By Bob Katzen
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THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of January 24-28
ELECTION LAW CHANGES (H 4359)
House 124-34, approved a bill making permanent the mail-in and early voting options used in Massachusetts in 2020. Other provisions include reducing the registration blackout period from 20 days prior to an election to 10 days; ensuring that non-felons who are incarcerated who are currently eligible to vote are provided with voting information and materials to exercise their right to vote; mandating that felons who are incarcerated but prohibited from voting are notified of their right to vote upon release and given the opportunity fill out a voter registration form; and requiring the secretary of state to conduct a comprehensive public awareness campaign to publicize the new voting and registration options.
The Senate has already approved a different version of the bill which includes same day registration that allows people to register to vote on the same day that they actually vote. The House version does not include that provision.
Rep. Dan Ryan (D-Boston), House chair of the Elections Laws Committee, led the charge on the House floor for the bill but did not respond to several requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call to comment on passage of the bill.
“With nationwide assaults on voting rights and upcoming elections in November, our democracy can’t be taken for granted,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “It must be protected and strengthened, not just in Congress but in every state. Passage of [this bill] in the Massachusetts House represents important progress, and we are grateful that state lawmakers adopted reforms—from widespread mail-in voting to improved access for eligible incarcerated voters—that will address barriers to the ballot and expand the hard-won right to vote.”
“Speaker Ron Mariano and his leadership team passed a very partisan Democratic election bill,” said Paul Craney, spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “It’s important for Republicans and common-sense Democrats to speak up and hold accountable the majority party when they try to change the rules in favor of their party’s electoral success.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Jessica Giannino Yes
GET OPINION FROM SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT (H 4359)
House 30-128, rejected an amendment that would require the Supreme Judicial Court to rule on whether the election bill is unconstitutional and to delay the measure’s implementation until the court renders its opinion.
Amendment supporters said this is a very complicated bill and noted some analysts have said it might be unconstitutional.
Amendment opponents said that the amendment is simply a tactic to delay passage of the bill and will impede approval of the bill which is aimed at voter integrity and ballot access.
(A “Yes” vote is for getting the court’s opinion. A “No” vote is against getting it.)
Rep. Jessica Giannino No
PRISON VOTING (H 4359)
House 153-5, approved an amendment that would require prison officials to provide information to non-felon prisoners on how to register and then vote in local, state and federal elections while in prison. Under current law, prisoners serving time for a felony are banned from voting until their release from prison. The amendment also requires prison officials to help these felons register to vote just before their release.
Amendment supporters said that lack of voting by prisoners, especially black and brown inmates, often occurs because they are not given sufficient information. They said this is a subtle form of voter suppression. They noted the amendment would force prison officials to provide the information.
“Currently, those few eligible incarcerated voters who are able to access a ballot application find their application unduly rejected,” said Kristina Mensik, Democracy Behind Bars Coalition co-chair. “What’s more, we include provisions to help ensure that no eligible voter behind the wall is disenfranchised because they were unhoused before being incarcerated.”
Amendment opponents offered no arguments on the House floor. Beacon Hill Roll Call made repeated attempts to get a comment from the five legislators who opposed the amendment but only one responded. “I felt it was too costly and placed an undue burden on correctional officials,’ said Rep. Peter Durant (R-Spencer). The other four representatives who voted “No” and refused to comment are Reps Donald Berthiaume (R-Spencer), Nick Boldyga (R-Southwick), Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk), and Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica).
(A Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Jessica Giannino Yes
SAME DAY REGISTRATION (H 4359)
House 93-64, approved an amendment to a measure that would implement same day registration (SDR) that allows people to register to vote at the polls on Election Day and on any of the early voting days prior to the election. The amendment would replace SDR with a requirement that Secretary of State Bill Galvin complete a study that would analyze the cost of the proposed policy to the state and cities and towns and what it would take for local city and town clerks to implement SDR. Under House rules, the approval of the study amendment prohibits a roll call vote on the straightforward establishment of SDR.
Supporters of SDR said that the study is simply a tactic by SDR opponents to delay the implementation of SDR and also avoid a direct vote on SDR itself.
Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa (D-Northampton), the sponsor of SDR, said it is an important tool that Massachusetts can use to increase voter access to the polls. “In 2021, we had one day of overlap when voters could vote early and register. There was not a flood of applications; just a few more people across the state who were able to exercise their civic duty. That small data point shows that this can work and [this roll call] vote shows that support for same day registration, already popular with voters, is growing amongst legislators as well.”
Some supporters of the amendment to replace SDR with the study by the secretary of state said the House should not implement SDR without having sufficient facts on its effects. Others expressed concerns about the ability of cities and towns to implement SDR rules without disruption.
(Beacon Hill Roll Call urges readers to read the following carefully and understand what a “Yes” and “No” vote mean on this roll call. The roll call was on replacing SDR with a study. Therefore, a “Yes” vote is in favor of the study of SDR. A “No” vote is against the study and in most cases in favor of SDR itself.)
Rep. Jessica Giannino No
PROOF OF VACCINATION (H 4359)
House 31-127, rejected an amendment that would prohibit any city or town from requiring that a voter show proof of vaccination as a condition of entering a polling place to vote or to register to vote.
“If any voting location required a vaccination, then a sizable portion of the population would be prevented from entering the facility to exercise their constitutional right,” said sponsor Rep. Peter Durant (R-Spencer). “Since statistically the majority of people not vaccinated are minorities, a major constituency this bill sought to protect, any vaccine requirement would not only be unconstitutional, but also seen as an effort to suppress the vote.”
Amendment opponents said this is a solution in search of a problem. They noted that voters are not being asked to show proof of vaccination.
(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment banning cities and towns from requiring voters to provide proof of vaccination. A “No” vote is against the ban.)
Rep. Jessica Giannino No
REQUIRE VOTER ID (H 4359)
House 32-126, rejected an amendment that would require voters to show a federal or Massachusetts picture identification at their polling places in order to be allowed to vote. The state would also be required to establish a waiver of the fee for obtaining the ID for indigent persons.
Supporters said it is illogical that all voters are not required to show identification prior to voting and noted that 24 other states have laws requiring IDs. They argued that people cannot cash a check, rent a car, fly on a plane or even enter some government buildings without showing an ID.
“I filed this amendment to protect the integrity of every U.S. citizen’s vote in Massachusetts while providing the opportunity to get a free picture ID for those who don’t have one,” said sponsor Rep. Paul Frost (R-Auburn) “A free ID avoids the issues and barriers of a so-called poll tax, while making sure each voter is who they say they are when voting.”
Opponents of the amendment said it would disenfranchise thousands of voters including people who do not have a current address because they are in a homeless shelter or domestic violence facility. Other opponents said there have been no widespread reports of voter fraud in Massachusetts.
(A “Yes” vote is for requiring a voter ID to vote. A “No” vote is against requiring it.)
Rep. Jessica Giannino No
$76 MILLION FOR COVID-19 (S 2622)
Senate 40-0, approved a $76 million COVID-19 response bill. Key provisions provide $30 million to increase the number of COVID-19 testing sites and purchase COVID-19 tests and $5 million earmarked to expanding vaccination rates among kids ages 5 to 11 whose vaccination rates remain low in comparison to older residents
Another $25 million would be used for the acquisition and distribution of high-quality personal protective masks, including N95s and KN95s, to be distributed to health care workers and children and faculty in elementary and secondary public-school districts. The measure also mandates that the Baker administration pursue the highest allowable rate of federal reimbursement for the $76 million package.
“With the passage of today’s bill, the Senate confronts the challenges brought upon us by the Omicron surge and prioritizes urgently needed additional resources to expand access to rapid testing, masks, vaccines and boost our COVID-19 response efforts,” said Sen. Mike Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.
“Today’s investments reflect the Senate’s commitment to center equity in the state’s ongoing pandemic response,” said Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). “In addition to maintaining public health, key aspects of this bill, like the distribution of masks, will ensure that our COVID mitigation strategy is fair.”
“Today the Senate is acting decisively and strategically to protect the most vulnerable among us,” said Sen. Jo Comerford (D-Northampton), Senate Chair of the Committee on Covid-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management.
“I’m proud that this bill makes targeted investments in community organizations that are working hard to get more residents vaccinated and keep them protected from severe illness due to COVID-19,” said Sen. Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington), Senate Vice Chair of the Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management.
The House has already approved its own version of the bill. A House-Senate conference committee will try to hammer out a compromise version.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Sen. Lydia Edwards Yes
STATE SHOULD PROVIDE ADDITIONAL MONEY TO NURSING HOMES (S 2622)
Senate 9-31, rejected an amendment that would require the state to provide COVID-19 funding, until the end of the federal public health emergency, to nursing homes to support infection control standards, including staff training and wages; temporary labor costs; hiring new staff; procuring personal protective equipment (PPE); and costs associated with establishing single occupancy isolation rooms. The funds would be equal to at least 15 percent of the average monthly MassHealth Fee-For-Service payments made to nursing facilities for the purpose of supporting infection control standards, including staffing, PPE and isolation of residents, through the duration of the federal public health emergency.
“Massachusetts nursing facilities are in the midst of a historic financial and workforce crisis, which has only been exacerbated by the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic,” said sponsor Sen. Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen). “This crisis impacts all nursing facilities—not-for-profit, for profit, family owned—and is directly attributable to a MassHealth payment system that has not kept pace with the cost of nursing facility care over the last decade.”
“It is critical that nursing facilities have the resources to remain vigilant against the unpredictable COVID-19 virus,” continued DiZoglio. “The stark reality is that nursing facilities across the state are faced with an immediate and urgent workforce crisis resulting in over 7,000, or 1 in 5 direct-care positions unfilled. Given the acute staffing crisis, to meet the ongoing care needs of their residents, the vast majority of nursing facility staff are working overtime and over half of nursing facilities are intermittently denying new resident admissions and hospital referrals resulting in disruptions in access to care.”
Senate Ways and Means chair Sen. Mike Rodrigues said he agrees that nursing homes need help but that “this was a very narrow bill focused on access to testing, masks and vaccines for communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19.” Rodrigues said, “We absolutely know that nursing homes are hurting, “We absolutely know that nursing homes are hurting and we will consider supports for nursing homes in future legislation.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against it.)
Sen. Lydia Edwards No
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 January 24-28, the House met for a total of 11 hours and two minutes and the Senate met for a total of six hours and 12 minutes.
Mon. Jan. 24 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:07 a.m.
Senate 11:28 a.m. to 11:34 a.m.
Tues. Jan. 25 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. Jan. 26 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:52 a.m.
Senate 12:01 p.m. to 5:55 p.m.
Thurs. Jan. 27 House 11:03 a.m. to 9:08 p.m.
Senate 11:16 p.m. to 11:28 a.m.
Fri. Jan. 28 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.