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November 11, 2022 – Volume 47 – Report No. 44

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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. 44

October 31-November 4, 2022

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

By Bob Katzen

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   THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Despite there being no roll calls in the House or Senate last week, there was major action on passage of a $3.8 billion supplemental budget and economic development bill.

   $3.8 BILLION SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PACKAGE (H 5374) – The House and Senate approved different versions of a $3 billion plus economic development bill in July. The funds are from the state’s surplus of money. The two versions went to a conference committee to hammer out a compromise version. Finally last week, the House and Senate crafted the compromise version and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a $3.8 billion spending bill to fund an economic development package and a supplemental budget to close out the state’s books on fiscal 2022. There was no roll call on the bill because it was approved at informal sessions of each branch at which roll calls are not allowed. Under legislative rules, each one of the state’s 192 legislators had the power to stall the bill indefinitely but no one did.

   Absent from the package is millions of dollars in tax relief that was part of the original conflicting versions approved by each branch including $500 million one-time tax rebates to an estimated 2 million eligible people. A $250 rebate would go to individual taxpayers and a $500 rebate to married taxpayers. Eligibility would be determined by annual income reported in 2021, with the minimum income required to be $38,000, and the maximum $100,000 for individual filers and $150,000 for joint filers. Beginning in 2023, several permanent tax reductions would take effect including increasing the Child and Dependent Care Credit from $180 per child to $310 per child, as well as eliminating the current cap of $360 for two or more children; increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit from 30 percent to 40 percent of the federal credit; increasing the senior circuit breaker tax credit cap from $1,170 to $2,340; increasing the rental deduction cap from $3,000 to $4,000; and increasing the estate tax threshold from $1 million to $2 million.

   “With many economic experts predicting financial uncertainty in the year ahead, our agreed upon package is limited to one-time investments,” said House Speaker Ron Mariano, Senate President Karen Spilka, House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz and Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues in a joint statement. “House and Senate leaders are committed to revisiting the issue of broader, more permanent tax relief next session. This will help to ensure that our discussion of permanent tax relief can and will be informed by the views of a newly elected Legislature and governor, while considering the looming challenges facing the commonwealth.”

   Senate Minority Leader Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) explained why the GOP decided not to hold up the bill despite the fact that it did not include the tax cuts. “At this important point, when one member could stop this process from moving forward, we will not jeopardize those important priorities,” said Tarr. “Too often, we see sometimes obstruction of someone else’s agenda because someone isn’t able to get all of their agenda. This is a time that requires statespersonship on behalf of all of us, so we will not stand in the way of helping all of those that need our help that will be the beneficiaries of some of the important appropriations in this bill. But what we will do is insist on a commitment to this IOU.”

   Former representative and current GOP Party chair Jim Lyons disagreed with Tarr and criticized the Democratic leadership. “They removed the tax cuts from the original package, and the reason they did that, according to their own words, is that they’re uncertain about economic conditions moving forward,” Lyons said. “Yet somehow that isn’t stopping them from spending a whopping $3.7 billion of the taxpayers’ money. This is exactly why Massachusetts taxpayers are absolutely fed up with the status quo on Beacon Hill,” continued Lyons. “The Democrats are using an informal session to pass this progressive grab bag stuffed with handouts because they’re afraid of having to go on the record and actually vote for it.”


   WHEELCHAIR WARRANTY AND REPAIRS (S 3136) – The Senate approved and sent to the House a bill that would strengthen consumer protections for wheelchair users. Current state law does not set any timeline for assessing repairs and does not require dealers to offer wheelchairs on loan within a fixed time period.

    Provisions of the bill include requiring that wheelchair manufacturers, lessors and dealers provide customers with written notification of the warranty for their wheelchairs; increasing the minimum duration for an any warranty from one year to two years; mandating that if an in-warranty wheelchair stops functioning, manufacturers, lessors and dealers must assess the wheelchair within three days, provide a temporary wheelchair on loan within four days and cover any other costs to the user; and authorizing the attorney general and consumers to bring legal actions against any violation of provisions protecting wheelchair users from unfair and deceptive business practices relating to warranty-fulfillment.

    Supporters said wheelchair repairs pose substantial problems for people with physical disabilities. The noted that it is not uncommon for those who use wheelchairs to wait for weeks for repairs. This leaves these individuals stranded at home and unable to go to work, school, medical appointments, grocery shopping or elsewhere. This creates a crisis for individuals and families and often exacerbates other health conditions. Existing state law does not set any timeline for assessing repairs or require dealers to offer wheelchairs on loan within a fixed time period.

   “This bill’s passage is an important step forward to protect wheelchair users and their families,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. John Cronin (D-Lunenberg). “The bill implements critical protections in the law to prevent wheelchair users from being stranded in their homes for prolonged periods when their wheelchair or mobility device becomes inoperable.”

   “I have fought my entire career to make Massachusetts a more inclusive place for people of all abilities to live, work and play,” said Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). “It is especially fitting that the Senate has passed these bills on the same day that we adjourn in memory of Paul Spooner, a committed and tireless disability rights and inclusion activist working in MetroWest and a dear friend of mine. By helping us move closer to our goal of ensuring that all people have opportunities to live independently, we honor Paul’s legacy and make the Massachusetts a more compassionate and accessible commonwealth.”

   SUPPORTED DECISION-MAKING (S 2848) – The Senate approved and sent to the House a bill creating the option for individuals with an intellectual or developmental disability, dementia or mental health diagnosis to enter into an agreement of “supported decision-making” as an alternative to traditional guardianship. In a guardianship, the guardian makes medical, financial and other major life decisions for the person. Under a supported decision-making agreement, an individual actually makes his or her own decisions with the support of a designated person or team and his or her decision cannot be overridden by the supporters.

   “I am incredibly proud that this life-changing legislation has advanced through the Senate,” said Sen. Joan Lovely (D-Salem), the sponsor of the measure. “Supported decision-making agreements maximize the dignity, freedom and independence of persons with disabilities and provide a proven, cost-effective and less restrictive alternative to guardianship … Everyone should have the opportunity to be the decision-maker of their own lives, and this legislation will empower many for whom that was not previously possible.”

   “People with disabilities deserve the freedom to maintain their independence and dignity,” said Sen. Susan  Moran (D-Falmouth), chair of the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. “I’m proud to vote for this bill to enable supported decision making for people with disabilities and take another strong step in supporting residents with disabilities in the commonwealth.”

   “I have had the opportunity, as the Senate chair of Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities to meet with many individuals across our state who are both strong advocates for supported decision-making and could greatly benefit from this bill,” said Sen. Adam Gomez (D-Springfield), chair of the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. “Supported decision-making is a no-brainer that allows individuals, including those with disabilities and elders, to maintain their rights and independence, allowing them to choose one or more trusted advisors to provide assistance in making decisions about their lives. I am thrilled that this legislation is moving forward and I know it will change many lives.”

   STEP THERAPY (H 4929) – Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill that limits the use of health care plan mandated prescription drug “step therapy” protocols and provides more exemptions to the mandate. Step therapy requires the patient to try less expensive options before “stepping up” to drugs that cost more. Conditions which would exempt a patient from trying the less expensive drug first include if the treatment will harm the patient, or if the patient previously tried the required treatment, or similar treatment, and it was ineffective.

   Supporters said that insurers that utilize step therapy protocols require medical providers to prescribe lower-cost medications to patients first, and only grant approval for alternative medications when the cheaper options have failed to improve a patient’s condition. This results in insurers effectively choosing medications for the patient, even in cases where their providers have recommended an alternative. When patients change insurers, they are often forced to start at the beginning of the step therapy protocol again, which results in wasteful health care expenditures, lost time for patients and potentially devastating health care impacts on the patient.

   “On behalf of the dozens of patient groups who worked so hard on this issue, we are thrilled that Gov. Baker has signed it into law,” said Marc Hymovitz, Government Relations Director in Massachusetts for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “This law puts treatment decisions back in the hands of doctors and patients where it belongs. It ensures patients will get the necessary medicine in a timely manner. Without a doubt, this will have a positive impact on thousands of patients across the commonwealth.”

   “We are taking action to ensure that patients with complicated illnesses receive the medications that their doctors know they need—not repeatedly taking medications that are ineffective,” said sponsor Sen. Julian Cyr (D-Truro), Senate chair of 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.”

   “This bill is a major step forward in ensuring patients and doctors have access to the right medication at the right time,” said Sen. Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington), Senate chair of the Committee on Health Care Financing. “We are finally joining over half the states in the nation in reforming step therapy practices, putting the focus back on health care providers working with patients to offer the best treatment possible.”

   The governor’s office did not respond to repeated attempts by Beacon Hill Roll Call to get the governor to comment on the new law/

   INCREASE PENALTIES FOR HIT AND RUNS WITH RECREATIONAL VEHICLES (H 4504) – The House approved and sent to the Senate legislation, known as the James Ward Act, which would increase the penalty of a hit and run with a recreational vehicle that causes bodily injury from a fine between $500 and $1,000 to a jail sentence of one year and/or a fine between $500 and $1,000. The proposal also creates the penalty of up to a $5,000 fine and/or a jail sentence of 2.5 years for a hit and run with a recreational vehicle that results in the death of the other party.

   The legislation, according to the current sponsor, Rep. Kathy LaNatra (D-Kingston), was originally filed by Kingston’s former Rep. Tom Calter in response to an ATV accident in Plymouth in December of 2012 that resulted in the death of 14-year-old James Ward. After the accident, the rider of the other dirt bike promised James’ father that he would run and get help, yet instead fled the scene without returning. The other party was acquitted of negligent driving and only faced misdemeanor charges for leaving the scene of an accident.

                                                                            “I am proud to see the James Ward Act finally pass the House of Representatives,” said LaNatra. “We must hold those accountable who are guilty of the cowardly act of leaving the scene of an accident trying to escape the consequences. I have gotten to know James, Sr. and Jill Ward and their family well through this, and I know how important this bill is to them. As a parent, it is my sincere hope that no family will have to lose a child and the other party only receive mild charges for leaving the scene of the accident.”

   SCHOOL CUSTODIAN DAY (S 2126) – The Senate approved and sent to the House a bill declaring October 2nd as the School Custodian Day, in recognition of “the dedicated contributions provided by school custodians to ensure children of the commonwealth have clean, healthy and safe learning environments.” The governor would also recommend that the day be observed in an appropriate manner by the people.

   “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, the commonwealth’s school custodians have continued to diligently care for our facilities and students,” said sponsor Sen. Walter Timilty (D-Milton). “We must take action here in Massachusetts to ensure our school custodial workers know we appreciate their hard work and dedication. I am happy to see this bill move out of the Senate and over to the House for action.”

   QUOTABLE QUOTES — The Baker administration  announced grants totaling more than $4.1 million to help Massachusetts nonprofit, faith-based organizations to improve physical security and protect against terroristic and hate-fueled attacks. The announcement was made at the 4th Annual Faith-Based Organizations Safety and Security Seminar hosted by the Commonwealth Fusion Center and attended by more than 150 federal, state, local and nonprofit partners at the Southbridge Hotel and Conference Center. Here are some of the quotes on the grant:

   “Protecting our commonwealth means protecting the organizations that are the pillars of our communities. We are committed to ensuring that these nonprofits and houses of worship are protected and that everyone can feel safe when they gather and worship.”

   —Gov. Charlie Baker

    “Faith-based organizations provide important opportunities for people to worship, gather and connect with their faith and their community. Protecting these institutions from threats ensures that residents of every creed have a safe, dedicated space to engage in the life of their community.”

   —Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito

    “These grants ensure that nonprofit institutions where community members gather have the resources that they need to improve security. Ensuring the right to gather safely and to practice faith without fear is fundamental to our public safety goals.”

  —Secretary of Public Safety and Security Terrence Reidy

    “Gathering places such as houses of worship have unique security needs. The grants awarded through this program will help the recipients increase the security of their facilities while continuing to provide the open and welcoming gathering places their communities rely on.”

   —  Office of Grants and Research Executive Director Kevin Stanton

   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 31-November 4, the House met for a total of four hours and 41 minutes and the Senate met for a total of five hours and 55 minutes.

Mon.   Oct. 31   House  11:05 a.m. to  11:20 a.m.

                 Senate 11:09 a.m. to  11:45 a.m.

Tues.  Nov. 1    No House session

                 No Senate session

Wed.   Nov. 2    No House session

                 No Senate session

Thurs. Nov. 3    House  11:04 a.m. to   3:30 p.m.

                 Senate 11:08 a.m. to   4:27  p.m.

Fri.   Nov. 4    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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