By Bob Katzen
This week’s report features the grades received from The Massachusetts Public Interest Group, the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund and Citizens for Limited Taxation.
CITIZENS FOR LIMITED TAXATION (CLT)
CLT, founded in 1974, describes itself as the group that “defended state taxpayers against a proposed state graduated income tax, which it defeated on the 1976 statewide ballot, and again in 1994. CLT also limited property and auto excise taxes with Proposition 2½ in 1980, repealed the surtax and created a state tax cap in 1986 and rolled back the “temporary” income tax hike on the 2000 ballot. For decades CLT has provided its annual ‘Rating of Legislators’ to provide taxpayers with easy access to the performance of their respective state representative and senator regarding tax policy.”
“For 45 years CLT has been the bulwark for taxpayers against unlimited taxation in a state that has an insatiable spending problem,” said Chip Ford, executive director. “Since its founding, CLT has saved Massachusetts taxpayers billions of their hard-earned dollars.”
Key to scorecard: CLT used ten House votes and five Senate votes when calculating the 2017 ratings of the state’s legislators. Issues include the legislative pay hike, reducing the sales tax and income tax to 5 percent, imposing a graduated income tax, increasing the senior property tax deduction to $2,000 and requiring a social security number in order to get public housing.
More details on the scorecard at http://cltg.org/cltg/clt2018/2017_Ratings.htm
Here is the percentage of time local representatives and senators voted with CLT:
Rep. Christine Barber 0 percent Rep. Mike Connolly 20 percent Rep. Denise Provost 20 percent Sen. Patricia Jehlen 20 percent
MASSACHUSETTS PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP (MASSPIRG)
MASSPIRG, founded in 1972, describes itself as a consumer group that “stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security or our right to fully participate in our democratic society. Since 1972, we’ve stood up for consumers, countering the influence of big banks, insurers, chemical manufacturers and other powerful special interests.”
“In our role as watchdog and advocate for the public interest, we monitor the voting records of Massachusetts’ state lawmakers each legislative session,” said Executive Director Janet Domenitz. “We appreciate the hard work of the entire Legislature, and particularly those that scored 100 percent.”
“While a number of our legislative priorities passed into law, many more did not. Disappointingly, a number of popular bills were never brought up for a vote – despite being approved by a committee and being cosponsored by a significant number of lawmakers. We hope that the 2019-2020 session brings more transparency, and more wins, for the public interest,” she concluded.
Key to rating: MASSPIRG’s scorecard graded state lawmakers on a variety of votes and co-sponsorships of bills including ones that would protect consumers, improve voter access to the ballot, invest in public transportation, promote government transparency, increase renewable energy, protect bees and reduce solid waste
Members of the Senate are scored out of twelve points (eleven votes and one bill co-sponsorship). Members of the House are scored out of nine points (seven votes and two bill co-sponsorships.)
More details on the scorecard are at https://masspirg.org/sites/pirg/files/reports/MAP%20Legislative%20Scorecard%20Final%202017-18%20session.pdf
Here is the percentage of time local representatives and senators voted with MASSPIRG:
Rep. Christine Barber 100 percent Rep. Mike Connolly 100 percent Rep. Denise Provost 100 percent Sen. Patricia Jehlen 100 percent
PLANNED PARENTHOOD ADVOCACY FUND
The Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund, founded in 1984, is the advocacy and political arm of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts which was founded in 1928. It describes itself as “advocates for state policies that dismantle barriers to sexual and reproductive health care, including safe, legal abortion, improve access to comprehensive sex education and protect reproductive rights of all people.”
“As the leading advocate for reproductive rights in Massachusetts, the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund is working towards a state in which every person has the rights, freedoms, and opportunities to control their lives and determine the course of their own futures—no matter what,” said Tricia Wajda, Vice President of External Affairs for the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund. By championing bold policies that break down entrenched barriers to health care, improve access to sex education, and defend reproductive rights against political attacks, The Advocacy Fund is helping build healthier and more equitable communities.”
Key to rating: The scorecard assigns each Massachusetts state representative and senator a rating of: “Champion,” “Ally,” “Mixed,” “Opponent” or “NEI” (not enough information) based on each legislator’s lifetime voting record, co-sponsorship history, public statements and other factors. Here are the definitions:
Champion: A legislator who has demonstrated leadership on the Advocacy Fund’s legislative agenda and works in partnership with the fund to advance its shared goal to improve access to sexual and reproductive health care and protect the health and rights of Massachusetts residents.
Ally: A legislator who consistently supports the fund’s legislative and policy agenda including protecting access to safe, legal abortion.
Mixed: A legislator who may oppose access to safe, legal abortion – but who supports preventive health measures – such as family planning and sex education – and is willing to work with the Advocacy Fund in support of these issues. In other instances, a “mixed” legislator may support abortion access, but has taken action against sexual and reproductive health care access either with a vote or public statement.
Opponent: A legislator who vocally opposes access to safe, legal abortion and/or access to sexual and reproductive health care more broadly. A legislator who supports some health issues included in the Advocacy Agenda may still be considered an Advocacy Fund opponent.
Not Enough Information (NEI): A legislator who has not participated in the Advocacy Fund’s endorsement process or has not taken a public stance on the fund’s priority issues.
More details on the scorecard are at: https://www.plannedparenthoodaction.org/planned-parenthood-advocacy-fund-massachusetts-inc/elections/legislative-scorecard
Here is how local representatives and senators were rated by the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund:
Rep. Christine Barber Champion Rep. Mike Connolly Champion Rep. Denise Provost Champion Sen. Patricia Jehlen Champion
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
CAP ON WELFARE BENEFITS FOR KIDS (H 3594) – The House and Senate approved, without a roll call vote, and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker 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. 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 say 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 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), one of only two opponents of the bill. Rep. Colleen Garry (D-Dracut), the other opponent of the bill, did not respond to repeated attempts by Beacon Hill Roll Call to get a comment on her vote.
Humason says 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.
BAN CONVERSION THERAPY FOR ANYONE UNDER 18 (H 150) – The House and Senate approved, without a roll call vote, and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker 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.
Opponents of the repeal said that the passage of the bill was “an assault on parental rights in the commonwealth.” They said it is unfair that most 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.
PLASTIC BAG BAN (H 771) – The Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee held a hearing on a bill would prohibit stores effective August 1, 2019 from providing customers with a single-use carryout bag. The bag is defined as “made of plastic, paper or other material that is provided by a store to a customer at the point of sale and that is not a recycled paper bag or a reusable grocery bag.”
The bill first phases out single-use carryout bags by imposing a 10-cent fee on single-use carryout bags, reusable grocery bags and recycled paper bags from the day the bill is signed into law until August 1, 2019. After the phaseout period, stores would be required to make recycled paper bags available for a charge of 10 cents and have the option to also sell reusable bags to customers for at least 10 cents. All of this revenue would be retained by the stores.
“Plastic bags are more than just the ‘urban tumbleweed’ that we know,” said the bill’s House sponsor Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead). “Plastic bags kill wildlife, drive up municipal costs by clogging sewers and break recycling machinery. With a patchwork of 96 plastic bag ordinances across the commonwealth, there is a clear need to act to both protect the environment and to provide a clear standard for businesses and residents of the commonwealth alike. This is a heartbreaking issue, and I am confident that Massachusetts will step up.”
The proposed plastic bag ban is essentially a tax on grocery bags and increases costs for both small businesses and consumers,” said Christopher Carlozzi, Massachusetts Director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB). “Most retail shops already offer a choice of carryout bags (paper, plastic, reusable) to suit a customer’s needs. Instead of a bag ban, Massachusetts should encourage increased promotion and education of existing reduce/reuse/recycle programs.”
“We believe the consumer is always right, therefore government taking away their right to choose is bad public policy, particularly when those laws only negatively affect local employers and their customers, not the Internet competition,” said Jon Hurst, President of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts (RAM). “However, at this point the crazy quilt of local ordinances lobbied through by the activists make a statewide standard on acceptable bags more logical.”
He said that 79 percent of RAM’s members oppose the mandatory 10 cent bag fee contained in the bill, when applied to small, non-food selling stores. “Therefore any plastic bag ban/paper bag fee bill absolutely must have a small store or non -food seller opt out on that paper bag fee or tax. All stores, large or small, food or non-food, would still have to eliminate plastic bags; but Main Street businesses should have the right to choose how they serve their customers on paper bags. Legislators must start understanding that they cannot continue to say that they believe in having consumers spend their dollars in the local economy when they create consumer financial incentives to do otherwise by spending with out of state Internet firms.”
EMINENT DOMAIN (H 83) – The Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a proposed constitutional amendment that would prohibit private property from being taken by the government for private commercial enterprise, economic development or any other private use without the consent of the owner. A similar measure was originally filed in 2005 as a response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows communities to seize private homes and businesses solely for commercial purposes. The ruling also allows states to establish laws prohibiting the practice.
“Respect for private property rights is a founding principle of our democracy, and one I believe should be firmly protected,” said the proposal’s sponsor House Minority Leader Brad Jones (R-North Reading). “This bill reasserts the protections provided by the Massachusetts Constitution and the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by ensuring that government land seizures are limited to those instances where the taking of land is necessary for the good of the whole community, not for the benefit of a limited class of persons.”
Opponents say the proposal is too strict and ties the hands of the government in an emergency.
MAKE STATE CONSTITUTION GENDER-NEUTRAL (H 80) – The Judiciary Committee also heard testimony on a proposed constitutional amendment that would replace the word “he” with the gender-neutral pronoun “they” in the 84 instances in which the word “he” is in the Massachusetts Constitution.
“For me, it’s really about making sure that the constitution is as inclusive a document as we can make it,” said the measure’s sponsor Rep. Mindy Domb (D-Amherst). “It says ‘he.’ It doesn’t mean ‘he.’ It doesn’t mean only men. There are lots of women who are in office. It means all of us, and we need to make sure that the document says that so that all of us and all of our kids can see themselves in this constitution.”
SOCIAL MEDIA PRIVACY PROTECTION (H 1628) – The Labor and Workforce Development Committee held a hearing on 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; prohibit requiring an individual to “friend” a coach, school administrator, other school employees or employer as a condition of employment or participation in school activities; allow an aggrieved student or applicant to bring a civil suit against the school for violating these new laws; and permit schools to disclose lawfully obtained information from a student’s personal social media account to law enforcement.
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 would never be demanded by a school or employer.
“We would not expect a potential employer to read our mail or eavesdrop on a private conversation when we apply for a job,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Ken Gordon (D-Bedford). “So, it’s understandable why a job applicant should be protected from a potential employer’s request for a social media password so the employer can read private messages. An employer can be expected to search an applicant’s public social media posts and this bill will not interfere with that.”
The Massachusetts Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning (LGBTQ) Youth today released its annual recommendations to state lawmakers and regulators outlining actions to be taken to better support LGBTQ youth in communities across the commonwealth. The report includes new data from the state’s youth risk behavior survey results.
“This report outlines important steps that should be taken to better support LGBTQ youth across Massachusetts, said Corey Prachniak-Rincón, Director of the commission. “The results of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey demonstrate the critical need that exists to ensure LGBTQ youth are healthy, safe, and thriving as they grow into adulthood.”
Recommendations include requiring all state employees and contractors to receive basic training on LGBTQ inclusion; more guidance and support for schools to work on LGBTQ inclusion; all school districts in the commonwealth to offer comprehensive, evidence-based and LGBTQ-inclusive sexual health education; and an increase in funding for the prevention and treatment of youth homelessness.
Here are some numbers from the survey:
Percentage of youth who identified as LGBTQ.
Percentage of LGBTQ youth who report having been bullied in the past year, compared to 12.8 percent of non-LGBTQ youth.
Percentage of LGBTQ youth report having hurt themselves on purpose in past year, including having cut or burned themselves. This is compared to 11.2 percent of non-LGBTQ youth.
Percentage of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, compared to 9.9 percent of non-LGBTQ youth.
Percentage of LGBTQ youth who made a suicide attempt, compared to 4.1 percent of non-LGBTQ youth.
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 April 1-5, the House and enate each met for a total of one hour and 16 minutes while the Senate met for a total of one hour and 26 minutes.
Mon. April 1 House 11:02 a.m. to 11:05 a.m.
Senate 11:03 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.
Tues. April 2 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. April 3 No House session
No Senate session
Thurs. April 4 House 11:00 a.m. to 12.13 p.m.
Senate 11:09 a.m. to 12:18 p.m.
Fri. April 5 No House session
No Senate session
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