By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of April 8-12. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.
REMOVE CAP ON WELFARE BENEFITS FOR KIDS (H 3594)
House 155-1, overrode Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto of 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. The veto now goes to the Senate which will likely override it at which point the cap will be officially repealed.
In his veto letter, Baker said that “eliminating this cap should be accompanied by other reforms to the welfare system designed to align the eligibility determination with federal standards and support recipients as they return to work.”
“[We should] allow an applicant seeking benefits to disregard the value of a single car, so as to protect the family’s access to transportation, including for job-seeking, without disqualifying them from receiving benefits,” said Baker. “My budget proposal [also] ensures that homeless families would no longer see a benefit reduction for accessing temporary shelter.”
Baker also noted that his proposal would require that adult Supplemental Security Income (SSI) be counted in the eligibility calculation for welfare applicants. “This … would treat SSI the same as other sources of benefit income—like veterans or retirement, survivors’ benefits and disability insurance benefits—that are already counted in determining eligibility and benefit level under welfare,” concluded the governor.
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.
“Proud that today the House voted 155-1 to override Gov. Baker’s veto to #LiftTheCap for the second time,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge), Chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery on her Facebook page. “Our message to the 8,700 MA kids living in poverty is clear: you are worthy of the support your siblings receive.”
“I believe the governor is correct that we need to put reforms in this ever-growing account,” said Rep. Colleen Garry (D-Dracut), the only member who did not vote to override the veto. “We need to remember the middle-class people we represent. At some point, enough is enough. I personally have friends who would have loved to have more children, but they knew they could not afford the cost of raising additional children. There needs to be responsibility and accountability amongst individuals in the commonwealth.”
(A “Yes” vote is for lifting the cap. A “No” vote is against lifting it.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes
RULES FOR HOUSE BUDGET DEBATE (H 3799)
House 127-30, approved a set of Democratic leadership-sponsored rules to be followed when the House considers the $42.7 billion fiscal 2020 state budget beginning on Monday, April 22. Provisions include requiring all amendments to be filed online by Friday, April 12 and any proposed tax hikes or reductions to be considered early in the process. The rules also prohibit any members from offering amendments related to gambling or sports betting.
Several Republican attempts to amend the rules failed on voice votes without a roll call. An amendment to give representatives until April 16 instead of April 12 to file was defeated, as was an amendment making it harder to ship off budget amendments to a study committee instead of voting on the amendment itself.
Supporters said these rules are fair and responsible and will help make the budget debate go smoothly. They noted the House has adopted many reforms over the years to make the process more transparent.
Opponents said the rules include several provisions that are anti-democratic and weaken the input of individual members. They noted legislators should have more time to file budget amendments and review complicated consolidated amendments which are often voted on before members can finish reviewing them.
(A “Yes” vote is for the rules. A “No” vote is against the rules.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes
ALLOW AMENDMENTS ON GAMBLING AND SPORT BETTING (H 3799)
House 31-126, rejected a Republican proposal to allow amendments proposing online wagering, online lottery or sports betting to be allowed on the floor for debate and a vote.
Supporters said sports betting can be a great revenue source for the state and argued that debating and voting on it should not be forbidden and delayed. They noted the state is already losing sports betting revenue to neighboring states.
Opponents said the issue is too important and complicated to be dealt with in a state budget. They argued the bill will be considered as a separate piece of legislation soon and there will be public hearings. They noted that some states rushed into sports betting and are not doing well with it.
(A “Yes” vote is for allowing amendments on online wagering, online lottery and sports betting. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Mike Connolly No Rep. Denise Provost No
ALLOW ONE HOUR TO READ CONSOLIDATED BUDGET AMENDMENTS (H 3799)
House 31-126, rejected a Republican proposal that would increase from 30 minutes to one hour the period given to legislators to read any proposed consolidated amendment to the House budget prior to debate and a vote on it.
The consolidated amendment system works as follows: Individual representatives file dozens of amendments on the same general subject matters including local aid, social services and public safety. They are then invited to “subject meetings” in Room 348 where they pitch their amendments to Democratic leaders who then draft lengthy, consolidated amendments that include some of the individual representatives’ amendments while excluding others. The House then approves the consolidated amendment.
Supporters of the one-hour rule said these amendments are often up to 30 pages long. They said that this system is anti-democratic and results in members voting on something that they have not even read.
Opponents of the one-hour rule said the current 30-minute rule has worked well.
(A “Yes” vote is for allowing one hour. A “No” vote is against allowing it.)
Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Mike Connolly No Rep. Denise Provost No
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE PROPOSES $42.7 BILLION FISCAL 2020 STATE BUDGET – The House fired the second shot in the long battle over the state budget for fiscal year 2020 that begins on July 1. Gov. Baker fired the opening volley a few weeks ago when he filed his version. The House Ways and Means Committee last week unveiled its own $42.7 billion version. Debate on that package is scheduled to begin during the week of April 22.
The House package increases the current year’s budget by 3 percent and includes no increases to broad-based taxes. MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program that provides health care for low-income and disabled persons, receives an additional $343 million—the single largest increase in the budget. The budget funds MassHealth at $16.57 billion which accounts for some 38 percent of the entire budget.
The budget relies on $133 million in new revenue from marijuana sales, $294 million from gaming taxes and $42 million from online sales tax from retailers. It does not include new taxes that the governor proposed in his version of the budget. Absent from the House package is an estimated $35 million from sports betting, $6 million from a new tax on e-cigarettes and vapor products, and $14 million from a tax on opioid manufacturers.
After the House finally approves the package, the Senate will follow suit with its own draft, and a House-Senate conference committee will eventually craft a plan that will be presented to the House and Senate for consideration and sent to the governor.
BAN CONVERSION THERAPY FOR ANYONE UNDER 18 (S 2187) – Gov. Baker signed into law 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. Mental health experts and LGBTQ groups charge that the practice is scientifically unproven and unsound and can trigger depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts in youngsters who are subjected to it.
“This law will protect youth from the significant harm inflicted by those who engage in the antiquated practice of conversion therapy,” said Ben Klein, Senior Attorney for GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders. “LGBTQ youth must be able to grow up in a world in which they can thrive and develop into adults under the same conditions as their peers. This bill is a proud moment in Massachusetts’ long history of creating a better world for all young people. Today there is a consensus among the medical and mental health professional groups that conversion therapy is ineffective.”
“This law is an extraordinarily invasive assault on the rights of parents to raise their children and a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech for the counselors whose help they seek,” said Andrew Beckwith, President of the Massachusetts Family Institute. “[We] will pursue legal action against the counseling ban to defend those constitutional rights in our commonwealth.”
$8 MILLION FOR FAMILY PLANNING PROVIDERS (H3638) – Gov. Baker signed into law 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.
Supporters of allocating the $8 million said 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.
“Signing this bill into law ensures women’s health providers across Massachusetts will continue to have access to these critical funds,” said Gov. Baker. “We are proud that Massachusetts remains a national leader in women’s health care.”
“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?”
4 PERCENT TAX HIKE ON MILLIONAIRES – A new campaign is underway to promote an amendment to the state constitution to allow a graduated income tax in Massachusetts and impose an additional 4 percent income tax, in addition to the current flat 5.1 percent tax, on taxpayers’ earnings of more than $1 million. Language in the amendment requires that, “subject to appropriation,” the revenue goes to fund quality public education, affordable public colleges and universities, and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges and public transportation.
The proposal is sponsored by Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) and Rep. James O’Day (D-West Boylston). It would need the votes of 101 of the 200 members of the House and Senate in the current 2019-2020 session and again in the 2021-2022 session. The earliest it could be on the ballot is in November 2022.
A similar effort by a group called the “Raise Up Coalition” to get the question on the 2018 ballot was derailed when it was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Judicial Court which said the constitution prohibits placing more than one objective in a single proposed constitutional amendment that is sought by a citizens’ group. The court’s decision noted that the proposal imposed the tax and then stipulates how the money could be spent.
The current amendment is proposed by legislators rather than citizens and according to proponents, amendments proposed by legislators can have more than one objective and would not be ruled unconstitutional by the court.
Supporters say the amendment will affect only 14,000 extremely wealthy individuals and will generate up to $1.9 billion per year in additional tax revenue. They argue that using the funds for public education, public colleges, and universities, and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges and public transportation will benefit millions of Bay State taxpayers.
Opponents argue the new tax will result in the loss of 9,500 private sector jobs, the loss of $405 million annually in personal disposable income, and some millionaires moving out of state. They argued that the earmarking of the funds for specific projects is illegal and said all the funds will go into the General Fund and be up for grabs to spend on anything.
“The $2 billion in new revenue that this proposal would raise would go a long way in helping to fix crumbling roads and bridges, improving service on the MBTA and other public transportation, increasing funding for public schools, expanding access to quality early childhood education, and making higher education more affordable for students and families,” said Lewis. “It’s also the best way to raise revenue that would make our tax system fairer and more progressive, rather than increasing taxes on middle class families who cannot afford to pay more.”
“By increasing the state’s already-high reliance on the income tax—a volatile and economically sensitive revenue source—this proposal would make the state more vulnerable to future budget gaps, leaving residents more exposed to the tax increases and budget cuts required to close such gaps,” said James Rooney, President & CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce in a written statement opposing the tax.
“Should the proposal pass, 30 percent of total income tax revenue would come from less than 1 percent of all Massachusetts personal income tax filers,” continued Rooney. “Since the revenue would be dependent on the actions of a small share of filers, it is even more susceptible to sharp fluctuation.”
“The 1 percent, those who make $1 million in income a year, pay the smallest share in state income tax,” said O’Day. “This practice has built an economy on the backs of those who struggle most. By increasing income taxes by 4 percent for those who make $1 million in income a year, Massachusetts will lower the economic burden on low income residents while investing in the education and infrastructural foundations of the state which drive our economic development.”
“We can’t conceive of how anything can possibly be more fair than every taxpayer paying an equal tax rate on whatever their income,” said Chip Ford, Executive Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, an opponent of the tax. “The higher one’s income the more in taxes one pays. How can imposing a different tax rate on some and not on others by any stretch be termed ‘fair’? It is the antithesis of fair.”
“Please recognize that assaulting “the wealthy”— the most mobile population—will only serve to motivate many of the commonwealth’s higher earners and businesses to relocate to more tax-friendly, greener pastures,” concluded Ford.
QUOTABLE QUOTES – Quotes about the House unveiling its $42.7 billion fiscal 2020 state budget.
“We are pleased the House Ways and Means Committee extended MassHealth’s authority to provide greater leverage in negotiating lower drug prices. We commend the committee for establishing tools for stronger price negotiations, and we are eager to work with the Legislature to ensure enforcement mechanisms, such as an upper payment limit, are enacted that both lower costs and protect consumers.”
Health Care For All Executive Director Amy Rosenthal
“The House budget proposal is woefully inadequate relative to what is needed to support a high-quality public education system for all students, rich and poor, from preschool through college.”
Statement from the Massachusetts Teachers Association
“With this budget, House leadership sends a powerful message that our commonwealth values new Americans.”
Eva Millona, executive director of MIRA, a coalition of more than 130 organizations that represent, serve and advocate for immigrants and refugees.
“We appreciate that the House leadership is trying to take a thoughtful approach to raising substantial, new revenues. But moving the needle on current priorities—from education and transportation, to affordable housing and other services—means giving serious consideration to sustainable, adequate, and progressive revenue options. The House Ways and Means Committee budget proposal would make it nearly impossible for lawmakers to support our commonwealth’s priorities in any meaningful way in the coming fiscal year.”
Marie-Frances Rivera, Interim President of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.
“[The budget] take steps to address rising drug costs by endorsing the Baker-Polito administration’s proposal to authorize MassHealth to negotiate directly with drug manufacturers for supplemental rebates. The good news for the state’s taxpayers is that the budget does not impose any new broad-based taxes.”
House GOP Minority Leader Bradley Jones (R-North Reading)
“There are thousands of homeless individuals living in Massachusetts who rely on our organizations every day, we appreciate that the House realized the increased need our organizations are facing to support them on their path out of homelessness.”
Statement of the Coalition for Homeless Individuals
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 8-12, the House met for a total of four hours and 13 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 40 minutes.
Mon. April 8 House 11:04 a.m. to 11:19 a.m.
Senate 11:14 a.m. to 11:24 a.m.
Tues. April 9 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. April 10 House 11:02 a.m. to 2:20 p.m.
No Senate session
Thurs. April 11 House 11:00 a.m. to 11:40 a.m.
Senate 11:12 a.m. to 11:42 a.m.
Fri. April 12 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org