Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 41 – Report No. 14 April 3-7, 2017

By Bob Katzen 

   THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local senators on the only roll call from the week of April 3-7. There were no roll calls in the House last week.

   Senate 37-0, approved a bill authorizing $400 million ($200 million per year for two years) in funding for the maintenance and repair of local roads and bridges in cities and towns across the state. The $400 million would be borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds. The bill differs from a version approved by the House. The main difference is that the House bill only provides $200 million for one year.
   Supporters said that the money will be delivered to communities early in the construction season and allow many vital municipal road projects to quickly move forward. They argued that this would help cities and towns keep their roads and bridges safe.
   A House-Senate conference committee was appointed to draft a new compromise version that is acceptable to both branches.


   (A “Yes” vote is for the $400 million.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     

   PROPERTY TAX EXEMPTION (S 1536) – The Revenue Committee held a hearing on a bill providing up to a $2,500 property tax exemption for taxpayers who serve as volunteer call or auxiliary firefighters and emergency medical technicians. The exemption would be available only in cities and towns that adopt this local option law.
   Supporters say that cities and towns should have this option to offer something in return for the services of these important volunteers.
  ABOLISH TAX ON HOSTELS (S 1601 and H 3303) – Also on the Revenue Committee’s agenda was a bill that would abolish the current 5.7 percent occupancy tax on overnight stays in hostels.
 “Hostels provide an alternative to more traditional and expensive means of accommodation that enables students and other travelers to experience the world where cost would often be a prohibitive obstacle,” testified Russ Hedge, President of American Youth Hostels.  
  Supporters of abolishing the tax say the tax is passed onto the tourists, students and others who stay at hostels because they are an economical way to travel. 
   SPENDING MONEY FROM RAINY DAY FUND (S 15) – The State Administration and Regulatory Oversight Committee held a hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment that would require a two-thirds, instead of a majority vote of the Legislature, in order to spend money from the state’s Rainy Day Fund. The fund is a stabilization fund established by the Legislature to ensure that money is put aside in case of an economic downturn. The money can only be spent to make up for revenue shortfalls or federal funding reductions and when events threaten the health, safety or welfare of citizens.
   Supporters say that the two-thirds requirement would ensure that the money is used only when absolutely necessary. They note that the higher hurdle would make it difficult to raid the fund unless there is a real emergency and overwhelming legislative support.
   Opponents say that a two-thirds requirement is too strict and nearly impossible to obtain. They note that it only takes a majority vote to place money into the fund and argued that it should take the same majority to spend it.
   PRO-WORKERS’ LEGISLATION -The Labor and Workforce Development Committee held a hearing on legislation that would prohibit employers from obtaining the credit reports of potential employees except in certain circumstances including hiring for a position that requires national security clearance (H 2372).
  Other bills on the agenda would establish the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act preventing discrimination based on pregnancy (S 1023); prohibit employers and employment agencies from discriminating against any job applicant who is currently unemployed (S 1027); and expand health and safety protections to cover state employees (H 3149). 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.                                           
   INCREASE PENALTIES FOR ASSAULT OF POLICE OFFICERS (No bill number yet) – Gov. Baker filed a bill that would increase penalties for anyone charged with assaulting a police officer. The measure elevates the crime from a misdemeanor to a felony when causing serious bodily harm.
   “Under current law, sufficient penalties do not exist for individuals who assault police officers and cause serious harm,” said Gov. Baker. “The absence of such penalties makes the job of law enforcement that much harder and more dangerous, and illustrates the need to increase those penalties and ensure the punishment can meet such an offense.”
   “Our system should have the ability to respond strongly if an individual attacks and harms one of our police officers,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “Those with such a disdain for the rule of law must know that the Commonwealth will take their actions seriously.”
   The measure is opposed by the Massachusetts American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “Under existing Massachusetts law, charges can already be brought against anyone who assaults an officer and causes serious bodily injury,” said the group’s Legislative Director Gavi Wolfe. “The existing law provides adequate protections and serious consequences.”
   “We believe that assaulting a non-officer is just as serious as assaulting an officer, and that legislators should not carve out increased legal privileges for those who have the honor of serving and protecting the public,” said Alex Marthews, Chairman of Digital Fourth, a Massachusetts-based civil liberties organization.
     8,206 APPLICANTS FAILED A BACKGROUND CHECK TO DRIVE FOR UBER AND LYFT – The Baker Administration released the results of the state’s background check on applicants who applied to drive for Uber and Lyft since the Legislature approved a law regulating the application-based ride services. There were 70,789 drivers who applied and 8,206 (or 13 percent) of those were rejected. Applications were rejected for many reasons including 152 convictions for drunken driving, sex offenses (403), violent crimes (1,559) and habitual traffic offenses (425).
   “Public safety is a top priority for this administration and we are pleased to have completed this first round of in depth background checks a year ahead of schedule,” said Gov. Baker. “Massachusetts has set a national standard for driver safety and we look forward to future partnerships with Uber, Lyft and others to grow this innovative industry and support more jobs and economic opportunities for all.”
   QUOTABLE QUOTES – Senate President Stan Rosenberg addressed several tax issues in last week’s speech at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. Here are some quotes from his speech.
   We asked Chip Ford, Executive Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, to respond to Rosenberg’s quotes.
   “After delivering $3.4 billion in tax reductions in the 80s and 90s – cuts we could afford at the time, cuts that helped us shed the title Taxachusetts forever – the bill is finally coming due. It has been many years since we’ve been able to balance our budget without resorting to gimmicks and one-time revenue fixes – band-aids that result in structurally imbalanced budgets the following years.”
   “If we are to meet the demands of our private sector partners in order to remain innovative and prosperous; fair and equitable; compassionate and decent; [and] respectful of our environment, then we will need nothing less than a major infusion of public investment.”
   “At a time when trucks delivering online shopping clog our every street, we cannot collect sales tax on those goods.”
  “I hope all of you choose to support the Fair Share Tax initiative which could make a measurable difference in funding education and transportation.” The initiative imposes an additional 4 percent income tax, in addition to the current flat 5.10 percent one, on taxpayers’ earnings of more than $1 million. 
   “Putting a tax cut on the ballot is like shooting fish in a barrel – it’s pretty easy to make dinner. But cutting our sales tax would cost us billions in lost revenue, just at the moment when we need new dollars.”
   “The reasons why our strong economy and our current tax system don’t produce sufficient revenue are … a flat income tax whose rate continues to decrease by statute as the economy improves [and] a sales tax that applies to goods, not services, in an economy largely driven by services.”
   Chip Ford responds: 
   “Since the $12 billion fiscal year 1990 budget, annual state spending has more than tripled to a proposed $40.5 billion. During that period the ‘temporary’ income tax hike of 1989 still lingers, the sales tax was increased by 25 percent, the gas tax has been hiked and other revenue raising gimmicks have been relentlessly imposed. 
   “In 1994 a graduated income tax scheme was comfortably defeated for the fifth time by voters; in 2000 the voters mandated a rollback of the ‘temporary’ income tax hike; in 2014 the voters repealed the automatic gas tax increase. On Beacon Hill, More Is Never Enough (MINE) from taxpayers. The state has an insatiable spending problem, not a revenue problem.
   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 April 3-7, the House met for a total of five hours and 20 minutes and the Senate met for a total of five hours and 13 minutes.
Mon. April 3 House 11:04 a.m. to 11:07 a.m. 

                  Senate 11:06 a.m. to 11:08 a.m
Tues. April 4 No House session

                  No Senate session
Wed. April 5 House 11:01 a.m. to 4:09 p.m. 

                  Senate 11:17 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Thurs. April 6 House 11:02 a.m. to 11:11 a.m. 

                  Senate 11:08 a.m. to 11:17 p.m.


Fri. April 7 No House session

                  No Senate session
 Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at

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