By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local seantors’ votes on the only roll call from the week of March 4-8. There were no roll calls in the House last week.
STUDY BROADCASTING INFORMAL SESSIONS OF THE SENATE
Senate 38-0, approved an order requiring the Senate Committee on Rules to study and provide a report by December 31, 2019 on the feasibility of broadcasting informal sessions online in the same manner and format as formal sessions. The report would include the estimated cost and cost effectiveness of the broadcasting; the recommended format; and additional considerations for the Senate in implementing this proposal. Currently informal sessions are not broadcast.
Informal sessions are ones in which there are no roll call votes and everything is approved or rejected on an unrecorded voice vote. However, at an informal session, a single legislator can hold up consideration of a bill until the next formal session by doubting the presence of a quorum. A quorum is when 21 members of the Senate are present. Since only a handful of legislators attend these sessions, the session would be adjourned for lack of a quorum.
Supporters said that some informal sessions are not the brief, quiet sessions that they used to be. They said major legislation is sometimes approved at informal sessions and the public should be able to watch these online.
(A “Yes” vote is for the study.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
BAN CONVERSION THERAPY FOR ANYONE UNDER 18 (H 150, S 70) – The Judiciary Committee held a packed hearing on and then approved two proposals that would prohibit psychiatrists, psychologists and other health care providers from attempting to change the sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression of anyone under 18. Conversion therapy exposes the person to a stimulus while simultaneously subjecting him or her to some form of discomfort. The therapy is primarily used to try to convert gays and lesbians to be straight.
Both branches approved a similar bill last year but it never made it to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk.
“If a conversion therapy bill gets to my desk and we don’t see any other issues with it, it’s something we’d be inclined to support,” Baker said last week.
“Mental health professionals, including licensed social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and other state-licensed professionals have a medical and ethical responsibility to their patients not to engage in these harmful, discredited practices,” said Rep. Kay Khan (D-Newton), the House sponsor of the proposal. “Such professionals have an obligation to assist their patients in grappling with questions of sexual orientation and gender identity in a healthy and medically sound manner, not one that fosters an environment of prejudice and discrimination, leading to depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal and thoughts of suicide.”
“This legislation would prevent many young people and their parents from getting the treatment they desire,” said the president of the Massachusetts Family Institute Andrew Beckwith who opposes the ban. “Instead, it would ban mental health professionals from even giving ‘talk therapy’ to those who ask for it. This type of counseling on issues of sexual orientation or gender identity would even be labeled ‘child abuse’ and children could be removed from the home by the Department of Children and Families if parents decided to get a gender confused child counseling instead of hormones and surgery.”
“Conversion therapy is based on the concept that people’s sexual orientation or gender identity can be fixed,” said Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester). “Well, I say there’s nothing to fix.”
“It’s vital that Massachusetts ban the harmful practice of conversion therapy,” said Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester). “The legislation proposed serves the dual goals of protecting many of our most vulnerable young people and affirming the human rights or LGBTQ residents of the commonwealth.”
“This proposed law will have devastating, life-threatening consequences,” said Mat Staver, Chairman of Liberty Counsel Action. “These legislators have no right to censor a counselor and the client.”
Rep. Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica) has repeatedly said that the U.S. Supreme Court, in a recent case ruled that “professional speech” is free speech and can’t be restricted.”
Supporters of the bill said the bill is constitutional. They argued the bill does not limit free speech but simply limits an unrecognized medical practice.
Rep. Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk) said he supports the goal to ban harmful, ineffective and damaging practices that aim to change any youth’s sexual orientation or gender identity. “However, in achieving this goal, we must be sure to be as comprehensive as possible and be sure to be respectful of the First Amendment,” said Dooley.
Dooley proposed his own bill that includes a provision that no practice that utilizes discussion alone could be construed as a harmful sexual identity and gender identity change effort.
“Recently … the Supreme Court ruled that professional speech is protected under the First Amendment,” said Dooley. “This ruling creates a serious barrier to any law that seeks to unduly limit professional speech. So if we aim to fully and completely address this important issue, we must ensure that our law can withstand the rigors of judicial review.”
CAP ON WELFARE BENEFITS FOR KIDS H 104) – The Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities held a hearing on and then approved a bill that repeals the current law that denies an additional $100 in welfare benefits to children conceived while – or soon after – the family began receiving the benefits or, if they had received family welfare benefits in the past. The law was adopted in 1995 as part of a welfare reform package that was aimed at discouraging families already receiving public support from having more children.
The Legislature last year sent Gov. Charlie Baker similar legislation that would have lifted the cap on kids, but Baker vetoed the bill in August after the Legislature ended formal sessions for the year and was forfeited the right to override the veto.
Supporters of the repeal said that there are some 8,700 children who currently fall under the cap in the Bay State. These families are barred from receiving an additional $100 a month to help support that child. They said there are no facts to back up the charge that families are having more children in order to get the additional $100.
“We hope that the overwhelming support in the Legislature will help Lift the Cap on Kids very soon so children do not have to wait even longer for a clean diaper or a pair of mittens,” said Deborah Harris of the Mass. Law Reform Institute, one of the lead organizations in the 124-member Coalition to Lift the Cap on Kids.
“The family welfare cap is an archaic and failed policy that only punishes our most vulnerable children born into extreme poverty,” said Rep. Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge). “Over 8,000 children across the commonwealth are denied benefits that would go towards their food and medical care.”
No one spoke against the bill.
$200 MILLION FOR LOCAL ROADS AND BRIDGES – The House Ways and Means Committee has recommended passage of a bill authorizing $200 million in one-time funding for the maintenance and repair of local roads and bridges in cities and towns across the state. The package is a bond bill under which the funding would be borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds.
Supporters said the $200 million would help cities and towns keep their roads and bridges safe and allow many vital municipal road projects to move forward.
Some cities and towns prefer a bill that provides $600 million over three years. Some municipal leaders note that approving $200 million per year for three years is helpful to cities and towns that would prefer to know the money is guaranteed each year for the next three years.
$143.9 MILLION SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET (S 2181) – The Senate approved a $143.9 million supplemental budget to cover expenses and to fund various state programs and agencies that are running out of money. The package is some $38 million less than the one proposed by Gov. 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; $16 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 that will begin to close out the books on the fiscal 2018 state budget.
“Local farmers are calling for legal authorization to grow hemp on their Agricultural Preservation Restriction land. This legislation grants them that approval. The new legal marijuana industry is creating a number of economic opportunities statewide and we want to make sure local farmers are able to participate.”
Sen. Adam Hines (D-Pittsfield) on Senate approval of this authorization.
“Our research will explore and experiment with new ways of sharing data across different organizations that are compliant with HIPAA.”
Umass Lowell Professor Yan Luo on the National Science Foundation’s awarding nearly $1 million to a team of researchers to help protect medical information from cyberattacks. HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, mandates data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information.
“If anyone wants to know what makes Massachusetts such a thriving, creative and entrepreneurial state, here it is: We’re blessed with talent from all around the world.”
Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) Executive Director Eva Millona at the 23rd annual Immigrants’ Day at the Statehouse to advocate for legislation and vital investments to benefit immigrants and refugees in the state.
“This report from MASSPIRG shows the rising costs and lack of transparency over how prescription drugs are priced, which creates a burden on families and small businesses, as well as the state’s budget for MassHealth. Our bill aims to make prescription drugs affordable and available for Massachusetts consumers by increasing transparency for drug pricing and making the pharmaceutical industry accountable, as we all work to control health care costs.”
Rep. Christine Barber (D-Somerville) on MASSPIRG’s survey of retail prices of commonly-prescribed medications which found that patients can save hundreds, even thousands of dollars in some cases by shopping around at pharmacies within their communities.
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 March 4-8 the House met for a total of three hours and 5 minutes while the Senate met for a total of five hours and 12 minutes.
Mon. March 4 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:36 a.m.
Senate 11:00 a.m. to 11:12 a.m.
Tues. March 5 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. March 6 No House session
No Senate session
Thurs. March 7 House 11:05 a.m. to 1:35 p.m.
Senate 11:05 a.m. to 4:05 p.m.
Fri. March 8 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at email@example.com