Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 41 – Report No. 52 December 26-30, 2016

By Bob Katzen 

   THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.
   This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call presents Part 2 of a report highlighting several instances in which bills were approved, mostly unanimously, by the Senate but have been tied up in the House Ways and Means Committee or another committee for months. That committee is chaired by Rep. Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill).
  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.  
   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 legislative staffer who spoke on the condition of anonymity told Beacon Hill Roll Call that dozens of bills die in committee every time the Legislature’s two-year session ends. “It’s an easier way of killing a bill, particularly a bill that might get approved by the full House and Senate if it actually gets to the floor for debate,” said the staffer. “And the rules allowing legislators to try to discharge a bill from a committee are a joke. No one ever does that because it’s considered a fool’s errand that will fail and is a slap in the face to the powerful committee chair and House leadership.”


   Colleen McGonagle, the spokesperson for Ways and Means chairman Dempsey, when asked why these bills were tied up in committee responded, “The bills are under review in House Ways and Means.”  
   Here are eight bills that were approved by the Senate and are now stuck in the House Ways and Means committee or another committee.

   On January 28, 2016, the Senate 36-0, approved a bill that would eliminate some of the age-old restrictions on the processing and sale of lobster in Massachusetts. Currently, the state allows only the sale of live, cooked and canned lobster. The bill would permit the processing of unfrozen lobsters, the importation of unfrozen shell-on lobster parts and tails and the retail of previously frozen raw in-shell tails.
   Supporters said the bill would allow more lobsters currently harvested and purchased here to be prepared for market in the Bay State rather than in Canada where the processing is currently done. They argued this will help the economy, create jobs and help lobstermen, processors, local restaurants and food stores.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     

   On March 3, the Senate 36-0, approved a bill changing language in state laws including replacing “mentally retarded” with “individuals with a developmental disability” and “handicapped” with “disability.”
    Supporters said it is time to remove these outdated phrases from state law. They argued the words stigmatize people and said these changes would have a positive impact on many people’s lives.
   (“Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     

   On March 3, 2016, the Senate 36-0, approved a bill requiring the state’s Supplier Diversity Office to develop standards to identify and recruit qualified applicants with disabilities. The proposal also requires all state employees involved in hiring decisions to be trained and educated about the details of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
    Supporters said the unemployment rate for disabled persons is 80 percent. They noted the state should add disabled persons to its current laws that help veterans and minority and women-owned businesses.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     

   On March 24, 2016, the Senate 37-0, approved a bill that would prohibit banks from issuing unsolicited loans, often in the form of a check, through the mail, unless the recipient is already a customer of the bank. And even those customers would have ten days to rescind the loan and pay the bank back the entire amount, without any interest or fees. 
   Another provision prohibits the person to whom the loan is sent from being held liable for any debt incurred by the unauthorized use of the loan by someone else. The measure also imposes fines of up to five years in prison and a $25,000 fine on any bank or person who violates this law.
   Supporters said these loans prey upon unsuspecting victims including the sick and elderly. They noted the recipient does not understand all the fine print and suddenly is paying enormous interest rates and fees.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     

   On April 28, 2016, the Senate 32-2, approved a bill that would raise the state’s tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21 effective July 1, 2017. Other provisions ban pharmacies and health care institutions from selling any tobacco products; prohibit sales of e-cigarettes to minors; and ban the use of electronic cigarettes in all places where smoking is currently banned. Hawaii is the only state that has raised the age to 21.
   Supporters said the bill will save lives and reduce health care costs. They argued that many 18-year-olds are in high school and are a major source of providing tobacco products to younger high schoolers and middle schoolers.
   Opponents said this is another example of state government overstepping its bounds and trying to regulate behavior. They argued if you’re 18 you can join the military, vote and serve on a jury and should not be banned from purchasing a legal product.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against the bill.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     

   On June 9, 2016, the Senate 38-0, approved a bill that would require state agencies and courts to implement recycling programs by 2018. Mandatory recycling would include lead batteries, metal containers, glass containers, polymer plastics, recyclable paper, carpets, fluorescent lamps, cathode ray tubes and construction and demolition material. 
   Agencies and courts with more than 50 employees would be required to submit an annual report to the secretary of energy and environmental affairs detailing their actions.
   Supporters said this was a major step forward in the ongoing recycling campaign to ensure the state complies with solid waste reduction plans.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     

   On June 18, 2016, the Senate 39-0, approved a bill that would require cities and towns to reduce their solid waste to no more than 600 pounds per capita by July 2018 and no more than 450 pounds per capita by July 2022. The measure also requires the Department of Environmental Protection to establish performance standards for municipal solid waste reduction by July 1, 2017.
   Supporters said the bill would decrease pollution, save money and protect the environment. They noted that this is another major step toward preserving the environment for future generations.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     

   On June 16, 2016, the Senate 35-0, approved a bill that would raise from $55,000 to $80,000 the maximum annual income a senior over 65 can earn and still be eligible for a property tax deferral. The local community decides whether to allow a tax deferral in the first place.
 Communities can charge up to 8 percent interest on the amount deferred. The amount of the deferral plus interest must be paid when the senior moves or dies.
   Amendment supporters said this will reduce expenses for seniors and allow more of them to remain in their homes.
   This bill was given initial approval by the House but has been tied up in the Bills in Third Reading Committee since July.
   A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     

   MINIMUM WAGE INCREASES TO $11 PER HOUR ON JANUARY 1 – The state’s current $10 per hour minimum wage increases to $11 on January 1 for some 500,000 workers in the Bay State. This will be the third consecutive annual pay increase since 2014 when the Legislature approved a $3 hike in the $8 per hour minimum wage to take place over a three-year period. The wage rose from $8 to $9 in 2015 and then to $10 per hour in 2016. 


   The minimum hourly wage for tipped employees will rise from $3.35 to $3.75.
   MARIJUANA DELAY – The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker a controversial bill that delays by six months, from January 2018 to July 2018, the earliest possible date for the opening of retail recreational marijuana stores in the Bay State. The January 2018 date was approved by voters in November as part of the ballot question legalizing the use of pot for recreational use.
   Senate President Stan Rosenberg and House Speaker Bob DeLeo orchestrated the delay and the governor has indicated he will sign it.
  The vote took place in the House and Senate on Wednesday with a handful of members present in what is called an informal session in which there can be no roll call votes and everything is approved or rejected on an unrecorded voice vote. 
   However, at an informal session, a single legislator can hold up consideration of a bill until the next formal session. There are no more formal sessions planned for the 2016 Legislature so in fact, any representative or senator who attended the session could have easily delayed approval of the bill and killed it for 2016. It would certainly be filed again for 2017 but there would likely be a public hearing, a debate on the floor of the House and Senate and a recorded roll call vote on the proposal.
   Rosenberg said that the delay is needed because there are many areas of the bill that need to be reviewed and revised. “This version of course was written for the ballot roughly a year, a year and a half before it actually was voted on by the people,” said Rosenberg. “A lot has changed in some of the other states and some of the parts of the bill really need some work. For example, the tax rate, there are questions around addiction and public health and public safety that are either not addressed or we can do a better job based on what we’re seeing in the other states.”   
   “Yes on 4,” the group that spearheaded the legalization, issued a press release saying that they are very disappointed that the Legislature has decided to alter the law in an informal session with little notice about proposed changes. The group says it is willing to consider technical changes to the law so that it is implemented in a timely and responsible manner. “However, our position remains that the measure was written with careful consideration regarding process and timelines and that no major legislative revisions are necessary,” the statement continued. “Further, the voters of Massachusetts approved Question 4 by a significant margin, and any alteration of the law deserves a transparent, deliberative legislative process.”
   This delay does not affect the parts of the law that took effect on December 15 including allowing persons over 21 to possess up to one ounce of marijuana outside their home, ten ounces in their home and give an ounce or less of marijuana to others. Any quantity above one ounce in the home must be under lock and key. Other provisions that are not affected include allowing the growing of six plants per person in his or her home, with a maximum of 12 plants per household.
  CHILD PASSENGERS UNDER 13 (S 2520) – The Senate gave initial approval to a proposal that would prohibit a child under age 13 from riding in the front seat of a car unless the motor vehicle does not have a rear passenger seat or the rear passenger seat is occupied by other passengers under 13.
    Supporters said that in 2014, 602 children ages 12 and younger died in motor vehicle crashes and more than 121,350 were injured. They noted that research and statistics show that the back seat is safer for kids 13 and under because until a child has a mature skeleton, the protection provided by a seat belt is not as optimal as it is for an adult. They noted the back seat is safer because it is furthest away from three things responsible for most injuries and deaths: the windshield, the dashboard and the airbag. 
   Some people say that the backseat recommendation is based on population studies, and is not always applicable to each individual or vehicle.
   ALLOW DONATION OF LIQUOR AND BEER TO NON-PROFITS (H 248) – The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would allow individuals and businesses to donate liquor and beer to non-profits to serve or sell at an auction. Current law only allows the donation of wine. 
   Some charities and donators work around the law by having the charity pay for the spirits. The business or individual then returns the money by making a donation to the charity equal to the amount the charity paid for it.


   Supporters said this archaic law hurts charities by increasing their expenses. They noted that it also is foolish to have a law that prevents individuals and businesses from making a charitable contribution.
   BOSTON SNOW REMOVAL PENALTIES (H 3326) The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker legislation 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 someone and even result in death.
Opponents said a $1,500 fine is excessive. 
   ALLOW MASSAGE THERAPY ON SUNDAYS (H 169) – The Senate gave initial approval to House-approved legislation that would allow massage therapists to operate on Sundays and holidays. 


 Supporters said it is time to abolish one of the remaining blue laws that are not necessary.
   QUOTABLE QUOTES – Special “Number of Years” Edition – As the 2017-2018 Legislature gets underway, here are some of the veterans of state government and how long they have been in office.
   The numbers of years served in the House by the member who has been there the longest – Rep. Angelo Scaccia (D-Boston).



       The number of years served in the Senate by the member who has been there the longest – Sen. Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst)

   The number of years House Speaker Bob DeLeo has been speaker of the House. He’s been a legislator for 26 years.

   The number of years Senate President Stan Rosenberg has been Senate President.  

   The number of years served by Secretary of State Bill Galvin who has been in office the longest of any statewide constitutional officers.
   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 26-30, the House met for a total of nine hours and 73 minutes while the Senate met for a total of nine hours and 39 minutes.
Mon. December 26 No House session

                       No Senate session
Tues. December 27 House 11:04 a.m. to 2:55 p.m.

                       Senate 11:10 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Wed. December 28 House 11:02 a.m. to 1:11 p.m.

                       Senate 11:04 a.m. to 1:13 p.m.
Thurs. December 29 House 11:05 a.m. to 3:18 p.m.

                       Senate 11:09 a.m. to 2:49 p.m.
Fri. December 30 No House session

                       No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at

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