Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 41 – Report No. 51 December 19-23, 2016

By Bob Katzen 

   THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.
   The 2016 session ends on January 3, 2017. Any bills that are not approved by that time by both branches and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker are dead but can be refiled for the 2017-2018 session. 
    Beacon Hill Roll Call’s research shows that there are 20 bills that have been approved unanimously by the Senate but have been stuck in a House committee for several months. With no opposition in the Senate, observers question why the bills are stalled in the House.
   Under House rules, any individual representative can move to discharge most bills from the Ways and Means Committee. There is a 7-day waiting period prior to the House considering the motion to discharge. The discharge motion must receive a majority vote of the members present. If the measure is discharged from the committee, the committee has four days within which to report the measure for placement on the House’s agenda for action. 
   A bill may also be discharged from the Ways and Means Committee by any representative by filing a petition signed by a majority of the House. The bill would then be discharged seven days later and go onto the House agenda for the next session.
   A state legislator who spoke on the condition of anonymity told Beacon Hill Roll Call that it’s possible that some bills are being stalled because someone in a high position either inside or outside the Statehouse is opposed to it. “If a powerful person wants the measure held up, there is little that a rank and file representative can do,” the legislator said. “Many years ago, legislators would make motions to discharge a bill from a committee and bring it to the full House for debate and a vote. That rarely, if ever, happens anymore. And in the rare case that it does happen, the motion usually fails.”
   Another state legislator who wished to remain anonymous said, “The truth is that any single representative has to power to try to discharge a bill but few try for fear of offending the leadership and committee chairs.”
   Beacon Hill Roll Call asked Gov. Baker’s office, House Speaker Bob DeLeo’s office and Ways and Means chair Brian Dempsey’s office why the bills are still stuck in the Ways and Means Committee. The answers were standard and vague.
   Elizabeth Guyton, spokesperson for Gov. Baker, said, “I will refer you to the House Way and Means for info on their process.”
   Seth Gitell, the spokesperson for DeLeo, said, “These bills remain under consideration by the respective committees.” 
  Colleen McGonagle, the spokesperson for Dempsey, responded, “The bills are under review in House Ways and Means.”  
   Here are seven of the bills that were approved unanimously by the Senate and are stuck in the House Ways and Means committee.
CLIMATE CHANGE (S 2092)

   On January 28, 2016, the Senate 36-0, approved a bill designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and develop a long-term action plan to address the consequences of climate change in the Bay State. The measure requires the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020; 35-45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030; 55-65 percent below 1990 levels by 2040; and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. 
   Another provision requires the state to develop a comprehensive plan to protect and ensure the preservation, protection and restoration of the state’s “built and natural environment” from the risks of climate change. The plan, updated every ten years, also authorizes the state to buy back at-risk coastal land from current owners for preservation.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
BAN FRACKING (S 2309)

   On June 9, 2016, the Senate 36-0, approved a bill that would place a ten-year moratorium on fracking in Massachusetts. Fracking is a controversial method of drilling that involves high-pressure water, often tainted by toxic chemicals, directed at the rock to release the gas inside.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
STOP HUMAN TRAFFICKING (S 2461)

   On July 23, 2016, the Senate 40-0, approved a bill to strengthen the state’s anti-human trafficking laws and help put a stop to victims who are forced into the commercial sex trade or involuntary labor. 
   Provisions increase from three years to ten years the time victims are allowed to file a civil suit against a trafficker; allow victims who committed non-felony crimes as a result of being trafficked to petition the court to vacate these convictions; mandate training for law enforcement, health professional and teachers to recognize the signs that someone is a victim of this heinous crime; and a public awareness campaign with signs posted in high-risk locations such as adult entertainment facilities and foreign cash transfers outlets.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
BETTER ACCESS TO COLLEGE FOR DEVELOPMENTALLY DISABLED (S 2414)

   On July 7, 2016, the Senate 40-0, approved a bill that requires state-owned colleges to offer inclusive opportunities that support people with severe intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities. The measure would give these groups equal access to the academic, social and work training benefits of college.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
MADE IN MASSACHUSETTS (S 2191)

   On March 31, 2016, the Senate 36-0, approved a bill that would create a MassMade program which identifies and supports businesses that produce consumer goods in the Bay State and serves as a resource for consumers seeking goods made in the state. 
   In order to qualify, a business must meet three conditions: produce a consumer good in the state; be headquartered in the state or have a principal place of business here, and possess a certificate of good standing from the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
PUBLIC WORKERS’ SAFETY (S 2190)

   On March 31, 2016, the Senate 36-0, approved a bill that would expand health and safety protections to cover state and municipal employees. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) covers private employees but 26 states have exercised the act’s option of extending the OSHA protections to public workers. 
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
ILLEGAL HUNTING (S 2069)

   On February 11, 2016, the Senate 35-0, approved a bill that would increase penalties for illegal hunting, also known as poaching. Provisions include increasing the fine for hunting bears or bobcats with the aid of a dog or bait from a range of $300-$1,000 to a higher range of $1,000-$5,000; raising the prison sentence from up to six months in prison to a year in prison; and increasing penalties for serial poachers who repeatedly break the law.
   The measure also makes the Bay State a member of the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, a reciprocal agreement among 45 other states that allows state law enforcement agencies to share information with those of other states. It recognizes the suspension of hunting, fishing and trapping licenses in all states that are members of the compact. Any person whose license is suspended in a member state would also have his or her license suspended in all other member states in which that conviction would be a violation resulting in suspension.

   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
   PROTECT ELIGIBLE YOUNG UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS – The Senate approved resolutions urging Congress to support proposed federal legislation protecting eligible undocumented individuals who were brought to the United States as children. The measure, known as the Bridge Act, allows these individuals to keep their deportation reprieve and work permits for an additional three years. These individuals are currently protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which President Obama unilaterally implemented by Executive Order in 2012 when Congress failed to approve such a plan.
   Supporters said that DACA’s future is uncertain because it can be immediately rescinded by President-elect Donald Trump after he is sworn into office. They argued that the Bridge Act would ensure these immigrants are still protected even if the executive order is rescinded. They noted that there are currently 12,000 individuals with DACA status in Massachusetts and 740,000 nationally.
   CONGO CONFLICT MINERALS (S 2463) – The House approved a bill requiring the Baker administration to review the state’s procurement policies of products that may contain extracted mineral from the Congo, a country in South Africa, to ensure the state is in compliance with federal law. The review would examine how to ensure that electronics and technology suppliers provide products that do not directly or indirectly finance armed conflict or result in labor or human rights violations in the Congo or an adjoining country.
   Federal law now requires publicly traded companies to disclose whether their products contain minerals from rebel-controlled mines in Congo but does not ban this practice.  
   Supporters said it is time to choke off funding for the armed groups who have killed more than 6 million people and turned the Congo into the rape capital of the world. They explained that these groups fund their atrocities by selling these much sought after minerals that end up in our electronic devices including cell phones and laptops. They argued the state should ban the practice and should stop spending taxpayer dollars on companies that profit from these mines and then commit atrocities.
   BOSTON SNOW REMOVAL PENALTIES (H 3326) – The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill that would increase the maximum fines levied on Boston property owners who fail to shovel their sidewalks or throw their “private snow” onto the street or any other public property. Current fines are capped at $200. The bill would increase the maximum fine to $1,500. The measure, already approved by the Boston City Council, requires that unpaid fines are added to property tax bills.
  Supporters said that the illegal dumping of residential or commercial snow on public roads makes the already difficult snow removal process worse, raises the city’s costs and increases safety risks for drivers. They noted that failure to remove snow from sidewalks is dangerous and can seriously injure or even result in the death of seniors, the disabled and children.
Opponents said a $1,500 fine is excessive.
     PERSONS WITH A DISABILITY (S 2168) – The House Ways and Means Committee has given a favorable report to a bill changing language in state laws including replacing “disabled person” with “person with a disability.”

 

   Supporters say it is important to emphasize the person first, not the disability. They say it is time to remove this outdated term from state law. They argue that words stigmatize people and that these changes would have a positive impact on countless people’s lives.
   IMPROVE PATIENT CONFIDENTIALITY (S 2138) – The House Ways and Means Committee has given a favorable report to a Senate-approved bill that would ensure that confidential healthcare information is given only to the patient being treated and not to other family members who are on the same health insurance plan. 
   The measure is aimed at the many people who avoid medical or psychiatric care because they fear that confidential information will be provided to their spouse, child or parents who are also on the same plan. 
  CULTURALLY SENSITIVE HOME VISITING PROGRAMS (H 98) – The House Ways and Committee has given a favorable report to a bill that would create home visiting programs that provide “culturally sensitive services” to parents, infants and children. The measure does not provide a definition of “culturally sensitive.”

 

   Home visiting programs are a voluntary home-based service for families with children up to age five that provides visits by trained workers to promote positive parenting practices; improve maternal, infant and child health outcomes; build healthy child and parent relationships; support cognitive development of children; improve the health of the family; empower families to be self-sufficient; reduce child maltreatment and injury; and increase preparation for a continuum of learning.
   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 19-23, the House met for a total of six hours and 35 minutes while the Senate met for a total of seven hours and 37 minutes.
Mon. December 19 House 11:02 a.m. to 1:02 p.m.

                       Senate 11:04 a.m. to 1:31 p.m.
Tues. December 20 No House session

                       No Senate session
Wed. December 21 No House session

                       No Senate session
Thurs. December 22 House 11:01 a.m. to 3:36 p.m.

                       Senate 11:01 a.m. to 4:11 p.m.
Fri. December 23 No House session

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

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