Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 42 – Report No. 17 April 24-28, 2017

By Bob Katzen 

    THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of April 24-28. There were no roll calls in the Senate.
   Most of the House roll calls are on proposed amendments to the $40.8 billion fiscal 2018 state budget that the House debated for only two days last week. This is the first time that a Massachusetts budget has topped $40 billion.
   CONSOLIDATED AMENDMENTS – Of the 1,210 budget amendments proposed, many of them are bundled into nine consolidated amendments. The system works as follows: Individual representatives file dozens of amendments on the same general subject matters including local aid, social services and public safety. They are then invited to “subject meetings” in Room 348 at which they pitch their amendments to Democratic leaders who draft consolidated amendments that include some of the individual representatives’ amendments while excluding others.
   “Any representative who sponsors an amendment can pull that amendment for debate,” said Seth Gitell, the spokesperson for House Speaker Bob DeLeo. Once the amendment is separated, it goes to the House floor where there is an up or down voted on it. Supporters say this system has worked well for many years.
   “It is wrong to do the people’s business behind closed doors,” said Rep. Geoff Diehl (R-Whitman) who was among the many Republicans who opposed what they called an insider, archaic system that takes power away from individual members and forces legislators to vote for or against a package of amendments without being able to call for a vote on the individual amendments. They argued that individual amendments should be considered on a one-by-one basis on the House floor.
   DELAYING TAX CUTS – Several of the House roll call votes involve successful attempts by Speaker DeLeo and his Democratic leadership team to prevent Democratic members from having to vote directly against several Republican proposals including ones to reduce taxes. 
   Here’s an example of how it works: The Republicans offer a proposal to reduce the sales tax from 6.25 percent back to 5 percent. If the Democratic leadership does nothing, there would be a roll call vote directly on the tax reduction. Most Democrats would vote against it and then would be open to charges of being anti-taxpayer.
   The Democrats, with a 135-25 membership advantage, control the House. A Democratic member then offers a “delaying” amendment that would prohibit the tax reduction from taking effect until the Baker administration studies the impact of the cut. 
   Under House rules, the amendment to study and delay the tax cut is voted upon first. If it passes, which it always does, the original proposal that would simply cut the tax is dead without ever having a direct vote on it. Republicans say that the studies are a sham because they are never done. 
   This is all pre-planned by the Democratic leadership. The speaker at the podium calls upon a representative who is loyal to him and that member proposes the delay and study. Even if a Republican member is waving his or her hands and shouting to be recognized, he or she will not be called upon because he or she would not propose the delay and study.
   GOP members have always been wary of this ploy and this year many have spoken out strongly against it. They urged the Democratic leadership to stop purposely trying to confuse the voters and instead allow a vote directly on the tax reductions themselves. They said the Democratic leadership hopes that voters see that their representative voted “Yes” but do not realize that the “Yes” vote is not in favor of the tax cut but rather in favor of the study and delay. Some GOP members said that voters are smarter than Democrats think and will see through this charade.

    “The … tactics of further ‘study amendments’ should not be used to avoid voting on an issue, said Rep. Shaunna O’Connell (R-Taunton). “The so-called studies are never done. It is time for the Statehouse to stop treating the taxpayers as an ATM.”
    The Democrats fall into four categories. Some Democrats favor the tax cut and vote with the Republicans against the study. Others say that they are truly open to the tax reduction but vote for the study because they want to find out the cost first. A third group opposes the proposal but also opposes the study because they feel that there should be a direct vote on the proposal. Most vote for the study and acknowledge that it is designed to protect incumbent Democrats and prevent them from being required to vote directly against tax cuts.
   Beacon Hill Roll Call urges you to read the roll calls carefully and be aware that in most cases in which a study is proposed in place of a tax cut, a “Yes” vote is for the study and is essentially against the tax cut. Conversely, a “No” vote is against the study and generally favors the tax cut and/or favors at least holding a direct vote on the tax cut itself.
$40.8 BILLION FISCAL 2018 BUDGET (H 3600)

   House 159-1, approved and sent to the Senate a $40.8 billion fiscal 2018 state budget. The House added an estimated $77 million during the two days it considered the package.


  Supporters said the budget is a fiscally responsible and balanced one that makes vital investments in the state while continuing fiscal responsibility and not raising taxes.
   The lone opponent was Rep. Jim Lyons (R-Andover). He spoke extensively during the budget debate and called out the Democratic leadership for proposing further study on tax cuts and other matters instead of voting directly on the them.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the budget. A “No” vote is against it.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes                                     

   House 119-38, approved a Democratic leadership-sponsored amendment indefinitely delaying a Republican proposal to establish a permanent annual two-day weekend sales tax holiday in August. The amendment would require the Baker administration to study the impact the reduction would have on the state.
     Supporters of the study said it is fiscally irresponsible to approve a permanent holiday without regard for the economic situation of the state during a specific year. They argued the Legislature should look at the state’s economy and decide one year at a time whether the state can afford a sales tax holiday. Some noted a permanent holiday would hurt year-round retail sales because many consumers would hold off until August to make big purchases. 
  Opponents of the study said it is time to make this successful holiday a permanent one and noted similar tax-free holidays over the past several years have helped retail stores and consumers. They noted a permanent holiday would give consumers the opportunity to plan purchases in advance and not have to sit around each year and see if the Legislature decides to approve a holiday. 
  (A “Yes” vote is for the delay. A “No” vote is against the delay.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes                                     

     House 108-38, approved a Democratic-sponsored amendment indefinitely delaying a Republican-sponsored proposal that would permanently exempt diners from paying the state’s 6.25 percent meals tax each year from March 22-27. The amendment would require the state to study the impact of the tax holiday on the state’s economy. 
   Some supporters of the study said the state simply cannot afford the estimated $8 million revenue loss.
   Opponents of the study said rising food costs, high fuel prices, high unemployment and a poor economy have hurt the restaurant industry and resulted in fewer customers. 
   (A “Yes” vote is for the delay. A “No” vote is against the delay.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes                                     

   House 118-39, approved a Democratic-sponsored amendment indefinitely delaying a Republican-sponsored proposal that would reduce the state’s sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent.
   Supporters of the delay said the state cannot afford the annual loss of close to $1 billion in revenue. They argued this tax cut would result in reductions to local aid, education, health care and human service programs. 
   Opponents of the delay said this increased sales tax is hurting consumers and retail operations, especially those on the state’s borders. They also urged the state to live within its means.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the delay. A “No” vote is against the delay.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes                                     

   House 36-123, rejected an amendment reducing the income tax from 5.1 percent to 5 percent.
   Amendment supporters said that voters in 2000 approved a gradual reduction of that year’s 5.85 percent tax to five percent by January 2003, and it is time for the Legislature to honor that vote. They argued that the billions of dollars saved by taxpayers will be pumped back into the economy.
   Opponents said the state simply cannot afford to lose billions of dollars in revenue that will result in severe cuts to very important programs like education, local aid, mental health and substance abuse.  
   (This roll call does not involve a study and is a vote directly on reducing the income tax to 5 percent. A “Yes” vote is for the reduction. A “No” vote is against it.)

 Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Mike Connolly No Rep. Denise Provost No                                      

   House 124-36, approved a Democratic-sponsored amendment indefinitely delaying a Republican-sponsored proposal that would require all new applicants for subsidized public housing to provide their social security number for use by the state in verifying their income eligibility for public housing. Legal non-residents would be required to provide alien registration number.
   Supporters of the delay said this is an anti-immigrant, mean-spirited proposal. They noted there are many people in Massachusetts who are here legally and documented but do not have access to a social security number.
   Opponents of the study said it is outrageous that currently people can get subsidized housing without producing a social security number or alien registration number. They said this this outrage must stop so that people who are verified and struggling can get this valuable housing. They noted the amendment simply mirrors the federal requirement for a person to get into public housing.
  (A “Yes” vote is for the delay. A “No” vote is against the delay.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes                                     

  House 123-27, approved a Democratic-sponsored amendment indefinitely delaying a Republican-sponsored proposal that would prohibit the use of electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards by welfare recipient to buy recreational marijuana. The amendment would delay the ban until July 18th or when the Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy has a filed a comprehensive report on marijuana issues, whichever comes first.
   Supporters of the study said this type of restriction should not be rushed through the House. They urged the House to wait for the results of the comprehensive report and see what it has discovered and recommends.
   Opponents of the study said this simply adds recreational marijuana to a long list of non-essential goods and services the Legislature has prohibited to be purchased using EBT cards including alcoholic beverages, lottery tickets, tobacco products, strip clubs, adult bookstores and cruise ships. They argued that taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars should be used only for necessities like food.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the delay. A “No” vote is against the delay.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes                                     

   House 159-0, gave final approval to 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. Only final Senate approval is needed before the measure goes to Gov. Charlie Baker for his signature.
  Supporters said this would help cities and towns keep their roads and bridges safe. They hoped that the money will be delivered early in the construction season and allow many vital municipal road projects to move forward.
  (A “Yes” vote is for the $200 million.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes                                     

   House 158-0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill creating the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Committee which will develop plans by May 31, 2018 and make recommendations to the Legislature on the erection of an appropriate permanent memorial to the late leader of the civil rights movement. 
   Supporters said this memorial is long overdue and praised King for his courage and accomplishments.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes                                     

   MARIJUANA – The Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy held a public hearing on 40 proposed bills making changes to the law legalizing the use and sale of recreational marijuana including:
   NEW FEE TO FUND YOUTH SUBSTANCE ABUSE PREVENTION (H 3167) – Imposes a $2 million annual fee to be paid proportionately by each licensed marijuana retail store, product manufacturer and cultivator in order to renew their license. The first assessment would occur two years following the time when the combined total of stores, manufacturers and cultivators reaches 1,000.
   INCREASE TAX TO 8.5 PERCENT (H 3504) – Hikes the current 3.5 percent excise tax on retail marijuana by 5 percent. The money would be used to fund a new Marijuana Addiction Treatment Fund that would be used to support public and private addiction treatment programs.
   REPEAL LEGALIZATION (S 1060) – Completely repeals the law legalizing recreational marijuana.
   EXPUNGE ALL RECORDS OF MARIJUANA CONVICTIONS (S 1063) – Expunges the criminal record of anyone convicted of any marijuana crime that was repealed by the new law legalizing its use. It also allows any prisoners serving a sentence for a repealed marijuana crime to apply to the courts to be released from prison.
   CREATE “OPEN CONTAINER LAW” FOR MARIJUANA (H 1055) – Creates a law similar to the open container law that applies to alcohol. This new law would prohibit drivers from possessing an open container of marijuana or marijuana products including edibles, in the passenger area of any motor vehicle. Violators would be fined between $100 and $500. 
  START SALES ON JULY 1 (H 3197) – Allows medical marijuana facilities to begin to sell marijuana products to people over 21 on July 1, 2017 if the state fails to come up with regulations for the opening of stores that sell recreational marijuana. Current law allows the same but not until January 2018.
   REDISTRICTING (H 59) -The Election Laws Committee held a public hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment that would establish a non-legislative redistricting commission to draw Massachusetts legislative and congressional districts every ten years. Currently, the constitution gives the Legislature itself the power to draw the districts. The commission would then submit the plan to the Legislature for an up or down vote.
   The proposal requires the independent commission to follow specific rules including ensuring that districts are compact and contiguous and are not drawn for the purpose of diluting the voting strength of a racial minority, political party or any individual candidate. The commission also would be required to attempt to follow other guidelines including preventing a city or town from being divided into more than one district. 
   Commission members would include a college dean or professor of law, political science or government appointed by the governor; a retired judge appointed by the attorney general; and an expert in civil rights law appointed by the secretary of state. The other four members would be chosen by the original three members from a list of candidates nominated by the Democratic and Republican leadership in both branches. 
   Supporters of the independent commission say it has been endorsed by former Govs. Deval Patrick, Michael Dukakis and Mitt Romney, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause. They argue that the Legislature is not impartial and often gerrymanders districts to protect incumbents. They said this antiquated, partisan system allows the majority party to control the process and permits “legislators to choose their voters.”
   Opponents of the independent commission say it would be comprised of unaccountable, unelected and unknown members who are not responsible to voters. They argue that elected, accountable members of the Legislature should be responsible for this important and tricky job of redistricting. 
   LT. GOV. VACANCY (H 60) – The Election Laws Committee’s hearing also included a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the governor to appoint a lt. governor if that position becomes vacant. The governor’s choice would be subject to confirmation by the Legislature. Currently if the lt. governor’s office becomes vacant, there is no provision to appoint a replacement and the office simply remains vacant until the next regular election.
   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 24-28, the House met for a total of 22 hours and 52 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 3 hours and 47 minutes.
Mon. April 24 House 10:02 a.m. to 9:06 p.m. 

                  Senate 11:05 a.m. to 2:45 p.m
Tues. April 25 House 10:39 a.m. to 10:16 p.m. 

                  No Senate session


Wed. April 26 No House session

                  No Senate session
Thurs. April 27 House 11:00 a.m. to 11:11 a.m. 

                  Senate 11:21 a.m. to 11:28 a.m.


Fri. April 28 No House session

                  No Senate session
 Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at

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