Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 42 – Report No. 23 June 5-9, 2017

By Bob Katzen 

   THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on the only roll call from the week of June 5-9. There were no roll calls in the Senate.

   House 151-2, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would give local school districts flexibility in educating their English Language Learner (ELL) students. The key part of the proposal would allow schools to implement alternative ELL programs, such as two-way bilingual/dual language or transitional bilingual education programs, based on the needs of their students.
   Supporters said that each student has unique needs and the top-down cookie cutter approach is not working.


   “This bill, at its core, is about allowing districts to exercise the flexibility in programming necessary to best serve their English learner populations — a student group that is not only increasing in numbers but is also very dynamic with a wide range of needs.” said Rep. Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley), Chair of the Education Committee.
   Opponents said the bill imposes an unfunded mandate on cities and towns and disproportionally hurts those communities that have very few English language learners.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.)

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



   BAN CELL PHONES UNLESS HANDS-FREE (H 3660) – The House gave initial approval to a measure that would prohibit 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 phone. 


   Use of a hand-held phone would be permitted in emergencies including if the vehicle was disabled; medical attention or assistance was required; police, fire or other emergency services were necessary for someone’s personal safety; or a disabled vehicle or an accident was present on a roadway.


   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 said 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.


   Some opponents said that the restriction is another example of government intrusion into people’s cars and lives. Others noted that there are already laws on the books prohibiting driving while distracted.


   BAN ON NATIVE-AMERICAN SCHOOL MASCOTS (S 291) – The Education Committee heard testimony on a bill that would ban the use of any Native American mascot by a public school including names like Redskins, Savages, Indians, Indianettes, Chiefs, Chieftains, Braves or Redmen.
  Supporters said the use of these symbols is demeaning to Native Americans and stereotypes them as savages. They said this decision should not be left up to local communities and noted a statewide ban will ensure that no school use these offensive symbols.
  Some opponents said the mascots honor Native Americans by emphasizing positive traits like a fighting spirit, bravery, pride and dedication. Others said this is a decision that should be made by individual cities and towns.
   BAN SEXUAL ORIENTATION CONVERSION THERAPY (H 1190) – The Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities heard testimony on legislation that would prohibit psychiatrists and other mental health professionals from providing conversion therapy to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender minors under 18. The therapy is designed to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.


   Supporters of the ban said being gay, bisexual or transgender is not a disease and therefore does not need a cure. They argued there is no sound evidence that this type of “junk therapy” even works and noted it is known to have increased levels of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, homelessness and suicidal thoughts. 
  Samuel Brinton, formerly from Boston and now living in Washington, D.C., testified that his conversion therapy involved wires wrapped around his hands that would heat up when pictures of gay sex were shown to him and cool down when he was shown straight sex.    


   Opponents of the ban said the treatment has been successful for some children including those whose sexuality was influenced by sexual abuse. Others noted that some people who underwent sexual reorientation therapy felt that they were better off afterwards — even if the therapy was not effective in changing sexual orientation. Some noted that the therapy should not be used on any patient who believes that he or she is simply born with a specific sexual preference


  SCHOOLS MUST REPORT ALL THREATS (H 302) – The House gave initial approval to a proposal that would change a current law that requires principals of all public and private school to immediately report to the local fire department any incidents involving the setting of unauthorized fires within a school building or on school grounds. The measure would expand the law and require the principals to report all threats including biological hazards, shootings or cyber threats.


    Supporters said most schools already report these incidents but there are some that unsuccessfully try to handle these difficult situations themselves.


   MAKE THE TAX THE SAME FOR ALL HOTEL RENTALS (S 1567) – The House gave initial approval to legislation that would prohibit online travel companies from calculating state and local hotel taxes based on the wholesale costs the company pays to the hotel for the room rather than on the retail price that the company charges the consumer buyer. 


   Supporters say this would close a giant loophole that is costing the state lost revenue. They argue that current law allows these online companies to charge less in taxes to their Internet customer than the hotel itself is charging the customer.


   FREEZE INCOME TAX AT THE CURRENT RATE OF 5.1 PERCENT (H 1618) – The Revenue Committee held a hearing on a measure that would permanently freeze the income tax rate at its current 5.1 percent.  


   Voters in 2000 approved a gradual reduction of that year’s 5.85 percent income tax to 5 percent by January 2003. The Legislature in July 2002 froze the rate at 5.3 percent. At the same time, it devised an automatic trigger that reduces the income tax by 0.05 each year that the state’s economic growth is at least 2.5 percent until the tax is reduced to 5 percent. Since that time, the trigger has reduced the tax to its current 5.1 percent. 


   Supporters said that the next 0.05 percent reduction would save taxpayers an average of only $30 per year. They noted the state, already facing a $400 million-plus budget deficit, cannot afford the projected $84 million in lost revenue which would lead to cuts in important programs. 



  Opponents said it is long past time for the Legislature to respect and honor voters’ opinions from 2000 and allow the income tax to return to 5 percent. They noted that when the income tax was first raised in 1989 it was sold as a “temporary measure” that was supposed to last only 18 months. 


      PARENTS CAN’T BE FORCED TO TESTIFY AGAINST THEIR CHILDREN (H 3908) – The Judiciary Committee’s agenda included a bill that would protect biological parents, adoptive parents, stepparents and legal guardians of a child from being forced to testify against the child. The protection would not apply if the child is being accused of committing a crime against a family member. Current law only protects children from being forced to testify against their parents. 


   Supporters say it is time to get rid of this double standard and to have an even playing field.


   NO SCHOOL ON ELECTION DAY (S 327) – The Elections Laws Committee held a hearing on legislation that would prohibit public schools from scheduling classes on any statewide Election Day. The measure would designate Election Day as a professional development day to train principals, teachers and other professional staff in various skills. 

 Supporters say many schools serve as polling places on Election Day. They argue that crowds entering the schools on those days reduces safety at the schools and puts children in danger.
   MUST SHOW ID TO VOTE (H 372) – The Elections Laws Committee’s agenda also included a bill requiring all voters to show identification at their polling places in order to be allowed to vote. Acceptable forms of ID would include any unexpired state or federal government-issued photo ID. This includes a Massachusetts state driver’s license or photo identification card and a United States passport. The measure also provides a free or reduced cost photo ID card to indigent voters who cannot afford pay for one.
   Supporters say it is illogical that all voters are not required to show identification prior to voting and noted that many other states have laws requiring IDs. They argued that people cannot cash a check, rent a car or even enter some government buildings without showing an ID
   Opponents say the bill would disenfranchise thousands of voters including people who do not have a current address because they are in a homeless shelter or domestic violence facility. Others said that there have been no widespread reports of voter fraud in Massachusetts.


   “Conversion therapy is associated with increased levels of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, homelessness and suicidal thoughts and actions. Banning conversion therapy is, therefore, an important step toward decreasing youth suicide.”
   MassEquality Executive Director, Deborah Shields on legislation banning psychiatrists and other mental health professionals from providing minors under 18 with conversion therapy designed to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.



   “Is it possible to find people who will say that they underwent sexual reorientation therapy and found it ineffective? Of course — the same is true of any other treatment, especially for psychological conditions. However, there are also many people who have testified that such therapy was effective for them.”
   Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at The Family Research Council.



   “[It’s] déjà vu all over again …Here we are, again, with the latest scheme to deny taxpayers and voters what was promised by the Legislature 28 years ago [and that] was mandated by the voters 16 years ago.”
   Chip Faulkner, Communications Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation on legislation that would freeze the income tax rate at its current 5.1 percent, instead of letting it eventually drop to 5 percent.  



   “I don’t think we’re seriously considering that. I don’t see that happening at this time.”
   Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) on freezing the income tax rate at 5.1 percent.

  “I don’t think anybody should use anything as a mascot in a derogatory sense.”
   Gov. Charlie Baker on legislation would ban the use of any Native American mascot by a public school.

   “My people need help, but going after mascots is not the kind of help we need. It could get worse for us by causing a division between my people and other people. ‘
   Gene Williams, a Narragansett Native American.

   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 June 5-9, the House met for a total of seven hours and 22 minutes and the Senate met for a total of one hour and 24 minutes.
Mon. June 5 House 11:00 a.m. to 11:16 a.m.

                     Senate 11:10 a.m. to 11:20 a.m.
Tues. June 6 No House session

                     No Senate session
Wed. June 7 House 11:01 a.m. to 4:51 p.m.

                     No Senate session


Thurs. June 8 House 11:01 a.m. to 12:17 p.m.

                     Senate 11:06 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.


Fri. June 9 No House session

                     No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.