By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of March 11-15. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.
BAN CONVERSION THERAPY FOR ANYONE UNDER 18 (H 150)
House 149-9 and then again 148-8, approved and sent to the Senate a bill 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 recently.
Mental health experts and LGBTQ groups charge that the practice is scientifically unproven and unsound and can trigger depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts in these youngsters.
“Today we can pass a bill that would guarantee, at the very least, that the licensed professionals in … young people’s lives will no longer be permitted to try to change who they are,” said Rep. Jack Lewis (D-Framingham). “And more importantly we can offer assurances to those still struggling with coming out, or whose parents are still coming to terms with their orientation or identity, that that they will not be sent to a licensed therapist to change who they know themselves to be.”
Lewis called the practice barbaric and said to LGBTQ kids that nothing is broken, and nothing needs to be fixed. “You are great just the way you are, you are you, and you deserve more than just being tolerated, you deserve to be loved, to be supported, to be respected, and yes even celebrated,” Lewis concluded.
“This vote was an appalling assault on parental rights in the commonwealth,” said the president of the Massachusetts Family Institute Andrew Beckwith who opposes the ban. “Over 140 of our state legislators apparently believe that parents should not be able to get gender-confused children any treatment, even counseling, that might help them avoid cross-sex hormone injections, sterility or ‘transition’ surgery. The bill now heads to the Senate, where its sponsors want to mandate Department of Children and Families investigations for parents who are just trying to get common sense counseling for children who struggle with sexual confusion.”
“Health care providers have a fiduciary duty to do no harm to their clients,” said Rep. Sarah Peake (D-Provincetown) who spoke on the House floor about the fear she felt coming out as a lesbian to her family. “Don’t be mistaken. Conversion therapy does harm to their clients. Conversion therapy harms their clients through shaming, through increasing self-loathing, through bringing to the foreground feelings of self-hatred, inadequacy and the horrible feeling for any kid: the feeling of being other.”
“This bill discriminates against the rights of parents whose children are confused about their sexual orientation or gender identity, against the rights of children under 18 who desire counseling to help them sort through such confusion, and against therapists such as myself,” said psychologist Eric Sweitzer, Director of The Christian-based Charis Counseling Centers which counsel from a Christian faith-based perspective. “This is the state interfering with the religious beliefs and practices of ourselves and our clients, dictating how we and our clients should approach issues of sexual orientation and gender.”
There was an unusual second roll call vote on the bill requested by Rep. Susannah Whipps (U-Athol) who said she was recorded incorrectly on the first vote.
“On the first vote … I believed I voted “yes,” said Whipps. “I was surprised when a colleague showed me the printout and I was listed as a “no”. I voted in favor of this ban last session and have been a co-sponsor and advocate for this bill this session. I take a great deal of pride in my support of the LGBTQ community.”
She said she was very appreciative that the speaker and her colleagues were willing to accept her motion to reconsider and allow her vote to be corrected on the record. Changing your vote after a roll call is closed is not allowed in the House.
Alternately, Rep. Nick Boldyga (R-Southwick) was recorded as “yes” on the first vote and then “no” on the second.
“I voted “no” in June of 2018,” said Boldyga in a response to Beacon Hill Roll Call asking him why he flip-flopped last week. “My intention was to vote ‘no’ yesterday and I did.”
His response avoids the question about why he flip-flopped. Boldyga did not respond to a follow up e-mail from Beacon Hill Roll Call asking the question again.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it. Both roll calls are listed.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes/Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes/Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes/Yes
RULING OF THE CHAIR ON CONVERSION THERAPY AMENDMENTS (H 150)
House 123-33, supported the ruling of the chair that prohibited amendments to exempt talk therapy from the ban and to extend the restrictions to unlicensed practitioners, onto the House floor for debate and a vote.
The ruling is very technical, but the simple reason the amendments were not allowed was because the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities had postponed a hearing on a conversion therapy bill (H 110) filed by Rep. Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk).
“I certainly would hope no one would stoop so low as to hold my bill in committee just in order to block an amendment on the House floor but I have been given no other reason why my bill that was scheduled for a hearing with the other two conversion therapy bills was not heard without informing me,” said Dooley. “It is ironic that a party [the Democrats] with an 80 percent super majority has such fear of going on the record on even non-controversial votes.”
Rep. Kay Khan, the bill’s author and the chair of the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities did not respond to requests from Beacon Hill Roll Call asking why the hearing on Dooley’s bill was postponed.
(A “Yes” vote is for the ruling prohibiting the amendments onto the House floor for debate and a vote. “A “No” vote is against the ruling and favors allowing the amendments onto the House floor for debate and a vote.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost No
CAP ON WELFARE BENEFITS FOR KIDS (H 3594)
House 155-1, approved and sent to the Senate 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 welfare 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.
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.
“The House overwhelmingly supported family cap repeal … with a nearly unanimous vote of 155-1,” said Deborah Harris of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. “We hope that the urgency and support demonstrated by the House will help lift the cap on kids very soon so children will not have to wait any longer for this injustice to end.”
“I’m proud today that once again the House is voting to repeal the family welfare cap, a policy which denies assistance to our neediest families,” said then bill’s sponsor Rep. Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge), Chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery. “The family cap has been a failed policy since it was enacted, and it has only served to deny families living in poverty the resources that they desperately need. Today, families across Massachusetts can be assured the state sees them, it recognizes their needs, and will continue to meet their needs today and tomorrow.”
Rep. Colleen Garry (D-Dracut), the only opponent of the bill, did not respond to repeated attempts by Beacon Hill Roll Call to get a comment on her vote.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
REQUIRE REPORTING OF CHILD ABUSE (H 40) – The Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities will hold a hearing on March 26 at 10 a.m. in Room A2 at the Statehouse on a bill adding to the current list of mandated reporters required to report suspected child abuse or neglect.
The bill would add public or private school employees in Massachusetts; persons who care for or work with a child in any public or private child care facility; all state employees; and all volunteers who regularly work with children in locally-based teams and organizations such as volunteer youth sports coaches, church volunteers, park and recreation, library, scouting, boys and girls clubs, YMCA and any other person in a local youth organization who has contact with children. The current list of mandated reporters includes doctors and medical personnel, teachers and educational personnel, police officers, firefighters and many human service professionals.
“This bill is an important piece of legislation all about protecting our children,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Jay Barrows (R-Mansfield). “We are hearing about terrible situations every day involving abuse of our kids. I am hopeful this will move forward quickly out of committee.”
ONE MORE TIME… 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:
TAX SUGARY DRINKS – Taxes sugary soft drinks which are currently exempt from the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax.
Supporters say the tax would raise an estimated $368 million that the state would put to good use. They note the tax would discourage people from buying these drinks, help fight the obesity epidemic and stem the rising tide of obesity-related health issues including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Opponents say families are struggling financially and it is not the time for another tax increase promoted by the “food police.” Some noted that many other things contribute to obesity including a sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercise and fast food consumption.
UNSOLICITED CREDIT CARDS AND CHECKS – Prohibits a consumer from being liable for any debt incurred by unauthorized use by someone other than the recipient, of unsolicited credit cards, checks and vouchers sent by banks. These items, sent to consumers by banks and other financial institutions, can be used instantly but are actually loans which must be repaid.
WINDOW GUARDS – Requires landlords to install window guards in all units of their buildings that have a window higher than six feet off the ground and in which a child under ten years of age lives. The measure also prohibits landlords from discriminating against potential renters who have children under ten and fines them from $250 to $500.
PROHIBIT HIDDEN COMPARTMENTS – Prohibits the sale or equipping of motor vehicles with hidden compartments to conceal drugs or other illegal contraband.
FREE COLLEGE TUITION FOR ALL – Provides free tuition to Massachusetts residents to attend state community colleges and all other state universities.
$5,000 TO BABIES FOR COLLEGE – Gives $5,000 to all newborn babies to be used toward a college education at a community college or university in Massachusetts.
WAIVE COLLEGE TUITION FEES FOR VETERANS – Provides tuition and fee waivers at state universities for veterans. The cost would be paid by the state rather than the university.
HONOR OATHS OR BE PROSECUTED – Requires the prosecution of any public employee who has violated his or her oath of office, including the state’s 200 legislators, the governor and other constitutional officers. The measure provides for automatic job suspension of the offender.
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 11-15, the House met for a total of seven hours and five minutes while the Senate met for a total of 11 minutes.
Mon. March 11 House 11:04 a.m. to 11:11 a.m.
Senate 11:06 a.m. to 11:11 a.m.
Tues. March 12 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. March 13 House 11:07 a.m. to 5:59 p.m.
No Senate session
Thurs. March 7 House 11:04 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.
Senate 11:14 a.m. to 11:20 a.m.
Fri. March 8 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org