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 23-27.
A note to readers from Bob Katzen, Publisher of Beacon Hill Roll Call:
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CREDIT REPORTS (H 4806)
House 152-0, Senate 38-0, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker legislation that would prohibit consumer reporting agencies, like Equifax, Experian and TransUnion from charging fees for freezing and unfreezing a person’s credit information. Under current law, companies can and have charged up to $5 per freeze or unfreeze.
A freeze makes the report inaccessible until the consumer unfreezes it. Since banks and other lenders require access to the borrower’s credit report before giving a loan, this greatly reduces identity thieves from getting a loan or credit in another individual’s name.
The proposal gained momentum following the 2017 crisis when, from May to July, the personal information including names, social security numbers, addresses, driver’s licenses, and credit card numbers of 145 million Americans was stolen from Equifax’s systems. Equifax didn’t reveal the breach until September and consumers lost valuable time to act.
Other provisions of the bill prohibit businesses from obtaining a consumer’s credit report without obtaining written, verbal or electronic consent from the consumer; require credit monitoring services to be available for 3.5 years for some consumers affected by a breach; and improve notices and consumer information the companies are required to give.
“This bill will offer all Massachusetts residents much needed, long-overdue, common sense consumer protection against identity theft and the sloppy dangerous practices by the big three credit reporting agencies,” said Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG’s legislative director.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
SEXUAL MISCONDUCT SURVEY (H 4810)
House 150-0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill requiring all colleges and universities in the Bay State to biennially conduct a sexual misconduct climate survey of all students.
The survey would be anonymous and would include the number of reported incidents of sexual misconduct at the school; students’ awareness of institutional policies and procedures related to campus sexual assault; if a victim reported the sexual misconduct; and if a victim was informed or referred to local, state, on campus or other resources and victims’ access to support services including appropriate medical care, legal support and protection from retaliation.
Sexual misconduct is defined in the bill as incidents of sexual violence, dating violence, domestic violence, gender-based violence, violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity, sexual harassment and stalking.
“I am proud to have filed and championed this bill,” said Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead). “Every campus is different in regard to the prevalence and nature of sexual violence. But what is true of all of them is that all students deserve a safe place to learn, study and grow, as well as transparency from school administrations about sexual violence.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes
SALES TAX HOLIDAY (H 4732)
Senate 31-6, 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.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen No
ALLOW NEIGHBORHOODS TO BAND TOGETHER AND FORM A DISTRICT (H 4546)
Senate 27-10, approved a local option amendment allowing a city or town to authorize the creation of community benefit districts which would allow owners of contiguous property in a city or town to form a district and require property owners in that district to pay for additional services, improvements, events and other projects and activities within the district. The districts would be operated by a nonprofit board.
Supporters say the required payment is an assessment fee. Opponents say it is a tax.
Andre Leroux, Executive Director MA Smart Growth Alliance which supports the bill, said that assessment fees are not a tax. “They are established by local initiative through the development of a management plan, a petition signed by participants, after a public hearing, approval by the City Council or Board of Selectmen, and under the control of a nonprofit management entity that allows broad community input and control. The fees are paid by property owners for services (benefits) that they receive and manage. Is a condo fee a tax? It’s the same principle on a district scale.”
“Condo fees are a voluntary imposition, part of a contract entered into only if one chooses,” said Citizens for Limited Taxation Executive Director Chip Ford who opposes the measure. “They are avoidable. Community Benefit District taxes will be imposed ex-post facto on an unwilling entity by a hungry majority of beneficiaries.”
“Activist organizations from left, right, and middle have united in strong opposition to this power grab,” continued Ford. “It takes a political cataclysm to unite such diverse grassroots factions on anything, especially to today’s political climate. This is one of those rare moments in history. It’s clear this ‘Community Benefits District’ sham should be rejected by those who allege to represent their constituents.”
“Municipalities across the state do their best to create environments that spur economic growth, but they are often dealing with limited resources and capacities,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn). “Community Benefit Districts can help by offering a tool that brings all of the stakeholders together with the goal of making neighborhood improvements, creating jobs, and growing our local economies. These benefits could include improved walkability, lighting, cultural programs, branding, landscaping and support for local businesses.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against it.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ADOPTION OF ANIMALS USED IN RESEARCH (S 2387)
Senate 38-0, approved and sent to the House a proposal that would require that animals used in research labs be allowed to be put up for adoption through animal rescue organizations, rather than being automatically euthanized.
“This is a commonsense bill that would simply ensure that dogs and cats no longer needed for research have the best chance for adoption,” said Kara Holmquist, Director of Advocacy MSPCA-Angell.
“Many animals provide life-saving treatments it is only right that they should be given the opportunity to live out their lives in a loving home,” said Rep. Anne Gobi (D-Spencer) who as chair of the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture drafted this version of the proposal.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
BREAKFAST AFTER THE BELL (S 2626)
Senate 37-0, approved and sent to the House a bill designed to boost participation rates in school breakfast programs in high-poverty schools.
The measure would require that the breakfast be offered only after the school day begins, through a variety of ways including breakfast in the classroom, grab-and-go and second-chance breakfast.
Supporters said that in most schools breakfast is currently offered in the cafeteria before the bell and the participation rate is less than 40 percent of eligible students because of the stigma attached to it. Many students assume that everyone who arrives to school early for the breakfast is from a poor family. The participation rate rises to up to 90 percent of eligible students participating in the lunch program later in the day. They said that moving breakfast from before the bell to after the bell is a proven way to increase breakfast participation.
“No child who shows up to school hungry can possibly be ready to learn,” said Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) a sponsor of the original measure. “I have seen the success of breakfast after the bell in my own district, and I am confident that this legislation will help to ensure that every child in the commonwealth has access to a stigma-free and nutritious breakfast.”
“We have spent the last two years building a strong coalition of support, which includes school stakeholders, hunger advocates and legislators,” said Catherine Drennan, senior manager of public affairs at the Greater Boston Food Bank. “This is the moment we have been waiting for and we are looking forward to passing a bill that will assist with increasing access to school breakfast to over 150,000 low-income students across Massachusetts.”
“By providing breakfast in the classroom and after the bell we have soon dramatic increases in breakfast served and eaten by children.” Said Rep. Aaron Vega (D-Holyoke). “Additionally we have seen (in Holyoke) decreased numbers in school nurse visits, confrontations in the classroom and an increase in on time attendance.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
BAKER SIGNS BUDGET (H 4800) – Gov. Baker signed into law a $41.2 billion fiscal 2019 state budget — a 3.2 percent hike over last year’s budget. The governor vetoed $48.9 million in items that were part of the budget package.
Roll call votes on many of the vetoes will be in future Beacon Hill Roll Call reports.
Fiscal year 2018 ended on July 1 and the state has been without a permanent budget since then. It has been operating on temporary budgets and last week was the last state to approve its fiscal 2019 budget.
“Since taking office, our administration has worked to reduce an inherited budget deficit, build our reserves by over $1 billion and make targeted investments in education, the opioid epidemic and our cities and towns — all without raising taxes,” said Gov. Baker. “We are pleased to sign a balanced budget that manages taxpayer dollars in a fiscally responsible way, while providing a tax break for working families and support for critical services for every resident.”
SPILKA SWORN IN AS NEW SENATE PRESIDENT – Amidst pomp and circumstance, Sen. Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) was sworn in as the new Senate president.
Spilka took over the reins from Sen. Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester) who was elected in December to serve as the temporary Senate president after former President Stan Rosenberg relinquished the position following the scandal involving his husband Bryon Hefner. Rosenberg resigned from the Senate altogether in March after Hefner was indicted on felony charges in connection with sexual assault, criminal lewdness and distributing nude photos without consent.
“As we turn the page and look to the future, I pledge to uphold and maintain the integrity of the Senate — for the public and for each and every senator, staff member, advocate and intern that passes through our doors,” Spilka said in a speech following her election.
BAKER SIGNS $2 HIKE IN CAR RENTAL TAX TO FUND POLICE TRAINING (H 4516)
Gov. Baker signed into law a bill imposing a $2 tax on car rentals to fund municipal police training to the tune of $10 million annually.
“Providing the brave men and women who protect and serve our commonwealth every day with the necessary tools to do their jobs and stay safe is a priority for our administration,” said Baker. “In the wake of recent tragedies in Weymouth and Yarmouth, the passage of this bill represents an important opportunity to improve police training and recruitment at the local level and do more to keep law enforcement and our communities safe.”
“I completely support our police and their need for ongoing training,” said Rep. Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica). “I oppose a new tax to fund this while we have a $1.2 billion budget surplus. We should have funded this within the budget with existing revenues.”
“With this important step forward Massachusetts affirms its commitment to provide the best training possible to our brave police officers,” said Rep. Tim Whelan (R-Brewster), a former police officer.
“I am extremely disappointed that police training money was used as a cover to create a new tax on rental cars,” said Rep. Shaunna O’Connell (R-Taunton). The commonwealth has a $1.2 billion surplus of revenue and yet the state could not find the money to fund police training without raising taxes. Unfortunately, all too often when a tax is implemented for a purpose it disappears into the General Fund.”
FIREFIGHTERS AND CANCER (H 2525) – Gov. Baker signed into law legislation that allows firefighters, temporarily incapacitated from work due to certain forms of cancer, to leave with full pay while they deal with this serious illness.
The measure requires that certain cancers sustained by firefighters be presumed a disabling condition sustained in the line of duty, unless it can be proven that the cancer originates from some other cause. Under current law, firefighters are not covered under the “Leave with Pay” statute and must use all their banked leave time to be treated for presumptive conditions.
“This legislation simply would allow a firefighter who is diagnosed with a job-related cancer to receive treatment for his or her cancer, not utilize accrued sick time during said treatment, and return to work with the ability to draw from previously earned sick time for follow up care,” said Rep. Dan Cahill (D-Lynn), the sponsor of the proposal.
“Across the commonwealth, thousands of firefighters risk physical harm to protect our communities on a daily basis,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “This bill will help provide for those men and women impacted by cancer, one of the many unseen dangers associated with such a courageous profession.”
BAKER SIGNS REPEAL OF ARCHAIC SEX AND ABORTION LAWS (S 2260)
Gov. Baker signed into law a bill that would eliminate old state laws, some from the 1800s, restricting or banning abortion and contraception.
The laws repealed include the ban on unmarried people accessing abortion and contraception; the ban on distributing information on how to procure contraception or abortion care; a law which punishes doctors, pharmacists and all healthcare providers for distributing contraception or providing abortion care; and a ban on adultery and fornication.
“Repealing archaic laws impacting women’s reproductive health care has been decades in the making,” said Rebecca Hart Holder, President of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. “Once again, we have proven that regardless of what happens in Washington, the basic rights of women will be safeguarded in Massachusetts … With this important victory, we are sending a clear message to Washington. We will not turn back the clock, and we will not put the lives of women at risk. Repealing antiquated laws is the first, critical step to ensuring that even if Roe v. Wade were overturned tomorrow, the reproductive freedom of the people of Massachusetts will be unequivocally guaranteed.”
The Catholic Action League called the legislation “an exercise in pandering, posturing and symbolism, which will have no practical effect in Massachusetts.”
“However uncertain the odds of overturning Roe v. Wade, the chances of reversing Moe v. Hanley — which asserts a right to legal abortion based on the Massachusetts Constitution — are negligible,” said Catholic Action League Executive Director C. J. Doyle. “Despite the hysterical rhetoric, the future composition of the U. S. Supreme Court will not alter the legally protected practice of abortion in the commonwealth.”
Doyle continued, “As the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court asserted as long ago as 1981, in Moe v. Secretary of Administration and Finance, the state Constitution contains a right to abortion, a possible future U.S. Supreme decision reversing or modifying Roe v. Wade would have no effect in Massachusetts. This measure is more about pandering than lawmaking.”
GOVERNOR SIGNS RAISE IN AGE FROM 18 TO 21 TO PURCHASE TOBACCO (H 4784) – The governor signed into law a bill raising from 18 to 21 the age to legally purchase cigarettes and electronic cigarettes in the Bay State. Other provisions ban e-cigarettes and other vape devices from the workplace and prohibit pharmacies and healthcare facilities from selling any tobacco or vape products.
“Today’s bill signing builds on our state’s longstanding progress in tobacco prevention,” said Marc Hymovitz of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “Thanks to Gov. Baker’s support, our lawmakers’ hard work and our advocates’ persistence, Massachusetts will now become the sixth state in the country to limit sales of tobacco products to those over the age of 21. This also makes the commonwealth a leader in the nation, becoming the first to implement a statewide ban on the sale of tobacco in pharmacies.
““We know the tobacco industry uniquely targets young people to replace consumers dying from their products, and too many of our children are becoming addicted before they even have a chance to grow up,” continued Hymovitz. “But if kids don’t pick up a tobacco addiction during their vulnerable adolescent and teenage years, they’ll be less likely to do it when they’re 21. This legislation has the potential to reduce smoking rates in our state and ensure our kids live longer, healthier lives.”
Sen. Don Humason (R-Westfield) said he opposes the bill because it takes away personal freedom and individual responsibility. He said he has a hard time when the government tries to tell adults what they can and cannot do. He argued the government should provide information to help people make a decision on these matters.
CHILD CARE (H 2898) – The House gave initial approval to a bill allowing a candidate for public office to use campaign funds for child care while the candidate is campaigning on his or her own behalf or attending events directly related to his or her campaign. The use of the funds would be allowed from the date that nomination papers become available through the date of the General Election.
Under current law, candidates are prohibited from using campaign funds for their personal use. The state’s Office of Campaign and Finance has classified childcare while performing campaign duties as a personal expense rather than a campaign expense.
“This bill seeks to change the way that our campaign finance laws preclude individuals, particularly based on gender and socioeconomic status, from running for office,” said Rep. Joan Meschino, co-sponsor of the bill. “Passing it would be an important step towards ensuring that we have a more representative pool of candidates in every Massachusetts election.”
POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION (PPD) (H 4808) – The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill requiring that MassHealth provide coverage of screenings by pediatricians for PPD in mothers of newly-born children during any visit to a pediatrician’s office for up to one year from the date of the child’s birth.
“Providing screenings by pediatricians for PPD for new mothers for up to one year will ensure a greater chance that professionals will be able to identify those who are struggling and increase the opportunity for them to be referred for appropriate help,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Carole Fiola (D-Fall River). “Families will have a better opportunity to take what should be a most joyous time in their lives and get the help they need to ensure that it indeed is a most joyous time and prevent potential issues if PPD goes undetected.”
HOMELESS OBTAINING IDs (S 2568) – Stuck in the House Ways and Means Committee since July 2 is Senate-approved legislation which would eliminate the $25 fee for homeless persons who apply for a Massachusetts identification card. The measure also creates a process to grant IDs to the homeless if they can show alternative proof of Massachusetts residency instead of the current requirement to show a permanent address, which they obviously do not have.
“This bill is a high priority for the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, as far too many people experiencing homelessness in the commonwealth are unable to achieve housing and economic stability due to the lack of a Mass ID,” said Kelly Turley, Associate Director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. “This legislation would significantly reduce barriers so that youths and adults without homes could access identification cards — a critical first step toward housing, employment, medical care and necessary resources.”
“Climate change is an emergency. People are losing their homes and their lives. Massachusetts has the opportunity to lead the fight against climate change, and the disastrous federal policies by transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy. Every day and every year that we continue to burn fossil fuels increases the risk the people of the commonwealth, those on the front lines around the world, and to future generations.”
Alan Palm, Director of Organizing for 350 Mass and the Better Future Project.
“Our students, economy and college system can no longer use student loans as a sustainable financial aid tool. We need to bring students’ voices to the table to propel real systemic change. The protest today demonstrated that students want to be part of the conversation – and our job as the Hildreth Institute is to elevate that voice and their stories to the political stage.”
Bob Hildreth, founder of the Hildreth Institute, on the 2.5 percent increase in tuition for the 2018-2019 school year at Umass.
“Unfortunately, the likely impact of these laws will be just as disappointing as that of previous laws requiring the marketing disclosure of payments to physicians. Those laws had little influence on drug costs but remain a major regulatory burden for industry.”
William Smith, a Pioneer Institute visiting research fellow, on a new Pioneer Institute study finds that most new drug pricing transparency laws do not lower consumer out-of-pocket costs, and that expensive and onerous compliance rules would likely put upward pressure on prices.
“We are very disappointed the legislature did not take action to ban single use plastic bags this session. Over 80 cities and towns have voted to ban these bags in their own communities, representing over a third of Massachusetts residents. Plastic bags are rarely recycled and often end up as litter in our parks, roadways and waterways, where they harm or kill wildlife and marine animals.”
Emily Norton, Massachusetts chapter director of the Sierra Club, on the Senate-approved statewide ban on single-use plastic bags which was dropped from the final version of a compromise environmental bill.