By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on the only roll call from the week of February 25-March 1. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.
$135 MILLION SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET (H 3505)
House 154-0, approved and sent to the Senate a $135 million supplemental budget to cover expenses and to fund various state programs and agencies that are running out of money. The package is some $30 million less than the one proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker in early February.
Provisions include $30 million in funding for the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program to help low-income elders, working families and other households pay a portion of winter heating bills; $10 million for emergency shelter assistance for families; $8 million for the collection and testing of sexual assault evidence kits; and $1.4 million for an independent statewide examination of the safety of the gas distribution infrastructure.
Other funding includes $494,662 for the Sex Offender Registry; $28 million for the Department of Corrections; and creation of the Massachusetts Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture Program to enhance the education, training, employment of veterans currently working or aspiring to work in the field of agriculture.
Supporters said the package is a reasonable and fiscally responsible one. “It will tackle immediate needs, including $30 million going to the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance }Program ensuring that no family in the commonwealth will be forced to put off paying heating bills,” tweeted newly-minted House Ways and Means chair Aaron Michlewitz (D-Boston).
(A “Yes” vote is for the $135 million budget.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
BAKER OPPOSES SAFE DRUG INJECTION SITES – Gov. Charlie Baker rejected an idea recommended by his recently-created Harm Reduction Commission that Massachusetts should consider creating a pilot program for a safe drug injection site as another tool to prevent opioid overdose deaths. The site would be a medically supervised facility designed to provide a clean and safe environment in which users are able to take illegal recreational drugs intravenously. The facility would provide sterile injection equipment, information and counseling about drugs and treatment referrals.
The governor was responding to U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling’s statement that he would prosecute any supervised drug facility. “The U.S. attorney here has made absolutely crystal clear that he will prosecute anyone who tries to open up a safe injection site in Massachusetts,” Baker said. “They’re illegal under federal law. I’m not going to stand around and wait for something that can’t happen. I would rather focus on the stuff that can.”
The governor’s position is in direct conflict with the recommendations of the commission led by his Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders and its other members. Sudders has acknowledged that the pilot program would be a “hard sell” because of the legal issues. “I personally believe this is such a crisis and such an emergency that we need to do everything we can to keep people safe,” said commission member Sen. Cindy Friedman.
TREASURER GOLDBERG UNVEILS UNCLAIMED PROPERTY LIST – State Treasurer Deb Goldberg unveiled the latest list of unclaimed property owners. More than 45,000 new properties were added to the current list of properties owed individuals and businesses across the state. Most accounts are considered abandoned and are turned over to the state after three years of inactivity. Last year, the state processed over 123,000 claims and returned more than $125 million in property to its owners.
Unclaimed property includes abandoned savings, money market and checking accounts, uncashed checks, insurance policy proceeds, stocks, dividends and the contents of unattended safe deposit boxes. “We currently hold over $3.4 billion in unclaimed property at Treasury and it could be yours,” said Goldberg. “One in ten Massachusetts residents are owed money.”
This newly released list includes only individuals and businesses with unclaimed property over $100. Goldberg urged all citizens to check the list at www.findmassmoney.com or call 888-344-MASS (6277).
TRY, TRY AGAIN – Many bills that were defeated or died in committee last year have been refiled for consideration in the 2019-2020 session. Here are some of them:
MUST REGISTER BIKES WITH REGISTRY OF MOTOR VEHICLES – Requires anyone age 21 and older to register his or her bicycle biannually with the Registry of Motor Vehicles. The state would establish a fee and issue a license plate that the bicyclist would be required to attach to his or her bike.
Supporters say this would give drivers and pedestrians a way to identify and report a bicyclist who is breaking traffic rules. They note that it will also ensure that bicyclists, by paying fines, will help pay for the maintenance of bike lanes.
WEAR REFLECTIVE MATERIAL – Requires anyone walking outdoors in an unilluminated area after dusk to wear reflective material or carry a luminescent device like a flashlight, lantern or the flashlight application on a cell phone in order to help prevent accidents.
ORGAN DONORS – Automatically enrolls in the state’s organ donor program anyone who applies for or renews a driver’s license. The person could opt out of the program by signing a written notice. Current law only enrolls people who voluntarily sign up for the program when applying for or renewing their driver’s license.
REQUIRE EMERGENCY CONTACT INFO FROM ALL DRIVERS – Requires licensed drivers over age 21 to provide the Registry of Motor Vehicles with the name and contact information of a person to be contacted in an emergency. Drivers under 21 would be required to provide the same information about their next of kin. The information would be stored and first responders could access it by scanning a barcode on the back of the victim’s license.
Supporters cite the case of 20-year-old Joshua Cloutier who was in a car accident in 2003 but since he was over 18, medical officials were not required to contact his parents. He spent three hours alone in the emergency room before his parents were told by the parents of another passenger in the car that Joshua had been in an accident.
Sharon Cloutier, Joshua’s mother, is leading the movement to get this bill signed into law. She has filed it for several years but it has never been approved.
ALLOW BUSINESSES TO OPT INTO “DO NOT CALL” LIST – Restricts telemarketing companies doing business in the state by allowing businesses to sign up for a “do not call” list and fining companies up to $5,000 if they call a business on the list. Current law only allows individual consumers to sign up for the list.
Under the bill, all current laws that now apply to individuals would also apply to businesses including allowing an individual on the list to sue a company for up to $5,000 if the company violates the law and calls the individual more than once a year; preventing companies from blocking their number from appearing on any business’ Caller ID; prohibiting companies from using recorded message devices to make these calls; and restricting these calls to between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Supporters said this long overdue bill will finally allow businesses to put a stop to these annoying invasions. They argued the system has worked well for consumers and will be a success for businesses.
QUOTABLE QUOTES – Special 2018 Ballot Question Edition
The committees supporting and opposing the three ballot questions on the November 2018 ballot spent the second highest total of money ever on ballot questions: a cool $42.6 million to influence voters.
QUESTION 1 (Defeated 1,858,483 to 787,511) – Limits how many patients can be assigned to each registered nurse in Massachusetts hospitals.
The amount spent by the “Committee to Ensure Safe Patient Care” (Supported the question)
The amount spent by the “Coalition to Protect Patient Safety” (Opposed the question)
QUESTION 2 (Approved 1,871,989 to 751,447) – Creates 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 corporations’ campaign contributions and expenditures may be regulated
The amount spent by “People Govern, Not Money” (Supported the question)
The amount spent by the “No on Two for Freedom of Speech” (Opposed the question)
QUESTION 3: REPEAL TRANSGENDER RIGHTS (1,806,742 to 857,401) – Repeals the current law that prohibits discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations by adding “gender identity” to existing Massachusetts law which already prohibits discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, sex, religion and marital status.
Amount spent by “Freedom for All Massachusetts Committee: (Supported the current law)
Amount spent by “Keep Massachusetts Safe Committee” (Opposed the current law)
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 February 18-22, the House met for a total of four hours and 50 minutes while the Senate met for a total of two hours and 16 minutes.
Mon. February 25 House 10:59 a.m. to 11:05 a.m
Senate 11:06 a.m. to 11:11 a.m
Tues. February 26 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. February 27 House 11:04 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.
No Senate session
Thurs. February 28 House 1:00 p.m. to 1:03 p.m
Senate 11:13 a.m. to 1:24 p.m
Fri. March 1 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at email@example.com