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Beacon Hill Roll Call
Volume 47 – Report No. 49
December 5-9, 2022
Copyright © 2022 Beacon Hill Roll Call. All Rights Reserved.
By Bob Katzen
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THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call reviews five of the key votes from the 2021-2022 session dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic..
COVID-19 EMERGENCY SICK LEAVE AND UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE CHANGES (H 3771)
House 157-0, Senate 40-0, approved a bill that would provide qualified workers with up to five days of paid leave for COVID-19-related emergencies including workers who are sick with the virus, under a quarantine order, recovering from receiving a vaccine or caring for a family member ill with the virus.
The measure is also designed to relieve employers from expensive unexpected unemployment system costs. Many businesses were shocked when they saw their first-quarter unemployment contribution bills and found the solvency assessment rate had jumped from 0.58 percent in 2020 to 9.23 percent in 2021, raising costs in many cases by hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Under the proposal, the state would shift all COVID-related unemployment claims from the solvency fund into a new COVID claims fund and the solvency fund would revert to its original function. Employers, who fund the state’s jobless aid system, will still be on the hook in the long term, and a COVID-related assessment on businesses will kick into effect for 2021 and 2022.
“In order for us to fully recover from the pandemic, all Massachusetts workers need access to emergency paid sick time if they are sick with COVID-19, quarantined or need to care for a sick family member,” said Deb Fastino, Executive Director of the Coalition for Social Justice. “Many essential frontline workers need paid sick time so they can recover from the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine.”
“Massachusetts workers and businesses share the same goal of restoring jobs lost during the COVID pandemic and getting back to work,” said Steve Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. “By spreading this year’s solvency assessment over the next two decades using already authorized borrowing, the House took the necessary step at this time to enable that continued economic recovery. Moving forward, it is critical that we take a hard look at the way we fund our Unemployment Insurance System to ensure that costs are fairly spread out across businesses; that we build substantial reserves during good economic times in order to weather the bad without relying on costly borrowing; and that workers can continue to count on unemployment benefits as an economic lifeline to provide for their families and boost the Massachusetts economy.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Rep. Paul DonatoYes Rep. Steven Ultrino Yes Sen. Jason Lewis Yes
EARLY RELEASE OF PRISONERS (H 4002)
House 132-27, Senate 37-3, overrode Gov. Baker’s veto of a section that authorizes the commissioner of corrections, if it can be done safely, to release, transition to home confinement or furlough prisoners with prioritization given to populations most vulnerable to serious medical outcomes from COVID-19. The section also maximizes the awarding of “good time” by eliminating mandates for participation in programming for those close to their release dates and awarding credits toward reduce sentences for time served during the pandemic.
Another provision authorizes the Disability Law Center to monitor the continuity of care for Bridgewater state hospital patients who are discharged to county correctional facilities or department of mental health facilities.
In his veto message, the governor said that he struck the section because it is not consistent with his original budget proposal.
Override supporters said the veto would eliminate important measures to ensure the state’s correctional facilities remain safe and healthy environments for all prisoners and staff.
(A “Yes” vote is for the section authorizing the release and furlough of prisoners and allowing the Disability Law Center to monitor the care of prisoners transferred from Bridgewater. A “No” vote is against the section.)
Rep. Paul DonatoYes Rep. Steven Ultrino Yes Sen. Jason Lewis Yes
EXCLUDE MUNICIPAL WORKERS (H 3771)
House 0-158, Senate on a voice vote without a roll call, rejected Gov. Baker’s amendment that would exclude municipal employees from the emergency COVID-19 paid leave program.
The Baker administration has defended the exclusion of municipal workers arguing that they already have strong leave protections in place and that many municipalities can access federal funds to implement their own leave programs that could align with state and federal leave guarantees.
Rep. Josh Cutler, (D-Pembroke), House chair of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development disagreed with Baker. “As the speaker has made clear, the House stands firm in supporting COVID emergency paid leave for all Massachusetts workers,” said Cutler. “That includes our municipal employees, the teachers, police officers, firefighters, health agents, janitors, veterans’ agents and many others who have been essential to our state’s COVID-19 response. Further, our actions today to address unemployment solvency account rates will help stem rising costs for employers and small businesses.”
House GOP Minority Leader Brad Jones (R-North Reading) also disagreed with Baker, a fellow Republican. “Having access to emergency paid sick leave is essential to workers who are recovering from the coronavirus, caring for a family member or trying to schedule their vaccination,” Jones said. “Municipal employees—including essential frontline workers like police and firefighters—have also faced numerous challenges created by the COVID-19 global pandemic, and the House’s vote will ensure that they are also entitled to the same paid sick leave benefits as other non-municipal workers.”
(A “No” vote is against the amendment and favors including municipal employees.)
Rep. Paul DonatoNo Rep. Steven Ultrino No
COVID-19 POLICY EXTENSIONS (S 2475)
House 150-10, (Senate on a voice vote without a roll call) approved legislation that would extend many of the measures instituted in Massachusetts during the COVID-19 state of emergency that expired when the original emergency declaration ended.
Provisions include allowing public bodies subject to the open meeting law to continue to hold remote meetings; allowing cities and towns to approve and extend permits for outdoor dining; allowing restaurants to offer alcoholic beverages, including mixed drinks, for off-site consumption with the purchase of food; and extending several protections that have been granted to tenants who have difficulty paying rent.
Other provisions include reinstating the remote option for representative town meetings and meetings of nonprofits and public corporations; notary services; reverse-mortgage loan counseling; and flexibility for assisted living residences.
Supporters said that these provisions have been helpful to businesses, municipalities, health care providers, residents and communities during this extraordinary time.
Opponents said the measure limits homeowners’ rights to eject a nonpaying renter and puts many in a terrible financial bind as they still have to pay taxes, insurance, mortgage and upkeep of the building. They said they do not believe it is fair or constitutional that the government has the ability to seize private property—which is basically what is happening.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Paul DonatoYes Rep. Steven Ultrino Yes
$1.6 BILLION SPENDING PACKAGE (H 4532)
House 156-0, Senate on a voice vote without a roll call, approved a $1.6 billion supplemental budget that contains $700 million for COVID-19 related expenses including $432 million for COVID-19 testing, $72 million for treatments, $45 million for expanded vaccination access and $25 million for personal protective equipment.
Other provisions include $140 million for grants to special education schools to address the impacts of COVID-19 and subsequent variants; $100 million for cities and towns for roads; $100 million for rental assistance for needy families; and extending eviction protections for tenants who have active assistance applications.
The package also extends from April 1, 2022 to April 1, 2023 outdoor dining at restaurants and from May 1, 2022 to April 1, 2023 the law allowing restaurants to sell beer, wine and cocktails with takeout orders.
Supporters said the package is a fiscally responsible one that will fund important programs, benefit many residents and help Massachusetts prepare for the future.
(A “Yes” vote is for the $1.6 billion package).
Rep. Paul DonatoYes Rep. Steven Ultrino Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
GALVIN CERTIFIES CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT HIKING TAXES ON MILLIONAIRES – Secretary of State Bill Galvin signed the final certification of the new constitutional amendment, approved by voters as Question 1 in November. The amendment would allow a graduated income tax in Massachusetts and impose an additional 4 percent income tax, in addition to the current flat 5 percent one, on taxpayers’ earnings of more than $1 million annually. Language in the change requires that “subject to appropriation, the revenue will go to fund quality public education, affordable public colleges and universities, and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges and public transportation.”
GALVIN CERTIFIES LAW REGULATING DENTAL INSURANCE RATES – Galvin also certified Question 2 which voters handily approved on the November ballot. The new law regulates dental insurance rates, requiring companies to spend at least 83 percent of premiums on member dental expenses and quality improvements, instead of administrative expenses.
HONOR MERCY OTIS WARREN (H 4281) – The House gave initial approval to a bill that would call for renowned Cape Cod artist and sculptor David Lewis to construct, at no expense to the state, a memorial display in the likeness of Mercy Otis Warren, an important and underrepresented historical woman of the American Revolution from Barnstable. The bust would be displayed in the Massachusetts Statehouse.
“Mercy Otis Warren was a leading writer and patriot in colonial Massachusetts,” said co-sponsor Rep. Kip Diggs (D-Barnstable). “Yet, she remains a little-known figure to the public. I sponsored this legislation because what better way to educate the public about this Cape Cod woman and her remarkable influence on Massachusetts and American history than to place a memorial of her, created pro bono by an artist from her hometown, within the Statehouse for visitors to see and learn about? I am very glad to see the House agree by advancing this legislation to honor the contributions of Mercy Otis Warren.”
“I am very glad to see this legislation advance in the House,” said co-sponsor Sen. Julian Cyr (D -Truro). “Art is powerful, and people across the commonwealth should see art that reflects the impactful contributions that women have made to this state and the nation from its very beginning. Mercy Otis Warren is a notable historical figure hailing from West Barnstable who pushed social norms as a poet and playwright during the American Revolution. Installing a bust of the writer in the Statehouse celebrates the legacy she left us.”
HISTORIC FIRST SPORTS BETTING LICENSE GOES TO ENCORE BOSTON HARBOR — The Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted unanimously to award Everett’s casino, Encore Boston Harbor, the first sports wagering operator license in the state’s history. “Next on the agenda is that the Everett casino now must obtain a certificate of operations and meet additional conditions before bets can actually be accepted.
“I think that this is great for the commonwealth,” said Gaming Commissioner Jordan Maynard. Earlier this week the commission deferred its vote on the applications from Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville and Springfield’s MGM.
Gov. Charlie Baker had signed the law after a four-year effort by proponents to legalize sports betting on professional and college sports for Massachusetts residents over 21 years old at the state’s casinos, slots parlors, simulcast centers and through mobile platforms. Betting on Massachusetts colleges and universities would not be allowed unless the school is playing in a tournament like March Madness.
DEMOCRAT CHALLENGER WINS BY ONE VOTE – Following a recount in the 2nd Essex Representative District, challenger Democrat Kristin now leads 10-year Republican incumbent Rep. Lenny Mirra (R-Georgetown) by a single vote. Mirra originally had led Krassner by 10 votes out of more than 23,000 cast in the November 8 election. Mirra has indicated he will challenge the outcome in court.
“My wife is really looking forward to having me around a little more, so I don’t think I’ll be a candidate in ‘24 for anything. I will certainly try to be involved in a positive way.”
—Gov. Charlie Baker when asked if he plans to run for president in 2024.
“As a former student athlete and coach, I know that sports can be a powerful unifier. Today, we brought together coaches, athletic directors and educators who are committed to ensuring that young people can participate in school sports in a safe and inclusive environment.”
—Governor-elect Maura Healey at a conference of Education Leaders and Boston Sports Teams at TD Garden on preventing and addressing hate in school sports.
“Our first responders are the heart of our communities. They help keep residents and communities safe, and we owe them a debt of gratitude. These grants are an investment in public safety.”
—Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito announcing $4.8 million in funding to support municipal police and fire staffing in several communities.
“Over the last decade, our approach as a commonwealth toward addressing the needs of children and families has evolved. A growing body of research has helped us better understand the negative impact that court involvement and out-of-home placement of any kind can have on youth, and our state has increasingly focused on building our system of school and community-based supports for children and families.”
— Maria Mossaides, Director of the Office of the Child Advocate, on a major policy report with recommendations for improving the way the state provides support to families who are struggling with their child’s behaviors, such as truancy or repeatedly running away from home.
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 December 5-9, the House met for a total of one hour and 14 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 32 minutes.
Mon. Dec. 5 House 11:02 a.m. to 11:31 a.m.
Senate 11:22 a.m. to 11:34 a.m.
Tues. Dec. 6 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. Dec. 8 No House session
No Senate session
Thurs. Dec. 9 House 11:00 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.
Senate 11:15 a.m. to 11:34 a.m.
Fri. Dec. 2 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.