Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 44 – Report No. 3 January 14-18, 2019

By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

The 2017-2018 legislative session ended on January 1. Thousands of bills that were not approved by that time by both branches and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker are now dead.

Beacon Hill Roll Call’s research shows that there are at least 12 bills that were approved unanimously by the Senate but were stuck in a House committee – in most cases the House Ways and Means Committee — for up to a year or more. With no opposition in the Senate, observers question why the bills were stalled and died in the House.

Under House rules, any individual representative can move to discharge most bills from the Ways and Means Committee. There is a 7-day waiting period prior to the House considering the motion to discharge. The discharge motion must receive a majority vote of the members present. If the measure is discharged from the committee, the committee has four days within which to report the measure for placement on the House’s agenda for action.

A bill may also be discharged from the Ways and Means Committee by any representative by filing a petition signed by a majority of the House. The bill would then be discharged seven days later and go onto the House agenda for the next session.

A state legislator who spoke on the condition of anonymity told Beacon Hill Roll Call that some bills are likely held up in committee because someone in a high position either inside or outside the Statehouse is opposed to it. “If a powerful person wants the measure never to see the light of day, there is little that a rank and file representative can do,” said the legislator.

The legislator added that it was common practice back in the 1970s and 1980s to make motions to discharge a bill from a committee and bring it to the full House for debate and a vote. “That rarely, if ever, happens anymore,” said the legislator. “And if does, it is destined to fail.”

Another state legislator who wished to remain anonymous said, “Under House rules, every representative has to power to attempt to discharge a bill but hardly any try out of fear of offending the powerful speaker, his leadership team and committee chairs.”

Here are six of the important bills that were approved unanimously by the Senate and died in the House Ways and Means Committee:

Senate 39-0, approved a bill providing a variety of property tax breaks for seniors, veterans and disabled persons.

Provisions include raising from $1,000 to $1,500 the amount of property tax reduction veterans can earn by doing volunteer work in their city or town; creating a new local option property tax exemption for deaf persons of $5,000 of taxable valuation or $437.50 of actual taxes due, whichever is greater; and allowing more homeowners over 65 to qualify for the state’s $1,070 “senior circuit breaker” tax credit.

Supporters say it is up to cities and towns whether to offer these tax breaks because the breaks are not state-mandated. They note the reductions will be good for countless low-income seniors, military personnel and disabled persons and might even help some of them remain in their homes, rather than having to move because they can’t afford to pay their property taxes.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

Senate 39-0, approved legislation that would require all colleges in Massachusetts to give applicants who have been accepted to the college, a uniform financial aid information sheet, developed by the student’s decision whether to enroll in that school. Currently, an estimated 3,300 U.S. institutions across the nation, including 66 in Massachusetts, already use the information sheet.

Supporters say requiring each college to present the costs of the school per semester on the same standard form will allow potential students and their families to make apples-to-apples comparisons of the benefits and costs of attending a school. They argue it is difficult to compare costs when they are presented in a different way by each school.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

Senate 36-0, approved a proposal designed to protect students and employees from being forced or bullied into providing schools and companies with information about and access to their social media accounts.

Provisions prohibit any school from requiring a student or applicant and an employee or applicant to disclose photographs, videos, a user name, password or other means of access to a personal social media account; allow an aggrieved student or applicant to bring a civil suit against the school for violating these new laws; permits the attorney general to investigate any violations by employers; and permit schools to disclose lawfully obtained information from a student’s personal social media account to law enforcement to protect against immediate danger of death or serious physical injury to a student or other individuals.

Supporters say that a growing number of employers and schools are demanding access to the social media account of students and employees and prospective students and employees. They argue this is an invasion of privacy that should not be allowed in the Bay State. They say demanding access to a social media account is the same as demanding offline access to a person’s diary, regular mail, photo albums and conversations the person has with family and friends – offline things that which would never be demanded by a school or employer.

(A Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

Senate 38-0, approved and sent to the House a bill requiring the state, led by the secretaries of energy and environmental affairs and public safety, to study, create and implement a comprehensive adaption management plan to protect and ensure the preservation, protection and restoration of the state’s “built and natural environment” from the risks of climate change. The plan would be updated every five years.

Supporters point to the flooding and massive damage caused by Hurricane Sandy and other disasters. They argue the state must prepare in advance and be proactive and not just reactive to similar threats and disasters.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Didn’t Vote

Senate 36-0, approved a bill ensuring that puppies and kittens are bred and sold in a safe and healthy environment and strengthening the current “Puppy Lemon Law” to give pet owners additional options if they unknowingly purchase a sick pet.

Provisions prohibit the sale of puppies and kittens younger than eight weeks old; allow for inspection by the Commissioner of Agricultural Resources of kennels and catteries and persons keeping at least five non-spayed female dogs or cats; create a process by which a puppy or kitten suffering from a significant adverse health condition may be declared “unfit for purchase” by a veterinarian; and provide remedies to a buyer of a puppy or kitten declared unfit for purchase including exchange of the puppy or kitten or a refund and reimbursement for reasonable veterinary fees.

Supporters say this will reduce the number of animals that are born sick. They argue that pet owners deserve protection when they unknowingly purchase a sick animal that requires expensive veterinary care.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

Senate 36-0, approved a bill giving greater protections to borrowers in disputes with companies servicing their student loans.

Provisions include requiring that all student loan servicers be licensed by the Division of Banks; creating the position of Student Loan Ombudsman in the attorney general’s office; assisting in resolving complaints from students; allowing the Commissioner of Banks to revoke or refuse to renew a lender’s license if the company is engaged in abusive practices such as overcharging students or steering them into costlier repayment plans to make higher profits; and permitting the Commissioner of Banks to take enforcement action against companies that are violating any of these laws or regulations.

Supporters say that because of the high cost of college, students are taking on substantial debt, and are being taken advantage of by loan servicers.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes


BAKER PROPOSES HIKE IN DEEDS EXCISE TAX – Gov. Baker has proposed an increase from $2 per $500 of assessed value to $3 per $500 of value in the deeds excise tax which is paid by the seller upon selling real estate property. The increase is estimated to generate an additional $137 million per year and an estimated $1 billion over the next decade to implement new climate adaption programs to protect Massachusetts’ residents, communities, economy and infrastructure.

“It’s pretty clear that climate change is starting to have a very significant impact on our communities, on our infrastructure, on personal property, on real property and on community property,” said Baker. “This is a way for us to build a program that can generate about $1 billion over 10 years to invest in communities, to invest in resiliency, to invest in infrastructure, to protect people’s property and to protect community property.”

LEGALIZE WAGERING ON PROFESSIONAL SPORTS – Gov. Baker announced plans to file legislation that would allow people over 21 in Massachusetts to wager on professional sports. The proposal would authorize the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to issue sport wagering licenses to the state’s casinos including MGM-Springfield, Encore-Everett and Plainridge. The three casinos would also be allowed to provide sports wagering online or contract with an entity to provide the service.

“Over the last seven years, the Massachusetts gaming industry has grown into an economic driver for thousands of jobs associated with construction, hospitality and tourism,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has developed a comprehensive set of regulations and passing this bill into law will allow the proper oversight of the industry’s next chapter in addition to providing critical support to the commonwealth’s cities and towns.”

CONFIDENTIALITY OF MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES (S 2684) – Gov. Baker held a ceremonial event to sign legislation ensuring confidentiality for first responders who seek mental health services from a peer counselor. Prior law did not guarantee confidentiality.

“Providing law enforcement officers with the ability to confidentially seek guidance from their peers will help them cope with the events they experience in the line of duty,” said Gov. Baker. “We are thankful for the Legislature and law enforcement for their advocacy on this bill to increase support for services and reduce stigma around mental health issues.”

“This is common sense legislation that will offer law enforcement officers, firefighter, and emergency service providers the resources they need to debrief and manage the psychological impact following an incident,” said Rep. Ed Coppinger (D-Boston), the House sponsor of the bill. “Critical incident intervention is a peer-to-peer resource in which registered and trained emergency service providers offer consultation, counseling, and stress management. This peer support is the first, necessary step in checking the stress health of an emergency service provider and it can often bridge the gap if further help is required.”

MEANS TESTED PROPERTY TAX REDUCTION (H 4001) – In December, the Senate approved a bill that would allow cities and towns to establish a means-tested property tax exemption for senior citizens. The bill gives communities the option to give some property tax relief to qualifying seniors 65 or older who have lived in the community for at least ten consecutive years. If a tax exemption request is filed jointly, the second applicant must be 60 or older, and at least one of the applicants must meet the minimum residency requirement of 10 consecutive years.

Qualified homeowners would be eligible for a reduction in their property taxes equal to 10 percent of their income plus the amount of the circuit breaker tax credit for which they are eligible. The bill also stipulates that any reduction provided by the exemption cannot exceed 50 percent of the homeowners’ total property tax liability.

“The hope is that this bill will allow many seniors to remain in their homes and continue to live in the same community where they have raised their families,” said Rep. Brad Jones (R-North Reading), the sponsor of an early version of the bill. “This approach has proven to be successful in a handful of communities, and this bill will ensure that the same option is available to all 351 cities and towns.

The House approved a different version of the bill in July. The two branches did not resolve their differences and neither version of the bill was given final approval and sent to the governor.

GRANTS FOR CITIES AND TOWNS FOR BIKE AND PEDESTRIAN TRAIL PROJECTS – The state’s MassTrails Program will be awarding $5 million in matching grants for cities and towns to expand their off-road pathways for walking, bicycling, inline skating and people in wheelchairs. The grant application deadline for the first round of applications is February 1, 2019. The grants will generally range from $10,000-$100,000, with higher priority projects receiving grants up to $300,000.

More information on the MassTrails program can be found at:

QUOTABLE QUOTES (By the numbers. Special Family and Medical Leave Edition).

On July 1, the newly created Department of Family and Medical Leave will begin collecting new payroll taxes, from the employer and the employee, that will fund the state’s new family and medical leave program.


The percent on which the first $128,400 of a worker’s annual earnings are paid by the employer into the new fund.

40 percent of the employer’s share

The maximum amount of money an employee can be required to pay into the fund.


Number of weeks of job-protected paid leave to care for a seriously ill or injured family member, to care for a new child, or to meet family needs arising from a family member’s active duty military service.

January 1, 2021

The date on which workers can take up to 12 weeks of job-protected paid leave.


Number of weeks of job-protected paid leave to recover from a worker’s own serious illness or injury, or to care for a seriously ill or injured service member.

July 1, 2021

The date on which workers can take up to 20 weeks of job-protected paid leave.

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 14-18. the House met for a total of one hour and 46 minutes while the Senate met for a total of one hour and 54 minutes.

Mon. January 14 House 11:04 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.
Senate 11:04 a.m. to 12:49 p.m

Tues. January 15 No House session
No Senate session

Wed. January 16 No House session
No Senate session

Thurs. January 17 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:08 a.m.
Senate 11:12 a.m. to 11:21 a.m.

Fri. January 18 No House session
No Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at

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