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Beacon Hill Roll Call
Volume 48 – Report No. 4
January 23-27, 2023
Copyright © 2023 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.
The debate over the rules on how the House and Senate will operate during the upcoming 2023-2024 session will soon begin, as it does every year at the beginning of a legislative session. The rules are important and have an effect on how much power individual members have compared to House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy), Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) and the rest of the Democratic leadership team.
A LOOK BACK: Here are some of the new rules that House Republicans proposed for the 2021-2022 session, the comments of supporters and opponents of the new rules and how your local representatives voted. The proposals were all defeated mostly along party lines with the vast majority of Republicans voting for the changes and the vast number of Democrats voting against them. These four rules are likely to be offered by the GOP soon in the 2023-2024 session.
TERM LIMITS FOR SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE (H 3930)
House 35-125, rejected an amendment that would reinstate a 2009 rule that prohibited any representative from serving as speaker of the House for more than eight consecutive years. The rule was repealed in 2015.
“The speaker holds the most powerful office in the House of Representatives, but all 160 Representatives stand as equals when it comes to representing their constituents,” said GOP House Minority Leader Rep. Brad Jones (R-North Reading). “Setting term limits on the speaker’s office is a way to prevent too much power from being consolidated in the hands of any one individual over time. Reinstating the term limits that were repealed in 2015 would send a powerful message that the House is committed to inclusion and the periodic transition of power.”
“While I appreciate different ideas to continuously improve our Legislature, I do not support term limits,” said Rep. Jim O’Day (D-West Boylston). “Term limits can place the House at a severe disadvantage during negotiations with the governor and other officials, which is not beneficial for advancing legislation or for our districts.”
(A “Yes” vote is for term limits for the speaker. A “No” vote is against term limits for the speaker.)
Rep. Jessica GianninoNo Rep. Donald Wong Yes
POST HOW REPRESENTATIVES VOTED ON BILLS IN COMMITTEE (H 3930)
House 38-121 and 41-117, rejected two similar amendments that would require that committees make public how each legislator on the committee voted on whether or not to favorably report a bill to the House. This would replace a section that would only post the names of legislators who voted against the bill and list the aggregate vote tally without names, of members voting in the affirmative or not voting.
“The public has a right to know where their legislators stand on the issues being debated in committee, and it makes absolutely no sense to identify by name only those members who vote “no” at an executive session or on a poll,” said Rep. Brad Jones, sponsor of one of the amendments. “When we vote in the House chamber, our individual votes are displayed for all to see, and legislative committees should be held to the same standard by providing full disclosure of where each member stands on a given issue.”
“I believe every resident of Massachusetts has the right to hold their elected state representative accountable,” said Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven (D-Somerville), the sponsor of the other amendment. “Under current rules, there is no accountability on the votes we take in committee. This amendment ensures that every vote taken in committee is available to the public, including when bills are sent to [a] study [committee].”
Rep. Joe Wagner (D-Chicopee) opposed the listing of which representatives vote “yes” or did not vote. “The names of votes of those voting in the negative being there for everyone to see is sufficient in terms of transparency,” said Wagner. “I have always been concerned, and I’ve chaired committees for about 20 years, and I have been always concerned that when we take votes in committee, the votes that we take to advance legislation does not reflect necessarily, when an affirmative vote is taken, the support for the matter as it is before the committee.”
Wagner continued, “So, for example, there are points at which members will vote affirmatively to move a matter from a committee because they support the idea conceptually of a particular piece of policy or legislation … And so I think that where a vote in the negative is very clear, a vote in the affirmative is less clear. And there are interest groups and there are people frankly who may have agendas and would use a vote in the affirmative, if a member’s name were attached in that way, to try to discredit a member perhaps or potentially misconstrue a member’s position on a particular issue.”
(Both roll calls are listed. On both roll calls, A “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Jessica GianninoNo/No Rep. Donald Wong Yes/Yes
ALLOW MEMBERS TWO HOURS TO VOTE IN COMMITTEE (H 3930)
House 35-124, rejected an amendment that would give legislators two hours to vote electronically when casting a vote on a bill in committee.
“Members are often given very little time to respond to committee polls, even when the poll involves multiple bills and complicated issues,” said sponsor Rep. Brad Jones. “One of the more glaring examples … was a recent House Ways and Means poll that gave members just 16 minutes to review a 38-page supplemental budget and a separate election reprecincting proposal. That is simply not enough time to properly review and understand these bills.”
Opponents of the amendment said it goes too far. They argued the current system works fine and that always allowing two hours can delay getting some important and urgent bills to the House floor.
(A “Yes” vote is for giving two hours to vote. A “No” vote is against giving two hours.)
Rep. Jessica GianninoNo Rep. Donald Wong Yes
GIVE LEGISLATORS 72 HOURS TO READ CONFERENCE COMMITTEE REPORTS (H 68)
House 35-123, rejected an amendment that would give legislators 72 hours to read a conference committee report before voting on it. Current rules allow the conference committee report to be considered the next day.
“Conference committees often require weeks or even months of negotiations between the House and Senate to arrive at a compromise bill that can be presented to the membership for a vote,” said amendment sponsor Rep. Brad Jones. “The current process allows very little time between the release of the conference committee report and the vote to accept the report for members to review and understand what they’re actually voting on. Providing a 72-hour window would give both the public and legislators a better understanding of what’s included in the conference committee report before a vote is taken.”
“We are a deliberative body oftentimes debating issues for a half of the session,” said Rep. Daniel Hunt (D-Dorchester). “Over a year and a half we have come together and have great debate over the bills. Amendments are filed. The Senate takes the same action. We might look at what the Senate did and further amend our bill. We then go to conference, where three members of each side sit in lengthy debate on our behalf and when the bill comes back to us it’s an up or down vote. I do appreciate the leader’s point where at the end of last session, because of necessity, because of the global pandemic, because of the extended session and the hour of the day, oftentimes reports were out in a 24-hour period.”
(A “Yes” vote is for giving 72 hours. A “No” vote is against giving 72 hours.)
Rep. Jessica GianninoNo Rep. Donald Wong Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
6,403 BILLS FILED FOR CONSIDERATION IN 2023-2024 SESSION – Legislators filed 6,403 pieces of legislation by the January 20 deadline. The 159 House members filed 4,050 while the 40 senators filed 2,353. Here are some of the 6,403:
HEARING AIDS (HD 3777) – Would require all health care plans to provide hearing aid coverage of up to $500 per hearing aid and then 80 percent coverage of the next $1,500 for each hearing aid.
“This legislation was first brought to my attention by a senior citizen in my district who cannot afford his hearing aids,” said co-sponsor Rep. Jessica Giannino (D-Revere).
“This bill will go a long way to improving the quality of life for people of the commonwealth,” said co-sponsor Rep. Sean Garballey (D-Arlington). “It builds on top of a law that was passed allowing children up to the age of 21 to receive hearing aids. This current bill would expand that coverage to every person.”
RECOGNIZE HIGH SCHOOL CHEERLEADING AS A SPORT (HD 4074) – Would designate and treat high school cheerleading as a legitimate sport and have it governed by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) which currently governs 19 other high school sports.
“I filed this bill to have cheerleading designated a sport at the high school level, governed by the MIAA so that it is supported like all other team-based athletic programs offered in high schools across the state,” said sponsor Rep. Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica). “I have filed it … for the town of Billerica, [because] our cheerleading program is one of the best in the state and just won their 8th state championship this past March.”
Supporters said that Bay State high school cheerleading is currently governed by the Massachusetts Schools Administrators’ Association (MSAA) which only supports Cheer/Game Day, Dance and eSports. They argued it would be more appropriate to have the MIAA run and support this highly athletic and competitive sport.
HIS, HER AND THEIR EXCELLENCY THE GOVERNOR (HD 3598 and HD 3729) – Would amend the part of the state constitution that creates the title “His Excellency” for the governor and lieutenant governor. The proposal would add two more possible titles – “Her Excellency” and “Their Excellency.”
“It’s time to bring Massachusetts into the 21st century,” said sponsor Rep. Jenny Armini (D-Marblehead). “Given who is sitting in the corner office, it’s obviously ridiculous that the constitution doesn’t recognize Gov. Healey’s gender. We must plan for the future, which is why these bills also include language to accommodate those across the gender spectrum.”
RAISE THE MINIMUM WAGE FROM $15 PER HOUR TO $20 PER HOUSE (HD 3965) – Would increase, over a 4-year period (2024-2027), the minimum wage from $15 per hour to $20 per hour; and the tipped worker minimum from $6.75 to $12, increasing it from 45 percent of minimum wage to 60 percent of it. Another provision beginning in 2028, would index the minimum wage for inflation, using the consumer price index.
“While we celebrate the significant victory of the 2018 law, we know that working families and individuals are still under enormous financial stress with rising inflation and increased costs of housing and living,” said sponsor Rep. Tram Nguyen (D-Andover). “They are struggling to meet their basic needs and provide for their families.”
“One of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use, not only among low-income individuals but also for youth, is to significantly increase the tax on all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. Multiple studies have shown that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces consumption by about 4 percent among adults and about 7 percent among youth.”
—The American Lung Association recommending that Massachusetts lawmakers increase the state’s current $3.51 per pack tax on cigarettes by at least $1.
“We need tax reform. We need tax relief. Making Massachusetts more competitive and attractive means doing just that. I know how important this is to the business community.”
—Gov. Maura Healey in a speech to the business group Associated Industries of Massachusetts.
“The dedicated men and women who keep our communities safe too often hide the significant stress and trauma they incur from the job. Every officer in the commonwealth must have access to quality mental health services and peer support to combat this stigma.”
—Sen. Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford) on distribution of money for a statewide grant program, which he created via legislation in 2018, providing police officers across Massachusetts with access to mental health services and peer support.
“We know that when kids are hungry at school they cannot learn. We know that hungry kids have problems concentrating, have lower academic achievement, suffer cognitive development impairments and exhibit more behavioral problems in their food secure peers.”
—Rep. Andres Vargas (D- Haverhill) on his bill that would allow every Massachusetts student to receive free breakfast or lunch in school without providing income or other eligibility information.
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 23-17, the House met for a total of 12 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 23 minutes.
Mon. Jan. 23 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:05 a.m.
Senate 12:03 p.m. to 12:05 p.m.
Tues. Jan. 24 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. Jan. 25 No House session
No Senate session
Thurs. Jan. 26 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:13 a.m.
Senate 11:14 a.m. to 11:35 a.m.
Fri. Jan. 27 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