By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on two roll calls from the week of May 27-May 31. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.
$200 MILLION IN CHAPTER 90 FUNDING FOR LOCAL ROADS (H 69)
House 156-0, gave final approval to and sent to the Senate 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. Only final approval by the Senate is needed prior to the bill going to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk.
Other provisions include $200 million for rail improvements and $1.5 billion in bonding to allow for federal interstate repairs to advance. According to officials, 80 percent of the $1.5 billion would be reimbursed by the federal government.
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.
No one voted against the bill but there are some legislators and city and town officials who say the same old $200 million that has been given since fiscal 2012 is insufficient. For several years, the Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) has been seeking to increase the amount to $300 million. Advocates say that cities and towns maintain and repair 90 percent of the roadways in the Bay State. They note that because of revenue caps imposed by Proposition 2 1/2 , cities and towns are very dependent on state funding to keep roads and bridges from crumbling.
“Chapter 90 was set at $200 million in fiscal year 2012, and eight years later remains at that same level,” said MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith. “Because of inflation, this means that communities are experiencing a real, after-inflation reduction of $50 million a year. The MMA’s long-term goal is to work with the governor and Legislature on a shared strategy to increase Chapter 90 funding above current levels, so that cities and towns can improve the quality of our roadways and save local tax dollars.”
Transportation House chairman Bill Straus (D-Mattapoisett) said the current $200 million is sufficient when combined with other state programs that help cities’ and towns’ infrastructure including $50 million for small bridge repair. “The towns and cities throughout the commonwealth will again receive this timely assistance for care of their local roads,” said Straus. “Through good and bad economic times, the Legislature has consistently provided this important aid to the communities.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes
$41.1 MILLION SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET (H 3819)
House 152-0, approved and sent to the Senate a $41.1 million fiscal year 2019 supplemental spending plan to cover expenses and to fund various state programs and agencies that are running out of money.
Provisions include $3.6 million for early education and care; $2.1 million for a state workers’ compensation program; $140,000 for the state’s military division including the National Guard; $14.2 million for the state to pay certain court judgments, settlements and legal fees; extending for another year the law that allows betting on simulcast races; creation of a task force to ensure proper evidence storage in court cases; and funding for a number of collective bargaining agreements.
Supporters say the package is a reasonable and fiscally responsible one.
House budget chief Rep. Aaron Michlewitz (D-Boston) did not respond to repeated requests from Beacon Hill Roll Call to comment on the budget.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
HELP VETERANS – Several bills were the subject of a recent hearing held by the Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee including:
VETERANS’ FUNERALS (H 3217) – Requires funeral homes to provide veterans with information about all the funeral and burial benefits available to them.
“Veterans and their families should not be paying out for goods and services from their personal funds for benefits that are due to them which they may not be aware of,” said Rep. Steven Howitt, the sponsor of the bill. “This would ensure that this does not happen.”
PTSD COMMISSION (S 2164) – Establishes a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Commission to annually provide recommendations on how to advance PTSD research, improve its treatment, increase public awareness and recognition of the disease and support its early and accurate diagnosis.
“Increased funding for and awareness of mental health and suicide prevention are among my top priorities at the Statehouse this year,” said the Senate sponsor of the bill Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Andover). “We know that PTSD touches many lives across the commonwealth, including our veterans, survivors of assault and others recovering from traumatic events. This bill would create a commission at no cost to taxpayers that would ensure that the commonwealth is up to speed on the latest innovations in research and treatment of PTSD, which will directly benefit those suffering.”
HELP VETERANS FIND JOBS AS CIVILIANS (H 3198) – Tasks the Commissioner of Veterans’ Services with helping veterans and individuals serving in the armed forces to find civilian employment based on their skills they developed and used in the military.
Supporters said many veterans either avoid training or are burdened with substantial costs when seeking civilian employment credentials for skills already obtained in the military. They argued that these men and women receive some of the best technical training available and often find that they are required to begin their training all over again at the most basic levels to receive certification or licenses for civilian jobs.
“Our military men and women deserve a smooth transition from the military into the civilian workforce,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Peter Capano (D-Lynn). “This legislation will make it easier for armed forces members and veterans to receive credit for skills obtained during active service and improve opportunities for veterans in finding living-wage employment.”
PROHIBIT PUBLISHING OF NAMES OF VETERANS WHO OWE TAXES (H 3224) – Prohibits cities and towns from publishing the name of a veteran who owes the municipality taxes. Instead, the veterans’ service officer (VSO) of the city or town would contact the veteran privately and provide him or her with information regarding their overdue tax situation. Many cities and towns publish the names of their taxpayers who owe the municipality back taxes.
“[The bill] gives our veterans the respect they deserve when they find themselves facing financial hardship regarding property taxes,” said its sponsor Rep. Paul McMurtry (D-Dedham). “We can avoid any public embarrassment and take a more hands-on approach through personal interaction with the VSO for assistance with their tax situation.”
EXEMPT VETERANS FROM RECREATIONAL FEES (S 2176) – Exempts veterans from paying charges and fees, including day-use parking fees and recreation visitor fees, for entrance to public forest lands and public beaches under the control and care of the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
“Our veterans should be able to use these public spaces free of charge,” said sponsor Sen. Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth). “The commonwealth has long been a leader in caring for our veterans and this is another small way for us to try to pay them back for all they’ve done to protect our freedoms.”
PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUES – These two bills were aired at a Public Health Committee hearing last week:
POTLUCK EVENTS (H 1968) – Exempts volunteer food servers at charitable potluck events from food server regulations of the Department of Public Health or local boards of health. This proposed law would expand a law approved in 2014 that was more general and prohibits the department from regulating the serving of food brought to these potluck dinners. This bill specifically prohibits the regulation of the servers themselves.
“[The bill] would exempt volunteers at charitable events which serve food from cumbersome regulations,” said its sponsor Paul McMurtry (D-Dedham). “We want to incentivize people to become more civically involved in local events for seniors and others, eliminating regulation that would have no impact on the quality and cleanliness of food does just that.”
OBESITY TASK FORCE (H 1999) – Creates a Task Force on the Impact of Obesity to examine the impact of obesity in the state including the cost implications for employer and employee premiums and out of pocket expenses, lost productivity, impacts on wellness and health, comorbidities and on the overall costs to the health care system.
“The complications of obesity are serious medical problems and put people at risk for heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer that are some of the leading causes of preventable, premature death,” said Rep. Jeffrey Roy (D-Franklin), the sponsor of the bill. “The Center for Disease Control has predicted that by 2030, 42 percent of American adults will be obese and that’s a condition that shortens life and incurs large medical expenses. While there is no simple solution to the obesity epidemic, it’s important that we assemble this task force to allow policy makers, state and local organizations, business and community leaders, school, health care professionals and others to tame this disease and develop policies and strategies to make healthy eating and active living accessible and affordable for everyone.”
“We’ve got a lot of very complicated issues to work through. The objective of the regulations is to ensure that the policy decisions we made about a month ago are explicitly embedded in the regulations and that translation process is complicated. There are a lot of details to work out and we just thought we really needed more time to do it carefully, thoroughly, and to do it right.”
–Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) chairman Steve Hoffman on why the CCC has delayed for a month its consideration of new draft regulations for the marijuana industry.
“I don’t even know if I could name 8,000 flavors. As one of my colleagues said, ‘There’s not even 8,000 flavors of ice cream. Why would there be 8,000 flavors of tobacco?’”
—Allyson Perron of the American Heart Association supporting a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products.
“The goal must be that no persons are denied entry to our public courthouses because they are carrying cell phones; nor should they be compelled to leave them at home, pay for them to be stored, or hide them outside, as a condition of coming into the building.”
—From the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission’s report on how the state should ease the ban on cellphones in court because it leads to the inability of self-represented defendants to present photos or text messages as evidence to a judge, to consult their calendars, schedule future court dates, reach child care providers and for other essential needs.
“Our Medicare, Medicaid and other state tax dollars fund hospital corporations, but what those corporations do with our money can be at odds with public service. This bill will allow the public to see exactly where our tax dollars are going—especially if they end up in the Cayman Islands and [would also] limit excessive hospital CEO pay. We should instead spend that money helping our most vulnerable patients.”
—Rep. Josh Cutler (D-Duxbury) on his legislation that would require hospitals to disclose financial holdings and profits, including money kept in offshore accounts.
“Eonsmoke took a page out of the Big Tobacco playbook by peddling nicotine to young people on social media. Our investigations into JUUL and other e-cigarette retailers continue as we seek to hold companies accountable for marketing these addictive and dangerous products to minors.”
—Attorney General Maura Healey on her lawsuit against Eonsmoke, a national retailer of e-cigarette and vaping products for violating Massachusetts laws regulating the sale and advertisement of tobacco products to minors.
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 May 27-31, the House met for a total of five hours and three minutes while the Senate met for a total of three hours and 23 minutes.
Mon. May 27 No House session
No Senate session.
Tues. May 28 House 11:02 a.m. to 11:21 a.m.
Senate 11:03 a.m. to 11:17 a.m.
Wed. May 29 House 11:08 a.m. to 2:55 p.m.
No Senate session
Thurs. May 30 House 11:01 a.m. to 12:08 p.m.
Senate 11:19 a.m. to 2:28 p.m.
Fri. May 31 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org