Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 43 -Report No. 10 March 5-9, 2018

By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

This week Beacon Hill Roll Call reports on some of the bills that were approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker so far in the 2017-2018 session.

Of the more than 6,000 bills that have been filed for consideration, only 212 have been approved and signed by the governor. And only a handful of those were bills that affected the entire state while the vast majority were either sick leave banks or local land taking measures.

Sick leave banks allow public employees to voluntarily donate sick, personal or vacation days to a sick leave bank for use by a fellow worker so he or she can get paid while on medical leave.

Landtakings are local land measures that usually only affect one city or town.

$18 MILLION PAY HIKE (S 16)

House 116-43, Senate 31-9, overrode Gov. Baker’s veto of an $18 million pay raise package including hiking the salaries of the two leaders who filed the bill, House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) and former Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst), by $45,000 from $97,547 to $142,547. The measure also hikes the pay of the Legislature’s two Republican leaders, Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) and Rep. Bradley Jones (R-North Reading) by $37,500 from $85,047 to $122,547. Another provision hikes the salaries of the state’s judges by $25,000 over an 18-month period.

The measure raises the governor’s salary by $33,200, from $151,800 to $185,000; and provides hikes for the other five constitutional officers. It also requires that every two years the salaries of the governor, the other five constitutional statewide officers and the House speaker and Senate president be increased or decreased based on data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) that measures the quarterly change in salaries and wages. Another provision requires that the same formula is used every two years to increase or decrease the stipends that more than 100 other legislators receive for their service in Democratic or Republican leadership positions, as committee chairs or vice chairs and as the ranking Republican on some committees. There is a caveat in all these cases that the amount of money they receive can never be less than it was in February 2017 when the proposal took effect.

There was no shortage or reaction to the raises back in January 2017 when they were approved.

“It is fiscally irresponsible and the process on it was inappropriate,” said Gov. Baker.

DeLeo defended the raises and noted two independent commissions had recommended many of the hikes. “Raises of any type are always the subject of disagreement … I don’t think there’s ever a right time or right place,” he said.

“Congratulations taxpayers, you now have the highest paid House speaker and Senate president of any state legislature in the nation,” said Chip Ford, Executive Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “The Best Legislature Money Can Buy has struck again to make Massachusetts Number One.”

“My standard for judging these things is this: Are we paying a salary adequate enough to enable a family breadwinner or a professional to run for the office?” asked Sen. Mike Barrett (D-Lexington). “This will be the first pay raise in recent memory big enough to draw the interest of people employed in the private sector today. Any resulting competition will be good for the system.”

The measure puts an end to legislative per diems which are travel, meals and lodging reimbursements collected by the legislators. These reimbursements were given to legislators above and beyond their regular salaries.

Another provision increases the annual general expense allowance for each legislator from $7,200 to $15,000 for members whose districts are within a 50-mile radius of the Statehouse and to $20,000 for districts located outside of that radius. This allowance is used at the discretion of individual legislators to support a variety of costs including the renting of a district office, contributions to local civic groups and the printing and mailing of newsletters. Legislators are issued a 1099 from the state and are required to report the allowance as income but are not required to submit an accounting of how they spend it.

The package also gives a $65,000 housing allowance for the governor. Massachusetts is one of only six states that supplied neither a governor’s residence nor a housing allowance, even as Boston is among the most expensive housing markets of any of the state capitals.

The House and Senate attached an emergency preamble to the measure. That meant it went into effect immediately instead of in the usual 90 days. The preamble says, “Whereas, the deferred operation of this act would tend to defeat its purpose, which is to make certain changes in the law for compensation of public officials, therefore, it is hereby declared to be an emergency law, necessary for the immediate preservation of the public convenience.”

Voters are not allowed to collect signatures to put a question repealing the pay raises on the November 2018 ballot because the package includes judicial pay hikes which under the Massachusetts Constitution cannot be the subject of a repeal on the ballot.

(A “Yes” vote is for overriding Gov. Baker’s veto and is for the pay raise. A “No” vote is against overriding the governor’s veto and is against the pay raise.)

Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly No Rep. Denise Provost No Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

$200 MILLION FOR LOCAL ROADS AND BRIDGES (H 2783)

House 159-0, Senate 36-0, approved and Gov. Baker signed into law a bill authorizing $200 million in one-time funding for the maintenance and repair of local roads and bridges in cities and towns across the state. The $200 million would be borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds.

Supporters said this would help cities and towns keep their roads and bridges safe.

(A “Yes” vote is for the $200 million.)

Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

FAIRNESS FOR PREGNANT WORKERS (H 3816)

House 150-0, Senate 38-0, approved and the governor 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.

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.)

Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

REGULATE MARIJUANA (H 3818)

House 136-11, Senate 32-6, approved and Gov. Baker signed onto law 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 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 for the 2016 marijuana ballot question, the decision to prohibit or restrict marijuana establishments will be determined by a local city or town wide referendum.

If a city or town voted against the ballot question, the decision would be made by the municipality’s governing body until December 2019 and then by 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.

The response to the new law was mixed.

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 … 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.”

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

ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS (H 4032)

House 155-1, Senate 37-0, approved and Gov. Baker signed into law a bill that would give public school districts the power and flexibility to offer other English Language Learner (ELL) programs in addition to or instead of the current sheltered English immersion program. The current immersion program, approved by Massachusetts voters on a ballot question in 2002, requires all students, including those not yet fluent in English, to be taught English by being taught all subjects in English and to be placed in English language classrooms.

Supporters said since the year 2000, the number of ELL students in Massachusetts has doubled to more than 90,000 students or 9.5 percent of the entire student population. They argued that schools need the flexibility to implement a program that will fit the needs of their students rather than the “one size fits all” current law. They said that the English immersion mandate is not working and noted that these students continue to lag behind their peers in high school graduation rates and going to college.

The lone opponent offered no arguments.

(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

HANDICAPPED PARKING (H 3973)

House 154-0, Senate 37-0, approved and the governor signed into law a measure cracking down on the misuse of handicapped parking placards including increasing the period of license suspension for wrongful use or display of a placard from 30 to 60 days for a first offense and from 90 to 120 days for a second offense.

Another provision would prohibit the obstruction of the expiration date or placard number and subject an offender to a $50 fine. The measure also prohibits making a false statement on an application for a placard and imposes a fine of $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for subsequent offenses.

Supporters said it is time to crack down on these offenders who are taking spaces that should be used by a handicapped person. They noted a report by the Inspector General revealed widespread abuse of these placards. They noted that many placards still in use belonged to people who had died and said the placards can be used to park all day at most metered spaces, resulting in millions of dollars in lost meter fees to cities and towns.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

ANOTHER SENATOR JOINS RACE FOR SENATE PRESIDENT SENATE PRESIDENCY – Another hat was tossed into the ring to become Senate president in January 2019. Eight-year incumbent Sen. John Keenan (D-Quincy) said he will actively be pursuing the presidency. Keenan joins four senators already jockeying for votes for the high post: Sens. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett), Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) and Eileen Donoghue. (D-Lowell).

The election for Senate president is still ten months way but an early start to the race is a result of former Senate President Stan Rosenberg’s resignation and the election of Worcester’s Sen. Harriette Chandler to serve as Senate president until the new legislative session begins on January 2019.

The Senate Ethics Committee is investigating sexual assault charges against Rosenberg’s husband, Bryon Hefner, whether Rosenberg violated any Senate rules and whether Hefner had any influence over the business of the Senate, as he has claimed to others. The results of the investigation will help determine whether Rosenberg will return as Senate president or whether the Senate will elect a new permanent one in January.

BILLS LANGUISHING – Here are some of bills that were given a favorable report by a committee in 2017 but months later are still languishing in a committee and awaiting action:

RESTRICT IDLING CARS AND BUSES (S 1950) – Approved by the Transportation Committee on May 3, 2017 and now stuck in the Senate Ways and Means Committee is a bill that reduces from five minutes to three minutes the time drivers are allowed to idle their engines. Violators will be punished by a fine of up to $100 for the first offense and $500 for each additional offense.

Supporters say that idling an engine for only fifteen seconds uses more fuel than turning the engine off and restarting it. They argue that idling also increases maintenance costs because it leaves fuel residue that clogs fuel injectors. They note that the proposal would save millions of dollars in fuel costs for individuals and cities and town and would help protect the environment.

Opponents say that the bill goes too far. They argue that the current five-minute ban on idling all vehicles is sufficient and questioned the need approve a new law and to set up another layer of bureaucracy.

FLAGS AT HALF-MAST – Two bills approved by the State Administration and Regulatory Oversight Committee on May 15, 2017 are now stuck in the Senate Rules Committee. The proposals would require that flags be flown at half-staff each September 11 in honor of the brave Americans who perished in the terrorist attack (S 1820); and flown at half-staff from the day of death until the day of the funeral of any police officer, firefighter or other public safety employee killed in the line of duty (S 1817).

PROTECT TROPICAL RAIN FORESTS (H 1708) – Approved by the State Administration and Regulatory Oversight Committee on December 4, 2017 and now stuck in the House Ways and Means Committee is legislation that would prohibit the state from purchasing wood grown in a tropical rain forest or products made up substantially of wood grown in a tropical rain forest except when a public necessity exists, and no other alternative is available.

BAN ELEPHANTS AND WILD AND EXOTIC ANIMALS – (H 418) Approved by the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture on October 17, 2017 and now stuck in the House Ways and Means Committee is a bill that bans elephant acts from being used in traveling circuses and other shows in Massachusetts. Violators would be fined between $500 and $10,000.

Supporters say that these beautiful animals should not have to endure abuse and neglect in order to entertain people. They note the treatment and harsh training of elephants is cruel and breaks their spirit while also causing them to become aggressive.

Opponents say the abuse of any animal should never be tolerated but noted that these types of animals are rarely secure in their natural habitat. “The aim of these bills to prohibit the exhibition of properly cared for and humanely trained animals does not prevent abuse, but rather unnecessarily restricts the ability of the public to view elephants at shows throughout the commonwealth,” said Eugene Cassidy, president and CEO of the Eastern States in written testimony at the hearing back in April.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“Customers already struggling to heat their homes were hit with illegal charges by their gas company. This agreement with National Grid returns millions of dollars to more than 50,000 customers.”

Attorney General Maura Healey on her office’s $7 million settlement agreement with National Grid that will provide credits or refunds to 53,000 customers improperly charged $50 service fees, along with financial assistance to help consumers lower their gas bills.

“I certainly think that it’s going to be very important for all of us to do what we need to do here in Massachusetts to ensure that the election process this year has as much integrity as possible, given all the issues that have been raised about foreign interlopers in our election process here in the U.S.”

Gov. Baker on the upcoming 2018 elections.

“It’s on my radar screen. But you know it’s a huge decision.”

Former Gov. Deval Patrick on whether he intends to run for president.

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 March 5-March 9, the House met for a total of six hours and two minutes while the Senate met for a total of one hour and five minutes.

Mon. March 5 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:42 a.m.

Senate 11:05 a.m. to 11:48 a.m.

Tues. March 6 House 11:04 a.m. to 11:09 a.m.

No Senate session

Wed. March 7 No House session

No Senate session

Thurs. March 8 No House session.

No Senate session

Fri. March 9 House 11:00 a.m. to 2:18 p.m.

Senate 11:05 a.m. to 11:27 a.m.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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