By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ and representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of April 9-13.
RULES FOR HOUSE BUDGET DEBATE (H 4399)
House 120-33, voted strictly along party lines and approved a set of Democratic leadership-sponsored rules to be followed when the House considers the $40.983 billion fiscal 2019 state budget beginning on Monday, April 23. Provisions include requiring all amendments to be filed online by Friday, April 13 and any proposed tax hikes or reductions to be considered early in the process.
Republican attempts to amend the rules failed on voice votes without a roll call. Defeated were amendments to give representatives until April 17 instead of April 13 to file amendments and at least two hours to review consolidated amendments prior to voting on them. The consolidated amendment system works as follows: Individual representatives file dozens of amendments on the same general subject matters including local aid, social services and public safety. They are then invited to “subject meetings” in Room 348 at which they pitch their amendments to Democratic leaders who draft lengthy consolidated amendments that include some of the individual representatives’ amendments while excluding others. The House then approves the consolidated amendment.
Supporters said these rules are fair and responsible and will help make the budget debate go smoothly. They noted the House has adopted many reforms over the years to make the process more transparent.
Opponents said the rules include several provisions that are anti-democratic and weaken the input of individual members. They noted legislators should have more time to file budget amendments and review complicated consolidated amendments which are often voted on before members can finishing reviewing them.
(A “Yes” vote is for the rules. A “No” vote is against the rules.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes
STUDENT LOAN BILL OF RIGHTS (S 2380)
Senate 36-0, approved and sent to the House a bill giving greater protections to borrowers in disputes with companies servicing their student loans.
Provisions include requiring that all student loan servicers be licensed by the Division of Banks; creating the position of Student Loan Ombudsman in the attorney general’s office; assisting in resolving complaints from students; allowing the Commissioner of Banks to revoke or refuse to renew a lender’s license if the company is engaged in abusive practices such as overcharging students or steering them into costlier repayment plans to make higher profits; and permitting the Commissioner of Banks to take enforcement action against companies that are violating any of these laws or regulations.
“A college degree has never cost so much,” said Sen. Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow), the lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate. “As a result, students are taking on substantial debt, and they are being taken advantage of by servicers who use deceptive practices and wrongly steer them into costly repayment plans. While the Trump Administration, led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, continues to side with large for-profit student loan servicers and strip away protections for student loan borrowers, we in Massachusetts are standing up to protect our residents from predatory student loan companies.”
“It is critical that we protect our students and student loan borrowers from predatory and unscrupulous loan servicers,” said Deirdre Cummings, Legislative Director of MASSPIRG. “The need for state oversight could not be more urgent. ”
“With the cost of college tuition skyrocketing, more students and families are driven to seek student loans to pay for it,” said Theresa Soldan, a student at Salem State University and chair of MASSPIRG Students. “Data collected by The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) shows that in Massachusetts last year, nearly two-thirds of students in an undergraduate program graduated with student debt. This debt amounted to almost $30,000 per student on average — an astonishing 75 percent increase since 2004. Massachusetts students have the 11th highest average student debt in the nation, according to TICAS.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
$600 MILLION FOR LOCAL ROADS AND BRIDGES (S 2409)
Senate 36-0, approved a bill authorizing $600 million over three years to fund the maintenance and repair of local roads and bridges in cities and towns across the state. The package is a bond bill under which the funding would be borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds. Another provision reduces the term of the bond from 30 years to 20 years and will save an estimated $50 million.
Supporters said the $600 million would help cities and towns keep their roads and bridges safe and allow many vital municipal road projects to move forward. They noted that approving $200 million per year for three years is helpful to cities and towns who will now know the money is guaranteed each year.
The House has approved only one-year funding of $200 million and a House-Senate conference committee will now work out a compromise version.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
OVERSIGHT OF MOUNT IDA COLLEGE ACQUISITION – The Senate approved a bill authorizing the Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight to hold a hearing on the pending acquisition of Mount Ida College by UMass Amherst.
According to the bill the hearing will be on “the merits of the pending acquisition of Mount Ida College by the University of Massachusetts as it relates to the fiscal impact of assuming debt and related impacts on the well-being of students, access to and quality of public higher education opportunities, existing student loans and scholarships, and impacts on other public institutions of higher education.”
UMass has promised current Mount Ida students in good academic standing admission to UMass Dartmouth next year. But skeptics said there are students at Mount Ida who are in programs that aren’t offered at the Dartmouth campus.
“We in the Massachusetts Senate feel as though we do not have enough information on this hasty acquisition,” said Senate President Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester). “I hope that more information is soon to come so that we can better analyze the diverse impacts of such an acquisition.”
“The pending acquisition of Mount Ida College by UMass came as a surprise to my colleagues and me,” said Sen. Mike Rodrigues (D-Westport). “There are a lot of unanswered questions about how this will affect the well-being of students and educators and impact the UMass system as campuses struggle to minimize costs. Protecting our students is, and must continue to be, our number one priority as we seek to learn more about the impacts of the acquisition on our public higher ed institutions.”
EDUCATION BILLS SENT TO STUDY – Over the past two months, various committees shipped several bills off to a “study committee.” Most measures that are sent to a study committee are never actually studied and are essentially defeated. Here are some of the bills that were sent to a study committee by the Education Committee and will likely be refiled by their sponsors in 2019:
EQUAL CHANCE AT ATHLETICS (H 273) – Ensures that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to try out for and participate in mainstream physical education and athletic programs. The measure also requires that each school make reasonable modifications necessary to provide students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate, to the fullest extent possible, in these programs. Schools are exempt from these requirements if any present a safety risk to the student or to others or fundamentally alter the nature of the program.
“Every student should have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of organized athletic competition,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Kevon Honan (D-Boston).
REQUIRE HAND SANITIZERS IN ALL CLASSROOMS (H 317) – Requires each classroom and entrance to a school to have a wall-mounted hand sanitizer dispenser that dispenses liquid chemical germicide like Purell that is used to clean hands and reduce the spread of germs.
Supporters say the requirement would teach good hygiene habits and reduce illnesses.
“At the beginning of each school year parents are asked if they can supply hand sanitizer for their child, specifically in the lower grades, and many do but when the supply is exhausted it is not replaced,” said the measure’s sponsor Rep. Al Silvia (D-Fall River). “This would resolve the problem for educators, and parents. It is not an expensive project and could be instituted at a very low cost.”
STUDENTS USE OF SUNSCREEN AT SCHOOLS (H 229) – Gives Bay State students the right to use sunscreen during the school day without a physician’s prescription. Under current law, sunscreen products are regulated as “drug” products and cannot be used by students on school grounds without a prescription.
Massachusetts would join five other states that allow this: California, New York, Utah, Oregon and Texas. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, just one sunburn event during childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.
“Routine application of sunscreen significantly reduces children and young adult’s risk of developing Melanoma skin cancer in life,” said sponsor Sen. Julian Cyr (D-Truro) during a hearing on the bill. “Schools that set policies to educate students on UV radiation exposure and allow our youth to use sun protection are in the public’s best health and safety interests.”
ALLOW SCHOOLS TO DONATE LEFTOVER (S 292) – Allows Bay State schools to donate excess, unconsumed food and beverages from meals served at the school to community food pantries, soup kitchens and other non-profit organizations that distribute food to the poor and disadvantaged.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education would notify schools and the organizations of this new opportunity and develop guidelines on how the schools can best donate excess food in a safe and sanitary manner.
Supporters say it is irresponsible not to allow schools to help feed hungry families instead of throwing the food out.
Opponents express concern over the safety of donating food and the problems of keeping the conditions sanitary.
ERGONOMICALLY CORRECT SCHOOLS (H 279) – Requires the state’s School Building Assistance (SBA) program to consider the integration of ergonomically correct models for classrooms and laboratories of new or renovated schools.
The SBA program is the state program that provides grants to communities for building new schools or renovating older ones.
Ergonomics is the science of designing equipment, furniture and a building’s environment to ensure comfort and reduce fatigue. This includes classroom design, lighting, computers and furniture.
Supporters say that many schools are way behind the times in ergonomics and argued that these problems can affect a child’s education.
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 April 9-13, the House met for a total of four hours and one minute while the Senate met for a total of five hours and 25 minutes.
Mon. April 9 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:11 a.m.
Senate 11:11 a.m. to 11:26 a.m.
Tues. April 10 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. April 11 House 11:01 a.m. to 2:54 p.m.
Senate 11:13 a.m. to 3:43 p.m.
Thurs. April 12 House 11:08 a.m. to 11:18 a.m.
Senate 11:03 a.m. to 11:43 a.m.
Fri. April 13 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at email@example.com