By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local legislators’ votes on roll calls from the week March 25-29.
$8 MILLION FOR FAMILY PLANNING PROVIDERS (H3638)
House 140-14, Senate 33-5, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a bill to provide up to $8 million for family planning providers. The Trump administration recently announced it would no longer direct federal funds which support family planning services for low-income residents, toward any clinic that provides, refers or offers counseling on abortions. The $8 million would be used to replace whatever funding Massachusetts clinics lose under the new Trump rule which also faces a legal challenge from 21 states, including Massachusetts, but will go into effect in May if it is not blocked in court.
“Once again, where Washington falls short, we in the commonwealth are ready and willing to step up and fill the needed gap,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chair Aaron Michlewitz (D-Boston). “We cannot allow people’s health care to be put at risk because of the narrow-minded politics of the Trump administration. Today, we are taking the first step to put a stop to this.”
Michlewitz noted that an estimated 75,000 Massachusetts residents, most of whom earn less than $30,000 a year, would be impacted by the cut in federal funding.
“This action by the House is nothing but a giveaway of our tax dollars to the abortion business,” said Chanel Prunier, executive director of the Renew Massachusetts Coalition which opposes the funding. “The CEO of Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts makes over $250,000 annually, and they spend millions each year on political advocacy and campaign efforts. So why are our taxes making up for their funding shortfall?”
(A “Yes” vote is for the $8 million. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
BAN CONVERSION THERAPY FOR ANYONE UNDER 18 (S 2187)
Senate 34-0, approved 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. The House has approved its own version of the bill and the Senate version now goes to the House for consideration.
Both branches approved a similar bill last year but it never made it to Gov. 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 subjected to it.
“We have a responsibility to ensure a safe and supportive environment for all young people,” said Sen. Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford), the Senate sponsor of the bill. “Seeking to force a child to change one’s identity or orientation at such a vulnerable point in their young lives inflicts significant harm and is no less than child abuse.”
Shortly after the vote, the Human Rights Campaign tweeted, “Victory: the Massachusetts Senate just voted to protect #LGBTQ youth from the dangerous and debunked practice of so-called ‘conversion therapy.’”
“This [is] an appalling assault on parental rights in the commonwealth,” said the president of the Massachusetts Family Institute Andrew Beckwith who opposes the ban. “[Some] 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.”
Five senators voted “present” rather than for or against the bill. “We want to be clear that we do not support conversion therapy or any other type of coercive therapy that purports to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity,” said Sen. Vinny deMacedo (R-Plymouth). “If there were evidence of these practices taking place in Massachusetts, we would wholeheartedly support banning them. However, we have serious concerns about the way this legislation infringes on the constitutional rights of licensed professionals to provide mental health counseling and talk therapy using the knowledge, judgment and expertise that they have acquired through years of study and practice. The vague wording of the legislation provides too much room for interpretation in an area that requires caution and precision from government intervention. By voting ‘present’ we hoped to register our concerns while making it clear that these types of coercive therapies have no place in the commonwealth.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the ban).
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
CONSTITUTIONALITY OF THERAPY BAN (S 2187)
Senate 6-32, rejected a proposal asking the Supreme Judicial Court to advise the Senate on whether the therapy ban is constitutional. The court would be asked if the bill violates the provisions of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by violating the right of free speech of professional counselors; the constitutional rights of parents; or the constitutional or statutory rights of privacy or patient confidentiality.
Supporters of asking the court about the constitutionality of the therapy ban said they support the conversion therapy ban but are concerned that the ban is likely to be challenged. They believe the Senate should get an opinion before the challenge in order to ensure the bill doesn’t get delayed.
“We are confident that the pending bill is constitutional,” said Sen. Joan Lovely (D-Salem) who opposed getting the court’s opinion. “It relies on well-established authority of the state to regulate professional conduct.”
(A “Yes” vote is for getting a court opinion. A “No” vote is against getting it).
Sen. Patricia Jehlen No
REMOVE CAP ON WELFARE BENEFITS FOR KIDS (S 2186)
Senate 37-1, approved a bill that repeals the current law that denies an additional $100 per month 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. The House has approved its own version of the bill and the Senate version now goes to the House for consideration.
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.
“I have heard countless personal accounts from many families who are hurt by this cap on kids,” said Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett), the Senate sponsor of the proposal. “Because their benefits are so low, parents with ‘capped’ children struggle to meet their families’ basic needs. For instance, they often can’t pay for enough diapers to keep their child clean, dry and healthy. And they are forced to make painful choices about which necessities they can afford. We know that it’s time to take action to repeal this outdated, ineffective and unjust policy, and show that we value all children equally, regardless of the circumstances of their birth.”
“I think it’s unfair to ask the constituents back home to pay for a benefit for others that they don’t get themselves,” said Sen. Don Humason (R-Westfield), the only opponent of the bill. He said the Legislature should have a big heart and take care of people but noted he also needs to listen to his constituents who tell him they are having a difficult time making ends meet and are limiting the number of children they have. He said his constituents tell him they are not eligible for any welfare benefits but are forced to pay these benefits for others who decide to have more children.
(A “Yes” vote is for removing the cap. A “No” vote is against removing it).
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
The Transportation Committee held a hearing on several bills last week including:
IT’S A PEDESTRIAN (H 3626) – Considers a person using a non-motorized vehicle who is crossing the roadway in a marked crosswalk where traffic control signals are not in place or not in operation, a pedestrian. Non-motorized vehicles include bicycles, scooters, roller blades, roller skates and skateboards.
“In the past two decades, Massachusetts has created miles of long, linear parks that are beloved by people who are walking, jogging and on bicycles,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Tommy Vitolo (D-Brookline). “Where these parks are divided by roads, unsignalized crosswalks are relied upon. [This bill] aligns the law with current safe practices—that all park users are expected to use the crosswalk safely, and all people driving are expected to yield to those in the crosswalk.”
BAN HAND-HELD CELL PHONES (S 2120) – Bans the use of hand-held cell phones for all drivers but allows them to use a hands-free cell phone.
Penalties on drivers over 18 include a $100 fine for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for subsequent ones. Drivers under 18 would face the same fines as those over 18 but would also be subject to suspension of their license for 60 days for a first offense, 180 days for a second offense and one year for subsequent ones. Third-time and subsequent violations of the law would be considered moving violations and drivers would be subject to surcharges on their auto insurance.
“Distracted driving from unnecessary cell phone use is a major hazard for motorists and pedestrians leading to tragic injuries and loss of life,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford). “Hands-free technology is readily accessible and affordable, and we must act now to save lives and help law enforcement increase roadway safety … There is no more excuse. We must act now.”
Some opponents say that the restriction is another example of government intrusion into people’s cars and lives. Others noted that there are already laws on the books prohibiting driving while distracted and said that the bill is a bonanza for insurance companies that will collect millions of dollars in surcharges.
GENDER X (H 3070) – Allows for residents to choose a third gender option, “X” in lieu of “male” or “female” on an application for a driver’s license, learner’s permit, identification card or liquor purchase identification card. No documentation would be required for the person to choose the “X” option.
“This issue was brought to my attention by a constituent who identifies as gender-non binary,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. David Linsky (D-Natick). “They were struggling with what they would do when it came time to choose a gender for their driver’s license. Applying for a driver’s license should be an exciting day for all teenagers, not overcome by stress for young people who identify as gender non-binary. This legislation is about ensuring that every person in the commonwealth of Massachusetts feels welcomed and accepted.”
“Identifying documents serve a variety of crucial purposes that help society function on a basic level,” said Christopher Jay, an attorney for the Massachusetts Family Institute which opposes the measure. “Introducing false and incomplete information into the system undermines their purpose and harms society. There is no logical boundary here. If someone can specify their gender regardless of biological fact, why not specify a different race, age, height, weight or eye color according to how the person feels?”
QUOTABLE QUOTES – By the Numbers Edition
Last Wednesday, March 27, was Massachusetts Agriculture Day and some 200 farmers gathered on Beacon Hill to lobby for the state’s farm industry.
“We recognize the dedication of Massachusetts farmers in providing nutritious, fresh, local and environmentally sustainable agricultural products throughout the year,” said Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner John Lebeaux. “Our department is proud to support these farmers in being sustainable and profitable through marketing, promotion and our extensive grant programs.”
Here are some numbers according to the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation:
The number of farms in Massachusetts.
The number of acres of open space occupied by farms.
The number of farm workers in the Bay State.
The amount of money contributed by the farming industry to the state’s economy.
Rating among the 50 states in direct market agricultural sales.
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 25-29, the House met for a total of eight hours and 54 minutes while the Senate met for a total of four hours and 33 minutes.
Mon. March 25 House 11:05 a.m. to 1:44 p.m.
Senate 11:10 a.m. to 11:22 a.m.
Tues. March 26 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. March 27 House 11:01 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
No Senate session
Thurs. March 28 House 11:00 a.m. to 2:16 p.m.
Senate 12:01 p.m. to 4:22 p.m.
Fri. March 29 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at email@example.com