By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators and representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of July 9-13.
OPIOIDS (H 4725)
House 147-0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill aimed at combatting the opioid problem in the Bay State by addressing opioid addiction, prevention and treatment.
The bill creates the Community-Based Behavioral Health Promotion and Prevention Trust Fund to support evidence-based and evidence-informed programs for children and young adults; requires providers to check the Prescription Monitoring Program prior to issuing any prescription for a benzodiazepine; prohibits discounts and rebates for prescription opiates; requires electronic prescribing for all controlled substances, with a few exceptions, effective January 1, 2020; and requires facilities to accept MassHealth coverage on a non-discriminatory basis.
Other provisions establish a statewide standing order for Narcan, expanding access to this opioid overdose-reversing drug without an individual prescription; require emergency rooms to have the protocols and capacity to provide evidence-based interventions following an opiate overdose, including medication-assisted treatment; and establishes a 2-year pilot program to offer medication-assisted treatment at 6 prisons.
“The House of Representatives continued its steadfast commitment to dealing with the relentless public health crisis of the opioid epidemic and the disease of addiction,” said Rep. Denise Garlick (D-Needham) who chairs the Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery and is also a nurse.
“Representatives are deeply committed and responsive to
the desperate need of individuals and families ravaged by this disease and the communities strained by the demands of providing services. The legislation looks to the future and says that a focus on prevention in the community and strengthening and expanding the behavioral health system will stem the tide.”
“It looks to the present and says, ‘we are in this battle together to save lives through care and treatment,’ addressing the urgency that this is truly a life or death issue throughout the commonwealth,” continued Garlick. “Many of the resources in this bill will be available immediately — removing barriers to desperately needed care and giving individuals, families and communities the tools they need, when they need them, where they need them.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes
STUDY AND DELAY 72-HOUR HOLD FOR SOME PATIENTS (H 4725)
House 111-36, approved an amendment to replace a proposal that would allow licensed medical professionals or police officers to authorize the transporting of a patient to a substance use treatment facility for emergency assessment and treatment for 72 hours when the patient presents a risk of serious harm due to addiction and the patient will not agree to voluntary treatment.
The amendment would replace the proposal with a study of the efficacy of involuntary inpatient treatment for non-court involved individuals diagnosed with substance use disorder. The study commission would report back to the Legislature by July 1, 2019.
The study amendment was proposed by Rep. Garlick. “The commission is an example of the Legislature’s thoughtful and proactive approach to the opioid epidemic—not only by passing the best bill possible but also by immediately exploring, in a deliberate way, if the present system of involuntary care … is effective, if it should be expanded, and if there are regulations that could be changed today to address this epidemic,” said Garlick. “This work requires input from agencies, providers, the recovery community, and other stakeholders to ensure the commonwealth has a process that is mindful of stigma and is compassionate and trauma-informed.”
“It’s disappointing to say the least that we are now going to do a study of this issue, after two other legislative committees thought it was important enough to include the 72-hour involuntary commitment language,” said the 72-day hold proposal’s sponsor Rep. Brad Jones (R-North Reading). “This is all about saving lives and helping people overcome addiction. The sooner we can get individuals into treatment, the sooner they can get started on a path to recovery.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the study. A “No” vote is against the study and favors the 72-hour hold.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT (H 4714)
House 143-1, approved an economic development package that would authorize $50 million for a grant program targeting coastal communities and create jobs in the maritime economy sector; $300 million for the MassWorks Infrastructure Program which provides a one-stop shop for municipalities and other eligible public entities seeking public infrastructure funding; and $12.5 million in capital dollars for MassVentures to continue providing competitive grants to Massachusetts-based companies commercializing technologies.
The package also includes several tax breaks including $20 million in credits for any projects designated as an extraordinary economic development opportunity; tax credits to businesses to occupy vacant storefronts in downtown areas; and establishes a $2.5 million Apprenticeship Tax Credit program for apprenticeships in computer occupations, healthcare and the manufacturing industry.
Supporters said the bill would be a real shot in the arm for the state by stimulating the economy, creating jobs and making Massachusetts friendlier to business.
“This legislation encompasses a number of strategic policy measures designed to promote economic opportunity across the Commonwealth and advance Massachusetts’ competitiveness in innovative and emerging industries,” said Rep. Joe Wagner (D-Chicopee). “This bill reflects a thoughtful approach by the House to strengthen the state’s key sectors through an allocation of state resources for infrastructure upgrades, workforce development and job creation.”
Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville), the lone opponent, said there were some good programs in the package, but they were packaged with big tax benefits for the already-wealthy, making the whole bill became too unpalatable for her.
“The federal government passed a tax bill putting $1.3 trillion in the hands of the wealthiest Americans, with the premise that they would invest this windfall in economic development – so they should,” said Provost. “This bill asks Massachusetts taxpayers to fund a package of new tax credits for investors, when many of those same taxpayers will suffer financial loss from the federal tax bill’s $10,000 cap on the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the package. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost No
SALES TAX HOLIDAY (H 4714)
House 127-18, approved an amendment allowing consumers to buy most products that cost under $2,500 on Saturday, August 11 and Sunday, August 12 without paying the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax.
Supporters of the bill said the holiday, which has been in effect for many years, would boost retail sales and noted that consumers would save millions of dollars. They argued that the state’s sales tax revenue loss would be offset by increased revenue from the meals and gas tax revenue generated by shoppers on those two days.
Some opponents of the bill said the state cannot afford the up to $30 million estimated revenue loss and argued the holiday actually generates little additional revenue for stores because consumers typically buy the products even without the tax-free days. They said that the Legislature should be looking at broader, deeper tax relief for individuals and businesses and not a tiny tax-free holiday. Others said that legislators should not vote for this tax holiday when they have not yet restored all the local aid, education and other important program cuts made over the past few years.
(A “Yes” vote is for the tax-free holiday. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Mike Connolly No Rep. Denise Provost No
EDUCATION FUNDING (H 4730)
House 143-0, approved a bill that is a response to some of the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission that in 2015 reported that the current school funding formula and system underestimates the cost of education by $1 billion to $2 billion every year.
The 1993 Education Reform Act established a “Foundation Budget” to make sure all school districts could provide their students with a quality education
The bill provides some $500 million to school districts over five years to help cover the increased costs associated with special education and the health benefits for employees and retirees.
“This bill implements the findings and recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission by establishing a concrete schedule for the implementation of increases to the special education and employee benefits rates in the school funding formula and by directing the commissioner to submit an implementation plan for the low-income and English learner increment changes identified by the commission’s report, said Rep. Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley), the sponsor of the bill. “As a co-chair of the commission, I strongly support the recommendations and look forward to having a concrete schedule in place for all of the recommended changes as soon as possible.”
Unlike the Senate version of the bill, the House measure did not include plans to immediately address and fund underfunded costs of cities and towns tied to educating English language learners (ELL) and low-income students.
Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston) said that the state created the Foundation Budget 25 years ago precisely to help close the achievement and opportunity gaps. “Those gaps have not narrowed in the quarter century since,” said Chang-Diaz. “Yet, the House bill abandons the commission’s recommendations that would target these gaps, opting for yet another study … How long should poor children have to wait while we continue ‘studying,’ rather than simply giving them the resources they need to learn?”
A House-Senate conference committee will try to hammer out a compromise version of the bill.)
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes
AUTOMATIC VOTER REGISTRATION (H 4671)
Senate 38-0, approved a House-approved bill that would automatically register to vote a person who fills out an application with the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) or MassHealth, unless the person opts out. Officials at the RMV and MassHealth would be required to explain to each person that the transaction automatically registers them to vote, unless they opt out; and also inform them that non-citizens are ineligible to vote.
Supporters said an estimated 680,000 eligible voters in the Bay State are not registered to vote.
“Automatic Voter Registration will make voting more accurate, more secure, and more available to all,” said Pam Wilmot, Executive Director of Common Cause Massachusetts which was part of the coalition pushing for the bill. “That’s good for democracy, for election security and for voters. It’s a win for democracy, it’s a win for security, and it’s a win for voters. Utilizing existing technology to modernize the voter registration process just is basic common sense.”
“I thank the Senate for acting so quickly in passing this important piece of legislation, which will allow us to add more citizens to our voter rolls and make the voter registration process even simpler and more convenient,” said Secretary of State Bill Galvin who endorsed the bill back in March. “My office is ready to begin preparing for implementation of this crucial voting reform as soon as this bill is signed into law. I am excited to have this new system in place in time for the 2020 presidential primaries.”
Although no senators voted against the bill, there were 20 representatives who voted against the bill when it was approved by the House last month.
“We need to preserve the integrity of our elections,” said Rep. Shaunna O’Connell (R-Taunton) at that time. “This new law is riddled with major problems from creating another unfunded mandate on cities and towns to giving felons with stolen identities the right to vote.”
Only final approval in each branch is needed before the measure goes to Gov. Baker.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. )
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
$2.2 BILLION FOR CLIMATE ADAPTATION AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION (S 2591)
Senate 38-0, approved a bond bill allowing the state to borrow up to $2.2 billion for climate change adaptation, environmental and natural resource protection and investment in recreational assets. The House has approved a different version of the bill and a House-Senate conference committee will try to hammer out a compromise.
The package includes earmarks for hundreds of millions of dollars for hundreds of projects in legislators’ districts across the state — most of which will never be funded. The Baker administration ultimately decides which projects are affordable and actually get funded, but it cannot fund most of them because the governor’s office is also required to adhere to the state’s annual bond borrowing cap.
Provisions include $475 million for the construction, reconstruction and repair of forests, parks, campgrounds, comfort stations, harbor islands, skating rinks, skate parks, swimming and wading pools, spray parks, golf courses, tennis courts, basketball courts, ball fields, playgrounds and exercise and fitness paths, $60 million for the construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation of seawalls, jetties and retaining walls; and $180 million for state and local dams; and $95 million for water and air quality protection.
An amendment proposed by Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and approved on a voice vote would ban stores from providing single-use carryout bags to customers at the point of sale starting in August 2019.
“There is no need for our sea life or wildlife to have such an ending of their lives,” Eldridge said, citing a whale that died in Thailand that had 80 plastic bags in its stomach.”
“A goal of the Environmental Bond Bill is to preserve our natural resources and promote economic growth, while at the same time maintaining fiscal responsibility,” said Sen. Anne Gobi (D-Spencer), Senate Chair of the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. “We are fortunate in Massachusetts, especially in our area, to have so many wonderful natural resources that make our region an ideal place to live and work. This bill is a prime example of how Massachusetts continues to lead in environmental stewardship; strengthening our commitment to the environment, while maintaining our ability to address our budget needs.”
“Massachusetts experienced three severe coastal storms this past winter,” said Sen. Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth). “It’s clear that the commonwealth, and the South Shore in particular, need to make significant investments in order to improve our resiliency during these events. The investments in the environmental bond bill will allow us to bolster our power grids, strengthen our seawalls, and be better prepared for climate change.”
No senators voted against the bill but when the House passed its version a few weeks ago, there were three votes against it. “Over the last month or so, the House has approved nearly $10 billion in bond spending,” said Rep. Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica), one of the opponents at the time. “We are already at the top of the list for states with the highest debt per capita. We can’t continue to saddle our children with enormous debt.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the package.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION TAXES (S 1551) – A bill before the Senate Ways and Means Committee would allow cities and towns, with the approval of local voters on a ballot question, to increase taxes on payroll, sales, property, fuel, or vehicle excise tax. The funds could be used only for transportation-related purposes including maintaining, repairing, planning, operating, improving and constructing public transportation and transit systems, including roads, bridges, bikeways and pedestrian pathways.
A city or town can act on its own or join other cities and towns to form a regional alliance and pool the revenue.
“Regional ballot initiatives, or RBIs, can help fund a wide range of transportation projects, from roadways and bike paths to all forms of public transit, including commuter rail, light rail, and buses,” said Marc Draisen, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), the regional planning agency for Greater Boston. “Putting locally-raised dollars toward projects that directly benefit the community gives everyday tax payers a critical say in the future of their region. Throughout the country, such ballot initiatives are a key tool in funding transportation improvements and modernization. Massachusetts is one of only nine states where they are not allowed. It’s time to join the rest of America by allowing cities and towns to use this tool.”
“Revenue for the fiscal year that just ended surpassed expectations by $1.2 billion,” said Chip Ford, Executive Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “Capital gains tax collections were so robust it triggered a $290 million transfer to the state’s Rainy Day Fund. Instead of celebrating the taxpayer-generated windfall, Beacon Hill does what Beacon Hill always does: Legislators look for new ways to take even more money from taxpayers. More Is Never Enough (MINE) and never will be, until they take it all.”
BALLOT QUESTIONS 1, 2 AND 3 – Secretary of State Bill Galvin announced the order of the three ballot questions that will be voted on at the November 6 election. Galvin’s office is preparing the Information for Voters booklet that is delivered to every household in Massachusetts and is also online. The booklet explains each question, give arguments on both sides of it and explains what a “Yes” vote means and what a “No” vote means.
The order of the statewide questions is determined solely by Galvin and the order of any local questions is decided by city or town clerks under a vague state law that says, “The state secretary and the city or town clerks shall cause each question appearing upon ballots.”
“[Galvin] generally orders the questions in the order that will be best for ballot layout, particularly with some communities having bilingual ballots that extend onto a second card,” Galvin spokeswoman Debra O’Malley told Beacon Hill Roll Call.
John Tapper, a spokesman for Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim who is challenging Galvin for the Democratic nomination for secretary of state, said Zakim opposes this method and believes the order of the ballot questions should be determined by a random drawing.
“The secretary of state should not have the unilateral power to determine the order, and Josh won’t do it that way,” said Tapper in an e-mail to Beacon Hill Roll Call.
QUESTION 1: PATIENT TO NURSE LIMITS: Limits how many patients can be assigned to each registered nurse in Massachusetts hospitals and certain other healthcare facilities. The maximum number of patients per registered nurse would vary by type of unit and level of care.
QUESTION 2: COMMISSION ON LIMITING ELECTION SPENDING AND CORPORATE RIGHTS: Creates a citizens’ commission to consider and recommend potential amendments to the U.S. Constitution to establish that corporations do not have the same constitutional rights as human beings and that corporations’ campaign contributions and expenditures may be regulated.
The proposal is in response to the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission. In that decision, the court ruled that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting corporations, unions and individuals from donating unlimited funds to Super Political Action Committees (PACs) that do not donate directly to candidates or political parties.
QUESTION 3: REPEAL TRANSGENDER RIGHTS – Repeals the new law that prohibits discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations by adding “gender identity” to existing Massachusetts law which already prohibits discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, sex, religion and marital status.
PROTECT PETS FROM HEAT – The Animal Rescue League of Boston launched its fifth annual “Too Hot for Spot” campaign about the dangers of heatstroke in animals left in motor vehicles during extreme weather conditions.
In 2016, Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill that would prohibit persons from leaving their pet in a car when high or low temperatures could endanger the animal’s health and safety. Violators are hit with up to a $150 fine for a first offense, $300 for a second offense and $500 for any subsequent offense.
Another key provision allows law enforcement officers and everyday citizens, after making reasonable efforts to locate the motor vehicle’s owner, to enter a vehicle by any reasonable means to protect the health and safety of an animal. It also makes them immune from criminal or civil liability that might result from the removal.
Other provisions prohibit leaving a dog outdoors during harsh weather conditions and prohibit a dog from being chained or tethered outside for more than five hours per day or between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. for more than 15 minutes. Violations under the tethering law include penalties of up to $500 or relinquishment of ownership of the dog.
CHANGE THE WORDS “MENTAL RETARDATION” (S 2594) – The Senate approved and sent to the House a bill that would change some references in state law. “Mentally retarded” would be changed to “intellectually or developmentally disabled.” “Handicapped” would become “persons with a disability.”
Supporters said over the years, the archaic words “mentally retarded” and “handicapped” have developed a negative connotation and are commonly perceived as being offensive.
“When describing her daughter, one Massachusetts resident wrote, ‘Maggie is a person first. Her disabilities are part, not all, of Maggie,’ said Sen. Pat Jehlen, the bill’s sponsor. “Individuals with disabilities are people first, and I’m pleased the Senate has taken action.”
CIVIL SERVICE PREFERENCE IN LOCAL CITIES AND TOWNS (S 1389) – The Senate approved and sent to the House a bill that would, allow a city or town to give civil service preference to an applicant if he or she graduated from the local high school, regardless of where the applicant now lives. The measure also gives civil service preference to applicants who lived in the city or town when they attended an out-of-town high school.
Civil service preference is currently only given to an applicant who has resided in that city or town for one year immediately prior to the date of the examination.
“This bill is intended to allow municipalities to hire former METCO students and also to hire former resident students who have not been able to afford to move into the community that they grew up in,” said the sponsor Sen. Will Brownsberger (D-Belmont).
“The Summer Nights Initiative ensures that select facilities, such as parks, pools and spray decks stay open longer to provide additional recreational opportunities for today’s youth to enjoy.”
Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton announcing the fourth annual Summer Nights Initiative, which increases programming and extends the hours of operations at select pools and athletic complexes in several cities across the state.
“This initiative will bring more local resources to our efforts to identify and stop labor trafficking in Massachusetts. With more eyes and ears, we can shed light on this exploitation and hold perpetrators accountable.”
Attorney General Maura Healey urging municipal employees, such as code inspectors, compliance officers, law enforcement and school personnel, to report any forced labor situation as they go about their daily responsibilities serving their communities.
“E-cigarette use among young people is on the rise in the state. It is important that we educate parents about the risks associated with these products and empower young people to make informed decisions about their health.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders upon launching the first statewide public information campaign to educate parents of middle and high school-aged children about the dangers of vape pens and e-cigarettes.
“As Ethos CEO, I’ve dedicated nearly 25 years of my life to helping the elderly and disabled yet, as an aging gay man, the unique challenges of older LGBTs have been near and dear to my heart. Ethos will be working to make sure LGBTs in greater Boston will never, ever have to go back in the closet just because they are old or disabled.”
Dale Mitchell, CEO of Ethos, on Tufts Health Plan Foundation grant to Ethos to support a collaborative and coordinated approach to increase outreach and expand access to programs that will improve the quality of life for older people in the LGBT community.
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 9-13, the House met for a total of 28 hours and 34 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 14 hours and 41 minutes.
Mon. July 9 House 11:06 a.m. to 11:26 a.m.
Senate 11:06 a.m. to 1:10 p.m.
Tues. July 10 House 11:00 a.m. to 9:19 p.m.
No Senate session
Wed. July 11 House 11:00 a.m. to 9:25 p.m.
Senate 11:19 a.m. to 2:11 p.m.
Thurs. July 12 House 11:03 a.m. to 6:33 p.m.
Senate 11:08 a.m. to 8:53 p.m.
Fri. July 13 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at email@example.com