BEACON HILL ROLL CALL

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 continues its three-part series looking at the questions on the November 6 ballot. This week the focus is on Question 2.

Question 2 asks voters if they approve of a proposed law that would create 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 campaign contributions and expenditures may be regulated.

The proposed law is in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In that case, 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.

The Super PACs are often run by a candidate’s former staffers or associates, who use the PAC to fund negative ads against the candidate’s opponents. A candidate’s own committee’s contributions are limited by federal law but Super PACs, as a result of the court decision, can legally accept unlimited donations.

The commission would investigate the entire issue and then file a report regarding the impact of political spending in Massachusetts; any limitations on the state’s ability to regulate corporations and other entities in light of Supreme Court decisions that allow corporations to assert certain constitutional rights; recommendations for constitutional amendments; an analysis of constitutional amendments introduced to Congress; and recommendations for advancing proposed amendments to the Constitution.

“We have over 700 volunteers across the state knocking doors, making phone calls, e-mailing and texting,” said Ben Gubits, National Political Director of Concord-based American Promise. “We’ve had big endorsements from both Democrat and Republican leaders in the state and across the country. The campaign is going strong and we’re confident that we will win on Election Day, but we’re not taking anything for granted because this doesn’t end on Election Day. Question 2 is part of a national effort of ‘We the People’ to reclaim our republic from wealthy special interests.”

“Question 2 is a silly, feel-good liberal primal scream, a Quixotic tilt at one of its most threatening windmills, with no teeth and no real effect,” said Chip Ford, Executive Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “If adopted, it would create a meaningless ‘advisory commission’ to propose an unlikely amendment to the Constitution that might hopefully overturn the  Supreme Court’s free speech decision in Citizens United.”

“Wealthy donors have long had an outsized influence in our democracy, but the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision has opened the floodgates for mega-donations and corporate spending in our elections,” said Janet Domenitz, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG). “Spending on political races has skyrocketed. The 2016 election cycle was the most expensive in U.S. history, with almost $6.5 billion spent. We must overturn Citizens United with a constitutional amendment that restores the right of the American people to regulate campaign finance and thereby curb big money in politics. Question 2 on the November ballot moves us in that direction.

“The NAACP fought for the right of freedom of speech and association during the civil rights era at the Supreme Court,” said Paul Craney, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance which opposes the creation of the commission. “The Supreme Court upheld their right and their work to protect our freedoms should be continued to be protected today.”

Here are the official arguments, gathered by the secretary of state, by each side of the question.

IN FAVOR: Written by Jeff Clements of “People Govern, Not Money.” https://voteyeson2ma.org

“Behind our nation’s challenges is a crisis of billionaires and special interests using money to buy access and influence with politicians. These special interests are well-represented, while most Americans are not. The Supreme Court says that laws limiting political spending violate the First Amendment. Most Americans know this is incorrect: Money is not speech, it is power, and concentrated power requires checks and balances. 75 percent of Americans, including liberals and conservatives, support this amendment to correct the court, with 19 states and over 200 Massachusetts communities formally calling for it. This measure creates a non-partisan, unpaid Citizens Commission to be the people’s advocate for this amendment, with commissioners serving at no cost to taxpayers.”

AGAINST: Written by the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance.  www.MassFiscalScorecard.org

“The controversy surrounding the Citizens United decision hinges on our cherished right to Freedom of Speech. In the decision, the court ruled to expand that freedom and apply it equally to all entities and organizations, rather than just the arbitrary list of winners and losers selected by elected officials in previous campaign finance laws. This is a good thing. The First Amendment protection of our freedom of speech is one of the pillars of our democracy and should be preserved and expanded at every possible opportunity. The less government standing in the way of the exercise of that right, the stronger it is. However, even if you disagree with the Citizens United decision, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution is a dangerous and misguided way to go about undoing it. Please vote no on this question.”

More information on Question 2 is available at www.sec.state.ma.us/ele

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

$540 MILLION SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET (H 4930) – The House and Senate approved on a voice vote without a roll call and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a $540 million fiscal 2018 state budget to close out the books on the fiscal year that ended on July 30. The funds are from the state’s surplus leftover as a result of higher than expected tax revenue. The budget puts $240 million in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, boosting its total to more than $2 billion.

Other provisions include $40 million for road and bridge repairs; $1.5 million to administer the state’s new paid family and medical leave law; $7.5 million for increased access to mental and behavioral health in public schools; $10 million for a neighborhood and community-based gun and violent crime prevention program targeting youths aged 17 to 24; and $5 million to assist people displaced by Hurricanes Maria and Irma in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

“Combined with the fiscally-responsible deposit into the {Rainy Day] Fund, this supplemental budget improves both the fiscal health of our state finances and the physical health of our residents,” said House Ways and Means Chair Rep. Jeff Sanchez (D-Boston). “As Massachusetts’ economy continues to grow, we are committed to planning for the future and ensuring that workers and families receive the support they need to thrive.”

HONOR AND REMEMBER FLAG (H 2680) – Approved by the House on May 25, 2017 and still stuck in the House Bills in Third Reading Committee is a bill designating the Honor and Remember Flag as the symbol of the state remembering soldiers who have lost their lives while serving. The flag would be required to be flown at the Statehouse and all Superior Courts, and in each city and town on several holidays and occasions including Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day and whenever there is a military casualty in the state.

The flag is a project of Honor and Remember Flag, Inc., a non-profit group whose mission is to “perpetually recognize the sacrifice of America’s military fallen service members and their families.”

Supporters say the flag is a tangible and visible reminder to all Americans of the lives lost in defense of our national freedoms. They noted there has never been an official national symbol that specifically recognizes the gratitude and respect to the men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice.

INFORMATION ABOUT BREAST RECONSTRUCTION SURGERY (H 4490) – Approved by the Health Care Financing Committee on June 14, 2018 and still stuck in the House Ways and Means Committee is a proposal requiring all facilities that provide mastectomy surgery, lymph node dissection or a lumpectomy to provide specific information to the patient in writing prior to the patient giving consent to the procedure.

The information would include the advantages and disadvantages of various reconstructive options and the coverage of these surgeries under private and state-funded health insurance.

DIABETES AND ALZHEIMER’S (H 4484) – Approved by the House on July 30, 2018 and now stuck in the Senate Ways and Means Committee is a legislation requiring the Commissioner of Public Health to create a diabetes action plan to identify goals to reduce the prevalence and impact of diabetes and improve diabetes care in the Bay State.

REALTORS MUST LEARN ABOUT FAIR HOUSING (H 4352) – Approved by the House on April 26, 2018 and still stuck in the House Bills in Third Reading Committee is a measure that would require that the 40-hour course realtors and brokers are required to take to obtain a license and the 12-hour course mandated to renew their license both include a one-hour course on fair housing.

BILLS SENT TO STUDY COMMITTEES – The Legislature sent hundreds of bills to a study committee in 2018. Almost every measure that is shipped off to a study committee is never actually studied and is essentially defeated. Here are two of those that met their fate via a study committee.

ALLOW CITIES AND TOWNS TO INCLUDE MARKETING MATERIAL WITH PROPERTY TAX BILLS (H 3318) – Allows cities and towns to include in the envelope or electronic message in which a property tax bill is sent, nonpolitical informational or marketing material.

Supporters said this would help cities and towns by generating revenue that could be used for any purpose by the community.

PROHIBIT LOWER TUITION RATES FOR ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS  (H 637) –Prohibits Massachusetts state universities from offering lower in-state tuition and fees to illegal immigrants and their children. Currently, the lower tuition rate is offered to legal citizens who live in the Bay State and Massachusetts students who have been accepted into the federal program for those who immigrated illegally to the country as children and have a work permit.

Supporters of the ban say the state should not offer financial rewards to anyone who has broken the law and is in this country illegally. They argued it is outrageous to offer low tuition rates to these students while legal citizens from outside Massachusetts, including war veterans, are required to pay higher rates if they attend a Massachusetts state university.

Opponents of the ban say many of these students were babies when they were brought here by their parents and had no choice about entering the country illegally. They noted some hardworking students are currently required to pay out-of-state tuition rates that are significantly higher than the in-state rate.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“I think we have to look at the gun laws. I think our gun laws are getting kind of soft here in Massachusetts as far as people getting caught with a gun and I think we might have to look at filing legislation to strengthen them.”

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh

“This coming legislative session, the House will try again. Despite our success at slowing spending growth, we know that patients are still forgoing [health] care due to costs. Our community hospitals and our health centers are still struggling to survive.”

House Speaker Bob DeLeo (D-Winthrop) on the Legislature’s plan to try again next year to approve a bill to stabilize community hospitals and limit the growth of consumer health costs. The attempt to do this in 2018 failed.

“[We are] actively reviewing the work of other states as we develop proposals that we’ll roll out in the near future regarding direct negotiation with [drug] manufacturers that could include price hearings and formulary restrictions in certain circumstances while ensuring strong consumer protections.”

Gov. Baker on his administration’s efforts to lower the cost of prescription drugs through drug purchasing reforms.

“Four years ago we did not have a particularly good turnout. In 2014, we had less than 2.2 million voters participate. We are optimistic that this year will be higher.”

Secretary of State Bill Galvin on the expected turnout for the election on November 6.

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 October 15-19, the House met for a total of five hours 10 minutes and the Senate met for a total of five hours and 24 minutes.

Mon.    October 15   House  11:08 a.m. to   4:08 p.m.

Senate 11:03 a.m. to   4:14 p.m.

Tues.   October 16   No House session

No Senate session

Wed.    October 17   No House session

No Senate session

Thurs.  October 18   House  11:05 a.m. to  11:15 a.m.

Senate 11:13 a.m. to  11:26 a.m.

Fri.    October 19   No House session

No Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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