By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local legislators’ votes on roll calls from the week of July 17-21.
REGULATE MARIJUANA (H 3818)
House 136-11, Senate 32-6, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a conference committee compromise version 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. The House and Senate several weeks ago had approved different versions of the bill.
The measure taxes all marijuana sales with a 10.75 percent excise tax, 6.25 percent state sales tax and a local option allowing cities and towns to impose an additional tax of up to 3 percent. In addition, any agreement between a retail marijuana establishment and a host community for the first five years may include a community impact fee of up to another 3 percent paid by the seller to the city or town to cover the costs imposed upon the municipality by the operation of the establishment. Medical marijuana remains tax-free.
If a city or town voted against for the 2016 marijuana ballot question, the decision to prohibit or restrict marijuana establishments will be determined by the municipality’s governing body until December 2019. If a municipality approved the ballot initiative, the decision can only be made through a local city or town wide referendum.
Other key provisions of the new law include:
Allowing persons over 21 to give an ounce or less of marijuana to others; possess up to one ounce of marijuana outside their home and ten ounces in their home. Any quantity above one ounce in the home must be under lock and key.
Allowing each person to grow six plants per person in his or her home, with a maximum of 12 plants per household.
Prohibiting plants that can be visible by neighbors or from a public place and putting growing areas under lock and key.
Giving landlords the right to prohibit smoking or growing of marijuana on their properties.
Allowing advertising on TV, radio, billboard, print or the Internet only in markets where at least 85 percent of the audience is over 21.
Banning retail shops from being located near school zones.
Jim Borghesani, Director of Communications for “Yes on 4,” the group that led the campaign to legalize marijuana said that he favors the lower 12 percent tax that voters approved and noted that while the final 20 percent tax is higher than he wanted, it is not nearly as high as the House’s original 28 percent tax.
“We have said all along that the law passed by voters last November needed no fixes or improvement,” said Borghesani. “But the Legislature decided to change it, and we fought hard to ensure that the changes respected the will of the voters as much as possible. The final bill, thanks to the Senate’s moderate approach, did not include the damaging components of the House approach.”
“A total tax rate of up to 20 percent is necessary to help regulate this new industry and to address inevitable challenges, primarily the increased exposure of marijuana to young people, ” said Rep. Rona Mariano (D-Quincy). “The black market will be searching for new customers and this bill calls for increased funding for early intervention services and public awareness campaigns, and provides significant barriers to prevent children of our communities from being indoctrinated into this market by advertising campaigns aimed to attract them.”
“I don’t think in five years, 10 years, or 20 years from now, we’re going to look back on this decision to legalize marijuana and think it was the best decision for Massachusetts,” said Sen. Donald Humason (R-Westfield). “We’re already starting to see questions about implementation and legal implications, so I anticipate we’ll see some buyer’s remorse on this question down the road.”
“We have protected the right of adults to grow, possess and use marijuana,” said Sen. Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville), Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy. “This bill increases public health and safety protections, and specifies ways to prevent products from appealing to young people. The tax rate remains among the lowest in the country, and the same as in Oregon, often seen as successful.”
Rep. Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) said she couldn’t support the bill because it did not include a substance abuse fund to combat the opioid epidemic and to pay for overall substance abuse prevention, education, treatment and recovery initiatives. She noted that the House leadership proposed raising taxes on marijuana to 28 percent, higher than what was passed on the ballot, citing the need to create such a fund.
“When the final bill reached the floor, however, the bill had no substance abuse fund included but still raised the tax from 12 percent that voters approved to 20 percent,” said DiZoglio. “The additional marijuana revenue that was supposed to be used for a substance abuse fund will now instead be subject to appropriation and directed to the General Fund.”
(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 Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
FAIRNESS FOR PREGNANT WORKERS (H 3816)
Senate 38-0, approved and sent to Gov. Baker the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act that prohibits an employer from discriminating against, refusing to employ or firing a woman because she is pregnant or has a condition related to pregnancy.
The measure guarantees 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; and a private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk — unless any of these would create an undue hardship on the employer.
Supporters said a pregnant woman should not have to fear losing her job when she could continue working with some reasonable adjustments. They argued that no one should have to choose between a healthy pregnancy and a weekly paycheck.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
SEX EDUCATION IN SCHOOLS (S 2113)
Senate 31-6 approved and sent to the House a bill requiring that all public schools offering a comprehensive sexual health education curriculum must “provide medically accurate, age-appropriate sexual health education.”
Under current law, public schools are not required to teach sex education and the bill does not change that but rather mandates that any schools that choose to teach sex education are required to follow a curriculum, based on age, that includes human anatomy; reproduction and sexual development; the benefits of abstinence and delaying sexual activity; the importance of effectively using contraceptives to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS; ways to effectively discuss safe sexual activity; relationship and communication skills to form healthy, respectful relationships free of violence, coercion and intimidation; and information about gender identity and sexual orientation for all students, including recognition that people have different sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.
The measure also requires any school offering sex education to notify parents about the school’s sexual health education curriculum, give parents the right to withdraw a student from the instruction and create a process for parents to inspect the program instruction materials before the start of the course.
Supporters said that under the bill, local cities and towns still have the authority and power to decide whether sex education is taught in their schools. They said the measure will ensure that schools that choose to teach sex education will have a framework to follow. They noted the bill will prepare students to make healthy decisions and will reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Opponents said local school committees, parents, teachers and administrators should have the authority to decide what will be included in any sex education course that is offered. They noted the bill gives way too much power to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to mandate what kind of things are taught. They argued that the definition of “age appropriate” in the bill is vague and basically leaves that entire decision up to DESE.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
“OPT IN” INSTEAD OF “OPT OUT” (S 2113)
Senate 9-29, rejected an amendment that would change the provision of the bill that allows parents to opt their child out of the sex education course and instead make the course an elective into which parents can opt.
Amendment supporters said that if students go on a simple field trip, parents must opt in and it should be no different for a controversial sex education course. They said the opt in provision puts parents in control instead of having the state in control by default.
Amendment opponents said the amendment would gut the bill and noted that as written, the bill does not require schools to offer a sex education course and if they do, then parents are can easily opt out of it. They argued that schools do not have an opt in for subjects like science, math and English. They said that it would be difficult to get a response from every parent and would require school districts to chase them down.
(A “Yes” vote is for “opt in.” A “No” vote is for “opt out.”)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen No
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
BUSINESS TELEPHONE LISTING (H 184) – The House gave initial approval to a bill that would prohibit a business from listing a local telephone number in a phone directory if calls are routinely forwarded to a non-local number and the listing does not give the true physical address of the business.
Supporters said this would prohibit businesses from misrepresenting their location and fooling people into thinking an out-of-town company is in their town.
SANCHEZ IS NEW HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS CHAIR – Brian Dempsey, the House Ways and Means Chairman, resigned from the House last week to become senior vice president and chief operating officer of ML Strategies, a well-known and well-connected lobbying firm. Speaker Bob DeLeo (D-Winthrop) appointed Jeffrey Sanchez (D-Boston) to succeed Dempsey in what is arguably the second most powerful person in the House behind DeLeo.
“I am proud to nominate Chairman Sánchez as Chair of House Ways & Means,” DeLeo said in a statement. “His intellect, experience and leadership skills make him an ideal fit for the role. Jeff is someone who is able to understand the finer points of policy and translate them into workable solutions.”
“I’m incredibly humbled to be nominated for this position by the speaker,” Sanchez said in a statement. “Having chaired the Committees on Public Health and Health Care Financing, I hope to use this post to protect those in most need of it – like many of my constituents – while protecting our state finances and the Massachusetts economy.”
TASERS (H 1249) – The Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security held a hearing on a bill that would allow people who have a firearms license to also possess and use a Taser, also known as a stun gun, for self-defense. The person must be 18 years of age or older and have completed a 4-hour training session in the use of a Taser.
The training session would include an explanation of self-defense, a review of the mechanics of a Taser and the effects of the weapons on individuals with pre-existing medical conditions.
In March 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Massachusetts law that prohibits citizens from possessing and using a Taser violates the Second Amendment.
Supporters of the bill say it would put the Bay State in compliance with the Second Amendment. They note that it is essential that individuals have the right of self-defense. They argue that the device is designed to incapacitate, not kill, an attacker at short range and relieve the shooter from the possibility of harming an attacker or another person by mistake.
Opponents say Tasers do not belong in the hands of non-law enforcement people. They note that Tasers have killed and seriously injured many victims.
EDUCATION BILLS – The Education Committee held a hearing on 30 bills including:
STUDENTS MUST LEARN CPR (H 3733) – Requires all public high school students to study and demonstrate a general knowledge of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the use of automatic external defibrillators as a prerequisite for graduation.
SCHOOL ASSEMBLY ON OPIOIDS (S 303) – Requires all public schools to hold at least one assembly for high school seniors that illustrates the statistics and dangers of opioid addiction and the Good Samaritan laws relating to overdose prevention.
PARENTS MUST LEARN ABOUT RISKS OF OPIOIDS (S 273) – Requires all parents to receive a minimum of 2-hours of state-approved education about the dangers of prescription drug abuse before their son or daughter can enter seventh grade.
FOOD ALLERGY PLAN IN SCHOOLS (S 228) – Requires all schools to develop a Food Allergy Management and Prevention Plan to address food allergy safety and training. The plan would apply to all members of school staff including teachers, administrators, school nurses, cafeteria workers, custodians, bus drivers and athletic coaches.
SCHOOL BREAKFAST FOR ALL (H 327) – Requires schools that have at least 60 percent or more students eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the federal National School Lunch Program offer all students in that school a school breakfast.
CANNOT CUT BACK ON RECESS (H 2848) – Prohibits public elementary schools from decreasing the amount of recess time for students because of any changes in standards or curriculum that the school is required to or chooses to adopt.
DONATE FOOD TO SOUP KITCHENS AND PANTRIES (S 292) – Requires the Board of Education to develop guidelines for the voluntary implementation by school districts of programs that encourage schools to donate excess, unconsumed and edible food and beverages from meals served in the cafeteria. The food would go to food pantries, soup kitchens and other organizations that distribute food to the poor and disadvantaged.
COUNT CARBS FOR DIABETICS (H 297) – Requires all public schools that serve breakfasts or lunches to list the number of carbohydrates contained in all food products served to all diabetic children, teachers and faculty.
“[Under this bill], concerned family members and law enforcement would be able to petition a court to temporarily remove guns from those who pose a danger to themselves or others. After all, those closest to us are often the first to notice the signs of crisis. This tool would allow family members and law enforcement to prevent tragedies before they occur.”
Josh Horwitz, Executive Director of Coalition to Stop Gun Violence explaining his support for a House bill that allows the petition.
“Massachusetts should more aggressively embrace telemedicine, which can reduce healthcare costs, increase patient satisfaction and is more convenient for both patients and physicians.”
From the Pioneer Institute’s study on telemedicine, the practice of physicians using telecommunication and information technologies to provide health care remotely.
“There is a critical difference between feeling safe and being safe. The bi-partisan support for this bill clearly shows that domestic violence and safety are not partisan issues. Our laws should allow individuals to protect themselves from any type of violence.”
Jim Wallace, Executive Director of Gun Owner’s Action League (GOAL), on the bill that would allow people who have a firearms license to possess and use a Taser gun for self-defense.
“Right now [we are] still discussing it, but I think based upon what’s happening in the budget we’ll have to take a look again at the finances [and] the present condition that we’re in.”
House Speaker Bob DeLeo on whether the Legislature will approve a 2017 two-day sales tax holiday in August that allows consumers to buy most products that cost under $2,500 without paying the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax.
“Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Larry Hogan of Maryland, lead the way with supermajority support from their constituents.”
From the Morning Consult poll showing that Gov. Baker has the highest approval rating among governors in the U.S., with 71 percent of Massachusetts respondents approving his job performance and 17 percent disapproving.
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 July 17-21, the House met for a total of 14 hours and 14 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 14 hours and 39 minutes.
Mon. July 17 House 11:02 a.m. to 2:55 p.m.
Senate 11:13 a.m. to 3:24 p.m.
Tues. July 18 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. July 19 House 11:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.
Senate 11:11 a.m. to 4:22 p.m.
Thurs. July 20 House 11:03 a.m. to 4:09 p.m.
Senate 11:15 a.m. to 4:32 p.m.
Fri. July 21 No House session
No Senate session
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