THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of July 24-28.
$375 MILLION FOR ROADS AND BRIDGES (S 2375)
House 157-0, Senate 39-0, approved and sent to Gov. Maura Healey a House-Senate conference committee version of a bill that includes 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 $375 million package, a bond bill under which the funding would be borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds, also includes $175 million for several transportation-related grant programs.
The House and Senate had approved different versions of the package and this compromise version was drafted by a 6-member conference committee.
The programs funded by the $175 million include the municipal small bridge program; the complete streets program; a bus transit infrastructure program; and grants for municipalities to purchase electric vehicles and the infrastructure needed to support them.
“This … bill secures historical levels of funding for our municipal roads, bridges and sidewalks,” said Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn), Senate Chair of the Committee on Transportation. “In addition to our annual authorization, we have added additional funding for various transportation programs, from bridge repair to improving access to mass transit. No matter how you get around, this funding will benefit transportation systems in every region of the commonwealth.”
“Providing funding for critical infrastructure projects through investments in the commonwealth’s public transportation, roads, and bridges is one of the most important responsibilities that we have as members of the Legislature,” said House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy). “I’m proud of the support for regional infrastructure that this legislation provides, and of the funding that it allocates for the purchasing of electric vehicles by transit authorities.”
“The passage is good news for cities and towns, and with the changes this year, especially for rural communities,” said Sen. John Keenan (D-Quincy). “I hope that in the future we will pass a two-year authorization so that municipalities will have access to these essential funds in a more timely manner, allowing them to better plan work on their roads and bridges.”
“Our communities rely so heavily on Chapter 90 funding to make critical transportation improvement projects,” said Rep. Mike Finn (D-West Springfield), House Chair of the Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets. “Today’s funding ensures our roads remain safe and efficient for the travel of people and commerce. Additionally, with extra resources being made available through competitive application grant programs, the legislative funding is now forward looking in striving to meet broad ranges of municipal needs.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the $375 million package.)
Rep. Paul Donato Yes Rep. Steven Ultrino Yes Sen. Jason Lewis Yes
GENDER X (S 2207)
Senate 39-0 approved and sent to the House a bill that would allow Bay Staters to choose the gender-neutral designation “X” in lieu of “male” or “female” on their birth certificates and marriage certificates.
Another provision in the bill codifies into law a current practice that allows individuals to select “X” as their gender designation on their driver’s license, learner’s permit, identification card and liquor purchase identification card.
In addition, current state law requires medical documentation in order to change a gender designation on a birth certificate. The bill does away with that requirement.
Similar proposals were approved by the Senate during the 2018, 2020 and 2022 sessions but died from inaction in the House.
“People know what gender they are,” said sponsor Sen. Jo Comerford (D-Northampton). “This bill affirms the ability of people to choose a non-binary gender option on state documents and forms, which would align the commonwealth with many other states that have adopted this designation… Together, with our partners in the House, we will continue to move our commonwealth to embrace this basic human right.”
“Giving people the opportunity to be who they are is a human right and one that we are proud to extend to every member of the commonwealth, regardless of how they identify,” said Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) who first introduced the bill in 2017. “Allowing a nonbinary option for state licenses and birth certificates is fundamental to building a society that welcomes, protects and respects all individuals… I am as hopeful as ever that Massachusetts will be able to enshrine this change into our state laws this session and continue welcoming everyone into our commonwealth with open arms.”
Although no senators voted against the bill, there was opposition from some outside groups.
Catholic Action League Executive Director C.J. Doyle called the bill a “malign, non-rational proposal” that will “require the state to affirm and give legal sanction to the ideologically driven delusion that gender is a subjective social construct, which can be altered arbitrarily and capriciously, rather than what it is, which is an objective and immutable biological reality.”
“It will make government a party to this delusion,” continued Doyle. “It will confuse and falsify public records and compel government employees to participate in this falsification. It will result in discrimination in public employment against those who hold a traditional understanding of reality and will make the investigation of offenders more difficult for law enforcement. Section 4 of the bill will essentially empower government bureaucrats who administer programs for youth to proselytize the minors in their care for so-called gender transitioning.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Sen. Jason Lewis Yes
MAKE OBTAINING ID CARDS EASIER FOR HOMELESS PERSONS (S 2251)
Senate 39-0 approved and sent to the House legislation that would make it easier for homeless youth and adults to secure free state ID cards.
Supporters said that currently a person experiencing homelessness faces prohibitive fees and documentation requirements when trying to obtain an ID card. They noted that this legislation removes those barriers by eliminating fees and only requiring that applicants present documentation showing that they are currently receiving services provided by the state, a homeless service provider or another service provider. They argued that ID cards are necessary for applying for jobs, enrolling in school, interacting with law enforcement, accessing government buildings, opening financial accounts and many other basic services that many take for granted.
“When we listen to our homeless youth about the challenges they face, there is a common denominator and that is access to identification,” said Sen. Robyn Kennedy (D-Worcester), the Senate sponsor of the bill. “Having proper identification is the foundation to accessing food, shelter and employment opportunities, while also breaking the cycle of poverty.”
“Fees and documentation are not just barriers to identification. By extension, they are barriers to getting a job, accessing healthcare and applying for services—the most basic of necessities,” said Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). “These barriers harm the most vulnerable people in our commonwealth and eliminating them is a compassionate step that makes the path to stability a little bit easier.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Sen. Jason Lewis Yes
$513 MILLION FISCAL 2023 SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET (S 2426)
Senate 38-0 approved a $513 million fiscal supplemental budget to help close out the books on fiscal year 2023 that ended on June 30. The House has already approved its own $693 million package. A House-Senate conference committee will eventually hammer out a compromise version.
Provisions in the Senate version include $180 million for fiscally strained hospitals; $60.3 million for staffing at the Department of Transitional Assistance; $100 million for the state’s pension fund; $40 million for a settlement of a court case related to police promotion discrimination; and $75 million for school districts with extraordinary special education costs.
“As we fully emerge from the pandemic, the Legislature has addressed several sectors of state government with crucial funding to continue to keep the economy of the commonwealth on a firm footing,” said Sen. Mike Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “The passage of this supplemental budget today utilizes robust tax revenues to its fullest effect, making substantial investments in health care, special education, unemployment assistance and disaster relief funding. Those investments will keep Massachusetts as a leader in the key economic sectors for decades to come.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the $513 million supplemental budget.)
Sen. Jason Lewis Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
7.5 PERCENT PAY HIKE FOR SENATE STAFFERS – Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) announced a pay hike for all Senate employees. All staff members who began work prior to May 1, 2023 will receive a 7.5 percent pay hike beginning July 31, 2023. For example, a staffer who currently earns $50,000 will receive a $3,750 hike to $53,750 while an employee earning $100,000 will receive a $7,500 bump to $107,500.
“I know I reflect the feelings of the Senate members when I say that we are deeply appreciative of all of your hard work,” said Spilka in an e-mail last week to Senate staffers. “Thank you for your continued dedication to the Senate and the people of the commonwealth.”
Judicial and executive branch employees currently have the right to form a union but Legislative staff cannot do so. Two bills, H 3069 and S 2014, pending before the Legislature would allow these employees to unionize. The measures are giving little chance of success this year based on a recent comment from Spilka in July 2022 that “the Senate does not at this time see a path forward for a traditional employer-union relationship in the Senate as we are currently structured.”
LIMIT FEE FOR CASHING CHECKS (H 344) – The Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure held a hearing on a measure that would set a cap on the fees check-cashing stores and outlets are allowed to charge. The maximum charge would be 5 percent of the value of a personal check or $5, whichever is greater, plus a $1 service charge; 2.5 percent of a government check plus a $1 service charge; 2.25 percent of a payroll check plus a $1 service charge; and 3 percent of all other checks including traveler’s check, cashier’s check and certified check plus a $1 service charge.
Supporters said of the 34 states that regulate check cashing, Massachusetts is one of eight that do not regulate the fees that may be charged. They argued these check-cashing “stores” are often located in low-income neighborhoods and take advantage of vulnerable residents.
They noted the bill would provide greater consumer protections for individuals who are “unbanked” — folks who don’t have a checking, savings or money market account or who are “underbanked” — folks who may have a bank account, but also rely regularly on alternative financial services outside of the mainstream banking system. Lower-income households, less educated households, Black households, Hispanic households, working-age households with a disability and single-mother households are most vulnerable to being unbanked or underbanked.
“This bill aims to tear down financial barriers that create situational and generational cycles of poverty by fostering a fair and responsible market in which low-income families can more easily save and protect their money,” said sponsor Rep. Kay Khan (D-Newton). “Passage of this bill will allow people to keep more of their hard-earned income, improving their ability to build assets, create wealth and promote overall stability in the economy of the commonwealth.”
BAN ELEPHANTS AND OTHER ANIMALS (H 3245/S 2189) – The Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development Committee held a hearing on legislation that would ban elephants, bears, lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cheetahs and other animals from being used in traveling circuses and other traveling shows in Massachusetts. Violators would be fined between $500 and $10,000.
“It is cruel for any of these large animals to live a life on the road and be forced into an unnatural lifestyle,” said House sponsor Rep. Carole Fiola (D-Fall River). “Animal-based traveling acts have waned in popularity across the nation, with many companies eliminating animal-based models and now proudly offering animal-free shows. Currently, 14 municipalities in Massachusetts have local ordinances banning traveling animal acts and eight other states have already adopted these bans. Action is needed statewide to protect wildlife and ensure the humane treatment of all animals.”
“Exotic, wild animals are subject to abusive training as they are transported throughout the country and across the commonwealth,” said Senate sponsor Sen. Adam Gomez (D-Springfield). “The cruel exhibition of these various animals also poses serious health and safety to the general public. We must be intolerant to animal abuse and ensure the safety of patrons.”
Massachusetts, like most states, currently has a law to prevent utility shut offs during the winter months. However only 19 states have similar provisions for dealing with extreme heat in the summer months. Recent reports from scientists indicate that Massachusetts residents can expect extreme heat conditions annually for the foreseeable future.”
—Former Sen. Dick Moore, Legislative Chair of the Dignity Alliance urging passage of a bill to protect older adults and people with disabilities for having utilities shut-off during periods of extreme heat.
“This contract demonstrates the T’s commitment toward reducing its emissions and is another step toward reaching our climate goals. In addition to reducing the Authority’s greenhouse gas emissions, these 40-foot battery electric buses have many amenities to enhance our riders’ experience, like flip-up seats, accessibility features and dual-sided passenger information screens.”
— MBTA General Manager Philip Eng announcing the MBTA’s new $119 million contract with New Flyer of America Inc. for the production and delivery of 80 new, low-floor, 40-foot battery electric buses.
“It could be ‘Plastic-Free July’ all year round if we can get this bill over the finish line. Reusable bags are ready and waiting.”
—Janet Domenitz of MASSPIRG on proposed legislation to eliminate single-use plastic bags in the Bay State.
“As Massachusetts will experience some of its most intense heat in the coming days, it’s important for people to make a plan to stay safe – including staying hydrated, limiting strenuous activity and checking in on one another. We’ve expanded hours at DCR swimming pools, beaches, waterfronts and spray decks to allow for more opportunities for residents to cool off. We’re grateful to the workers who are putting in the time and effort to support these extended hours. All of us can do our part to help our friends and neighbors beat the heat.”
—Gov. Maura Healey.
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 24-28, the House met for a total of eight hours and 42 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 13 hours and 32 minutes.
Mon. July 24 House 11:01 a.m. to 1:52 p.m.
Senate 11:02 a.m. to 3:10 p.m.
Tues. July 25 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. July 26 House 11:04 a.m. to 11:09 a.m.
Senate 11:14 a.m. to 2:48 p.m.
Thurs. July 27 House 11:03 a.m. to 4:49 p.m.
Senate 11:03 a.m. to 4:53 p.m.
Fri. July 28 No House session
No Senate session
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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.