By Bob Katzen
A note to readers from Bob Katzen, Publisher of Beacon Hill Roll Call:
I’ve been covering the Massachusetts Legislature for 43 years and would never think of doing it without a copy of and online access to the “Massachusetts Political Almanac.” It’s very simple: The Almanac is the bible for tens of thousands of people across the state — from government officials, movers and shakers and the media to political junkies, interested citizens and casual observers.
You should order your copy of the 2018 version now. You will also get exclusive 24/7 access to the Almanac’s acclaimed and constantly updated website and the AlmanAPP, a free app on your smartphone.
For more information and to order your copy, website subscription with 24/7 access and app, go to either the Almanac’s website at www.masspa.com/order.htm or Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Massachusetts-Political-Almanac-2018/dp/1979098484/N You won’t be sorry.
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. There were no roll call votes in the House or Senate last week. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call reports local senators’ roll call attendance records for the 2018 session through August 31.
The Senate has held 261 roll call votes in 2018. We tabulate the number of roll calls on which each senator was present and voting and then calculate that number as a percentage of the total roll call votes held. That percentage is the number referred to as the roll call attendance record.
In the 38-member Senate, 20 senators (52.6 percent) have 100 percent roll call attendance records.
The three senators who missed the most roll calls are:
Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives (D-Newburyport) who missed 74 roll calls (71.6 percent attendance record).
Sen. Mike Barrett (D-Lexington) who missed 42 roll calls, (83.9 percent attendance record).
Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston) who missed 23 roll calls, (91.1 percent attendance record).
Beacon Hill Roll Call requested a statement from these three senators. Here are their responses.
O’Connor Ives: “I had to leave the Senate early on July 30th and was unable to attend formal session on July 31st on account of a family emergency and because the Senate took up overriding the governor’s budget vetoes on those two days, I was not available for the 68 roll calls that took place over that day and a half. The vast majority of those votes were only procedural in nature because I voted on the record for every single one of those budget line items and amendments during the Senate budget debate. Outside of being unable to attend formal session for part of July 30th and July 31st, I missed only 7 roll call votes in 2018.”
Barrett: “Almost overnight, or so it seemed, I became gravely ill this past February, was diagnosed with leukemia, and spent 43 days at MGH as an inpatient until my compromised immune system recovered. After that, I missed occasional additional roll calls in order to make outpatient medical appointments.”
The response for Chang-Diaz is from her communications director Joshua Wolfsun: “Thanks for reaching out about this! Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be able to get you a comment before your deadline.”
2018 SENATORS’ ROLL CALL ATTENDANCE RECORD THROUGH SEPTEMBER 1
The percentage listed next to the senator’s name is the percentage of roll call votes for which the senator was present and voting. The number in parentheses represents the number of roll calls that he or she missed.
Sen. Patricia Jehlen 97.7 percent (6)
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
BENEFITS AND SERVICES FOR VETERANS (S 2632) – Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill that would expand benefits and increase access to a range of services for veterans, active-duty military personnel and their families. The ceremonial signing took place at the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea.
Provisions include reducing from five years to two years the residency period required for some veterans’ property tax exemptions; increasing coverage for funeral expenses for indigent veterans from $2,000 to $4,000; allowing parents or surviving guardians of veterans who died in service to receive a real estate credit on property beginning January 1, 2019; allowing cities and towns to designate a reserved parking space for veterans at city and town halls; establishing a Massachusetts Veterans and Warriors Agriculture Program to enhance education, training, employment, income, productivity and retention of veterans working in or aspiring to work in the field of agriculture;
Other provisions increase veterans’ local property tax work-off program from $1,000 to $1,500; require the Department of Veterans’ Services to maintain and publish a list of law firms and organizations that provide free legal representation for veterans; establish a special commission to study the cost and feasibility of exempting all costs to veterans of attending public universities in Massachusetts; and establish a study about veterans and military members suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues related to their military service and their needs in the criminal justice system.
Supporters say the state should provide these additional benefits and opportunities to the thousands of Bay State veterans who have served or are still serving our nation. They note that one in three homeless people in the nation are veterans. They point out that one in five Massachusetts veterans suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and 11 percent suffer traumatic brain injuries.
“This omnibus veterans’ legislation assists veterans and their families with employment protections, tax exemptions, burial expenses, court programs, medical care, and also continues to recognize those who serve and who have served,” said Sen. Mike Rush, (D-Boston), the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. “We want to ensure that Massachusetts remains number one in the nation in providing for our veterans. This legislation goes a long way in accomplishing this goal.”
SHORT-TERM RENTALS (H 4841) – Airbnb, a popular short-term rental company, announced that residents of Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket Counties earned $40 million in extra income this summer — an increase of 38 percent compared to the same time in 2017 — by sharing their home via Airbnb. The state received no tax revenue from this because a bill that extends the state’s current 5.7 percent hotel and motel tax to short-term rentals offered by Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO is still stuck in the Legislature.
If the 5.7 percent tax was applied to the $40 million, the state would have received $2.28 million in increased tax revenue. And that’s just from one company’s rentals in one specific geographic location.
Cities and towns also potentially lost money because the bill allows them to impose up to a 6 percent local option room occupancy tax and a local impact fee of up to 3 percent on operators who rent out two or more professionally-managed short-term rental units within a municipality.
The House and Senate approved the bill on July 3 and sent it to Gov. Baker who amended it and sent it back to the Legislature which has yet to act on it.
The measure also leaves the regulation of these rentals including registration, licensing and inspections up to local cities and towns. Other provisions create a central state registry of short-term rentals and require that a city or town dedicate no less than 35 percent of revenue generated from the new local option fee to either affordable housing or local infrastructure needs.
Baker’s amendments include exempting operators who rent out their properties for 14 days or less annually from the 5.7 percent room occupancy tax. He said that without that exception, the bill will require many homeowners who rent out their homes for one or two weeks a year to register as an operator with the Department of Revenue and to collect and remit the room occupancy tax.
Baker also had doubts about the proposed central registry. “I am concerned that the bill threatens the privacy of thousands of Massachusetts residents by requiring the publication of personally identifiable information in a short-term rental registry,” said the governor. “Therefore I propose that we publish only the street name and the city or town where the property is located, and not include the street number of the property.”
Supporters say the bill strikes a balance and levels the playing field of taxes and regulation of these untaxed and unregulated short-term rentals and hotels and motels that are currently regulated and taxed.
Opponents say the bill is simply another example of an anti-business, unwarranted tax and overregulation by the state.
Estimates are that if the bill is ever signed into law, the state will reap $34.5 million annually from the new taxes and local communities which impose the optional local tax will receive some $25.5 million.
RESTRICT IDLING CARS AND BUSES (S 1950) – Stuck in the Senate Ways and Means Committee since May 3, 2017 is a bill, given a favorable report by the Transportation Committee, that reduces from five minutes to three minutes the time drivers are allowed to idle their engines. Violators would 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 to approve a new law and to set up another layer of bureaucracy.
BUSINESS TELEPHONE LISTING (H 184) – A bill that has been stuck in the House Bills in Third Reading Committee would prohibit a business from listing a local telephone number in a phone directory if calls are routinely forwarded to a non-local number and the listing does not give the true physical address of the business. The measure was given initial approval by the House on July 20, 2017.
Supporters say this would prohibit businesses from misrepresenting their location and fooling people into thinking an out-of-town company is located in their town.
HOME LOANS FOR FIRST RESPONDERS (S 733) – A bill that would create a special home loan program for first responders, including police officers, firefighters and EMTs, who are working for a city or town that requires them to live within a short distance of the city or town was sent to a study committee. Most measures that are shipped off to a study committee are never actually studied and are essentially defeated
Supporters say the already difficult problem of home buying in this market is compounded by the residency requirement and limits where the first responders can work.
$2,500 FOR FIRST-TIME HOMEBUYERS (S 751) – Also sent off to a study committee was legislation that would create a program that would help first-time homebuyers by providing up to $2,500 to pay closing costs.
The measure also allows consumers to contribute up to $4,000 to a first-time home-buying account. The money would be tax-free when deposited and when taken out of the account as long as it goes toward the purchase of a home.
“In the coming months, we will be supporting candidates and causes that share [former] Gov. Deval Patrick’s view that we accomplish more when we turn to each other, not on each other. [We] will support Democrats’ grassroots efforts to take back the Senate and the House of Representatives and promote Patrick’s positive vision and policy agenda for the country.”
From the website of a new Political Action Committee (PAC) with links to former Gov. Patrick.
“Massachusetts biopharmas continue to lead the industry in tackling the toughest unmet medical needs, creating a new wave of breakthrough therapies that treat the underlying cause of disease, not just the symptoms, and some that people are even calling cures. Cumulatively, it’s creating unbelievable opportunities to change the course of disease and improve the lives of patients, and investors want to be a part of this.”
Massachusetts Biotechnology Council President and CEO Bob Coughlin on a study concluding that than one-third of all venture capital money invested in biopharmaceutical companies last year went to Massachusetts companies.
“The federal government, along with the state police and local law enforcement folks, have dramatically upped their games with respect to arrests associated with fentanyl, but there’s obviously a lot more that needs to be done here. And I would expect you’ll hear more from us on this in September because we’ve been talking to some of our colleagues in law enforcement about what else we can do to try to stem the amount of fentanyl that’s available here in Massachusetts and in New England.”
Gov. Baker reacting to a new state report that revealed that the deadly opioid fentanyl was detected in almost 90 percent of fatal overdoses this year in the Bay State.
“Because of dirty energy, the sports we love are at risk. We need to make sure all of our athletes, from kids to professionals, can keep playing — and that means transitioning from fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable energy as quickly as possible.”
Ben Hellerstein, State Director for the Environment Massachusetts Research and Policy Center urging Boston’s sports teams to be champions of renewable energy.
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 August 27-31, the House and Senate each met for a total of 23 minutes.
Mon. August 27 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:21 a.m.
Senate 11:10 a.m. to 11:24 a.m.
Tues. August 28 No House session.
No Senate session
Wed. August 29 No House session.
No Senate session
Thurs. August 30 House 11:07 a.m. to 11:12 a.m.
Senate 11:03 a.m. to 11:12 a.m.
Fri. August 31 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org