By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on two roll calls from the week of June 17-21. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.
GROWING HEMP (H 3535)
House 152-0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would allow farmers with agricultural deed restrictions on their land to grow hemp. It would also qualify hemp farmers for the property tax breaks currently given to growers of other crops.
The state’s Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program, according to its website, “helps to preserve and protect agricultural land to keep valuable farmland soil from being built on by development companies for non-agricultural purposes that could be detrimental to the environment.”
The program pays farmland owners the difference between their farm’s fair market value and the lower agricultural use value in exchange for a permanent deed restriction which forbids the property from being used for anything that will have a negative impact on its agricultural viability.
The growing of hemp was legalized along with marijuana in 2016, but farmers that want to grow the industrial-use cannabis plant still can’t cultivate the crop if their land falls under the APR.
“Allowing hemp to be grown on APR deed-restricted land is an opportunity for Massachusetts farmers to expand the $550 million agricultural industry which will benefit the entire commonwealth,” said Rep. Smitty Pignatelli (D-Lenox), the sponsor of the proposal. “We are currently importing hemp for various manufacturing products such as clothing, food, paper, and textiles, and tapping into these industries right here in the commonwealth will generate jobs and bring our farmers closer to economic security and success.”
(A Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes
APPRAISAL MANAGEMENT (H 3904)
House 153-0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would establish a system for the state to license and regulate appraisal management companies (AMC). It is estimated that 80 percent of appraisal orders in the Bay State are processed by AMCs. The other 49 states already have AMC registration in place.
“AMC registration is a nationwide licensing requirement with an August 2019 deadline,” writes Allan Cohen in the New England Real Estate Journal. “AMC registration comes right out of the federal Dodd-Frank law enacted by the U.S. Congress in 2010.”
“Specific in its language about firewalls, Dodd-Frank gave impetus to the use of AMCs acting as an intermediary between lenders and appraisers,” continued Cohen. “The goal is to protect consumers and avoid having financial institutions fall back into poor lending practices. Using an AMC as a firewall reduces the frequency of relational lending and influencing appraisers to meet valuation targets or certain values.”
“Appraiser independence is vital to both safety and soundness of financial institutions, and to consumers who regularly rely on the appraisal obtained by the lender to determine if the price they are paying for a house is reasonable,” said Rep. Tom Stanley (D-Waltham), the sponsor of the bill. “Missing the … deadline impacts everyone either looking to buy a home or refinancing a mortgage as AMCs will not be able to operate in the state. There’s no opposition to this legislation. It’s time to sign this bill into law and comply with the Dodd-Frank Act requirements.”
“For many of my constituents, a real estate transaction will be one of the most important financial decisions in their life,” said Rep. Jim Murphy (D-Weymouth). “We must ensure that people are receiving an accurate assessment that is free from influence or bias. By regulating the AMC industry, we are taking an important step forward to protect Massachusetts consumers.”
(A Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
PAY FINE FOR NOT VOTING (H 653) – The Elections Laws Committee held a hearing on a bill that would require eligible voters to cast a ballot in any November General Election or face a fine of $15 that would be added to the non-voter’s state tax liability for each election missed. The measure also clarifies that the voter does not have to actually vote for anyone and is allowed to leave the ballot blank.
“There are two schools of thought when filing legislation,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Dylan Fernandes (D-Falmouth). “One is filing a bill that is rigorously vetted, that has been combed line by line and that you hope only receives marginal edits through the committee process. The other is filing an idea that you believe is worthy of a robust public debate that will reshape the bill. Although it won’t pass this session and may never pass at all, I believe mandatory voting is an idea worth debate and consideration at the Statehouse and by thoughtful citizens across the state because it drives at questions fundamental to our society, which is whether civic participation in democracy is a duty or a right. I filed this bill to spark that debate.”
“Only in Massachusetts could a blatantly unconstitutional reverse-poll tax seem like a good idea,” said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “Such craziness is pushing the saying that ‘In Massachusetts everything that is not forbidden is mandatory’ to a third-world extreme. What would follow, ordering voters who they must vote for under penalty of prison?”
“I am in full support of compulsory voting,” said Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, the executive director of MassVOTE. “I just want to make sure it does not disproportionately affect communities of color, low income and new citizens. Maybe consider a sliding scale.”
“It’s a really bad idea and unconstitutional,” said Paul Craney, executive director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “It should never be considered and always rejected. If politicians were successful in taxing voters because they chose not to vote, their next step would be to increase those taxes if you vote the wrong way.”
SAME DAY VOTER REGISTRATION (H 636) – The Election Laws Committee hearing also included a bill that would allow Massachusetts qualified voters to register and vote on Election Day. Under current law, voters must be registered at least 20 days before an election in order to be eligible to vote in it.
“In Massachusetts, we know that 15 percent of people who are eligible to vote can’t vote because they aren’t registered,” said Attorney General Maura Healey. “That’s over 780,000 voting-age adults in our state whose voices aren’t counted, aren’t heard on Election Day. The result is unmistakable: fewer people of color, lower-income residents, renters and younger people are participating in the process.”
“It has never been more important to protect and strengthen our democratic institutions,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “Election Day Registration is a simple and common sense reform that will increase voter participation and ensure that every eligible voter can cast a ballot. It has been working well in 21 other states and will do so here in Massachusetts.”
CHANGE ABORTION LAWS (H 3220) – The Judiciary Committee held a packed hearing on a bill, named by supporters as the ROE Act, that would allow women to obtain an abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases of “fatal fetal anomalies.” Current state law allows abortions after 24 weeks only to preserve the life or health of the mother. The bill would also eliminate the current requirement that pregnant teenagers obtain permission from a parent or judge before obtaining an abortion at any stage.
“Parents, lawyers, faith leaders, and physicians like myself overwhelmingly agree that remaining barriers to abortion care are harmful, medically unnecessary, and unjust,” said Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak, president of the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts. “The ROE Act will eliminate politically motivated restrictions on abortion put in place decades ago and guarantee every person’s basic right to access reproductive health care.”
“The so-called ‘ROE Act’ removes medical safeguards for vulnerable women, hides abortions for underage girls from their parents, increases late term abortions, and promotes infanticide for babies who survive an abortion,” said Massachusetts Family Institute President Andrew Beckwith. “What’s even more shocking, is that at [the] hearing, supporters of the bill essentially admitted to all of it. This bill is not about ‘expanding access’ to abortion, it’s goal is to remove medical and legal safeguards for vulnerable women and girls.”
“Massachusetts has always been a national leader for freedom and social justice, including universal access to health care and same-sex marriage,” said Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. “As the national political fight around access to reproductive health care heats up, now is the moment for Massachusetts to lead again by removing unnecessary, burdensome, and unjust restrictions that delay and deny care. Passage of the ROE Act will help us secure a future that safeguards abortion care, upholds basic rights and justice, and respects decision-making.”
“By repealing the provision of Chapter 112 of the General Laws, which requires physicians to take ‘reasonable steps…to preserve the life and health of the aborted child,’ this measure would resurrect the savage, archaic and inhuman practice of infanticide through exposure,” said Catholic Action League Executive Director C. J. Doyle. “Disturbingly, the suppression of the provisions for either parental or judicial consent for a minor seeking an abortion would not only expose young pregnant females to undue influence by irresponsible male partners looking to evade the burden of supporting a mother and child, but could place them in jeopardy of coercion at the hands of sexual predators, perhaps even by those who committed statutory rape.”
“As other states launch campaigns to abolish the right to safe and legal abortion, Massachusetts has the opportunity to stand up and protect young women, to protect people who have medical crises late in pregnancy, and to ensure that the protections provided by Roe v Wade are set in statute,” said Sen. Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester). “We must enshrine Roe into statute, because a court’s guarantee is not a guarantee in these times.”
“The Infanticide Act shreds the last vestige of family connection, as it mandates that our youngest teenagers can access abortion without ever consulting family or parents,” said Jim Lyons, chairman of the Republican State Committee. “Clearly, this extreme measure constitutes an all-out assault on both life and family.”
AUDITOR SAYS “BUY MASSACHUSETTS PROGRAM” WAS NEVER IMPLEMENTED – State Auditor Suzanne Bump released an audit covering 2015 to 2017 that revealed the Massachusetts Office of Business Development (MOBD) never requested funding from the Legislature to establish and operate the Buy Massachusetts Program (BMP) which was approved by the Legislature in 1993 and signed into law by former Gov. Bill Weld. The BMP is an effort to connect Massachusetts companies and encourage them to purchase needed goods and services from each other, rather than from out-of-state or foreign companies.
“When the Legislature directs an executive branch agency to implement a program, inaction is not an option,” said Bump. “If the agency believes it needs additional resources to do so, it is incumbent on its leadership to seek legislative appropriations or other sources of funding, such as federal grants. Unfortunately for Massachusetts businesses, MOBD has taken none of these steps to implement BMP. After more than a quarter-century, it is time to get this program off the ground.”
In response, MOBD acknowledged that the BMP program has not been implemented. But it noted the statutory language that created the BMP provides that MOBD “may expend such funds as may be appropriated therefor, and may accept federal funds, or private gifts and grants to assist it in carrying out the purposes as set forth in this section.”
“MOBD has consistently interpreted that language to mean that creation of the BMP was contingent on a specific appropriation of funds from the Legislature for that purpose, or the discovery of some other federal or private funding source,” continued MOBD. “To the best of our knowledge, since the enabling legislation was adopted in 1993, no funds were ever appropriated to implement the Buy Massachusetts program, and no other sources of funding to operate the program were ever identified by or made available to MOBD.”
MOBD added that it will evaluate whether there is sufficient interest in funding BMP to justify a request as part of the fiscal year 2021 budget process. It said it will commit to seek other sources of funding to operate the Buy Massachusetts program, including exploring the availability of federal grant programs.
“While it is true that no special funding has been appropriated for [the Buy Massachusetts Program], that is frequently the case when the General Court issues a mandate to an executive agency,” responded Bump. “It is anticipated that the agency will undertake efforts to accommodate the directive within its budget, to submit a request for appropriations, or, as the mandate language suggests, seek funding from other sources. However, according to the budget data provided to us by MOBD, at least during our audit period, the agency has not done any of these things.”
“The Baker administration and legislative leaders have so far badly underestimated tax collections this fiscal year, a decision that effectively held spending under affordable levels, resulted in a big deposit into the state savings account, and which will likely lead to a sizeable year-end budget surplus.”
–State House News Service
“The data raises important questions that must be asked and answered. It also confirms what the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) has been saying – that money alone does not guarantee better outcomes.
–Edward Lambert, executive director of the MBAE, on its analysis of newly available school-level funding data that shows schools that serve similar student populations and spend the same amount per student can achieve dramatically different results with respect to student performance.
“Drowning is a leading cause of death among young children, both nationally and in Massachusetts, with backyard pools posing the highest risk for children under the age of five. The signs of drowning may be hard to detect, with very little splashing or cries for help. Once a child is in danger, it can take as few as 20 seconds to fall below the water and only minutes to drown.”
–From the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Summer Safety Advice.
“The commonwealth’s dairy industry contributes $45 million to the state economy and is essential to the vitality and diversity of Massachusetts agriculture. Dairy farmers across Massachusetts produce some of the freshest, nutritious, wholesome milk that is used to make many value-added products, which we all enjoy, including cheese, yogurt, ice cream and butter.”
–Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner Lebeaux during his “Dairy Week” tour of dairy farms across the state to encourage Massachusetts consumers to purchase locally produced dairy products.
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 June 17-21, the House met for a total of six hours while the Senate met for a total of two hours and four minutes.
Mon. June 17 House 11:02 a.m. to 11:13 a.m.
Senate 11:08 a.m. to 12:22 p.m.
Tues. June 18 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. June 19 House 11:03 a.m. to 3:57 p.m.
No Senate session
Thurs. June 20 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:56 a.m.
Senate 11:09 a.m. to 11:59 a.m.
Fri. June 21 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org