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Volume 47 – Report No. 24

Beacon Hill Roll Call

Volume 47 – Report No. 24

June 13-17, 2022

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

By Bob Katzen 

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   THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ and representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of June 13-17.

$350 MILLION FOR ROADS AND BRIDGES AND MORE (H 4638) –

   House 155-0, Senate 38-0, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker, a $350 million package that includes authorizing $200 million in one-time funding for the maintenance and repair of local roads and bridges in cities and towns across the state to be distributed under the Chapter 90 program formula. 

   The package, a bond bill under which the funding would be borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds, also includes $150 million to pay for bus lanes, improvement of public transit, electric vehicles and other state transportation projects.

   “Chapter 90 provides vital road improvement funding to our communities,” said Sen. John Keenan, the Senate vice-chair of the Transportation Committee. “It is my hope that we will get to the point where we can provide a greater amount in a multi-year appropriation so that municipalities, big and small, will be able to more effectively plan.” 

    Many local officials across the state continue to advocate for additional money to increase the funding and argue that the cost of repairing roads has increased by up to 40 percent while the state has kept this funding flat at $200 million for the past 11 years.

   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Joseph McGonagleYes                                     Sen. Sal DiDomenico Yes                                     

ELECTION LAW CHANGES (S 2924)

   House 126-29, Senate on a voice vote without a roll call, approved and sent to Gov. Baker a conference committee version of a bill making permanent the mail-in and early voting options used in Massachusetts in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The House and Senate had approved different versions of the bill and a conference committee hammered out this compromise version which did not include the section allowing same day voter registration that was in the Senate version but not in the House one. 

   The measure requires the secretary of state to send out mail-in ballot applications, with return postage guaranteed, to registered voters before each presidential primary, state primary and biennial state election. It also allows registered voters to request a mail-in ballot for all elections in a single calendar year.

   Other provisions include reducing the registration blackout period from 20 days prior to an election to 10 days; electronic voting options for voters with disabilities and military service members; allowing a voter with disabilities to request accommodations including an accessible electronic ballot application, ballot and voter affidavit that can be submitted electronically; 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; and requiring the secretary of state to conduct a comprehensive public awareness campaign to publicize the new voting and registration options.

   “I’m proud to see the [bill] pass in the House and make its way to the governor’s desk,” said Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Andover), Senate Chair of the Committee on Election Laws and the co-sponsor of the bill. “When more people participate in voting, democracy wins.”

   “I am concerned about the amount of money we are spending mailing out mail-in ballot applications when there are plenty of ways a voter can request a mail-in ballot if they want one,” said Rep. Colleen Garry (D-Dracut), the only Democrat to vote against the measure. “I would rather see these funds go to something more productive like free IDs so that everyone has an ID to vote, open bank accounts and get certain medications that require IDs. We are also putting a tremendous amount of work on our town clerks, especially in our smaller communities like in my district.”

   “We are thrilled that both the House and Senate have voted in support of the [bill],” said the group MassVOTE. “Even though this version of [the bill] does lack a provision we have long supported—Election Day Registration—we are very glad to see that popular pro-voter policies like mail-in voting, expanded early voting and jail-based voting are included, and will soon become law.”

   “As a general rule, we should be promoting voting in person and on Election Day,” said Paul Craney, spokesman for the Mass Fiscal Alliance. “Anytime a voter loses control of their ballot before it’s given to an election official, it’s possible it could be lost or altered. The Postal Service cannot guarantee a 100 percent delivery rate.” 

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

Rep. Joseph McGonagleYes                                     

COMPREHENSIVE BEHAVIORAL HEALTH PACKAGE (H 4879)

   House 155-0, approved a bill designed to make mental health care more accessible in the Bay State. Provisions include the implementation of the nationwide 988 hotline to access 24/7 suicide prevention and behavioral health crisis services; a public awareness campaign on the state’s red flag laws that limit access to guns for people at risk of hurting themselves or others; creation of online portals that provide access to real-time data on youth and adults seeking mental health and substance use services, including a function that allows health care providers to easily search and find open beds; giving the state additional tools to enforce existing parity laws which are aimed at providing equal benefits for physical and mental health treatment; and requiring insurance coverage of critical behavioral health services.

   “Everyone deserves access to quality mental health services, yet far too many people face unnecessary barriers to care,” said Rep. Adrian Madaro (D-East Boston), House Chair of the Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery Committee. “This bill reaffirms the House’s commitment to increasing access to behavioral health care across Massachusetts. For too long, the healthcare system has not treated behavioral health as equal to physical health, creating obstacles in addressing the mental health crisis, which has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. That’s why this timely piece of legislation makes critical steps toward prioritizing mental health services for people across the commonwealth, including our youth who have been acutely affected, and those who face challenges in getting the care they need. These policies reflect our strong belief that behavioral health care is essential.”

   “I’m proud of the legislation passed by the House today that builds on our long-standing efforts to advance important reforms and substantial investments that are aimed at improving our behavioral health care delivery system,” said Speaker of the House Ron Mariano (D-Quincy). “From addressing the behavioral health crisis that our young people are currently experiencing, to our efforts to alleviate emergency department boarding, to provisions that will bring us closer to treating mental and physical health equally, this legislation will benefit all residents in the commonwealth when accessing critical health care.” 

   The Senate approved its own version of the bill in November. A House-Senate conference committee will likely hammer out a compromised version.

   (A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Joseph McGonagleYes                                     

   ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

   THE STATE OF MASSACHUSETTS HEALTHCARE – Massachusetts’ health care system is ailing in the lingering aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis. Hospitals are suffering severe financial losses, putting smaller providers in peril as the larger players look to expand and consolidate. Behavioral health has become an acute priority in a system with limited capacity. Join the State House News Service and MASSterList for an in-person convening of government and industry leaders on the challenges and opportunities within the commonwealth’s health care system on Tuesday, June 28 at the Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) at 10 Winter Place in Boston. Doors open at 7:30 a.m. for networking and light refreshments, with the program beginning at 8:30 a.m. Sign up at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-state-of-massachusetts-health-care-tickets-358812496837?aff=BHRC 

   SALES TAX HOLIDAY ON AUGUST 13 AND 14 – The House and Senate set Saturday, August 13 and Sunday, August 14 as this year’s Sales Tax Holiday. This will allow consumers to buy most products that cost under $2,500 on those two days without paying the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax. This annual sales-tax-free weekend was made permanent in 2018 and gives the Legislature the authority to set the dates by June 15 each year.

   Supporters of the holiday say it has been in effect for many years, would boost retail sales and noted that consumers would save millions of dollars. They argue that the state’s sales tax revenue loss would be offset by increased revenue from the meals and gas tax revenue generated by shoppers on those two days. 

   Opponents of the bill say the state cannot afford the up to $30 million estimated revenue loss and argued the holiday actually generates little additional revenue for stores because consumers typically buy the products even without the tax-free days. They say that the Legislature should be looking at broader, deeper tax relief for individuals and businesses and not a tiny tax-free holiday. 

 

   BORROW $5 BILLION FOR STATE PROJECTS (S 2920) – The Senate approved, on a voice vote without a roll call vote, a $5 billion bond bill that borrows money for hundreds of construction projects—the majority involving maintenance and modernization projects of buildings related to health care, higher education, information technology, workforce development, the environment and affordable housing. Many of the buildings are decades old. The Senate added millions of dollars during consideration of the package. A key provision imposes a five-year moratorium on any prison or jail construction in Massachusetts.

   “We need a five-year pause on new jail and prison construction and prison expansion to ensure that the pathways away from incarceration for women and for men, pathways that the House and Senate helped create, are being justly used and often used, “said Sen. Jo Comerford  (D-Northampton). 

   “These investments will kickstart important projects related to buildings, infrastructure, pollution mitigation, broadband services and more, providing incalculable benefits to the residents of Massachusetts,” said Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). 

   “Today’s passage of the [bill] will support a strong future for our commonwealth through critical infrastructure and information technology investments in areas like public higher education, cybersecurity, state building decarbonization and much more,” said Sen. Michael Rodrigues (D -Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. 

   “This legislation represents the Senate’s commitment to ensuring that our commonwealth’s institutions are modernized while continuing to responsibly steward our state’s fiscal health and strengthening our reputation as a good place to do business.” said Sen. Nick Collins (D-Boston), Senate Chair of the Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets.

   There were 174 amendments filed by members, many of which were offered by legislators for projects in their own district. Members pitched their amendments behind closed doors. In the end, there was debate on only a few individual amendments while most were bundled into two mega-consolidated amendments and approved or rejected on a voice vote without a roll call. The “Yes” mega-amendments included 127 amendments while the “No” ones included 18 amendments. 

   The House passed its own version of the package on May 19. A House-Senate conference committee will likely hammer out a compromise version that will then be sent to the governor.

   ALLOW DRIVER’S LICENSE FOR UNDOCUMENTED/ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS (H 4805) – The House and Senate held a ceremonial bill signing for legislation that would allow, starting July 1, 2023, undocumented/illegal immigrants to apply for a Massachusetts standard driver’s license. The governor had vetoed the bill and the House and Senate overrode the veto—making it impossible to hold a signing of the bill by the governor.

   The legislation requires an applicant “without legal presence” in the United States to provide the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) with a foreign passport and at least one of five other documents: a driver’s license from another state, a foreign driver’s license, a birth certificate, a foreign national identification card or a marriage certificate or divorce decree from any U.S. state.

   “I cannot sign this legislation because it requires the Registry of Motor Vehicles to issue state credentials to people without the ability to verify their identity,” Baker had said in his veto message. “The Registry does not have the expertise or ability to verify the validity of many types of documents from other countries. The bill also fails to include any measures to distinguish standard Massachusetts driver’s licenses issued to persons who demonstrate lawful presence from those who don’t.”

   “[This] is a piece of legislation I have been proud to co-lead on since I first entered the Senate,” said Sen. Adam Gomez (D-Springfield). “As a proud Puerto Rican … and the state senator for a district that is rich in diversity, I know that this bill will benefit generations of families across the commonwealth. Our state is rich in culture and has a deep-rooted sense of community. The Senate further affirmed their commitment to protecting all families, regardless of status, by overriding the governor’s veto of this bill and enacting it into law.”

   “We are a nation of immigrants, and our commonwealth continues to be profoundly and positively shaped by immigrants from all over the world,” said Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). “They deserve to be able to safely get to work and school, care for their families and participate in the lives of their communities. I am thrilled that the Legislature has voted to override Gov. Baker’s veto on this measure, which supports families, improves public safety and is good for our economy.”

   In the meantime, “Fair and Secure Massachusetts,” a group attempting to repeal the new law, is collecting signatures to put the issue on the November state ballot to let voters decide whether to repeal the law or let it go into effect in July 2023. To get the question on the ballot, supporters must collect 40,120 signatures by August 24.

   SEXUAL ASSAULT UNDER FALSE MEDICAL REPRESENTATION (H 1661) – The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill that makes it a criminal offense when a medical or healthcare professional induces a patient to engage in sexual intercourse or touching by falsely representing that the act is necessary for a legitimate medical purpose. The measure adds sections to the existing rape and indecent assault and battery statutes to criminalize behavior by medical professionals where there has been a fraudulent representation of the necessity and propriety of conduct and adds these crimes to the law on the statute of limitations for other sexual assaults. 

      

   Supporters said that under existing law the offender cannot be criminally punished. “I am pleased that my colleagues in the House voted to pass [the bill] as it will establish protections for vulnerable patients and criminalize medical or healthcare professionals who knowingly and falsely claim sexual contact for a medical purpose,” said sponsor Rep. Kate Hogan (D-Stow). “This legislation provides necessary updates to Massachusetts’ sexual assault laws.” 

  MASSACHUSETTS COALITION OF POLICE (H 2163) – The House gave initial approval to a measure that would allow members of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police to be paid when attending executive board meetings of their group without having to use accrued time off for their absence.

   Supporters said that current law allows for members of the Massachusetts Police Association, a fraternal organization, to be excused from duty while attending executive board meetings. “The Massachusetts Coalition of Police is the largest police union in the commonwealth,” said sponsor Rep. Jessica Giannino (D-Revere). “Currently, [its] executive board members must use accrued time off from their departments to attend executive board meetings. This bill affords the same courtesy as those in other organizations in being excused from duty to conduct this important business.”

   QUOTABLE QUOTES

   “The Senate stands in recess subject to the call of the chair. We’ll come back when we feel like it.”

  —Sen. William Brownsberger (D-Belmont) adding a little humor to the Senate session.

   “The gang’s all here.”

   —Gov. Baker upon the arrival of  his counterparts Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ron Mariano for a joint press conference with reporters.

   “Logan is one of the nation’s busiest airports and its workers provide invaluable assistance in order to get passengers where they need to be. Raising the minimum wage is a victory for these workers and one they very much deserve. This decision is not only a step in the right direction for the airport but for the community as a whole.”

   — Massport Board Member John Nucci on Massport’s hiking of the minimum wage for certain Massport workers from $15 to $16 on July 1, 2022, and then to $17 on January 1,  2023.

    “As we enter summer with drought conditions across much of the commonwealth, we ask residents to follow any local water restrictions, minimize water usage and be cautious when using charcoal grills, matches, fire pits and other open flames. [We] will continue to work with our partners and the inter-agency Drought Mission Group to coordinate the response to the drought conditions.”

   — Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) Acting Director Dawn Brantley.

   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 June 13-17,  The House met for a total of eight hours and 45 minutes and the Senate met for a total of four hours and 38 minutes.

Mon.   June 13     House  11:01 a.m. to  12:19 p.m.

                   Senate 11:22 a.m. to  11:45 a.m.

Tues.  June 14     No House session

                   No Senate session

Wed.   June 15     House  11:03 a.m. to  11:26 a.m.

                   No Senate session.

  

Thurs. June 16     House  11:00 a.m. to   6:04 p.m.                   

                   Senate 11:17 a.m. to   3:32 p.m.

Fri.   June 17     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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