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August 12, 2022 Volume 47 – Report No. 31

If you have any questions about this week’s report, e-mail us at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com or call us at (617) 720-1562.

Beacon Hill Roll Call

Volume 47 – Report No. 31

August 1-5, 2022

Copyright © 2022 Beacon Hill Roll Call. All Rights Reserved.

By Bob Katzen 

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

BORROW $5 BILLION FOR STATE PROJECTS (H 5065)

   House 153-0, Senate 39-0 approved and Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law most of a $5 billion bond bill that borrows money for hundreds of construction projects—the majority involving maintenance and modernization projects of buildings related to health care, higher education, information technology, workforce development, the environment and affordable housing. Many of the buildings are decades old. Baker vetoed several provisions including one that would have imposed a five-year moratorium on any prison or jail construction in Massachusetts.

    “The facilities improved by this bill will serve some of the commonwealth’s neediest citizens, help educate our future workforce, prepare for climate change, help us meet key environmental objectives, and keep our communities and workers safe,” said Gov. Baker. “This administration is proud of the work done in close collaboration with the Legislature to keep commonwealth facilities on a path of good repair, and this bill supports the continuation of many of the key themes and objectives that have guided our capital planning decisions over the past eight years.

Supporters of the moratorium said it will reduce the number of inmates in overcrowded prisons as the state moves away from incarceration and focuses on community-based rehabilitation programs.

   Baker noted that he opposes a five-year prison moratorium that would not only prohibit the construction of new correctional facilities but also studies or renovations of existing state or county correctional facilities. “I reiterate that the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security and the Department of Correction have no intention of constructing new correctional facilities now or in the foreseeable future. Nor do they believe that it will be necessary to increase overall operational capacity given that the department has experienced a continued decline in prison population statewide.”

   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill).

Rep. Joseph McGonagleYes                                     Sen. Sal DiDomenico Yes                                     

ELECTRIC BIKES (H 5115)

   House 153-0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would regulate the use of electric bicycles on the state’s roads. The measure classifies electric bikes the same as non-electric bikes and replaces a current law which classifies them as a motorized scooter or vehicle. 

   The bill would subject e-bike users to the same rights, privileges and duties as non-electric bike users as long as they are not operated on sidewalks. Municipalities would have the final say by having the power to adopt ordinances on the use of e-bikes on bike paths, bikeways and trails with a natural surface tread. Electric bikes would also be required to be properly labeled with classification numbers and riders would be prohibited from any tampering that changes the speed capability of an e-bike. 

   “Electric bicycles promote physical fitness and well-being, facilitate healthy aging, and help reduce transportation emissions,” said co-sponsor Rep. Dylan Fernandes (D-Falmouth). “Despite their increasing popularity and widespread use, e-bikes currently exist in a legal gray area under Massachusetts law. This legislation creates state standards that codify when and where e-bikes can be ridden and gives local authorities the tools to properly regulate them.”

   “Electric bicycles can be a piece of the puzzle to encourage mode shift,” said co-sponsor Rep. Steve Owens (D-Watertown). “They reduce traffic and carbon emissions and can be a cheaper and healthier alternative to cars. By defining electric bicycles in law, we can join nearly all other states in the country and regulate this increasingly popular method of transportation.”

   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Joseph McGonagleYes                                     

STEP THERAPY (H 4929)

   Senate 38-0, approved a bill that would limit the use of health care plan mandated prescription drug “step therapy” protocols and provide more exemptions to the mandate. Step therapy requires the patient to try less expensive options before “stepping up” to drugs that cost more. The House has approved a different version of the measure and the Senate version now goes to the House for consideration.

   “Patients with complicated illnesses should be receiving the medications that their doctors know they need—not repeatedly taking medications that they know to be ineffective just to help save on costs in the near-term,” said sponsor Sen. Julian Cyr (D-Truro), Senate Chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Recovery. “Waiting for treatment to fail first before utilizing a preferred medication often leads to worsening symptoms that cause complications and needless suffering for patients. It is a shortsighted practice that puts patients at unnecessary risk. Step therapy takes lower costs today in exchange for more harm, more hospitalizations and more spending in the very near future.”

   “Reforming the insurance-mandated practice of step therapy is long overdue,” said Sen. Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington), Senate Chair of the Committee on Health Care Financing. “Step therapy or ‘fail first’ protocols too often direct patients to cheaper medications rather than those more suitable to treat their condition. With this legislation, we will join over half the states in the country reforming these practices, putting the focus back on health care providers working with patients to offer the best treatment possible.”

   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Sal DiDomenicoYes                                     

ACCESS TO MENTAL HEALTH CARE PACKAGE (S 3097)

   Senate 39-0, (House on a voice vote without a roll call), approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill designed to make mental health care more accessible in the Bay State.  

   Provisions include mandating coverage for an annual mental health wellness exam, comparable to an annual physical; a public awareness campaign on the state’s red flag laws that limit access to guns for people at risk of hurting themselves or others; implementation of the nationwide 988 hotline to access 24/7 suicide prevention and behavioral health crisis services; mandating coverage and eliminating prior authorization for mental health acute treatment and stabilization services for adults and children; establishing an Office of Behavioral Health Promotion to coordinate all state initiatives that promote mental, emotional and behavioral health and wellness for residents; and creating an interim licensure level for licensed mental health counselors so that they can be reimbursed by insurance for their services and be eligible for state and federal grant and loan forgiveness programs.

   “Today, the Massachusetts Legislature took vital strides toward transforming mental health care in Massachusetts,” said Sen. Julian Cyr (D-Truro), Senate chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery. “By unanimously passing the Mental Health ABC Act, we affirm that mental health is just as essential as physical health and take a leap forward to ensure that all people in Massachusetts can access the mental health care they need and deserve.”

   “Too many people in communities across the commonwealth struggle to get the mental, emotional and behavioral health care they deserve,” said Rep, Adrian Madaro (D-Boston), House Chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery. “This legislation helps reduce barriers to resources, support, and treatment residents need for their overall wellbeing. It enables enforcement of existing parity laws, enhances emergency response services and acute psychiatric care, develops programs to strengthen the workforce, and invests in mental health. Importantly, our legislation also creates initiatives to address the unique mental health needs of young people. This legislation is the first step in addressing the structural deficits in our mental health care delivery system by prioritizing the people it serves and the people who make it work.”

   “The health care system in Massachusetts is only as strong as its weakest link, and for far too long, mental health care has been overlooked and underfunded,” said Sen. Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington), Senate Chair of the  Committee on Health Care Financing. “This legislation confronts this reality with the most comprehensive mental health care legislation the commonwealth has seen in recent years, and it builds off of the historic investments we made in this care system over this past two-year legislative session. Of particular importance to me, this bill will finally provide the state the tools it needs to enforce existing mental health parity laws and it will address the emergency department boarding crisis that’s impacting too many of our children and their families. I have long believed that Massachusetts should deliver affordable, high quality, and accessible care to its residents, and this includes mental health care.”

   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Sal DiDomenicoYes                                     

ACCESS TO BIRTH CERTIFICATES (S 2294)

   Senate 40-0, (House on a voice vote without a roll call), approved and sent to the governor legislation giving equal access to original birth certificates to all persons born in Massachusetts.

 

  Under current law, adoptees born between 1974 and 2008 are unable to obtain original birth certificates without a court order that also unseals their record. The measure would close this gap and allow adopted individuals over the age of 18 or the adoptive parents of a child under 18 to access the adoptee’s original birth certificate without the unsealing of the information.

   “The Joint Committee on Public Health heard powerful testimony from adoptees who could not access their original birth certificate due to a current loophole in state law addressed by this legislation,” said Sen. Jo Comerford (D-Northampton), Senate Chair of the Committee on Public Health.”

   “Today, the Senate took a major step in assuring equality by guaranteeing that all adoptees, regardless of when they were born, will have access to their original birth certificate,” said Sen. Anne Gobi (D-Spencer), sponsor of the bill. She noted that she has waited six years for its passage and that so many have waited their entire lives. “Today we tell them the wait is over and they matter,” said Gobi.

   “Many adoptees have been waiting their whole lives to learn their history, and I am honored to have played a part in helping them access their original birth certificates,” said Sen. Joan Lovely (D-Salem). “For the sake of preserving our health and well-being, it is crucial to know what physical or mental health conditions to which we may be predisposed. By giving all adoptees born in Massachusetts access to their original birth certificates, this legislation closes a 34-year gap granting generations of individuals medical knowledge they have otherwise been denied.”

   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill).

Sen. Sal DiDomenicoYes                                     

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

   SOLDIERS’ HOMES MANAGEMENT (H 5106) – Gov. Baker signed into law legislation that will make major changes to the oversight and governance structure of the state’s veterans’ homes in Holyoke and Chelsea. The proposal follows the deaths of 77 veteran residents in 2020 as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke facility. The measure elevates the Department of Veterans Services to a cabinet-level executive office with direct reporting to the governor and the ability to hire and fire superintendents.

   Other provisions include requiring superintendents of the two soldiers’ homes to be licensed as nursing home administrators and oversee day-to-day management and operation of the homes; requiring two annual home inspections by the Department of Health; creating an independent Office of the Veteran Advocate; and creating a statewide advisory Veterans’ Home Council.

   “From streamlining the chain of command, to elevating the Veterans Secretary to cabinet level and expanding the Department of Public Health’s role, this legislation contains important improvements for our commonwealth’s veterans’ homes, and I am glad that the governor has signed it into law,” said sponsor Sen. John Velis (D-Westfield) who was appointed by Sen. President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) to lead the Senate working group that will oversee implementation of this legislation.    

   Velis noted that the work must continue and the group must “identify what we need to improve on further and continue to work to ensure that the tragedy that took place at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home never happens again.”

   ADOPT ANIMALS USED IN RESEARCH – (S 2992) – Gov. Baker signed into law a bill that would require research labs to make every effort to offer healthy animals up for adoption by registered non-profit animal rescue organizations rather than euthanizing them when the research is done.

  Supporters said that more than 60,000 dogs—almost all beagles—and nearly 20,000 cats, are used each year for animal experimentation in the United States to advance scientific research and to test cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and other household products. They noted that sadly many research labs choose to automatically euthanize these cats and dogs once their experiments are over.

   Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), the Senate sponsor of the measure, did not respond to several requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call to comment on Gov. Baker signing the proposal into law.  

  “We are so thrilled to have this bill enacted after five years of consideration,” said Cara Zipoli of the Beagle Freedom Project. “We look forward to developing partnerships between our research and animal welfare communities to ensure as many dogs and cats find loving homes as possible.”

   CRIME VICTIMS’ PHOTOS (S 3092) – Gov. Baker signed into law legislation that would prohibit first responders from taking photos of crime scene victims, accidents or emergencies unless it is in the course of their official duties or with the consent of the victim. If the victim is unable to consent, an immediate family member of the victim is allowed to give consent. 

   Supporters said the privacy of accident victims should not be violated by first-responder government workers who are entrusted with rescuing them. They noted it is outrageous that the photos are often posted online.

  Co-sponsors Sen. Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow) and Rep. Joe Wagner (D-Chicopee) did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call to comment on the signing of their legislation into law.

   POACHING (S 2993) – Gov. Baker signed into law a measure that would regulate poaching—the illegal hunting that harms or kills wildlife including fish, birds, mammals and endangered or threatened species. Other provisions elevate the fines and penalties for poaching; align Massachusetts poaching regulations with other states; and bring Massachusetts into the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, which helps states work together to prevent illegal hunting across state lines.

   Supporters said that it has been close to 100 years since many of the state’s anti-poaching laws were last updated and noted the absence of action on these laws has resulted in weak, outdated penalties that are just a slap on the wrist.

   “After nearly a century, Massachusetts’ anti-poaching laws have finally been brought up to meet the standards of the 21st century,” said sponsor Sen. Mike Moore (D-Millbury). “No longer will the Bay State serve as a safe haven for poachers. By joining the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, Massachusetts will begin sharing information with law enforcement in all 50 states to ensure poachers can’t simply cross state lines to evade accountability. The commonwealth is also increasing the fines and penalties levied onto violators of our wildlife protection laws, making it clear that we will protect our ecosystems from those who wish to do it harm.”

QUOTABLE QUOTES

   “[This is] another example of the commonwealth’s commitment to fully realize the benefits of its gaming industry as well as the Gaming Commission’s continued fulfillment of the mandate made by the Legislature to mitigate any unintended impacts tied to gaming in Massachusetts.”

   —Massachusetts Gaming Commission chair  Cathy Judd-Stein the awarding of $10.6 million in grants given to cities and towns through the 2022 Community Mitigation Fund 

   “Protecting Massachusetts residents from violence and hate is the top priority of my administration. In Massachusetts, we have a long history of standing up to hate and intolerance. Today, we continue that honored tradition.”

   — United States Attorney Rachael Rollins on establishing a 1-83-END-H8-NOW hotline for residents to report hate-based incidents or potential criminal activity.

   “This ranking is a testament of the hard work and commitment that our faculty, staff, administration and Board of Trustees have for our students” 

   —Quinsigamond Community College President Luis Pedraja, on the Worcester college being ranked best community college in Massachusetts in 2022 by Intelligent.com, an online source for program rankings and higher education planning.

    “I am pleased that the Legislature explored new ways to generate sustainable revenue for the state this session. With sports betting set to go online, I hope to work with the Legislature to hold the Lottery harmless.”

   —State Treasurer Deb Goldberg on her push to allow players to play the Lottery online.

   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 dozen  s of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of an annual session.

   During the period of August 1-5, the House met for a total of ten hours and 18 minutes and the Senate met for a total of ten hours and 18 minutes.

Mon.   Aug. 1     House  12:01 a.m. to  10:10 a.m.                   

                  Senate 12:01 a.m. to  10:13 a.m.

  

Tues.  Aug. 2     No House session

                  No Senate session

Wed.   Aug. 3     No House session

                  No Senate session

Thurs. Aug. 4     House  11:00 a.m. to  11:09 a.m.                   

                  Senate 11:09 a.m. to  11:15 a.m.

Fri.  Aug.  5     No House session

                  No Senate session

                                                                                                                                       

 

   Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com  Bob founded Beacon Hill Roll Call in 1975 and was inducted into the New England Newspaper and Press Association (NENPA) Hall of Fame in 2019.

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