By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ votes on the only roll call from the week of May 1-5. There were no roll calls in the House.
$200 MILLION FOR LOCAL ROADS AND BRIDGES (H 3648)
Senate 36-0, gave final approval to and Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law 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 package is a bond bill under which the funding would be borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds. The measure also authorizes $70 million for the completion of the ATLAS, the Registry of Motor Vehicles’ technology system that will replace an archaic system that is 30 years old and difficult to maintain and use.
Supporters said the $200 million 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. They said that ATLAS will replace an antiquated, inefficient system and provide better and more efficient services to Registry customers.
“Local transportation funding for cities and towns across Massachusetts has been a priority for our administration since the first day we took office,” said Gov. Baker upon signing the funding. “State support to repair local roads and improve safety is critical for the people, businesses and first responders of Massachusetts.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
BAN ELEPHANTS AND WILD AND EXOTIC ANIMALS – The Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture held a hearing on a bill that would ban elephant acts from being used in traveling circuses and other shows in Massachusetts (H 418). Violators would be fined between $500 and $10,000.
A broader bill (S 490) on the agenda would prohibit performances by any wild and exotic animals and impose up to a $5,000 fine on violators. Exotic animals include zebras, camels, llamas, crocodiles, ostriches and many others.
Supporters testified that these beautiful animals should not have to endure abuse and neglect in order to entertain people. They noted the treatment and harsh training of elephants is cruel and breaks their spirit while also causing them to become aggressive.
Opponents said the abuse of any animal should never be tolerated but noted that these types of animals are rarely secure in their natural habitat. “The aim of these bills to prohibit the exhibition of properly cared for and humanely trained animals does not prevent abuse, but rather unnecessarily restricts the ability of the public to view elephants at shows throughout the commonwealth,” said Eugene Cassidy, president and CEO of the Eastern States in written testimony.
BAN SHADOWS (H 2129) – The Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture’s hearing also included a bill that would prohibit the construction of any new building that would cast a new shadow in Boston on the Charles River Esplanade, Christopher Columbus Park, Commonwealth Avenue Mall, Copley Square Park, Magazine Beach Park or the Back Bay Fens.
Supporters say some new construction would cast shadows on many Boston parks and interfere with enjoyment by people of scarce open space while benefiting a few wealthy property owners and developers.
FILL OUT ONE APPLICATION FOR MULTI-STATE BENEFITS (S 612) – The Health Care Financing Committee’s hearing included a bill that would allow individuals to simultaneously apply online, on a state-sponsored website, for various state-funded benefits including MassHealth, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), veterans benefits, child care subsidies, housing subsidies, fuel assistance and other needs-based health care, nutrition and shelter benefits.
Supporters said that people who need state assistance usually need it from several different programs. They noted this presents a problem because it is difficult for people without cars and child care to go to all the different places to apply. They said a one-stop common application would help streamline the system and avoid a lot of bureaucratic red tape.
BAN CELL PHONES UNLESS HANDS-FREE (S 1962) – The Transportation Committee recommended approval of a bill that would prohibit all drivers from using a hand-held cell phone or other device to make a call, use the device’s camera or access social media. The measure allows drivers to use only a hands-free one. Use of a hand-held phone would be permitted if in an emergency or if necessary to perform a single tap or swipe to activate, deactivate or initiate a voice communication.
Violators would be fined $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for a third or subsequent offense. A third offense would result in the violation being be considered a moving violation for purposes of the safe driver insurance plan.
Supporters testified that the bill would save lives and prevent accidents. They noted that the measure does not ban cell phone use but simply requires the use of hands-free ones. They pointed to accidents, deaths and injuries involving hand-held cell phones.
Although no one testified against the bill, some opponents say that the restriction is another example of government intrusion into people’s cars and lives. Others note that there are already laws on the books prohibiting driving while distracted.
FAIRNESS FOR PREGNANT WORKERS (S 1023) – The Committee on Labor and Workforce Development gave a favorable report to the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act aimed at preventing discrimination based on pregnancy. The measure requires employers to accommodate conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth, including the need to breastfeed a child and receive extra break time 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 them.
Supporters say a pregnant woman should not have to fear losing her job 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.
ILLEGAL EMPLOYEES (S 1012) – The Committee on Labor and Workforce Development held a hearing on a proposal making it illegal for an employer to knowingly falsify employment or citizenship documents of any alien.
Violators would be sentenced to up to 30 days in prison and/or a $1,000 fine for a first offense; up to three months in prison and/or up to a $2,500 fine for a second offense; and up to six months in prison and/or 5,000 for a third offense.
TOBACCO AND PRESCRIPTION MEDICATION – The Public Health Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday , May 16 in Room A2 at the Statehouse on several bills including raising from 18 to 21 the minimum age at which a person can purchase cigarettes or other tobacco products (S 1178); requiring stores that sell tobacco products to conspicuously post signage informing consumers that smoking cessation programs are available at www.makesmokinghistory.org and The Smokers Helpline at 1-800-Quit-Now 1-800-784-8669 (S 1271); and prohibiting the sale of electronic cigarettes to persons under 18.
Another proposal would require the state to develop and publicize a statewide plan for ensuring the availability of prescription medications during a state of emergency (H 1178). The plan would include allowing early refills of prescriptions, ensuring that vehicles delivering medications to pharmacies and hospitals be treated as emergency vehicles and establishing a toll-free telephone number and a website for citizens to get assistance in locating prescription medication.
NEW SENATE COMMITTEES ON CYBER SECURITY AND OPIOIDS – The Senate adopted an order creating a new Committee on Cyber Security to make recommendations for the state to improve its cyber security readiness, enhance technological responses to homeland security and public safety threats, and further protect financial, medical and other sensitive information.
“This committee will focus on identifying the needs of our public safety officials in the cyber realm, and providing them with the tools necessary to protect Massachusetts residents,” said the newly-appointed chair Sen. Michael Moore (D-Millbury). “From bank accounts to medical records, energy systems and law enforcement information, sensitive material is increasingly being stored online. With that has come the advent of cyber criminals who have the ability to inflict tremendous damage from anywhere in the world.”
A separate order created the Committee on Addiction Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery Options to make recommendations to further strengthen opioid abuse prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery options and access to such programs for all Bay State residents.
“We want to ensure that the services are being provided across the state,” said the new chair Sen. Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster). “This is a deadly disease … that we see on the front pages of newspapers across the Commonwealth almost every day.”
“It still has that new chamber smell.”
Sen. Donald Humason (R-Westfield) on the Senate’s first meeting in its new temporary location inside the Statehouse’s Gardner Auditorium while the regular Senate chamber is undergoing $20 million in extensive renovations.
“I don’t think it’s anything in the immediate future.”
House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) on when the House will start its renovations which are also budgeted at $20 million.
“Because over two out of three residents at Massachusetts nursing homes rely on Medicaid, the inadequacy of state funding has led to a dire financial situation for Massachusetts nursing facilities.”
From a study on Medicaid and nursing homes by the American Health Care Association.
“Potholes are a big issue after the winter season and I want to encourage residents to report any potholes on our streets and people who report potholes will be entered to win one of two gift cards [to Casa Blanca Mexican Restaurant].”
Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini who promises that the city will fill every pothole within two business days.
“As a mother of two girls, I understand the importance of protecting our children from sexual predators.”
Rep. Shaunna O’Connell (R-Taunton) on passage of her proposal which will help provide critical information on sex offenders to childcare providers.
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 May 1-5, the House met for a total of 30 minutes and the Senate met for a total of and 50 minutes.
Mon. May 1 House 10:03 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.
Senate 11:05 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.
Tues. May 2 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. May 3 No House session
Senate 1:18 p.m. to 1:56 p.m.
Thurs. May 4 House 11:05 a.m. to 11:18 a.m.
Senate 11:21 a.m. to 11:28 a.m.
Fri. May 5 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org