MANY BILLS DIED IN 2020

By Bob Katzen

Thousands of bills were defeated in the 2020 session that ended in just a few weeks ago. They are likely to be refiled for consideration in 2021. Here are some of them:

RAISE ALLOWANCE FOR NURSING HOME RESIDENTS (S 357) – Raises the Personal Needs Allowance (PNA) for nursing home residents from the current $72.80 monthly to $100 monthly. It also includes a provision that gives the residents an annual cost of living increase. The PNA pays for expenses not covered by Medicaid for nursing home residents.

Supporters say that the money, half of which is reimbursed with federal dollars, helps residents pay for clothing, shoes, phone calls, medicine, transportation, haircuts and other personal needs which help them maintain their dignity and well-being. They noted the $72.80 monthly allowance has not been raised in 20 years.

“It is heartbreaking to hear from people living in rest homes who can’t afford a phone, a used winter coat or birthday cards to their grandchildren,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville).

KOSHER FOOD (H 196) – Requires any food establishments that have had their kosher certification revoked to post a sign on the front door or window stating, “Kosher Certification Revoked.”

Sponsor Rep. Ruth Balser (D-Newton) said she filed the bill because it was brought to her attention that a kosher grocery store in her district had lost its kosher certification but did not remove the kosher sign from its storefront.

“This bill is a consumer protection bill,” said Balser. “A consumer purchasing from a store labeled kosher should be able to be confident that kosher status is current.”

DEBT-FREE PUBLIC COLLEGES (H 1221) – Gives free college tuition including mandatory fees to Massachusetts residents who have a high school diploma or equivalent; have been admitted or are already enrolled in a public college or university or at certificate, vocational or training programs at a public institution; and maintain a cumulative GPA of at least 2.0.

TAX SUGARY DRINKS (S 1709) – Taxes sugary soft drinks which are currently exempt from the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax.

Supporters say the tax would raise an estimated $368 million that the state would put to good use. They note the tax would discourage people from buying these drinks, help fight the obesity epidemic and stem the rising tide of obesity-related health issues including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Opponents say families are struggling financially and it is not the time for another tax increase promoted by the “food police.” Some noted that many other things contribute to obesity including a sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercise and fast food consumption.

DEFAULT ON STUDENT LOANS (S 737) – Repeals a current law passed in 1990, which created professional licensure consequences for anyone who defaults on their student loan. Under existing law, the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority and the American Student Assistance can request that a borrower’s state-issued professional or occupational certificate, registration, or license be suspended, revoked or cancelled for default on educational loans made or administered by either group.

“Taking away a borrower’s ability to engage in their profession does not put them in a better position to be able to repay the loan,” said Sen. Will Brownsberger (D-Belmont), lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate.

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.”

NEW EXEMPTIONS FROM THE SALES TAX – Several bills that exempt some purchases from the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax including gun safes and trigger locks (S 1680); residential security systems (S 1658); all Energy Star products and hybrid and electric motor vehicles purchased on Earth Day (H 2571); and artisan products sold in a cultural district (H 2460).

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