By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives on the only roll call from the week of March 20-24. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.
$144.2 SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET (H 3447)
House 156-1, approved $144.2 million in additional spending for fiscal year 2017 that ends on June 30, 2017. The Senate approved the funding without a roll call vote and sent it to Gov. Charlie Baker. A key provision increases from $150,000 to $300,000 the one-time payment from the state to families of all first responders killed in the line of duty. The doubling of the amount will apply to Watertown firefighter Joseph Toscano, who died March 17 fighting a two-alarm fire.
Other provisions include $300,000 for the costs to begin the implementation of the new law legalizing the sale and possession of marijuana; $467,000 for the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination; $4.4 million for elder home care; $31 million to provide legal representation to indigent persons in criminal and civil court cases; $28 million for sheriffs’ departments; and $10.8 million for the Turning 22 Program which provides two years of transitional services to people with severe mental disabilities who lose their entitlement to special education services upon graduation or reaching age 22.
Supporters said the package is fiscally responsible and funds new and existing programs including several that are running out of money.
The lone opponent did not speak during the debate on the package. He did not respond to repeated attempts by Beacon Hill Roll Call to comment on why he opposed the package.
(A “Yes” vote is for the package. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
MARIJUANA POLICY COMMITTEE – The Marijuana Policy Committee met last week to discuss the regulation of the possession and sale of marijuana. The committee is expected to draft a comprehensive bill addressing many aspects of the new law. “Yes on 4,” the group that spearheaded the legalization continues to urge the Legislature to respect the will of the voters who approved Question 4 by a significant margin and not make any changes to the law, except for technical ones.
Several bills have been filed to make changes to the law ranging from technical changes to a complete repeal. One of the most controversial proposals would raise the 3.75 percent tax rate on marijuana sales, approved by voters in November. The 3.75 percent is in addition to the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax. The law also gives cities and towns the ability to add their own 2 percent tax as well.
The Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) wants to change the part of the law that requires approval by voters on a local ballot question in order for a community to opt out and prohibit retails sales in that city or town. MMA wants to give authority to cities and towns to opt out of commercial sales via a simple majority vote of the local legislative body. “Under Massachusetts law and our long history of municipal governance, decisions on zoning and commercial activity are inherent in the duties of town meetings, town councils and city councils,” said the group’s Executive Director Geoff Beckwith.
The law gives the treasurer oversight of the marijuana industry. House Speaker Bob DeLeo (D-Winthrop) and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst) have left the door open to switching some of the authority over to other entities. “That has not been decided,” DeLeo said. Treasurer Deb Goldberg expressed concern that any switch will further delay the opening of retail pot shops. “My long-term concerns are that if it leaves the treasurer’s office I think, candidly, the deadlines cannot be met,” said Goldberg.
“It is our hope that the committee defer on any bills that would revise the measure as passed by voters until they have the benefit of expert recommendations from the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC),” Jim Borghesani Director of Communications for “Yes on 4” told Beacon Hill Roll Call. “There are other important areas on which the committee can focus immediately, including improved impairment testing and use of new tax revenues. The first priority for the Legislature and the governor should be providing adequate funding for the CCC.”
The 3-member CCC will be appointed by Goldberg and falls under the treasurer’s authority. She has not yet appointed the commissioners and has until Sept 1 to do so.
Goldberg has requested $500,000 for her office to continue preparations to implement retail sales. The Legislature last week approved only $300,000.
MONITORING TRUMP – House Speaker Bob DeLeo took the unusual step of creating a 9-member Trump Administration Working Group that will provide guidance on how the Legislature should respond to the “unprecedented actions” of the Trump Administration and help find possible legislative responses and solutions. The group will focus on the local consequences of Trump’s actions with the focus on economic stability, health care, higher education and the state’s most vulnerable residents. All nine members of the group are Democratic legislators. The group is co-chaired by Reps. Patricia Haddad (D-Somerset) and Ronald Mariano (D-Quincy).
“The members of this working group represent diverse constituencies and will bring distinct perspectives to the table,” said Speaker DeLeo. “At its core, this group is tasked with finding practical ways to safeguard our residents and our economy in a way that works for each corner of the Commonwealth. While I’m deeply worried by actions of the Trump Administration, I believe that Massachusetts can maintain its national leadership and become a model during these troubling times.”
HEARINGS GET UNDERWAY -There have been few hearings on Beacon Hill this year. The pace is beginning to very slowly pick up. The Committee on Labor and Workforce Development will hold a hearing on April 4 at 1 p.m. in Room A2 at the Statehouse. Several bills are on the agenda including:
BAN EMPLOYERS FROM ASKING FOR CREDIT REPORTS (H 2372) – Prohibits employers from obtaining the credit reports of potential employees except in certain circumstances including hiring for a position that requires national security clearance; a position for which a person is required by federal or state law to obtain a consumer report; and some executive or managerial positions at a financial institution.
Supporters say there is no correlation between job performance and a credit score. They argue many people have bad credit because of a medical bankruptcy or an unexpected layoff.
Opponents say credit reports provide unbiased information about a person’s past behavior. They argue that poor credit sometimes means a lack of responsibility.
FAIRNESS FOR PREGNANT WORKERS (S 1023) – Establishes the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act preventing discrimination based on pregnancy. The measure requires employers to accommodate conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth, including the need to breast-feed a child unless doing so would create undue hardship on the employer. Current law makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against hiring women who are pregnant but does not require that any special accommodation be made for those workers.
Reasonable accommodations would include many things including allowing a woman to use a stool, giving extra break time and carrying a water bottle.
Supporters say a pregnant woman should not have to fear losing her job when she is pregnant and when she could continue working with some reasonable adjustments. They say that pregnant women are pushed out of their jobs and often treated worse than other employees with similar limitations. They note that more than half of all pregnant women and new mothers in Massachusetts are in the labor force and earning income to support their families.
BAN DISCRIMINATION AGAINST UNEMPLOYED (S 1027) – Prohibits employers and employment agencies from discriminating against any job applicant who is currently unemployed. The number of long-term unemployed (jobless for 27 weeks or more) stood at an estimated 1.8 million in February and accounted for 23.8 percent of the unemployed.
Supporters say it is unfair to allow discrimination against someone who is unemployed and it makes it difficult for him or her to get back in the workforce. They say this goes on all the time and note that when applying online, a jobless applicant’s resume is often rejected by computer programs that screen out the unemployed.
STATE WORKERS’ SAFETY (H 3149) – Expands health and safety protections to cover state 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.
Supporters say this would cover an estimated 150,000 state workers who perform jobs that are sometimes just as dangerous as private sector ones.
SAFETY OF NURSES AND OTHERS (H 1007) – Requires all health care facilities to conduct annual risk assessments to determine all factors that may put any employees at risk of workplace assaults and homicide. Based on the findings, each facility would be required to develop and implement a program to minimize the danger of workplace violence to employees, including appropriate employee training and a system for the ongoing reporting and monitoring of incidents and situations involving violence or the risk of violence.
Supporters say that violence in hospitals and other health care facilities is on the rise across the nation. They argue these facilities are no longer automatically safe and said that it is time to ensure hospitals are more prepared to deal with any violence.
“At best, they displayed incompetence, having no idea how to change their corporate culture for the better. At worst, they were just extending their middle finger to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to the surrounding Plymouth community and to all who are potentially affected by their poor operating standards.”
From a letter from several Cape Cod and South Shore legislators calling on federal regulators to immediately close the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station because of safety concerns. The station currently intends to refuel the plant one more time and to shut down its operation in on May 31, 2019.
“Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station has an impeccable safety record. We take great pride in our ability to maintain a critical source of power safely and securely. We make significant operational improvements on an ongoing basis to help ensure the safety and performance of our facility.”
From the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station’s website.
“Optometrists are trained to treat glaucoma and eye infections, yet they are not allowed to do so in Massachusetts, and for no good reason.”
Dr. Matthew Forgues, President of the Massachusetts Society of Optometrists, on a poll he says shows that voters agree that optometrists should be allowed to write prescriptions for eye drops to treat glaucoma.
“These cuts to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) would have a severe and disproportionate impact on the Massachusetts economy, threatening thousands of jobs and critical medical research. Massachusetts is home to the world’s leading universities, hospitals, and research facilities, which rely on NIH funding to continue discovering cures and therapies for patients.”
Sen. Sal Domenico (D-Everett) expressing his concern over President Trump’s proposed cuts to the NIH.
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 March 20-24, the House met for a total of six hours and 38 minutes and the Senate met for a total of four hours and 29 minutes.
Mon. March 20 House 11:04 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.
Senate 11:12 a.m. to 11:17 a.m.
Tues. March 21 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. March 22 House 11:01 a.m. to 5:28 p.m.
Senate 1:08 p.m. to 5:29 p.m.
Thurs. March 23 House 11:05 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.
Senate 11:02 a.m. to 11:05 a.m.
Fri. March 24 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at email@example.com