally make large tax expenditures and make decisions to transfer public funds to private businesses unreviewable by any court or administrative agency. They said there is no evidence that making payments to private companies actually brings about real economic growth.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the package. A “No” vote is against it.)

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

   House 154-0, Senate 40-0, approved a new law to strengthen the Bay State’s prior pay equity law by closing the wage gap between men and women doing the same job. The new law requires that women be paid equal pay for comparable work unless the variation is based upon mitigating factors including seniority, a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, sales or revenue and education, training or experience. 
   The new law 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. 
   (A “Yes” vote is for the new law.)

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

   BAKER SLASHES $98 MILLION IN SPENDING – Gov. Baker last week cut $98 million from the $39 billion-plus fiscal 2017 state budget to address what he says is the estimated state shortfall unless revenues dramatically increase. 
   Cuts include $7.6 million for the Office of Travel and Tourism; $6.4 million for the State Police; $1.9 million for the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services; $665,000 for the Emergency Food Assistance Program; $630,000 for the Stop Stroke Program; $300,000 for Prostate Cancer Research; $250,000 for the School Breakfast Program; and $185,000 for domestic violence and sexual assault prevention and survivor services.
  “It’s pretty clear that with the deficiencies we need to fund – court-ordered attorneys, snow and ice, emergency assistance, stuff that I think there’s general agreement that we’re going to need to pay for – and the downturn that we’ve all seen in revenue despite the success of our economy that we needed to take action at this time,” Baker told the State House News Service.
   “The governor’s really trying to achieve only one policy objective and that’s a constitutionally required balanced budget,” said House GOP Leader Rep. Brad Jones (R-North Reading).
   The response from the Legislature’s Democratic leadership was swift. House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop), calling the cuts premature, said, “Recent revenue numbers indicate a need to be vigilant. They do not, however, necessitate cuts at this time.”


   DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) said they will focus on restoring programs that help the neediest and may file a supplemental budget to restore the funds.
  “The governor is shifting important funding away from the priorities of the Legislature in favor of his own,” added Senate Ways and Means chair Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). “These cuts will have real consequences on all the communities of the Commonwealth struggling with opioid addiction and housing and should not be made at this time.”
   Baker vetoed $265 million from the fiscal 2017 budget in July but the Legislature overrode most of his vetoes and restored $231 million.
   FRESHMEN LEGISLATORS – Newly-elected freshmen representatives and senators last week attended the Academy for New Legislators at UMass in Amherst. According to the Academy’s website, the 2-day program consists of sessions on the legislative budget process, rules of the House and Senate, ethics, the state budget, the economy, constituent services, interviewing techniques for broadcast media, polling and press communications, and life as a freshman legislator. A simulated session of a committee hearing and the House and Senate are also conducted.
   EYE DROPS (S 2512) – The Senate approved a bill that would require insurance plans to cover refills of prescription eye drops under the same guidelines used by Medicare Part D. Plans in the Bay State currently restrict patients from refilling eye drops and other medications earlier than the 30-day or 90-day refill date. The bill would allow patients get a refill if they run out of drops a few days prior to the allowed refill date.
   Supporters explained that unlike pills, eye drops are difficult to administer and patients often use more than one drop at a time because the first drop misses. They said this leads to patients either taking a twice daily eye drop only once a day or discontinuing their use of drops until the next allowable refill under their health plan. They argued that this can cause their condition, like glaucoma, to worsen and presents serious health and vision risks. 
   The Senate also added language that would allow some optometrists to treat anaphylactic reactions by injecting epinephrine or adrenaline. Under current law, only ophthalmologists are allowed to do so. The House has approved a different version of the bill without the optometrist provision and the Senate version now goes to the House for consideration.
   THE CARE ACT (H 3911) – The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker a proposal 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 844,000 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. They noted that in 2015 in Massachusetts, family caregivers provided 786 million hours of unpaid care valued at an estimated $11.6 billion annually.
  Lynn Nicholas, President and CEO of Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association said, “This bill will help ensure that designated caregivers have the information they need to best support their family members and friends once they have left the hospital.”
   $35,000 PAY HIKE FOR STATE’S PENSION FUND MANAGER – Michael Trotsky, the executive director and chief investment officer of the state’s $60 billion-plus pension fund, received a $35,000 pay hike that boosts his salary from $395,000 to $430,000. Trotsky directs the fund that invests the assets of the Massachusetts Teachers’ and State Employees’ Retirement Systems. He also was given a performance-based bonus of $159,625 making his total pay over $500,000.
   “Good things aren’t cheap and cheap things aren’t good,” said pension board member Robert Brousseau. “We’re in the top 15 percent of our peer funds in a very turbulent, tough, volatile environment,” said State Treasurer and Chair of the Pension Board Deb Goldberg.
   On the pension fund’s website, Trotsky said that for the most recent one-year period that ended September 30, 2016, the fund was up 10.8 percent, representing a gain of $6.4 billion.
QUOTABLE QUOTES – Special “By the Numbers” Edition
   The amount Massachusetts will receive from a settlement with Bristol-Myers Squibb over the deceptive marketing of the drug Abilify.

   North of 500
   The amount of state employees Gov. Baker says are ready to retire and take a state employee buyout program administration officials hope leads to $25 million in savings.
   $1.9 million
   Total of grants for the small towns of Alford, Otis, and Warwick to finance the construction of high-speed internet as part of the Baker administration’s program to get broadband access to over 40 “Last Mile Towns” in Massachusetts unserved by broadband internet access.
   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 December 5-9, the House met for a total of 23 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 24 minutes.


Mon. December 5 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:14 a.m.

                      Senate 11:08 a.m. to 11:16 a.m.
Tues. December 6 No House session

                      No Senate session
Wed. December 7 No House session

                      No Senate session
Thurs. December 8 House 11:00 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.

                      Senate 11:08 a.m. to 11:24 a.m.
Fri. December 9 No House session

                      No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at

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