Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 42 – Report No. 21 May 22-26, 2017

By Bob Katzen 

   THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ and representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of May 22-26.
PROHIBIT PRISONERS FROM WORKING OUT-OF-STATE (H 3034)

   House 120-35, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would prohibit prisoners in Massachusetts from working out of state. 

 

   Supporters said these prisoners should remain in Massachusetts and cited the success of inmates’ work in Bay State communities including the one in Bristol County which has saved taxpayers $1.3 million annually. They noted that current law might be designed to ban this practice but it is vague and needs to be clarified by this bill. 

 

   Opponents said current law already prohibits this practice. They questioned why the House is working on a solution in search of a problem while the state deficit is growing and there are many more important pieces of legislation to consider.

 

      This controversy was started back in January by Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson who has said that he would like to help the construction of the wall by sending inmates from the Bristol County House of Correction to the south and help with the construction President Donald Trump’s U.S. – Mexico border wall.

 

   The bill was 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).
      (A “Yes” vote is for the ban. A “No” vote is against the ban.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes                                     
STUDY THE EFFECTS AND COST OF THE PRISONER BAN (H 3034)

   House 38-117, rejected a GOP-sponsored alternative bill that would replace the ban with a study of the effect of prisoner work programs, reciprocity agreements between the state and neighboring states and the costs or savings associated with restricting such programs. The 13-member study committee would report its findings and recommendations to the Legislature by October 1.

 

   Supporters of the study said the bill is unnecessary because current law already bans this practice. They argued that a study of the effects of this ban and of someday lifting the ban should both be examined by the study committee. 

 

   Opponents of the study said this is a move by Republicans to essentially kill the bill. They said current law is a little vague and that the bill would make it clear that there is a ban on this practice.

 

  Ironically, Republicans were the ones who made the motion to study the bill, a move that would’ve prohibited a vote on the original bill banning the use of Bay State prisoners in other states. Usually, it is the Democrats who propose to kill a bill and avoid a direct vote on it by proposing a study. The Republicans said they were serious about a study and were not trying to avoid a vote on the ban itself.

 

   (A “Yes” vote is for the study. A “No” vote is against it.)

 Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Mike Connolly No Rep. Denise Provost No                                      
$45.5 MILLION SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET (H 3718)

   House 153-1, approved and sent to the Senate a $45.5 million supplemental budget for fiscal year 2017. Provisions include $15 million for the Department of Correction to cover the payroll for the month of June; $14 million for snow and ice removal; and $1.5 million for staffing the state’s summer pools.

 

   Supporters said the package is a balanced one that helps close out the books on fiscal 2017 and funds necessary programs while continuing fiscal responsibility. They said this is a lot less money than many supplemental budgets but it is money that must be spent to ensure snow plow contractors are paid in a timely fashion and that prison and pool staff are paid.

 

   The lone opponent said that the state currently has a $500 million shortfall and argued that the budget process needs major reforms and more transparency so that taxpayers know how their money is being spent. He noted there is no firm figure on the amount of money being spent on illegal immigrants but estimates run as high as almost $2.5 billion. He argued that spending on MassHealth has increased from $8 billion to $16 billion in eight years and 30 percent of the state’s population is on subsidized health care.

 

   (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                                     
$40.4 BILLION FISCAL 2018 BUDGET (S 3)

  Senate 38-0, approved a $40.4 billion fiscal 2018 budget. Over a 3-day period, the Senate added an estimated $50 million to the budget and considered and voted on more than 1,000 proposed amendments. All but one of the amendments which were voted on by a recorded roll call (in which people can see how their senator voted,) were not controversial and were approved unanimously — garnering the support of all Democratic and Republican senators.
   Conversely there were many controversial amendments that that were decided by voice votes or standing votes — neither of which allows you to see how an individual senator voted.
   Some of the amendments approved without a roll call vote were ones to increase the tax on flavored cigars; hike from $20 to $45 the Registry of Deeds fee that funds the Community Preservation Act Trust Fund; and eliminate the $80 per month parole fee charged to prisoners who are on parole. 
  Some of the amendments rejected without a roll call were ones to reduce the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent; reduce the income tax from 5.1 to 5 percent; and establish a two-day sales tax holiday in August
    Supporters said the budget is a fiscally responsible and balanced one that makes vital investments in the state while continuing fiscal responsibility.
   The House has approved a different version of the budget. A House-Senate conference committee will hammer out a compromise version.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the budget.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
REIMBURSE REGIONAL SCHOOL TRANSPORTATION COSTS (S 3)

   Senate 38-0, approved an amendment increasing funding for the reimbursement of regional school transportation costs by $1,250,000 – from $61,021,000 to $62,271,000.
   Amendment supporters said years ago regional schools were promised 100 percent reimbursement but that has never happened. They argued this additional $1,250,000 would increase reimbursement to a level of 73 percent.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
$500,000 FOR ADULT BASIC EDUCATION (S 3)

   Senate 37-0, approved an amendment increasing funding for adult basic education (ABE) by $500,000 – from $3,250,000 to $3,750,000.  

 

   ABE includes a range of educational services for adults including basic reading and writing (including English for non-native speakers of English) math and high school equivalency programs.

  

   Amendment supporters said these programs make a huge difference in the lives of thousands of people including many immigrants. They noted ABE leads to people obtaining jobs and is good for families and the economy.

 

   (A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
CHILD AND YOUTH READINESS CABINET (S 3)

   Senate 38-0, approved an amendment creating a 12-member Child and Youth Readiness Cabinet to coordinate efforts to increase the level of cooperation and collaboration across the state departments and agencies that serve children, youth and families.
   The cabinet would include many of Gov. Charlie Baker’s current chief secretaries and commissioners including the secretaries of education, health and human services and administration and finance. Also included are the commissioners of early education and care, elementary and secondary education and higher education. The cabinet would be required to submit a report of its findings and recommendations by March 1, 2018.

 

   Amendment supporters said there are many state agencies that serve children and this new group will help coordinate their efforts to ensure children, youth and families are getting the best services possible. 
   (A “Yes” vote is for the amendment).

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
RETROACTIVE BENEFITS FOR GOLD STAR FAMILIES (S 3)

   Senate 38-0, approved an amendment allowing Gold Star Families to be eligible for a $2,000 annual benefit retroactive to the date of the soldier’s death. Current law only pays the benefits from the date on which the family applies for them.
   Amendment supporters said many families take a while after the soldier’s death to apply because they are grieving. They argued that denying these retroactive benefits is cruel and unfair to these families whose child made the ultimate sacrifice for this nation.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
MEDAL OF LIBERTY (S 3)

   Senate 38-0, approved an amendment allowing the closest surviving relative of a soldier who qualifies for the Massachusetts Medal of Liberty to be eligible for the medal. Current law only allows the medal to go to the spouse, children, siblings or parents.

 

   The medal is awarded by the governor to families of Bay State service men and women killed in action or who died in service while in a combat area or who died as a result of wounds received in action.
   Amendment supporters cited the example of a nephew of a Korean War veteran who was not allowed to receive the medal under current law. They argued the law should be changed to ensure that some family member receives the medal.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
$50,000 FOR ALZHEIMER’S PUBLIC AWARENESS CAMPAIGN (S 3)

   Senate 37-0, approved an amendment providing $50,000 for a statewide Alzheimer’s disease advocacy and education organization for a public awareness and education campaign.
   Supporters said that this campaign will teach people many things including early warning signs of the disease and how the family caregiver fits into the picture. They noted more than 125,000 people in the Bay State have Alzheimer’s.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)

 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
   HONOR AND REMEMBER FLAG (H 2680) – The House gave initial approval to a bill designating the Honor and Remember Flag as the symbol of the state remembering soldiers who have lost their lives while serving. The flag would be required to be flown at the Statehouse, all Superior Courts and each city and town on several holidays and occasions including Memorial Day, Flag Day, July 4, Veterans Day and whenever there is a military casualty in the state.
   The flag is a project of Honor and Remember Flag, Inc., a non-profit group whose mission is to “perpetually recognize the sacrifice of America’s military fallen service members and their families.” 
   Supporters say the flag is a tangible and visible reminder to all Americans of the lives lost in defense of our national freedoms. They noted there has never been an official national symbol that specifically recognizes the gratitude and respect to the men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice. 

 

   BOAT EXCISE TAX (H 3667) – The House gave initial approval to a bill allowing cities and towns to put between 50 percent and 100 percent of their proceeds from the boat excise tax into their Municipal Waterways Improvement and Maintenance Fund. The fund is used for the maintenance, dredging, cleaning and improvement of harbors, inland waters and ponds.

 

   Currently, cities and towns are only allowed to put 50 percent of the revenue in the fund and are required to put the remainder in their General Fund. The bill is a local option, one which means that communities have a choice whether to opt into the new law or adhere to the current one.

 

   Supporters say that the state should not decide how local communities spend their money. They note state waterways are in desperate need of more funding and individual cities and towns should have the power to decide how much money will be spent on these projects.

 

   INFORMATION ABOUT BREAST RECONSTRUCTION SURGERY (H 1161) – The Public Health Committee will hold a hearing on June 6 at 1 p.m. in Room A-2 at the Statehouse on a bill requiring all facilities that provide mastectomy surgery, lymph node dissection or a lumpectomy to provide specific information to the patient in writing prior to the patient giving consent to the procedure. The information would include the advantages and disadvantages of various reconstructive options and the coverage of these surgeries under private and state-funded health insurance.
   DIABETES AND ALZHEIMER’S – The Public Health Committee held a hearing on a bill (H 1128) requiring the Commissioner of Public Health to create a diabetes action plan to identify goals to reduce the prevalence and impact of diabetes and improve diabetes care. 
   The hearing also included a proposal that would create the Massachusetts Alzheimer’s Project to accelerate the development of treatments that would prevent, halt or reverse the course of Alzheimer’s disease and help coordinate the health care and treatment of individuals with the disease (H 1123).
  REALTORS MUST LEARN ABOUT FAIR HOUSING (H 139) – The Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee will hold a hearing on June 6 at 1 p.m. in Room A-2 at the Statehouse. One of the bills on the agenda would require that the 40-hour course realtors and brokers are required to take to obtain a license and the 12-hour course mandated to renew their license both include a one-hour course on fair housing.
   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 22-26, the House met for a total of seven hours and 59 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 35 hours and 59 minutes.
Mon. May 22 House 10:08 a.m. to 10:19 a.m. 

                  Senate 11:02 a.m. to 11:13 a.m.
Tues. May 23 No House session

                  Senate 10:08 a.m. to 10:19 p.m.
Wed. May 24 House 10:59 a.m. to 4:35 p.m.

                  Senate 10:01 a.m. to 10:07 p.m.

 

Thurs. May 25 House 11:08 a.m. to 11:20 a.m.

                  Senate 10:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Fri. May 26 No House session

                  No Senate session
 Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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