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 27-31. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.
$200 MILLION FOR LOCAL ROADS AND BRIDGES (H 2783)
House 154-0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill authorizing $200 million in one-time funding for the maintenance and repair of local roads and bridges in cities and towns across the state. The $200 million would be borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds. The funding would be allocated using the same formula that is used for distributing Chapter 90 transportation money annually.
Supporters said this would help cities and towns keep their roads and bridges safe. They noted that the money will be delivered early in the construction season and allow many vital municipal road projects to move forward.
Although no one voted against the proposal, the Massachusetts Municipal Association had urged legislators to increase the funding to $300 million per year and have it in effect for several years to allow communities to plan ahead and use the funds more efficiently.
(A “Yes” vote is for the $200 million.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
$16 MILLION FOR SMALL BRIDGE REPAIRS – The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has awarded 36 cities and towns grants to fund the repair of bridges that are 20 or fewer feet in length. This 5-year, $50 million program was approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker last August. It will reimburse communities up to $500,000 per year to repair these small bridges, which are not eligible for federal aid. The funds can be used for the design, construction and administrative costs for the preservation, rehabilitation or replacement of these bridges.
Supporters, noting there are some 1,300 small bridges across the state, say that many of these are in desperate need of repair or replacement and are at high risk for full or partial closure in the near future if action is not taken.
The next deadline for filing an application is June 3. There are three deadlines during the year – Oct. 31, Feb. 28, and June 3. An application for an emergency can be submitted for consideration at any time.
An application form is on-line at: http://www.massdot.state.ma.us/highway/DoingBusinessWithUs/LocalAidPrograms/MunicipalSmallBridgeProgram.aspx
TAX BILLS ON THE AGENDA – The Revenue Committee has scheduled a public hearing on several bills on April 10 at 1 p.m. in Room B-2 at the Statehouse including:
IMPOSE SALES TAX ON ITEMS BOUGHT ONLINE (H 1524) – Requires the state to plan and prepare to collect the state’s 6.25 percent sales taxes on all items purchased online if and when the federal government authorizes states to mandate that Internet sellers collect sales taxes. Federal law currently only requires the sales tax to be collected by sellers who have a physical presence like a store or warehouse in the state. Amazon has a presence in the Bay State and since 2013 has charged Massachusetts residents the sales tax for its online sales.
Under current state law, a Massachusetts resident who buys a taxable item online is required to take the initiative and pay the 6.25 percent sales tax upon filing of his or her state tax return. But few ever do so.
Supporters of the tax say brick-and-mortar retailers in the state are losing millions of dollars in annual sales and the state is missing out on millions in tax revenue. They note consumers often go to brick-and-mortar retail stores to look at items and then buy them on the Internet to get a lower price and save the sales tax.
Opponents say this is nothing more than a backdoor tax hike that will cost consumers millions of dollars. They note it would also discourage other online retailers from bringing a facility and jobs to Massachusetts and argue that the last thing the state’s taxpayers need is a tax increase during this recovering economy.
The Revenue Committee last year recommended approval of the same bill but it was sent to a study committee where it died.
REDUCE THE TAX ON HARD CIDER (S 1565) – Reduces the tax on hard cider. Under current law, the tax on cider and other beverages that contain between 3 percent and 6 percent alcohol is 3 cents per gallon. The tax on anything that contains more than 6 percent per gallon is 70 cents per gallon, the same rate as champagne.
The bill would apply the 70 cents per gallon tax only to drinks that contain more than 8.5 percent alcohol. Most hard ciders contain only up to 8 percent alcohol and would be taxed at the lower rate of 3 cents per gallon.
Supporters say current law unfairly treats and taxes hard cider at the same rate as champagne. They noted the reduction will help the Bay State compete with neighboring states which have lowered the tax. They argue that the change would also put Massachusetts in line with the federal tax on hard cider which was reduced effective January 1.
The Revenue Committee gave the same proposal a favorable report last year but the Legislature took no further action.
$500 PROPERTY TAX EXEMPTION (S 1583) – Also on the Revenue Committee’s agenda is a proposal providing up to a $500 property tax exemption for deaf homeowners. The bill was approved by both the Senate and House last year but never received final approval in either branch.
TASK FORCE ON SEXUAL ASSAULT (H 2998) – The Higher Education Committee has scheduled a public hearing on several bills on April 13 at 10 p.m. in Room A-1 at the Statehouse. One of the proposals would create a task force to develop a model sexual assault climate survey to be issued to private and public college students in order to determine the prevalence and perception of sexual assault on college campuses.
The survey would include the number of reported incidences of sexual violence, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking on campuses; student knowledge of institutional policies and procedures; the involvement of force; incapacitation or coercion; and demographic factors that could be used to identify at-risk groups.
The Senate approved the bill in 2016 but the House never acted on it.
QUOTABLE QUOTES – “Special Rep. Michelle DuBois Edition”
Last week, Rep. Michelle DuBois (D-Brockton) made national headlines when she warned illegal immigrants in Brockton in an online posting that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was going to be in Brockton for a raid on March 29.
“I have a message for the immigrant community of Brockton. Please be careful on Wednesday [March] 29. ICE will be in Brockton on that day. If you are undocumented don’t go out on the street. If there is a knock on the door of your house and you don’t know who it is, don’t open the door. I ask you to be careful.”
Rep. Michelle DuBois (D-Brockton) posting on Facebook information she said she received from a friend in the Latino community.
“If these sanctuary cities are going to harbor and conceal criminal, illegal aliens from ICE, which is a direct violation of Title 8 of the US code, federal arrest warrants should be issued for their elected officials.”
Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson testifying before Congress.
“Oh no, MA’s Joe Arpaio wannabe is spouting nonsense again.”
Sanctuary City of Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone on Twitter comparing Hodgson to the outspoken and controversial former law and order sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County.
“Left wing whack job who tries 2B so open-minded his brains fell out.”
WEEI Radio talk show host John Dennis’ tweet describing Curtatone.
“We have laws & we have to be guided by them, but we shouldn’t have armed federal officers breaking up hardworking families.”
Facebook posting of Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton)
“Any person who actively incites panic or fear of law enforcement is doing a disservice to the community, endangering public safety and the very people they claim to support and represent.”
Shawn Neudauer, spokesperson for the ICE New England office.
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 27-31, the House met for a total of five hours and 3 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 23 minutes.
Mon. March 27 House 11:02 a.m. to 11:12 a.m.
Senate 11:03 a.m. to 11:16 a.m.
Tues. March 28 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. March 29 House 11:02 a.m. to 3:46 p.m.
No Senate session
Thurs. March 30 House 11:02 a.m. to 11:11 a.m.
Senate 11:05 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.
Fri. March 31 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at email@example.com