THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.
“THERE OUGHTA BE A LAW”- Friday, January 18 at 5 p.m. is the official deadline for legislation to be filed for consideration during the 2019-2020 legislative session. The deadline is not etched in stone because even though the vast majority of proposals are filed by January 18, many late-filed bills are admitted to the Legislature following the deadline and throughout the 2-year session. In the recent 2017-2018 session, legislators filed more than 6,000 bills.
Massachusetts is one of a handful of states that give citizens the “right of free petition”–the power to propose their own legislation. A citizen’s proposal must be filed in conjunction with his or her representative or senator or any other representative or senator. Sometimes a legislator will support the legislation and sponsor it along with the constituent. Other times, a legislator might disagree with the bill but will file it anyway as a courtesy. In those cases, the bill is listed as being filed “by request”– indicating that he or she is doing so at the request of the constituent and does not necessarily support it. Citizens that are interested in filing legislation should contact their own or any other representative or senator.
You can find the contact information for your local representatives at https://malegislature.gov/Legislators/Members/House and for your local senator at https://malegislature.gov/Legislators/Members/Senate
If you don’t know who your legislators are, you can look them up by your street address and city or town at https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator
Perhaps one of the most famous bills filed “by request” goes all the way back to 1969 when a constituent opposed to the Vietnam War asked Newton Democratic Rep. James Shea to file a bill prohibiting Massachusetts citizens from being forced to fight in an “undeclared war.” The bill challenged the constitutionality of sending Bay State men to fight without a Congressional declaration of war. It was approved by the House and Senate and signed by then-Gov. Francis Sargent. The new law made national headlines.
To comply with the new law, Massachusetts initially filed a complaint in the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court declined to hear the case, which was later refiled in the U. S. District Court federal court and dismissed — rejecting the state’s argument that President Richard Nixon had usurped the war-making powers of Congress. In a tragic footnote, Rep. Shea committed suicide in the fall of the year the legislation passed.
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
CITIES AND TOWNS ARE REIMBURSED FOR EARLY VOTING EXPENSES – Auditor Suzanne Bump and Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin announced that Massachusetts cities and towns would be reimbursed $1.14 million for the costs of allowing early voting in the 2018 general election. Early voting begins ten business days before an election and ends two days before it. According to Galvin’s office, more than 584,000 voters cast their ballots early in the 2018 election.
“We owe it to the voters of the commonwealth to constantly strive to remove barriers that prevent them from making their voice heard in our democracy,” said Bump. “By providing convenience and flexibility, early voting has led to important progress on this front.”
”Early voting has proved to be enormously popular among voters in the last two state elections,” Galvin said. “As we look to expand early voting to increase voter access and convenience in the future, we need to make sure we are providing local election officials with the resources they need in order to hold successful elections.”
GOVERNOR SIGNS DOZENS OF BILLS – Here are some of the dozens of bills from the 2017-2018 session that Gov. Charlie Baker signed last week:
HONOR ROSA PARKS (S 2410) – Requires the MBTA, during the month of February, to have an LED display or decal on each bus to recognize the accomplishments of Rosa Parks to the Civil Rights Movement. By refusing in 1955 to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus, Parks eventually became known as “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement.”
“It was an honor and a privilege to both sponsor and advocate for this legislative bill which will honor an American heroine, said Sen James Timilty (D-Milton). “The sole purpose of this legislation is to commemorate the incredible courage and sacrifices exemplified by Ms. Rosa Parks. I am proud that this piece of legislation was enacted by both bodies of the Legislature.”
Parks was arrested and convicted of disorderly conduct. What followed was a 381-day boycott of the bus system by blacks that was organized by the then 26-year old Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The incident led to a Supreme Court ruling that desegregated public transportation in Montgomery. This eventually led to the 1964 Civil Rights Act that desegregated all public accommodations nationwide.
COUNTERFEIT AIRBAGS (H 4051) – Imposes a 2.5-year prison sentence and/or up to $5,000 fine on anyone who imports or sells counterfeit airbags in Massachusetts. Over the past few years, thousands of counterfeit airbags have made their way into the Bay State through purchases and sales on the Internet.
“I filed this bill to protect Massachusetts drivers from being injured and killed when counterfeit airbags fail to deploy properly,” said Rep. Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg).
CREDIT REPORTS (H 4806) Prohibits 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 is good news and offers consumers new tools to protect themselves from identity theft after a security breach like the recently announced ones at Equifax and Marriott,” said Deirdre Cummings, legislative director for MASSPIRG. “While a good first step, we still have some more work to do to hold companies accountable for failing to properly safeguard our personal information.”
“With more access to credit due to their longer careers and higher incomes, older adults are the most common targets of identity theft nationwide,” said Mike Festa, State Director of AARP Massachusetts. “Individuals age 50-59 filed more than 7,200 complaints of identity theft in Massachusetts alone in 2017, according to the Federal Trade Commission.”
DISABILITY INSURANCE (H 482) –Prohibits insurance companies from charging higher disability insurance premiums based solely on gender.
Supporters say that filings with the Division of Insurance show that women in Massachusetts pay much more for the same disability insurance benefits than men in the same occupation class. They note that on average, women pay 23.5 percent more than men but the difference has also been as much as 61 percent higher.
“Equal rights groups having been working to end gender discrimination in insurance products since 1976 when the Equal Rights Amendment was adopted,” said Rep. Ruth Balser (D-Newton) the bill’s sponsor. “Over the years, we eliminated unfair treatment by gender in automobile insurance, homeowner’s insurance, health insurance and annuities. Today we have ended the unfair practice of charging women more than men for the same disability protection. Always proud when Massachusetts leads the way on equal treatment of all people … Today, we have made progress toward our goal of equal rights for women.”
QUOTABLE QUOTES – “AG Special Edition” – Quotes from Attorney General Maura Healey last week.
“This company profited from running misleading advertisements that harmed Massachusetts taxpayers. This settlement will provide relief to affected consumers and put tax preparers on notice throughout the upcoming tax season to follow our laws.”
Announcing that Jackson Hewitt Tax Service will pay approximately $187,000, split between consumers and the state, to resolve allegations that it violated Massachusetts consumer protection laws by posting misleading and deceptive advertisements.
“Consumers looking to protect themselves from HIV transmission should not be excluded from buying insurance. Under this settlement, Mutual of Omaha will provide relief to affected consumers who faced this discrimination. We are pleased to join GLAD today in sending a message to insurance companies that these unlawful practices will not be tolerated.”
Announcing that Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company has agreed to no longer deny coverage to individuals using HIV prevention medication and will offer affected consumers an opportunity to reapply for insurance.
“Through this settlement, Neiman Marcus will take several steps to protect consumers and their data. Retailers must safeguard the financial information of their customers.”
Announcing Massachusetts’ share of a $1.5 multi-state settlement with Neiman Marcus. The company violated consumer protection and data security laws by failing to appropriately respond to the data breach in 2013 that impacted stores across the country.
“Decisions about birth control are for women and their families to make, not their employers. This law is essential to the equality of women and the economic security of families.”
Announcing the filing two briefs asking the courts to stop the Trump Administration from rolling back the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers include birth control coverage in their health insurance.
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 January 7-11. the House met for a total of 19 minutes while the Senate met for a total of eight minutes.
Mon. January 7 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:06 a.m.
Senate 11:06 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.
Tues. January 8 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. January 9 No House session
No Senate session
Thurs. January 10 House 11:05 a.m. to 11:21 a.m.
Senate 11:02 a.m. to 11:06 a.m.
Fri. January 11 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org