By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local legislators’ votes on roll calls from the week of July 24-28.
GOV. BAKER’S MASSHEALTH CHANGES (H 3822)
House 41-116, Senate 32-6, rejected Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposal to make some major changes to MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program that provides health care for approximately 1.4 million qualified low-income and disabled persons.
Supporters said Baker’s plan is a humane and responsible approach and argued that under the changes, not a single person would lose coverage, and low-income families would continue to have access to zero-premium health plans.
Some opponents said the Legislature just a few days ago held a hearing on these changes and argued more time is needed to consider strategies to control cost growth in MassHealth and the entire health care system. Others said the changes will kick 100,000 working parents off MassHealth in favor of more expensive insurance with less coverage.
In his message to the Legislature Baker said, “Passage of this package in its entirety, a set of changes supported by many stakeholders, is essential to the long-term sustainability of the MassHealth program and the state budget.”
House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez (D-Boston) led the charge in the House to defeat the governor’s proposal. “We have to be really thoughtful about how we go about this because this is people’s lives that are at stake and we have to make sure we’re careful,” said Sanchez.
“At the Legislature’s request, the [Baker] administration presented lawmakers with a comprehensive package that ensures quality health care coverage for residents, addresses the health care safety net’s fiscal sustainability over time while protecting taxpayers from having to pick up the bill for more individuals’ health care, and the administration looks forward to continuing to work collaboratively on solutions,” Baker’s press secretary Lizzy Guyton said in a statement following the defeat.
Rep. Christine Barber Voted against Baker’s Plan Rep. Mike Connolly Voted against Baker’s Plan Rep. Denise Provost Voted against Baker’s Plan Sen. Patricia Jehlen Voted against Baker’s Plan
PROPERTY TAX REDUCTIONS (S 2124)
Senate 39-0, approved and sent to the House a bill providing a variety of property tax breaks for seniors, veterans and disabled persons.
Provisions include raising from $1,000 to $1,500 the amount of property tax reduction veterans can earn by doing volunteer work in their city or town; creating a new local option property tax exemption for deaf persons of $5,000 of taxable valuation or $437.50 of actual taxes due, whichever is greater; and allowing more homeowners over 65 to qualify for the state’s $1,070 “senior circuit breaker” tax credit.
Supporters said it is up to cities and towns whether to offer these tax breaks because the breaks are not state-mandated. They noted the reductions will be good for countless low-income seniors, military personnel and disabled persons and might even help some of them remain in their homes, rather than having to move because they can’t afford to pay their property taxes.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
$2,000 PROPERTY TAX REDUCTION FOR VOLUNTEERS OVER 60 (S 2124)
Senate 15-23, rejected an amendment that would raise from $1,500 to $2,000 the amount of property tax reduction seniors over 60 can earn by doing volunteer work in their city or town which has opted into this program. Local cities and towns are not required to offer the volunteer program.
Amendment supporters said the increase will give some seniors an additional $500 reduction in their property taxes. They noted this is an important change that will allow more seniors to remain in their homes.
Most amendment opponents said they support the hike but noted that there is already a similar bill that has received a favorable report from the Revenue Committee and will eventually be debated by the Senate. They said that bill, unlike this amendment, has gone through the regular legislative process including a public hearing.
(A “Yes” vote is for the hike to $2,000. A “No” vote is against the hike.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen No
$1,500 PROPERTY TAX REDUCTION FOR VETERAN VOLUNTEERS (S 2124)
Senate 39-0, approved an amendment that would raise from $1,000 to $1,500 the amount of property tax reduction veterans can earn by doing volunteer work in their city or town which has opted into this program. Local cities and towns are not required to offer the volunteer program.
Amendment supporters said this additional $500 would help many veterans and their families further reduce the cost of their property taxes during this tough economy and in some cases, might even prevent them from being forced out of their homes.
(A “Yes” vote is for the hike to $1,500.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE FOR ALS (H 1697
Senate 39-0, approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill annually designating the first week in August as Ice Bucket Challenge Week to honor the contributions of Pete Frates and others who participate in raising funds and awareness to battle amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).
Frates in the Beverly resident who was diagnosed with ALS in 2012 and has inspired millions of people around the world to dump ice on their heads to raise awareness of the disease and raise money to fight it. The House approved the bill on a voice vote without a roll call.
Supporters said that the ice bucket challenge has raised millions of dollars to help find a cure for ALS. They noted that designating a week as Ice Bucket Challenge Week will help publicize the event and lead to the raising of more money.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
MARIJUANA – Gov. Baker signed into law the 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 law gives cities and towns the ability to exercise local control and ban or limit the opening of marijuana stores.
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 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; allowing each person to grow six plants per person in his or her home, with a maximum of 12 plants per household; allowing advertising on TV, radio, billboard, print or the Internet only in markets where at least 85 percent of the audience is over 21; and banning retail shops from being located near school zones.
“We appreciate the careful consideration the legislature took to balance input from lawmakers, educators, public safety officials and public health professionals, while honoring the will of the voters regarding the adult use of marijuana,” said Gov. Baker.
“We take elected officials at their word that there will be no more delays in implementation of the legal sales system. The state will benefit greatly from the tax revenues and jobs created by the new industry, and we are confident lawmakers will secure appropriate funding to get the regulatory system up and running on the current timeline,” said Jim Borghesani, spokesperson for the 2016 ballot question campaign.
DETAINING IMMIGRANTS – The state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled last week that current state law does not give the authority to Massachusetts court officials and law enforcement officials, including police officers and sheriffs, to hold any immigrants solely at the request of the federal government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The ruling stated that state law “provides no authority for Massachusetts court officers to arrest and hold an individual solely based on a federal civil immigration detainer, beyond the time that the individual would otherwise be entitled to be released from state custody.”
“Today’s decision was a victory for immigrants and for all who value civil rights,” said Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. “It provides much-needed clarity for Massachusetts law enforcement at a time when they’re under a lot of pressure from the federal government to detain non-criminal immigrants and support deportation efforts.”
Rep. Jim Lyons (R-Andover) disagrees and is working with other Republican lawmakers on legislation that gives the authority to local police and court officers to enforce federal law. “The people of Massachusetts deserve to have their community safe and we believe this is incumbent upon us as a Legislature [to do so],” said Lyons. “Every day that they [the Democrats] refuse to address the underlying safety of our communities, they are putting our citizens at risk.” He also noted that the Legislature can move quickly when it wants to as be shown by the approval of some hefty legislative pay raises in January in a mere 48 hours.
HORSEBACK RIDERS UNDER 18 MUST WEAR HELMETS (H 3265) – The House gave initial approval to a bill that would require all horseback riders under 18 to wear a helmet. A $50 fine would be imposed on violators or the violator’s parents if the violator is under the age of 17.
Supporters said the mandate will prevent many injuries and save lives.
Opponents said parents should have the authority to decide on whether their child wears a helmet. They said to watch out for a slippery slope which will eventually lead to a law requiring adults over 18 to also wear helmets.
ALLOW CITIES AND TOWNS TO ATTEND CAR AUCTIONS (H 1998) – The House gave initial approval to a bill that would allow cities and towns to have a representative attend motor vehicle auctions. Current law only allows people with Class 2 vehicle sales licenses or car dealer licenses to attend.
Supporters said this change in the law would enable municipalities to buy used vehicles at car auctions and save money.
BAN LEAD IN CHILDREN’S JEWELRY (H 187) – The House gave initial approval to legislation that would require all children’s jewelry sold in the Bay State to meet certain federal safety standards.
Supporters said a child who swallows or licks jewelry containing lead or cadmium is at high risk of developing very serious and potentially life-threatening health problems including kidney, bone and liver disease.
ALLOW CHARITIES TO BE BENEFICIARIES (H 203) – The House gave initial approval to a proposal allowing a person to designate a charity or non-profit as the beneficiary of the person’s Lottery winnings – an action that is not allowed under current law.
Supporters said current law allows a winner to give the money to family members but not to a charity. They argued this is unfair and makes no sense.
FAIRNESS FOR PREGNANT WORKERS (H 3816) – Gov. Baker signed into law 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.
“This bipartisan legislation extends critical protections to women in the workplace and I thank the Legislature for their collaboration with advocates from both the women’s health and business communities,” said Gov. Baker.
“Pregnant workers will never again have to choose between keeping their job and the health of their pregnancy,” said Senator Joan Lovely (D-Salem), the Senate sponsor of the original version of the bill.
“Today, once again, Massachusetts has acted boldly to advance the cause of civil rights, women’s rights, and equal opportunity,” said Rep. David Rogers (D-Cambridge) the House sponsor of the original version of the bill.
QUOTABLE QUOTES – By the Numbers Edition
The record-tying number of women currently in the 40-member Massachusetts Senate following last week’s election of Arlington Democrat Cindy Freidman in a special election to fill the seat of the late Sen. Kenneth Donnelly.
The number of Republican women in the Massachusetts Senate.
The pay cut (from $115,000 to $110,000) taken by Adam Elias, director of public safety at the Convention Center Authority, in his new position as director of Statehouse security
The pay raise (from $77,547 to $97,547) given to former assistant vice chair position of the Senate Ways and Means Committee Sen. Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville) in her new position as one of three Senate assistant majority leaders.
The amount that the MBTA says it will save by canceling phone service to about 580 cellphones that were not being used.
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 24-28, the House met for a total of seven hours and 24 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 11 hours and 36 minutes.
Mon. July 24 House 11:03 a.m. to 1:33 p.m.
Senate 11:07 a.m. to 1:31 p.m.
Tues. July 25 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. July 26 House 11:01 a.m. to 5:09 p.m.
Senate 1:05 p.m. to 5:04 p.m.
Thurs. July 27 House 11:10 a.m. to 11:56 a.m.
Senate 11:15 a.m. to 4:28 p.m.
Fri. July 28 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org