By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE: This week’s roll calls are from the week of June 19-23. The report shows how local senators and representatives voted on House and Senate versions of a bill making changes and imposing new regulations on how the state will regulate the retail sale and cultivation of marijuana. A House-Senate conference committee will soon hammer out a compromise version and present it to the House and Senate.
Representatives proposed 121 amendments to the bill yet there were only five roll calls during the ten hours it considered the bill.
Senators proposed 110 amendments with only five roll calls during its ten hours.
Many of the amendments were not debated but simply approved or defeated on a predetermined unrecorded voice vote. Here’s the way it works:
The fate of each of these amendments were determined earlier by the leadership.
The presiding officer in the House or Senate disposes of these amendments by saying, “All those in favor of the amendment say ‘aye,’ those opposed say ‘no.’ The no’s have it and the amendments are not adopted.”
Or if the fate is approval, it sounds like this: “All those in favor of the amendment say ‘aye,’ those opposed say ‘no.’ The ayes have it and the amendments are adopted.”
Senators and representatives don’t actually vote yes or no and in fact, don’t say a word. They do not even shout “aye” or “no” as one might expect.
MARIJUANA REGULATIONS (H 3768, S 2090)
House 126-28, Senate 30-5, approved different versions of a bill changing some provisions and adding other provisions to the law, approved by voters on the 2016 ballot, legalizing the possession, growing and sale of marijuana. A House-Senate conference committee has been appointed to hammer out a compromise version.
The Senate version keeps the same tax rate that was approved by voters – a 3.75 percent marijuana excise tax and a local option to impose an additional tax of up to 2 percent. Combined with the existing 6.25 percent sales tax, the total tax on marijuana would range from 10 percent to 12 percent, depending on the community. The House version more than doubles the tax rate to 28 percent.
The Senate version requires a city or town-wide ballot question in which voters would decide whether their community wants to opt out of the law or modify it. The House version allows cities and towns to opt out without a town-wide ballot question. Under the House version, some cities can opt out by a majority vote of the city council and approval of the city manager; other cities by a majority vote of the city council and approval by the mayor; and in a town, by a majority vote of the board of selectmen and a majority vote of a town meeting.
Jim Borghesani, Director of Communications for “Yes on 4,” the group that led the campaign to legalize marijuana, prefers the Senate version. “The House … repealed and replaced the historic measure enacted by Massachusetts residents last November,” he said. “They did it with virtually no public discussion or debate. Their bill is wrong on taxes, wrong on local control, weak on social justice and irresponsible on regulatory efficiency – and is a far cry from what voters overwhelmingly approved last year.”
Sen. Pat Jehlen (D- Somerville), Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Marijuana that drafted the bill said her first priority is to protect the will of the voters. “We want to reduce the black market and we want to give opportunities to small entrepreneurs and farmers and people in communities that have been harmed,” she said.
“I could not vote for the final bill, which I still find problematic in too many ways,” said Rep. Denise Provost (D -Somerville). “This bill, after all, is not the Legislature’s legalization initiative. This bill makes major changes to a referendum passed by the voters – and the voters did not approve of warrantless searches or the creation of new law enforcement agencies with other broad and poorly-defined powers.”
“This bill reflects a commitment to legalizing adult-use marijuana while upholding our duty to ensure safety and effective management,” said House Speaker Bob DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “The House placed a premium on health and safety.”
Referring to the 28 percent tax approved by the House, Rep. Brad Hill (R-Ipswich) said, “The tax is way too high – with New Hampshire considering legalizing marijuana, all we would be doing is pushing our business to New Hampshire as usual. Additionally, the black market will continue to flourish.”
Rep. Marc Cusack (D- Braintree), House chair of the Joint Committee on Marijuana, defended the 28 percent tax and said it is in the middle of the pack among the states that have legalized marijuana. “When you are starting off regulating a new industry, you don’t want to be short on revenue and implement this new industry on a shoestring budget,” said Cusack.
“I have many concerns with this bill which not only prevents local residents from having a say on whether or not to allow marijuana dispensaries in their community but also creates a costly new government entity and a bureaucracy whose price tag no one has yet determined,” said Rep. Kate Campanale (R- Leicester).
Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Mike Connolly No Rep. Denise Provost No Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
DRUG ABUSE TREATMENT FUNDS (H 3768)
House 22-131, rejected an amendment that would give money from a $30 million fund for substance abuse prevention and treatment programs only to cities and towns that allow retail marijuana stores and cultivation of marijuana in their community and do not opt out of the law.
Amendment supporters said it reasonable to ban any of these funds from going to communities that opt out. They said when the city or town votes to opt out, it should be aware that their city or town will lose out on this money.
Amendment opponents said individuals who are battling substance abuse should not be denied help and treatment just because they happen to live in a city or town that has decided to opt out.
(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes
CONTINUE SESSION BEYOND 9 P.M. UNTIL MIDNIGHT
House 126-26, suspended rules to allow the House to meet beyond 9 p.m. and continue until midnight if necessary.
Supporters of rule suspension said it is important to remain in session to finish action on the very important marijuana law.
Opponents of rule suspension said it is irresponsible for the House to act on important bills late at night when taxpayers are asleep.
The House session continued until 9:45 p.m.
(A “Yes” vote is for allowing the session to continue beyond 9 p.m. A “No” vote is against allowing it.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes
NUMBER OF PLANTS ALLOWED (S 2090)
Senate 4-34, rejected an amendment that would reduce from 12 to six the number of flowering marijuana plants a home grower is allowed to grow at the same time.
Amendment supporters said that if allowed 12 growing plants, a person could harvest 192 ounces of marijuana per year which could be made into more than 17,000 joints. This would allow a person to smoke 46 joints per day, obviously more than any person can consume. They said allowing 12 would lead to professional marijuana growers coming to Massachusetts to grow marijuana and sell it on the black market at a price lower than the retail stores and to people younger than 21.
Amendment opponents said the statistics cited by proponents of the reduction to six are based on commercial cultivation which yields much more marijuana than home growing. They argued that the ballot question approved by the voters allowed 12 plants and should not be changed.
(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against it.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen No
REGULATE ADVERTISING AND MARKETING OF MARIJUANA (S 2090)
Senate 34-0, approved an amendment regulating the advertising, marketing and branding of marijuana including prohibiting ads on television, radio, billboard and print publications and sponsorship of sporting events unless the advertiser can demonstrate that at least 85 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be at least age 21.
Other provisions prohibit anyone under age 21, any celebrity or cartoon character from being used in ads; advertising that makes assertions that marijuana is safe; the use of unsolicited pop-up advertisements on the Internet; require that an adult-only sign be prominently displayed outside of each marijuana establishment; and require a standard health warning developed by the Department of Public Health be included in all ads.
Amendment supporters said this will help ensure that marijuana is not marketed to anyone under age 21. They noted the voters voted to legalize marijuana for adults, not to promote it to minors.
(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
ORGAN DONORS (H 3434) – A bill before the Transportation Committee would automatically enroll anyone who applies for or renews a driver’s license in the state’s organ donor program. The person could opt out of the program by signing a written notice. Current law only enrolls people who voluntarily sign up for the program when applying for or renewing their driver’s license.
REQUIRE EMERGENCY CONTACT INFO FROM ALL DRIVERS (H 1749) -The Transportation Committee is also considering a bill that would require licensed drivers over age 21 to provide the Registry of Motor Vehicles with the name and contact information of a person to be contacted in an emergency. Drivers under 21 would be required to provide the same information about their next of kin. The information would be stored and first responders could access it by scanning a barcode on the back of the victim’s license.
Supporters cite the case of 20-year-old Joshua Cloutier who was in a car accident in 2003 but since he was over 18, medical officials were not required to contact his parents. He spent three hours alone in the emergency room before his parents were told by the parents of another passenger in the car that Joshua had been in an accident.
Sharon Cloutier, Joshua’s mother, is leading the movement to get this bill signed into law. She has filed it for several years but it has never been approved.
ALLOW BUSINESSES TO OPT INTO “DO NOT CALL” LIST (H 137) – The House gave initial approval to a bill 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; 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.
TWO-DAY SALES TAX HOLIDAY IN AUGUST (H 1548) – The Revenue Committee held a hearing on a bill allowing consumers to buy most products that cost under $2,500 on Saturday, August 12 and Sunday, August 13 without paying the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax
Supporters of the bill said that the holiday would boost retail sales and help brick and mortar stores compete with online sales, many of which are not subject to the sales tax. They noted that consumers over the past several years have saved millions of dollars during similar tax-free holidays. They argued that the state’s sales tax revenue loss would be offset by increased revenue from the meals and gas tax revenue generated by shoppers on those two days.
Some opponents of the bill said that the holiday actually generates little additional revenue for stores because consumers would buy the products even without the tax-free days. They said that the Legislature should be looking at broader, deeper tax relief for individuals and businesses and not a tiny tax-free holiday. Others said that a sales tax holiday is irresponsible when the state is already facing a $375 million to $575 million shortfall.
TAX SUGARY DRINKS (H 3329) – The Revenue Committee heard testimony on a proposal that would tax sugary soft drinks which are currently exempt from the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax.
Supporters said the tax would raise an estimated $368 million that the state would put to good use. They noted the tax would discourage people from buying these drinks and help fight the obesity epidemic and stem the rising tide of obesity-related health issues including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Opponents said families are struggling financially and it is not the time for another tax increase promoted by the “food police.” Some noted that many other things contribute to obesity including a sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercise and fast food consumption.
The House took some time during its session last week to remember and honor their colleague Rep. Gail Cariddi (D-North Adams) who passed away at the age of 63 on June 17.
“One of the warmest and most gracious people that I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.”
House Speaker Bob DeLeo (D-Winthrop).
“A friend to many but asked nothing in return for the friendship that she gave so freely.”
Rep. Patricia Haddad (D-Somerset).
“I can’t help but recall something Sen. [Ted] Kennedy told me several years ago. He pulled me aside and said, ‘Smitty, I’ve been in public life for a long time. I have a lot of associates but I have very few friends. Gail … was a dear, dear friend.'”
Rep. Smitty Pignatelli (D-Lenox).
“She thought so highly of being part of this body and of being a part of the work that she did here.”
Rep. Patricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield).
“I see us bouncing around in a jitney van in Bangkok wearing our crazy funny hats we bought in the open market.”
Rep. Sarah Peake (D-Provincetown).
“She was hardworking. She was smart. She was quiet. She was gentle. But she was also awesome. She was fun. She was fun to hang out with.”
Rep. Paul Mark (D-Peru).
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 19-23, the House met for a total of 14 hours and 33 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 12 hours and 29 minutes.
Mon. June 19 House 11:04 a.m. to 2:59 p.m.
Senate 11:11 a.m. to 12:37 p.m.
Tues. June 20 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. June 21 House 11:48 a.m. to 9:45 p.m.
No Senate session
Thurs. June 22 No House session
Senate 11:09 a.m. to 9:15 p.m.
Fri. June 23 House 11:06 a.m. to 11:47 a.m.
Senate 11:09 a.m. to 12:06 p.m.
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org