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 March 7-11.
$1.6 BILLION SPENDING PACKAGE (H 4532)
House 156-0, approved and sent to the Senate a $1.6 billion supplemental budget that contains $700 million for COVID-19 related expenses including $432 million for COVID 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 allows 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.
An amendment proposed by Rep. Peter Durant (R-Spencer) that would have suspended the state’s 24-cents-per-gallon gas tax until gas prices fall below $3.70 per gallon was defeated on a voice vote without a roll call vote. Under House rules anyone can make the motion to require a roll call vote and a roll call must be held if at least 16 members support requiring a roll call. Durant himself did not ask for a roll call. “It was simply part of the negotiation process for future efforts that may still come up,” responded Durant when asked by Beacon Hill Roll Call why he didn’t request a roll call. Durant did not respond to several follow up e-mails by Beacon Hill Roll Call asking him to elaborate and explain what he meant by his statement and to reveal what the “negotiation process” involved.
“Constituents and suffering motorists will never know how their House lawmaker voted because no House member was willing to go on record to show who supports or opposes this temporary relief for the taxpayers,” said Paul Craney, a spokesman for the Mass Fiscal Alliance. “Despite record gasoline prices, the Massachusetts House of Representatives once again proved how selfish they are with our money,” continued Craney. “They had an opportunity to provide temporary gas tax relief and they voted it down and didn’t even have the courage to go on record with their vote. Once again, politicians are protected and the taxpayers lose at the Statehouse. It’s deeply disappointing that House lawmakers play games to protect themselves from hard votes while motorists are still left paying the highest recorded prices for a gallon of gasoline,” said Craney.
“With the skyrocketing price of gas, suspension of the gas tax is a small, simple step that the commonwealth can take to provide some relief to the residents of Massachusetts,” said Durant. “Tying this relief to the ongoing price of fuel is the most equitable way to make sure taxpayers continue to see this relief until the nation gets this situation under control.”
Opponents of the suspension said Massachusetts would jeopardize its bond ratings by suspending the tax and the state would face higher rates for borrowing. They said they could perhaps support other ways to provide relief at the pump but not this amendment which would do more harm than good.
According to Gov. Baker’s proposed fiscal year 2023 budget, the gas tax is projected to generate $743.7 million in fiscal 2023.
(A “Yes” vote is for the $1.6 billion package).
Rep. Jessica Giannino Yes
$100 MILLION IN ADDITIONAL ROAD FUNDS (H 4532)
House 28-128, rejected an amendment that would provide an additional $100 million to cities and towns in one-time funding for the maintenance and repair of local roads and bridges across the state. This would be in addition to the $100 million already included in the spending package.
“Roads and schools are some of the biggest budget items for cities and towns and the primary cause of increases to property taxes on family homes, especially hurting our retired seniors,” said sponsor Rep. Kelly Pease (R-Westfield). “The Legislature and the governor passed the Student Opportunity Act that is providing more money for schools, but we need to spend more money on … roads so cities and towns can get the repairs that are desperately needed. We should not be raising taxes but prioritizing our spending. I do not know how a representative can get re-elected when they vote against money that would improve our roads. Isn’t that what our taxes are supposed to pay for?”
Opponents noted that the package already contains $100 million for roads and bridges. They said that the current formula, created decades ago, for distribution of the funds is considered unfair by many cities and towns. They argued the House should wait until an attempt is made to change the formula so that the additional $100 million will be distributed in a fairer manner.
“Local officials across the state continue to advocate for an increase to the Chapter 90 program, which provides direct funding to cities and towns for maintaining and repairing 30,000 miles of municipal roadways in Massachusetts,” said Geoff Beckwith, the executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. “The state has kept Chapter 90 funding flat at $200 million for the past 10 years, while the cost of repairing roads has increased by more than 40 percent. Without a permanent increase in Chapter 90 aid, local roads will crumble at a faster rate and taxpayers will bear the burden of even more expensive repairs in the years ahead.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the $100 million. A “No” vote is against the $100 million).
Rep. Jessica Giannino No
VETERANS’ HOMES OVERSIGHT BILL (S 2739)
Senate 39-0, approved a bill that would make major changes to the oversight and governance structure of the state’s veterans’ homes in Holyoke and Chelsea. The proposal follows the deaths of 77 veteran residents in 2020 as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke facility. The House has already approved its own version of the bill and a House-Senate conference committee will likely hammer out a compromise version.
Key provisions establish a new, full-time ombudsperson to receive, investigate and assist in resolving complaints related to the health, wellbeing and rights of veterans home residents and staff; require the Department of Public Health with regularly inspecting the two homes and making all inspection reports publicly available; elevate the Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans Services to a cabinet-level position; requires each home to have a full-time specialist in infection control and emergency preparedness and to adhere to medically-sound guidelines for trauma-informed care; and require state-operated veterans’ homes to accept Medicare and Medicaid payments to facilitate veterans’ access to health care.
“As the daughter of a veteran, I continue to be heartbroken for the families of those who lost their lives to COVID-19 at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home,” said Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). “The Senate will continue to lead in its efforts to support the brave men and women who have served our country.”
“The Soldiers’ Homes have long suffered from gaps in accountability and a confused chain of command, factors which left it unable to deal with a crisis like the one we saw with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sen. Michael Rush (D-Boston), the sponsor of the bill. “The bill passed by the Senate today tightens these gaps, enhances the level of oversight by elevating the Secretary of Veterans’ Services to a cabinet level position and creates a stronger governing structure that supports our veterans and provides high quality care.”
“With the passage of this bill, the Senate recognizes the need to prioritize accountability and oversight, establish effective checks and balances and ensure clear chains of command at our state’s long-term care facilities for veterans in order to prevent the tragedy at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home from ever happening again,” said Senate Ways and Means chair Sen Mike Rodrigues (D-Westport).
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill).
Sen. Lydia Edwards Yes
REQUIRE SOLDIERS’ HOMES TO MEET STATE STANDARDS (S 2739)
Senate 38-1, approved an amendment that would require that both veterans’ homes be licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) and be required to meet state standards that are currently required for nursing facilities. Sen. Jo Comerford (D-Northampton), the sponsor of the amendment, said the amendment will ensure that the homes meet high state standards.
“I was proud to file an amendment to this bill to require that the Secretary of Veterans Services be notified of any violation identified during a DPH inspection of a Soldiers’ Home and to require Soldiers’ homes to comply with existing, strict DPH standards for skilled nursing facilities through a process of licensure,” said Comerford. “We should not rely solely on federal standards, which is why this amendment requires Soldiers’ homes comply with state standards—the same standards skilled nursing facilities are held to. The amendment will advance … the state’s efforts to provide the highest quality care for the individuals who have served our nation.”
“Long before COVID-19, many facilities across Massachusetts failed to maintain proper infection control procedures and staffing levels,” said Sen. Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford), the only senator to vote against the amendment. “They were totally unprepared for a global pandemic and thousands of our loved ones perished, including those who valiantly served this country. Under current state law, a violation of the Department’s regulations is punishable by a paltry $50 fine while violations of a federal standard … can result in penalties of up to $22,300. If we are going to deter cost-cutting measures that jeopardize safety, then we must absolutely implement a state fine structure that closely aligns with federal standards and that reflect the pain and suffering inflicted on these vulnerable individuals and their families. Otherwise, the law has no teeth, and more lives will be jeopardized.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against it.)
Sen. Lydia Edwards Yes
SECRETARY OF VETERANS SERVICES MUST BE A VETERAN (S 2739)
Senate 39-0, approved an amendment that would require the Secretary of Veterans’ Services to be a veteran.
“Less than one-half of one percent of our population serves in the military, and a lot of times it can be difficult to fully grasp what veterans have been through and the issues they face unless you have served yourself,” said Sen. John Velis (D-Westfield), the Senate chair of the Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. “The secretary is going to be the position in our state with the highest obligation of representing our service members and this amendment ensures whoever fills that position has had these experiences and understands what it truly means to serve.”
(A “Yes” vote is for requiring the secretary to be a veteran.)
Sen. Lydia Edwards 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 March 7-11, the House met for a total of four hours and 52 minutes and the Senate met for a total of three hours and 20 minutes.
Mon. March 7 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:14 a.m.
Senate 11:14 a.m. to 11:21 a.m.
Tues. March 8 No House session.
No Senate session
Wed. March 9 House 11:01 a.m. to 3:31 p.m.
No Senate session
Thurs. March 10 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.
Senate 1:24 p.m. to 4:43 p.m.
Fri. March 11 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at email@example.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.