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Malden – November 5, 2021

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By Bob Katzen

  A NOTE FROM BOB KATZEN, PUBLISHER OF BEACON HILL ROLL CALL: Join more than 22,000 people, from movers and shakers to political junkies and interested citizens, who start their weekday morning with MASSterList—the popular newsletter that chronicles news and informed analysis about what’s going on up on Beacon Hill, Massachusetts politics, policy, media and influence in Massachusetts. The stories are drawn from major news organizations as well as specialized publications selected by widely acclaimed and highly experienced writers Chris Van Buskirk and Keith Regan who introduce each article in their own clever and never-boring, inimitable way.

  MASSterlist will be e-mailed to you FREE every Monday through Friday morning and will give you a leg up on what’s happening in the blood sport of Bay State politics. For more information and to get your free subscription go to: www.massterlist.com/subscribe.

  THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of October 25-29. All the House roll calls are on the $3.82 billion package which spends the federal money the state received from the American Rescue Plan Act and the surplus left over from the state’s fiscal year 2021 budget on relief and recovery from the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 18 months.

A LOOK BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE $3.82 BILLION FOR COVID RELIEF AND RECOVERY “DEBATE”

  All of the decisions on which representatives’ amendments are included or not included in the relief and recovery package are made “behind closed doors.” Or in the COVID-19 era, “behind closed Zoom meetings.” The vast majority of the more than 1,000 amendments proposed were on local projects for cities and towns in individual representatives’ districts and were bundled into consolidated “mega” amendments. There were four mega amendments and all but one, which had just one vote against it, were approved unanimously. There is no real “debate” on the House floor. Everyone who spoke on any of the consolidated amendments spoke in favor of them.

  The system works as follows: Individual representatives file amendments on several topics. All members then pitch their amendments to Democratic leaders who draft consolidated amendments that include some of the individual representatives’ amendments while excluding others.

  The categories of consolidated amendments relate to many subjects including programs for health and human services, education, housing, the environment, climate, economic development and jobs.

  Supporters of the system say that any representative who sponsored an excluded amendment can bring it to the floor and ask for an up or down vote on the amendment itself. They say this system has worked well for many years.

  Opponents say that rarely does a member bring his or her amendment to the floor for an up-or-down vote because that is not the way the game is played. It is an “expected tradition” that you accept the fate of your amendment as determined by Democratic leaders. Last week no member brought their individual amendment to the floor for debate and a separate roll call vote.

  Rep. Peter Durant (R-Spencer) was the only member who voted against one of the consolidated amendments—the one that added an estimated $26.6 million in spending on environment, climate and infrastructure.

$3.82 BILLION FOR COVID RELIEF AND RECOVERY (H 4219)

  House 159-0, approved and sent to the Senate a $3.82 billion package which spends the federal money the state received from the American Rescue Plan Act and the surplus left over from the state’s fiscal year 2021 budget on relief and recovery from the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 18 months. The plan includes one-time investments in health and human services, education, housing, the environment including climate mitigation, economic development and jobs. The House added an estimated $174 million to the package through the passage of four mega-amendments.

  Provisions include $500 million to provide premium pay bonuses for low- and middle-income workers who worked in-person during the COVID-19 State of Emergency; $250 million for financially strapped hospitals; $20 million for community health centers; $10 million for community-based gun violence prevention programs; $78 million to address food insecurity; $100 million for homeownership assistance; $100 million for production and preservation of affordable rental housing for residents of municipalities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic; $100 million for infrastructure for communities to adapt and become climate resilient; $100 million for grants to public school districts with high concentrations of low-income students, English language learners and communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19; $75 million for capital and maintenance projects for higher education; $10 million for programs focused on recruiting and retaining educators of color; $40 million for youth summer and school-year jobs; $50 million to close the digital divide; $12 million to assist in the resettlement of Afghan refugees in Massachusetts; and $5 million for the Inspector General’s office to create a public database and website to track total spending, including the percentage of funds spent in communities that were disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and to track the number of projects awarded to minority-owned businesses and organizations.

  “The funds distributed in this legislation have the potential to be transformative,” said Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante (D-Gloucester), Vice Chair of House Committee on Ways & Means. “Every dollar appropriated toward areas such as workforce development, housing and mental health services has the ability to reverse the secondary crises caused by the pandemic and assist Massachusetts residents in resetting their lives.”

  “The investments made by the House today address evident needs across all Massachusetts communities and sectors of the economy, particularly among those who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy).

  “Today the Massachusetts House once again proved to the rest of the world why they maintain the top spot as the most secretive and opaque legislative body in America,” said Paul Craney, spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “Only Speaker Ron Mariano would come up with a plan to negotiate all the 1,000 plus amendments behind closed doors at off-hours of the evening and not offer any debate on the floor. Transparency is replaced with opaqueness and the public suffers as democracy continues to decline in our state. Regular people have no way of knowing the deliberations behind how their tax dollars are spent in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.”

  (A “Yes” vote is for the bill).

Rep. Paul Donato   Yes

Rep. Steven Ultrino Yes

 

$11.7 MILLION IN ADDITIONAL FUNDS FOR HOUSING AND FOOD SECURITY (H 4219)

  House 159-0, approved a consolidated amendment adding an estimated $11.7 million in spending on housing and food security.

  Rep. Jim Arciero (D-Westford), the House chair of the Committee on Housing, said that investment in housing is critical to the creation of new affordable housing opportunities and the preservation of our existing affordable housing. “This funding will be used to modernize and revitalize our state-aided public housing, create pathways to permanent housing for those who have experienced chronic homelessness and empower first time-homebuyers to secure a home in an increasingly competitive market,” said Arciero. “Most importantly, these strategic investments will prioritize those communities across our commonwealth that have been most impacted by this pandemic.”

  (A “Yes” vote is for the amendment).

Rep. Paul Donato   Yes

Rep. Steven Ultrino Yes

 

$26.6 MILLION IN ADDITIONAL FUNDS FOR ENVIRONMENT AND INFRASTRUCTURE (H 4219)

  House 158-1, approved a consolidated amendment adding an estimated $26.6 million in spending on environment, climate and infrastructure.

  “The consolidated amendment currently being considered by the House includes $26.6 million in funding that our colleagues have let us know is most essential for their communities,” said Rep. Carolyn Dykema (D-Holliston), the House chair of the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. “From the very beginning of our conversations with our federal partners about how we can best utilize recovery funds, it was clear that including environmental and climate investments would be essential for Massachusetts to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than before.”

  “This bill has many very important spending priorities to help small businesses, housing and other critical needs related to the pandemic that has taken its toll over the past two years,” said Rep. Peter Durant (R-Spencer) the only member to vote against the amendment. “What I simply don’t understand is how spending tax dollars on environmental justice issues are related to COVID. It seems to just be an excuse to go on a spending spree.”

  (A “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against it.)

Rep. Paul Donato   Yes

Rep. Steven Ultrino Yes

 

$90.7 MILLION IN ADDITIONAL FUNDS FOR LABOR AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT (H 4219)

  House 158-0, approved a consolidated amendment adding an estimated $90.7 million in spending on labor and economic development.

  “Here in Massachusetts, we’re not blessed with the greatest weather, [an] understatement this week,” said Rep. Josh Cutler (D-Duxbury), the House chair of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “We don’t have vast oil and gold reserves or other abundant natural resources. Our greatest resource is our skilled workforce. That’s what drives our economy. This legislation represents an historic investment to match this pivotal moment in the commonwealth’s history with the resources necessary for our workforce development system.”

  (A “Yes” vote is for the amendment).

 

Rep. Paul Donato   Yes

Rep. Steven Ultrino Yes

 

SENATE REDISTRICTING (S 2560)

  Senate 36-3, House on a voice vote without a roll call, approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill redrawing the boundaries of all 40 senators’ districts. The plan is based on the 2020 census and will be in effect until the next redistricting cycle following the census in 2030. Both branches, on a voice vote without a roll call, also approved and sent to the governor a measure redrawing the boundaries of all 160 representatives’ districts.

  Senate President Karen Spilka’s office says the Senate plan would increase from three to six the number of districts where minorities make up the majority of the population. “The efforts to increase majority-minority representation include the strengthening of a Black ‘ability-to-elect’ district in Boston and the creation of a Hispanic ‘ability-to-elect’ district in the Merrimack Valley, along with the creation, strengthening or preservation of four ‘opportunity-to-elect’ districts in the Chelsea area, the Brockton area, Springfield and Boston,” read the analysis from her office.

  Sen. Will Brownsberger (D-Belmont), the Senate Chair of the Redistricting Committee, praised the redistricting as a high-quality plan. “I’m really pleased that the House and Senate were able to work together to bring these bills across the finish line at the same time,” said Brownsberger. “I’m grateful to the many citizens who participated in our inclusive process. I’m also grateful to my colleagues for their guidance and ultimate strong support of our plan.”

  Sen. Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen), said she agrees strongly with some of the bill’s provisions including its creation of new majority minority districts. She noted she voted against it because it needs even more work and doesn’t go far enough in representation for communities of color and many other communities in Massachusetts that have been shut out for too long.

  “It has been very clear that the most powerful amongst us saw very light touches in the redistricting process, while the majority of rank-and-file members absorbed notable if not substantial changes to their district lines,” said DiZoglio. “Communities need to have their voices heard before we move forward with finalizing this legislation. Many residents have been left begging the question as to why their districts and communities have been sliced and diced while the district lines of the most powerful have not. And those folks deserve answers.”

  “The Senate redistricting map accurately reflects the numerous changes that have occurred over the past 10 years,” said Sen. Anne Gobi (D-Spencer). “While I am personally experiencing seismic changes in my district, I was very pleased with the process and the work that was done to preserve full Senate representation in our western Massachusetts districts while increasing the number of majority minority districts across the commonwealth.”

  “What I want to focus my comments on today is two of the communities I am losing, especially the city of Lawrence,” said Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Andover) who voted against the bill. “For the past two decades, I have had the privilege of representing the city of Lawrence … and I’ve also been proud to serve the town of Dracut … In my time as an elected official, both of these communities have embraced me with open arms … Helping out the city of Lawrence has been my life’s work … Overall there is so much more work to do and I will continue to advocate wholeheartedly on behalf of these communities I currently represent for the remainder of the session.”

  (A “Yes” vote is for the redistricting plan. A “No” vote is against it.)

Sen. Jason Lewis Yes

 

  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 October 25-29, the House met for a total of 20 hours and 56 minutes while the Senate met for a total of nine hours and 41 minutes.

 

Mon. Oct. 25 House 11:02 a.m. to 11:08 a.m.

                      Senate 11:02 a.m. to 1:59 p.m.

 

Tues. Oct. 26 No House session

                       No Senate session

 

Wed. Oct. 27 No House session

                      Senate 1:15 p.m. to 4:49 p.m.

 

Thurs. Oct. 28 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:19 p.m.

                         Senate 11:15 a.m. to 2:25 p.m.

 

Fri. Oct. 29 House 12:03 p.m. to 8:37 p.m.

                    No Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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