Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 44 – Report No. 28 July 8-12, 2019

By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senator’s votes on roll calls from recent sessions. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

$300,000 FOR FAMILIES OF SUBSTANCE ABUSED NEWBORNS (S 3)
Senate 39-0, approved an amendment that would provide $300,000 to the Health Policy Commission for a childhood grant program to support and care for families with substance-exposed newborns that suffer from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). This syndrome is a group of problems a baby experiences when withdrawing from exposure to narcotics.

Sen. Vinny deMacedo (R-Plymouth), the sponsor of the amendment, said that newborns that are born with NAS, experience the same withdrawal symptoms that adults with the same dependency would experience [including] GI upset, muscle rigidity and sensory hypersensitivity, and can suffer from long term consequences such as behavioral problems, vision impairments and motor skill delays.

“This amendment and the funding it included will be instrumental in targeting communities and assisting families that are in need of support and whose children are in need of treatment,” explained deMacedo. “Not only will this program offer intervention and support, it will be a crucial step in collecting quantitative data on the long term needs of these children experiencing NAS and will allow future children to receive better, more targeted treatment and prevention in the future.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

$5 MILLION FOR SUBSTANCE ABUSE (S 3)
Senate 39-0, approved an amendment to implement $5 million in programs recommended by the Harm Reduction Commission created by the Legislature in 2018. Provisions include $1.5 million to increase the availability of sterile and safe injection equipment and syringe disposal services; $150,000 for a pilot program to provide access to fentanyl testing strips or other drug checking equipment; and $300,000 to increase the availability of nasal naloxone (brand name Narcan) rescue kits prior to discharge from a facility after treatment for an opioid overdose. Naloxone rescue kits include naloxone and other items used for the emergency treatment of a known or suspected opioid overdose.

“For close to two decades, the opioid epidemic has consumed communities across the commonwealth,” said Sen. Julian Cyr (D-Truro), the sponsor of the amendment. “We need to focus on what we can do to save lives and harm reduction is an evidence-based approach used to keep people using opioids alive and safe until they progress into clinical treatment … Harm reduction itself should not be seen as a way to end opioid use, but rather as a valuable survival plan, one that has started to gain consensus across the political spectrum as the right thing to do to save lives.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

$484,875 FOR GRANTS TO COUNCILS ON AGING (S 3)
Senate 39-0, approved an amendment increasing funding for Councils on Aging by $484,875 (from $16,740,125 to $17,225,000.) Sen. Becca Rausch (D-Needham), the amendment’s sponsor said the money will fund innovation grants to municipal Councils on Aging and will benefit seniors statewide.

“Our collective moral compass is set, at least in part, by whether and how we respect our elders,” said Rausch. “Not only do our elders want to age in their chosen communities, but also … this approach to aging builds community, reduces costs, enriches lives and improves health outcomes by notably reducing isolation.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

STUDENT LOANS (S 16) -The Education Committee held a hearing on legislation that would create a Student Loan Bill of Rights and require student loan servicers to be licensed by the state just like any other business. The measure allows state officials to investigate student loan servicers and act against those that violate the state’s banking and consumer protection laws. A key provision creates a Student Loan Ombudsman that will collect state student loan data and information and help students understand their rights and responsibilities in loan agreements.

“We have nearly 900,000 student debt borrowers in Massachusetts who, on average, owe $39,000 each,” said Sen. Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow) the sponsor of the proposal. “This is crowding out other elements of our economy, and it is a poison on an entire generation’s ability to participate in this economy fully. Student debt is a problem that demands solutions, and this bill is one solution to helping borrowers get fair treatment in managing these loans,” concluded Lesser.

STATE TAX CHECKOFF TO HELP COUNTRIES MOST AFFECTED BY CLIMATE CHANGE (H 2414, S 1602) – The Revenue Committee heard testimony on legislation that would allow taxpayers on their state tax return to donate to the Massachusetts Fund for Vulnerable Countries Most Affected by Climate Change. The state would then send the funds raised to the United Nations Least Developed Countries Fund.

“Donations are purely voluntary, as is true in the cases of the six ‘checkoffs’ already printed on income tax forms,” said the bill’s Senate sponsor Sen. Mike Barrett (D-Lexington). “What’s new here is the focus on climate change and on helping poor countries maintain themselves. For the individual Massachusetts taxpayer, this is an opportunity, not an obligation, and it doesn’t affect state revenue.”

“As the threats of climate change loom particularly heavy over the globe’s 51 most poverty-stricken countries designated as part of the United Nations Least Developed Countries Fund, this bill allows Massachusetts residents to actively engage with the rest of the world to enhance global resiliency and sustainability efforts,” said Rep. Tony Cabral (D- New Bedford), the House sponsor of the bill.

“There’s no cost to the state,” said Larry Yu, the co-chair of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project in Boston. “There’s kind of no downside and the impact is limitless.”

STOP HOSPITALS FROM A SPECIFIC COLLECTION TACTIC (S 167) – The Revenue Committee held a hearing on a bill that would direct the Department of Public Health to adopt regulations prohibiting hospital and community health centers from seeking an execution against the personal residence or motor vehicle of a patient in order to collect money on unpaid bills. An execution is an order signed by the court to the sheriff telling the sheriff to seize a debtor’s property, sell it and deliver the money received to the creditor in order to satisfy the debt. A creditor can seek an execution only after the case has gone to court and a judgment has been granted in favor of the creditor and against the debtor.

“I filed this legislation in response to unscrupulous debt collection tactics by some greedy hospitals that include placing executions on patient’s homes,” said Sen. Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford), the sponsor of the proposal. “No patient, particularly those facing debilitating and life-threatening medical conditions which leave them unable to work, should be worried about an execution being placed on their home. Hospitals in Massachusetts generate hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue and have stockpiled over a billion dollars in offshore accounts, all the while operating under the auspices of a nonprofit enterprise. It is about time we start making them act like one.“

DISCLOSE TOXIC CHEMICALS (H 248) – The Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee’s agenda last week included a bill that would require manufacturers to disclose to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) if any harmful chemicals are in children’s items and consumer items including cleaning products, cosmetics and coating materials that are sold as consistent mixtures of chemicals. The list of toxic chemicals that must be reported would be developed by the Toxic Use Reduction Institute. This information would be made available to the public on the department website. Currently, manufacturers are not required to disclose this information.

Rep. Jim Hawkins (D-Attleboro), the sponsor of the proposal said states like Maine, Washington and Vermont have already enacted similar legislation. He noted the bill will not hurt business since all it requires is reporting.

“Parents unwittingly expose their children to developmental toxins, carcinogens and endocrine disruptors,” said Hawkins.

QUOTABLE QUOTES – Special Ride Hailing Edition – Gov. Charlie Baker proposed legislation under which ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft would face a range of new safety and data-collection regulations. Here are some interesting figures on the companies:

81.3 million
Number of rides provided by Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing companies in the Bay State in 2018.

210,000
Since January 2017, the number of people the state has approved as ride-hailing drivers following full background checks.

12
The number of incidents in Massachusetts in which a ride-hailing driver assaulted or harassed a current or former passenger.

2.5
The maximum number of years in prison in Baker’s proposal for drivers who illegally “rent out” their ride-sharing accounts to someone who has not passed a background check.

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 July 8-12, the House met for a total of 10 hours and 35 minutes while the Senate met for a total of one hours and 27 minutes.

Mon. July 8 House 11:02 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.
Senate 11:08 a.m. to 11:24 a.m.

Tues. July 9 House 11:02 a.m. to 12:12 p.m.
Senate 11:05 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.

Wed. July 10 House 10:59 a.m. to 1:51 p.m.
Senate 11:11 a.m. to 11:56 a.m.

Thurs. July 11 House 11:01 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Senate 11:15 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Fri. July 12 House 11:00 a.m. to 1:51 p.m.
Senate 2:13 p.m. to 2:19 p.m.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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