By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.
Debate on gun laws intensifies across America following the death of 14 students and three teachers in the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. One of the proposals that is being discussed is a ban on bump stocks on a state and/or national level.
Bump stocks are devices that are attached to rifles, shotguns or firearms, other than a magazine, to increase the weapon’s rate of fire and mimic a fully automatic weapon that can fire hundreds of shots in succession. These devices were used in the October 2017 massacre in Las Vegas where the shooter used 12 of them, allowing him to shoot, kill and injure more victims.
Massachusetts was the first state to ban bump stocks after the Las Vegas massacre and is one of only a few states with a ban. “Following the tragedy in Las Vegas, I filed legislation that would ban bump stock devices,” said the law’s sponsor Rep. David Linsky (D-Natick). “I reviewed the Massachusetts General Laws and realized that due to a loophole in our laws, the bump stock devices that the shooter used were legal in Massachusetts. I felt that this issue was so important that it needed to be addressed as soon as possible, so I re-filed this legislation as an amendment to a supplemental budget bill, which was passed by the House and Senate in November and then signed into law by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.”
The ban took effect immediately rather than after the 90 days it usually takes for most new laws to go into effect.
House Speaker Bob DeLeo and Senate President Harriette Chandler supported and praised the ban.
“I am proud that Massachusetts has banned bump stocks and I encourage Congress to take this common-sense step,” said DeLeo. “Further, I’m heartened by the results of the House’s 2014 gun legislation which have made the commonwealth the safest state in the nation. Northeastern University recently completed a report, as requested by the House, on the implementation of this law and we are reviewing those recommendations. At the same time, I’m in the midst of discussions with members about various public safety bills.”
“The Massachusetts Senate is committed to pursuing smart, sensible gun control legislation,” said Senate President Harriette Chandler. “The commonwealth is a model for the nation for common-sense reforms in gun control policy, including last year’s ban on bump stock devices.”
Jim Wallace, Executive Director of Gun Owners’ Action League (GOAL), the local branch of the NRA, said that GOAL understands bump stocks were used, in part, to inflict great terror but he believes banning them was simply a distraction from the real issues. “Each time in recent history that the Legislature has acted on these issues it has completely failed to address the human element and specifically mental health,” said Wallace. “In each mass killing we have witnessed the killer is either a terrorist or someone who suffers from severe mental illness or both. But no one seems to want to address those issues seriously.”
Wallace told Beacon Hill Roll Call that one of the most important pending pieces of current proposed legislation for his group is H 1296 which specifically prohibits any cities or towns from approving or enforcing any local gun laws. It states that the right to keep and bear arms is an individual civil right that applies to purchase, ownership, use and possession of guns and ammunition, unless expressly prohibited by state law.
“The bill seeks to prevent local municipalities form harassing lawful citizens by creating patchwork gun laws that prevent people from exercising their civil rights,” said Wallace.
Linsky told Beacon Hill Roll Call that his priority legislation for this session is H 3081 which establishes extreme-risk protective orders. “An extreme-risk protective order is a civil court order that would expand upon current Massachusetts law by temporarily restricting access to firearms by persons who exhibit dangerous or threatening behaviors towards themselves or others, but who are not otherwise prohibited under federal or state law,” said Linsky. “I have received hundreds of calls and e-mails over the past few days in support of this bill, and I am continuing to advocate for the House to bring this bill to the floor as soon as possible.”
Here are the votes of local legislators and the debate from November on the bill banning bump stocks. The House and Senate initially approved different versions of the proposed law. A conference committee worked out a compromise version that was then approved without a roll call vote.
BAN BUMP STOCKS – HOUSE VERSION (H 3951)
House 152-3, approved an amendment that supporters say would ban the sale, purchase or ownership of bump stock devices for weapons. Opponents of the amendment disagree and say that the wording of the bill is vague since the words “bump stock” do not appear anywhere in the bill. Violators under this new law would be sentenced to between three and 20 years in prison.
“This legislation will ensure that no one in Massachusetts can legally possess a bump stock, a device designed to increase the deadliness of these already deadly weapons,” said the law’s sponsor Rep. David Linsky (D-Natick). “These devices were created by gun manufacturers as a workaround of the federal law banning the sale and possession of automatic weapons, and there is absolutely no place for them in a civilized society.”
“It is a poorly drafted and vaguely worded amendment,” said Rep. Peter Durant (R-Spencer). “While I don’t think it is unreasonable to prevent people from getting devices that turn their semi-automatic weapon into an automatic weapon, this amendment has the effect of making any modification to a firearm that could conceivably increase the rate of fire illegal and subject you to at least three years in prison. Simply making a bolt action rifle slide easier, and therefore work faster could be determined illegal.” Durant noted that the interpretation of this law will be left to un-elected state bureaucrats who can change depending on the administration in the corner office.
(A “Yes” vote is in favor of the ban. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes
BAN BUMP STOCKS – SENATE VERSION (S 2177)
Senate 38-0, approved its own version of an amendment banning the sale, purchase or ownership of bump stocks and classifying them under the same law that governs machine guns. The punishment for violating the law would be the same as it is for machine guns: 18 months to life in prison. The Senate version of the bill used the words “bump stock,” so unlike the House, there were no charges that the Senate language was vague.
“This amendment is a necessary and appropriate response to the dangers inherent in these deadly devices,” said the sponsor of the amendment Sen. Cynthia Creem (D-Newton).
“Too many parents have had to bury their children, too many movie-goers have had a fun night out turn into a nightmare and too many Americans fear for their safety and the safety of their families,” said Sen. Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow). “It is time for us to step up and say we will not tolerate this senseless killing anymore — or the ease with which it is carried out.”
(A “Yes” vote is in favor of the ban.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
NO AUTOMATIC INCOME TAX CUT IN 2017 – The April 15 deadline for filing a 2017 state tax return is approaching. Some filers are asking why there is not a state income tax rate reduction for 2017 like the reduction for 2016 when the income tax and long-term capital gains tax rates were cut from 5.15 to 5.10 percent.
The answer is that there was insufficient economic growth in 2017 under the terms of a 2002 law to result in a 2017 cut from 5.10 percent to 5.05 percent — a reduction that would have saved taxpayers millions of dollars.
These automatic cuts do not need the approval of the Legislature. They are part of a system devised by the Legislature when it approved a $1 billion-plus tax hike package in 2002. The package set the long-term capital gains tax at 5.3 percent and froze the income tax rate at 5.3 percent instead of allowing it to drop to 5 percent in January 2003 — a reduction that was approved by voters in 2000. The 2002 law also includes an automatic trigger that reduces both taxes by one-half of 1 percent each year that the state’s economic growth is at least 2.5 percent until each tax is reduced to 5 percent. The growth in 2017 was only 0.059 percent, far below the 2.5 percent required for the cut.
The rate reduction was previously triggered for 2012 from 5.3 to 5.25 percent; 2014 from 5.25 to 5.20 percent; 2015 from 5.20 to 5.15 percent; and 2016 from 5.15 to 5.10 percent.
PROTECT STATE AND LOCAL PUBLIC EMPLOYEES (H 3974) – The House gave final approval to a bill that provides all state and municipal workers with the same protections provided to private workers under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). The Senate gave near final approval to the same bill. Only final Senate approval is needed prior to the measure going to Gov. Charlie Baker.
Supporters say an average of 28 municipal workers per week suffer injuries serious enough to be out of work for five days or more. They noted this protection would cover some 450,000 state and local public workers who perform jobs that are sometimes just as dangerous as private sector ones.
SEPARATE FRYERS FOR SEAFOOD (H 4138) – The Public Health Committee held a hearing on legislation that would require all restaurants to use a separate fryer for the preparation of seafood, and not prepare any other food in the fryer used for seafood.
“Many restaurants do not use separate fryers and oil for seafood,” said the bill’s sponsor, private citizen Brian Donahue. He explained that if you have a seafood allergy and you order french fries or some other fried dish with your meal, it could be prepared in the seafood fryer and you can become violently ill.
HOUSE NOW HAS TWO UNENROLLED REPRESENTATIVES – Freshman Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose (U-Amherst) left the Democrat party last week and changed his voter registration to unenrolled. He joins the House’s only other unenrolled legislator Rep. Susannah Whipps (U-Athol) who left the Republican party in August. According to Goldstein-Rose, 55 percent of all Bay State voters are unenrolled but he and Whipps make up only 1 percent of the Legislature.
“I have always believed good policy should not be defined by political party, and I don’t want to be defined in that way either,” Goldstein-Rose said. This is one way I can embody how I always want to work in the political world and be as inclusive as possible when I reach out to people of all political backgrounds to gather support for bold policy proposals. I want people to truly engage with our political system, instead of making assumptions from the D or R next to someone’s name in the newspaper.”
INCREASE TAX BREAK FOR VETERANS (H 1602) – Awaiting further House action is legislation that makes a change in the current law that allows cities and towns to establish a program permitting veterans to volunteer their services to the community in exchange for up to a $1,000 property tax reduction. The proposal raises the reduction to $1,500.
Supporters said this increase is overdue and will help thousands of veteran homeowners who made sacrifices to defend the nation. The measure was given initial approval on May 10 and has been lingering in committee since then.
“Chairman Kocot was one of the most kind, decent and selfless individuals that I have had the pleasure to know. Peter was the consummate gentleman: gracious with his time, energy and intellect. Peter was the model of a public servant and we are all better for having known him.”
House Speaker Bob DeLeo on the death of Rep. Peter Kocot (D-Northampton).
“In a few short years, tens of thousands of electric vehicles could hit city streets across America … Yet, as of now, most cities are largely unprepared for this pending influx. These vehicles will need a place to charge, so public access to electrical vehicles charging stations will be critical.”
From a report by MASSPIRG urging cities and towns to get ready for an influx of electric vehicles.
“It’s outrageous in my mind. I think anybody who owns a home knows that a little half-bath like this shouldn’t cost $100,000. This contract should have been put out to bid without a doubt to drive the price down. The add-ins kept piling on and piling on until it reached the astronomical, mind-blowing number of $100,000 for a little half-bath.”
Greg Sullivan, research director at the Pioneer Institute on a WCVB report that a bathroom that cost $101,635 was installed last year inside the new Department of Transportation and MBTA board room and office area in the State Transportation Building
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 February 19-23, the House met for a total of two hours and 45 minutes while the Senate met for a total of two hours and 14 minutes.
Mon. Feb. 12 House 11:06 a.m. to 12:01 p.m.
Senate 11:05 a.m. to 11:47 a.m.
Tues. Feb. 13 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. Feb. 14 House 11:03 a.m. to 3:34 p.m.
Senate 1:08 p.m. to 4:04 p.m
Thurs. Feb. 15 House 11:00 a.m. to 3:12 p.m.
Senate 11:01 a.m. to 3:23 p.m.
Fri. Feb. 16 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org