Beacon Hill Roll Call: May 24 to May 28, 2021

  • David Grout teaches a hybrid class to sixth-grade students in person and at home from Gill Elementary School in March. The Senate recently rejected an amendment that would provide up to a $500 tax deduction for any K-12 teachers’ expenses they paid for the costs of remote teaching. Eligible expenses include professional development courses taken related to the curriculum, books, supplies, computer equipment, personal protective equipment, disinfectant and other supplies used for the prevention of the spread of COVID-19. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

  • COMERFORD Contributed photo

Published: 6/4/2021 5:00:56 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of May 24 to May 28. All Senate roll calls are on proposed amendments to the $47.72 billion fiscal year 2022 budget. There were no roll calls in the House last week.

This was the Senate’s second state budget in the COVID-19 era and most senators participated virtually from their homes or offices.

Of the 923 amendments filed by senators, only 15 came to a roll call vote. Many others were simply approved or rejected one at a time on voice votes without debate.

To move things along even faster, the Senate also did its usual “bundling” of many amendments. Instead of acting on all the amendments one at a time, hundreds of the proposed amendments are bundled and put into two piles — one pile that will be approved and the other that will be rejected, with a single vote on each pile.

Senate President Karen Spilka, or the senator who is filling in for her at the podium, orchestrates the approval and rejection of the bundled amendments with a simple: “All those in favor say ‘aye,’ those opposed say ‘no.’” However, senators don’t actually vote yes or no, and, in fact, they don’t say a word. The outcome was predetermined earlier behind closed doors.

“The efficient Senate budget process this year reflected lots of careful work by our Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodriques and our Senate President Karen Spilka to build consensus in the weeks before the budget,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Will Brownsberger, D-Belmont.

“(The process) more accurately highlights the increasingly efficient use of the legislative rubber stamp,” commented Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “Massachusetts doesn’t need the cost of 200 legislators when a handful decide all legislation before it comes for a vote. If the three token ‘loyal opposition’ Republican senators weren’t taking up space, taxpayers could at least save the ‘leadership stipends’ they collect.”

“This type of process was not the norm only several years ago,” said Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance Executive Director Paul Craney. “Over the last few years, with new legislative leadership, they rush through votes, often don’t record the votes and don’t allow the public to gain access to what is happening because most of the important work is done behind closed doors. With that being said, the state Senate is much more transparent than Speaker Ron Mariano and Republican Brad Jones in the House. The House is arguably the most opaque legislature in America.”

$47.72 billion budget (S 3)

The Senate, 40 to 0, approved a $47.72 billion fiscal year 2022 state budget.

Senators added on an additional $63.7 million in spending during three days of debate on the Senate floor. The House recently approved its own version of the budget. A House-Senate conference committee will hammer out a compromise version.

“This is an extraordinarily hopeful budget, designed to get us ‘back to better,’” said Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland. “The Massachusetts Senate vowed to act on what we learned from the COVID-19 public health crisis and invest in areas that lift up our children, families and seniors across all communities — and that is exactly what this budget does.”

Sen. Mike Rodrigues, D-Westport, chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means said, “The Senate has charted a hopeful path forward this week and passed a fiscally responsible fiscal year 2022 budget that makes investments to expand educational opportunity, safeguard the health and wellness of our most vulnerable, support our children and families, and meet the needs of our post-pandemic economy.”

A “Yes” vote is for the budget.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Tax deduction for remote learning supplies (S 3)

The Senate, 5 to 34, rejected an amendment that would provide up to a $500 tax deduction for any K-12 teachers’ expenses they paid for the costs of remote teaching. Eligible expenses include professional development courses taken related to the curriculum, books, supplies, computer equipment, personal protective equipment, disinfectant and other supplies used for the prevention of the spread of COVID-19.

Amendment supporters said it is unfair that teachers have to personally pay from their own pockets to cover for these costs. A recent survey showed teachers spent an average of $745 of their own money on learning materials.

Amendment opponents said they support reimbursing these teachers but argued a tax deduction is not the best way to do it. They noted the state should use some of the billions of dollars in federal funds it receives under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and directly reimburse the teachers.

A “No” vote is against allowing a $500 deduction.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — No

Sen. Anne Gobi — No

Sen. Adam Hinds — No

Allow farmers a tax deduction for donating food (S 3)

The Senate, 6 to 33, rejected an amendment that would give a taxpayer who is in the trade or business of farming and makes a charitable contribution of food to a nonprofit food organization a deduction on their income tax return for up to 25 percent of the value of the food. The amendment also regulates the contributions and sets standards that the food quality must meet.

Amendment supporters said the deduction will help these generous farmers and the charities. They noted that the federal government and several other states already allow this deduction.

Amendment opponents said the state cannot afford the revenue loss in a budget that is tight and still relies on money from the Rainy Day Fund. They noted the budget delays the implementation of the overall charitable deduction that was discontinued in 2001, and argued it is not time to pick and choose a specific group of taxpayers who will receive a charitable deduction.

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment allowing the charitable deduction for farmers. A “No” vote is against it.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — No

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — No

Additional $3 million for boards of health (S 3)

The Senate, 39 to 0, approved an amendment increasing funding for local boards of health from $10 million to $13 million.

Amendment supporters said these grants will improve public health protections across the state by strengthening local capacity and supporting sharing of services among cities and towns.

“The pandemic made clear what has long been true: Protecting our health requires strengthening investments at the local level,” said sponsor Sen. Joanne Comerford, D-Northampton. “In our commonwealth, every municipality has their own board of health or health department. These funds will decrease inequities between communities and promote better health for everyone.”

A “Yes” vote is for the $3 million increase in funding.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Additional money for domestic violence prevention, survivor services (S 3)

The Senate, 39 to 0, approved an amendment increasing funding for domestic violence and sexual assault prevention and survivor services by $508,419 (from $50,366,295 to $50,874,714).

“What many people don’t realize is that a consequence of the pandemic has been a significant increase in instances of domestic abuse,” said sponsor Sen. Mike Moore, D-Millbury. “As a result, there has been an increase in individuals seeking services provided by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. It is critical that we provide more funding for these services so that access to care remains available for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault.”

A “Yes” vote is for the $508,419 increase in funding.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

$500,000 to improve maternal and newborn health outcomes (S 3)

The Senate, 38 to 1, approved an amendment that would provide $500,000 for the Perinatal-Neonatal Quality Improvement Network (PNQIN) of Massachusetts that works with hospitals and maternal health organizations to eliminate disparities in maternal morbidity and mortality.

“I believe that it is every person’s right to build a happy and healthy family,” said amendment sponsor Sen. Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester. “An essential element of PNQIN’s mission is to fight and eliminate longstanding racial disparities in maternal mortality and to improve health outcomes of all pregnant people and their children. PNQIN is at the forefront of maternal health equity, and their work will unequivocally bring us closer to a commonwealth full of happy and healthy parents and children.”

A “Yes” vote is for the $500,000.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Additional $500,000 for security for schools, houses of worship (S 9)

The Senate, 39 to 0, approved an amendment increasing funding from $1 million to $1.5 million for security enhancements for at-risk houses of worship, schools, community centers and other nonprofits. This includes the installation of security cameras, enhanced lighting, ballistic doors and bulletproof windows, rapid response alarms, perimeter fencing, motion detectors and vehicle blockades.

“We are in the middle of a pandemic of hate and violence, and it’s growing at alarming rates,” said sponsor Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow. “This year alone, there was the attempted bombing at Ruth’s House, a Jewish-affiliated assisted living facility in Longmeadow, and in the months that followed, a rapid rise in Anti-Asian hate crimes. We have an obligation as a commonwealth to make sure that we have the resources to put these basic precautions in place.”

A “Yes” vote is for the $500,000.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Also up on Beacon Hill Baker signs COVID-19 emergency sick leave and unemployment insurance changes (H 3771)

Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill that will provide qualified workers with up to five days of paid leave for COVID-19-related emergencies including workers who are sick with the virus, under a quarantine order, recovering from receiving a vaccine or caring for a family member ill with the virus.

“It creates a new, predictable and stable formula to address recoveries related to COVID-19 claims,” Baker said.

The measure is also designed to relieve employers from expensive unexpected unemployment system costs. Many businesses were shocked when they saw their first-quarter unemployment contribution bills and found the solvency assessment rate had jumped from 0.58 percent in 2020 to 9.23 percent in 2021, raising costs in many cases by hundreds or thousands of dollars. Under the new law, the state would shift all COVID-19-related unemployment claims from the solvency fund into a new COVID-19 claims fund, and the solvency fund would revert to its original function.

Public Health Committee hearing

The Public Health Committee is preparing to hold a virtual hearing on several bills, including:

Public universities must provide medication abortion (H 2399): Requires each state university health center to offer medication abortions to its patients and provide referrals for other abortion care services not provided in the health center. The measure provides each university with $200,000 to pay these costs. Another provision prohibits the state from requiring a university or college to use money from its general fund or student fees before Jan. 1, 2026, to fund these medication abortions.

“(This) is an important health infrastructure bill that provides funding for public colleges and universities in order to ensure access,” said sponsor Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton. “Navigating the health care system as a college student can be complicated, and students often find that distance, transportation, cost and scheduling pose barriers. This bill would ensure that students within the public higher education system of Massachusetts can access this safe medication without undue obstacles.”

“This extreme measure … is reckless, divisive and unnecessary,” said Catholic Action League Executive Director C.J. Doyle. “It contains no provision requiring public university health centers to warn women of the risks, complications or adverse effects of so-called medical or medication abortions. Nor does it contain a conscience clause for physicians, nurses or other health center employees who have moral or religious objections to abortion. It is not about choice. It is about maximizing the availability and convenience of abortion in the Bay State. As is usual with such measures, there will be no choice, at all, for pro-life taxpayers.”

Feminine hygiene products (H 2354): Requires all prisons, homeless shelters and K-12 schools to maintain free menstrual products, including sanitary napkins, tampons and underwear liners in private and public restrooms and to make them available in a “convenient manner that does not stigmatize any persons seeking the products.”

“After hearing the experiences of local students in my communities who were forced to miss class or were stigmatized for lack of access to free menstrual products and rallied to get the city to supply products, I filed this bill,” said co-sponsor Rep. Christine Barber, D-Somerville. “Period poverty is real. No one should be denied their education because they menstruate or have to choose between period products and other basic human necessities.”

Postpartum depression (H 2285): Requires that MassHealth provide coverage of screenings by pediatricians for postpartum depression in mothers during any visit to a pediatrician’s office for up to one year from the date of the child’s birth.

“I have put forth this legislation for the past few sessions to help combat this public health crisis and make sure those mothers and babies are getting the best proactive treatment possible,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Carole Fiola, D-Fall River. “In a time when the commonwealth struggles with an opioid epidemic and heightened rates of suicide, this small amendment to the General Laws could make a big difference and ultimately save lives.”


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