By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of May 8-12. There were no roll calls in the Senate.
FAIRNESS FOR PREGNANT WORKERS (H 3680)
House 150-0, approved and sent to the Senate the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act aimed at preventing discrimination based on pregnancy and guaranteeing reasonable accommodations and safety measures for pregnant mothers. Reasonable accommodations include time off to recover from childbirth; more frequent, longer paid or unpaid breaks; acquiring or modifying equipment or seating arrangements; obtaining a temporary transfer; job restructuring; lighter duty; and a private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk — unless any of these would create undue hardship on the employer.
The legislation also prohibits an employer from discriminating against, refusing to employ or terminating a woman because she is pregnant or has a condition related to pregnancy.
Supporters said a pregnant woman should not have to fear losing her job when she could continue working with some reasonable adjustments. They argued the bill would ensure pregnant women are treated fairly in the workplace. They noted that pregnant women are pushed out of their jobs and often treated worse than other employees with similar limitations.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes
RULING OF THE ACTING SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE (H 3680)
House 116-34, upheld the ruling of the Acting Speaker of the House that an amendment that would have provided the same protections in the bill to a pregnant woman if she was unable to work “due to the health of the unborn child” was beyond the scope of the pregnancy bill before the House and should not be allowed on the House floor for debate.
Supporters of the chair’s ruling there is no reference to an unborn child in the bill, and therefore the amendment is beyond the scope of the bill.
Opponents of the ruling said that according to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of pregnancy is “an unborn child.” They noted that this proves that “the health of the unborn child” amendment is clearly related to pregnancy which is the focus of the entire bill. They said the amendment should be allowed onto the floor for debate and a vote.
(A “Yes” vote is for upholding the ruling of the chair and favors banning the amendment from the floor. A “No” vote is against the ruling and favors allowing the amendment to go to the floor for debate and a vote.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
INCREASE TAX BREAK FOR VETERANS (H 1602) – The House gave initial approval to legislation that makes a change in the current law that allows cities and towns to establish a program permitting veterans to volunteer their services to the community in exchange for up to a $1,000 property tax reduction. The proposal raises the reduction to $1,500.
Supporters said this increase is overdue and will help thousands of veteran homeowners who made sacrifices to defend the nation.
TAX BREAK FOR BUSINESSES NEGATIVELY IMPACTED (H 3352) – The House gave initial approval to a bill that would allow local cities and towns to reduce by up to 50 percent the property tax on any business that can prove that it was negatively affected by a public works or municipal utility company project.
Supporters said currently cities and towns can provide a tax break for new or expanding businesses but can offer no relief to the business that is losing customers and money because of things like a multi-year bridge project nearby.
ALLOW BUSINESSES TO OPT INTO “DO NOT CALL” LIST (H 137) – The Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure held a hearing on a proposal restricting telemarketing companies doing business in the state by allowing businesses to sign up for a “do not call” list and fining companies up to $5,000 if they call a business on the list. Current law only allows individual consumers to sign up for the list.
Under the bill, all current laws that now apply to individuals would also apply to businesses including allowing an individual on the list to sue a company for up to $5,000 if the company violates the law and calls the individual more than once a year; preventing companies from blocking their number from appearing on any business’ Caller ID box; prohibiting companies from using recorded message devices to make these calls; and restricting these calls to between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Supporters said this long overdue bill will finally allow businesses to put a stop to these annoying invasions. They argued the system has worked well for consumers and will be a success for businesses.
“THE WALL” AND ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS (H 3034) – The Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a bill that would prohibit Massachusetts sheriffs from sending inmates out of state to help build President Donald Trump’s U.S. – Mexico border wall (H 3034).
Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson has said for several months that he would like to help the construction of the wall by sending inmates from the Bristol County House of Correction to go down south and assist in the construction.
Opponents said that Massachusetts inmates should not be sent out of state to help with a project of the federal government.
Another bill before the committee would prohibit state money being used to train local law enforcement or correction officers in immigration law (H 3033).
Both bills are supported by the 9-member Trump Administration Working Group that was created to provide guidance on how the Legislature should respond to the actions of the Trump Administration and help find possible legislative responses and solutions. The group, created by House Speaker Bob DeLeo (D-Winthrop), has a mission to determine 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).
ADOPT AN EMBRYO (H 788) – Another bill on the Judiciary Committee’s agenda would allow adults to petition the probate court for the adoption of an embryo. Embryos are often left over from in vitro fertilization attempts to help couples have children. The couples would have the option of freezing the embryos and then donating them to other couples, giving them to scientists for embryonic stem-cell research or destroying them.
Supporters say that his bill would protect couples who receive the embryos by ensuring that they legally adopt the embryos and cannot be challenged at a later date.
Opponents say that the bill is unnecessary because nearly all infertility clinics already offer couples the option of donating their leftover embryos to other couples. They say that that this “adopt an embryo” term is supported by right to life groups to promote the belief that frozen embryos are the equivalent of children.
TAX COLLEGE ENDOWMENTS (H 1617) – The Revenue Committee held a hearing on legislation that would impose an excise tax on private universities that have an endowment fund in excess of $1 billion. The tax would be 2.5 percent of the institution’s funds that exceed $1 billion. The bill earmarks the revenue for subsidizing the cost of higher education, early education and child care for lower-income and middle-class residents. Current state law exempts nonprofit institutions, including universities, from paying property taxes.
Supporters of the tax said it could raise millions of dollars and noted it is unfair that these schools are not paying taxes on these huge endowments. They noted that these institutions operate like large wealthy corporations and enjoy many of the advantages and benefits the state provides.
Some opponents say that many schools already pay their host communities millions of dollars under the voluntary Payment in lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program that encourages institutions to provide money to their host communities through a wide variety of ways ranging from outright cash payments to scholarships for local students. Others said the tax is unconstitutional and could hurt the Bay State’s image as the leader in higher education. Some expressed concern that the funds, although “earmarked” for these educational purposes might end up in the General Fund.
NO ROBOCALLS TO CELL PHONES (H 154) – The Consumer
Protection and Professional Licensure Committee held a hearing on a measure that would prohibit robocalls to cell phones and other mobile electronic devices. The measure exempts messages from school districts to students, parents or employees; companies advising employees of work schedules; correctional facilities advising victims of the release of an offender; and municipalities and state government.
Another provision would fine companies up to $10,000 if they make an illegal robocall and allow an individual who is called to sue a company for $10,000.
HIDE IDENTITY OF LOTTERY WINNERS (S 139) – The Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure’s hearing also included a bill that would allow Lottery winners to refuse to have their name, address or other identifying information be released to the public. The measure also allows winners to forego all public appearances related to his or her winning the Lottery including the one at which the winner is given an oversized check to hold at Lottery Headquarters.
Current state law requires Lottery winners to comply with all of the above conditions. It also allows winners to place their winnings in a trust but the name of the trustee and the beneficiaries are public record so the trust does not really shield the winner.
Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio and South Carolina are among the states that currently allow Lottery winners to remain anonymous.
“The Massachusetts House of Representatives has acted boldly to advance the cause of civil rights, women’s rights and equal opportunity. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, a bill I introduced, makes clear that women seeking a reasonable accommodation from their employers for certain conditions or needs related to their pregnancy must be treated fairly.”
Rep. David Rogers (D-Cambridge) upon passage of his bill by the House.
“Sugary beverages are a significant contributor to obesity, to Type 2 Diabetes, to heart disease and to poor oral health.”
Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) on his proposed legislation to add an extra tax to sugary drinks.
“I don’t think we should be raising taxes, and I’ve said that before, especially not a tax that hits low-income people a lot harder than it hits everybody else.”
Gov. Charlie Baker on the sugary drink tax.
“There are a lot of bills floating around on education and my opinion at this point is that we need to focus on the Fair Share ballot question that’s coming up in November of ’18 because the $2 billion or so that will be raised will be a major source of funding for the future of education.”
Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) on the likely 2018 ballot question that would impose an additional 4 percent income tax, on top of the current 5.10 percent tax, on taxpayers’ earnings of more than $1 million.
“Sounds like Sen. Rosenberg is telling the teachers union to focus on taking more taxpayers’ money ‘for the children,’ then come back and lower education standards.”
Chip Ford, Executive Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation.
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 8-12, the House met for a total of four hours and 34 minutes and the Senate met for a total of one hour and 51 minutes.
Mon. May 8 House 11:02 a.m. to 11:27 a.m.
Senate 11:02 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.
Tues. May 9 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. May 10 House 11:12 a.m. to 2:40 p.m.
No Senate session.
Thurs. May 11 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:44 a.m.
Senate 11:36 a.m. to 12:09 p.m.
Fri. May 12 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at email@example.com