By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE: The Republicans in the Senate gained a seat when newly-elected GOP Sen. Dean Tran (R-Leominster) was sworn in last week. The Democrats now have a 33-7 edge. The Republicans’ control of seven seats is the highest in 18 years. Tran won the seat that opened up when former Democratic Sen. Jennifer Flanagan resigned to take a position on the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission.
The 32-year-old Tran was born in Vietnam in 1975. According to his campaign website, he and his family fled the war-torn country and moved to the United States in 1980. He was first elected to the Fitchburg City Council in 2006 and last week he became the first Vietnamese-American state senator in the state.
There were no roll calls in the House and Senate last week.
This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call reports on how often local senators voted with their party leadership in 2017.
The votes of the 2017 membership of 33 Democrats were compared to Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester). The votes of the 2017 membership of five Republicans were compared with those of GOP Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). Beacon Hill Roll Call uses 310 votes from the 2017 Senate session as the basis for this report. This includes all roll calls that were not on local issues. Any roll call for which a senator was absent did not count in determining a senator’s votes with their party leadership.
Only two of the 33 Democratic members voted with Chandler 100 percent of the time: Sens. Cindy Friedman (D- Arlington) and Paul Feeney (D-Foxborough). Both won special elections to replace a senator who left the Senate. Friedman was sworn in on July 26, 2017 and her percentage is based on 249 roll calls. Feeney was sworn in on November 2, 2017 and his percentage is based on only 80 roll calls.
The Democratic senator who voted the lowest percentage of times with Chandler was Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston) who voted with her only 73.2 percent of the time.
None of the five GOP members voted with Tarr 100 percent of the time.
The GOP senator who voted with Tarr the lowest percentage of times is Sen. Ryan Fattman (R-Webster) who voted with him only 78.3 percent of the time.
PERCENTAGE OF TIMES LOCAL SENATORS VOTED WITH THEIR PARTY’S LEADERSHIP IN 2017
The percentage next to the senator’s name represents the percentage of times the senator supported his or her party’s leadership.
The number in parentheses represents the number of times the senator opposed his or her party’s leadership.
Some senators voted on all 310 roll call votes. Others missed one or more of the 310 votes. The percentage for each senator is calculated based on the number of roll calls on which he or she voted and does not count the roll calls for which he or she was absent.
Sen. Patricia Jehlen 97.7 percent (7)
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
BILLS STUCK IN COMMITTEE – Several bills that were given initial approval by the House in 2017, without a roll call vote, are currently stuck in the Bills in Third Reading Committee. All legislation given an initial nod by the full House automatically goes to the Bills in Third Reading Committee which is charged with reviewing the measures for accuracy, grammatical errors, duplication, consistency and constitutionality. Any bill that goes to the Third Reading Committee is supposed to be reported from the committee within 45 days of it being sent there and then go onto the House calendar for possible action. The committee holds many bills for more than 45 days but unless a legislator brings that fact up on the floor at a session of the House, the committee continues to hold the bill, without any consequences. And rarely, if ever, does a member go that route against the wishes of the leadership and the committee chair.
There are ways a bill can be discharged before the 45-day period. After ten days, any representative can make a motion that will discharge the bill from the committee by a majority vote, and get it on the House calendar for consideration by the full House. An alternative method to force the release of a bill and get it on the House calendar is by filing a petition signed by 81 House members asking for discharge in which case the committee must release the bill within seven days of the filing of the petition. Again, members rarely, if ever, go down that road.
A well-placed Statehouse source who requested anonymity told Beacon Hill Roll Call, “It’s no secret that Speaker DeLeo controls the flow of legislation and a bill makes progress in the House only when he wants it to. Every member knows that the biggest sin is to publicly make a motion, vote or sign a petition to discharge a bill from a committee. The leadership frowns upon that and would not be happy with a member who did it.”
Some argue the committee is often a burial ground for bills that will never again see the light of day. They noted that sometimes even one-page bills have been tied up in the committee for months. They say it is outrageous to think that the committee needs months to check a one-page bill for accuracy, grammatical errors, duplication, consistency and constitutionality.
Others say the committee has many bills to review and that it takes time to do the job properly.
“Third Reading has always had a reputation as a tough committee to get a bill out but, I know that last session roughly three-quarters of all the legislation referred to the committee were released to the floor for consideration by the full membership of the House,” said Peabody’s Rep. Ted Speliotis, chairman of the Third Reading Committee. “At this point in our two-year session I do not believe we have an inordinate number of bills in committee. I am more than happy to discuss the merits of any bill in committee with anyone interested.”
Here are some of the bills that are currently being held by the Third Reading Committee:
BAN CELL PHONES UNLESS HANDS-FREE (H 3660) – Approved on June 7, 2017 – Prohibits 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 considered a moving violation for purposes of the safe driver insurance plan.
Supporters say 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 say that the restriction is another example of government intrusion into people’s cars and lives. Others note that there are already laws on the books prohibiting driving while distracted.
ALLOW BUSINESSES TO OPT INTO “DO NOT CALL” LIST (H 137) – Approved on June 21, 2017 – Restricts 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 a business on the list to sue a company for up to $5,000 if the company violates the law and calls the business 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 say 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.
HORSEBACK RIDERS UNDER 18 MUST WEAR HELMETS (H 3265) – Approved on June 7, 2017 – 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 offender is under the age of 17.
Supporters say the mandate will prevent many injuries and save lives.
Opponents say parents should have the authority to decide on whether their child wears a helmet. They say to watch out for a slippery slope which will eventually lead to a law requiring adults over 18 to also wear helmets.
“Under this [federal] tax bill, Eversource and other utility companies are getting a major tax break, paid for by the American people. We’re taking this action to ensure that the companies use these corporate savings to lower rates for Massachusetts customers instead of lining their own pockets.”
Attorney General Maura Healey calling on the Department of Public Utilities to reverse Eversource’s recent rate hike and instead, lower customers’ rates by more than $74 million dollars to reflect the coming reduction of the federal corporate tax from 35 to 21 percent.
“Certain provisions that would adversely affect Massachusetts appear to have been mitigated and the governor appreciates that the bill secures tax breaks for middle and low-income earners, but the administration is concerned about the hurried process resulting in lack of bipartisan support.”
Gov. Baker spokesman Brendan Moss on the federal tax relief bill.
“While President Trump just signed into law – a huge tax break for himself and his billionaire friends and donors, Congress is gearing up to pay for the giveaway by slashing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in 2018.”
Paul Shannon of the Massachusetts People’s Budget Campaign.
“Everyone has their own different forms in terms of leadership, and what Acting President Chandler’s will be I’m not sure. We’ve known each other for a long time – both served in the House together. She’s always been a friend, so I don’t expect any issues.”
House Speaker Bob DeLeo in an interview with the State House News Service.
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 December 18-22, the House met for a total of 2 hours and 17 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 50 minutes.
Mon. December 18 House 11:04 a.m. to 12:07 p.m.
Senate 11:01 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Tues. December 19 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. December 20 No House session
No Senate session
Thurs. December 21 House 11:09 a.m. to 12:23 p.m.
Senate 11:17 a.m. to 11:38 a.m.
Fri. December 22 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org