Beacon Hill Roll Call: April 12 to April 16, 2021

Published: 4/23/2021 3:27:50 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call record local representatives’ votes on one roll call from the week of April 12 to April 16. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.

House approves $400 million for new Soldiers’ Home

The House, 160 to 0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill authorizing $400 million to fund the construction of a new Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke. The push to construct the new home follows the deaths of 77 veteran residents last year as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak at the current facility.

During debate on the House floor, Rep. Danielle Gregoire, D-Marlborough, House chair of the Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets addressed what the bill does and does not do.

“This bill is solely to finance the long overdue construction of a new Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke to serve our state’s veterans,” Gregoire said. “The myriad issues in governance and oversight and the geographic, racial and gender inequity issues that have been brought to light, though not created by the COVID-19 crisis, and resulting tragedy in Holyoke last year will be addressed in the near future, through a vehicle that will allow for more extensive research, discussion and debate.”

Gregoire also outlined a timeline for the project. She noted the “enabling work” for the project is expected to be done in spring 2022; construction will occur between the summers of 2022 and 2026; the move to the new building will be in the fall of 2026; demolition of the existing facility will follow the move and end in 2028; and final site work and landscaping will take place between the spring and summer of 2028.

The Baker administration and House and Senate leaders are all trying to speed the bill’s passage to meet deadlines to apply for as much as $260 million in funding from the federal government, which would leave state taxpayers with a $140 million bill.

“Holyoke is deeply proud to be home to the Soldiers’ Home, and we are grateful to see the House support a bill to prepare the home for the next 50 years,” said Aaron Vega, director of Holyoke’s Office of Planning and Economic Development and former state representative from Holyoke.

“The bonding authorization included in this legislation will allow the commonwealth to move forward with critical upgrades to the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home that will provide our veterans with a state-of-the-art facility that meets their health care and long-term care needs,” said House GOP Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading. “It also places the commonwealth in a strong position to qualify for significant federal matching funds to complete this work.”

The next stop is the Senate, where Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield, who represents Holyoke in the upper chamber, said, “I am pleased that the House unanimously passed the … bill today. Our commonwealth needs a new facility that will care for our veterans with the honor and dignity that they deserve. Today’s passage was an important step toward that goal, and I look forward to the Senate promptly acting on this bill.”

The office of House Ways and Means Chair Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, D-Boston, the author of the bill, did not respond to questions by Beacon Hill Roll Call that were sent repeatedly to Michlewitz and his Chief of Staff Blake Webber.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Also up on Beacon Hill

Primary enforcement of seat belt law (S 1591)

A proposed bill would allow police officers to issue tickets for seat belt violations even if the driver is not first stopped for another violation as required under current law. Other provisions prevent officers from searching the vehicle or occupants solely because of a seat belt violation and prohibit a seat belt violation from resulting in a surcharge on motor vehicle insurance premiums. The fine for drivers and passengers over the age of 16 who violate the law would be increased from $25 to $50. The current additional $25 fine on the driver for each passenger between the ages of 12 and 16 who is not wearing a seatbelt would also rise to $50.

“Seat belts save lives,” said Sen. Paul Feeney, D-Foxborough, the sponsor of the bill. “In fact they saved the life of me and my wife years ago. The data shows that Massachusetts lags the nation in usage, yet state law currently requires that everyone buckle up for a reason. This simple fix will add an enforcement mechanism to a law that already exists. The evidence is clear: the likelihood of severe injuries and fatalities drops significantly when people buckle up. We should pass this law to save lives and include a data collection provision to ensure that it is applied evenly and without bias.”

“The Rite of Spring has now arrived with another mandatory seat belt law bill,” said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, who got his start in political activism leading the ballot campaign to repeal the non-primary seat belt law in 1986. “Like a persistent weed it sprouts anew each spring and needs to be eradicated.

“Another law was immediately proposed in 1987 and every spring thereafter until it was again imposed in 1994, again with the promise it would never become a primary offense,” Ford continued. “Yet that too has tenaciously bloomed year after year. If that promise is broken, the next step — always the goal of the insurance industry lobby — will be imposition of the insurance surcharge. Experience has painfully taught us the value of a legislative promise.”

House Ways and Means Committee proposes $47.65 billion budget (H 4000)

The House fired the second shot in the long battle over the state budget for fiscal year 2022 that begins on July 1. Gov. Charlie Baker fired the opening volley in January when he filed his version of the spending package. The House Ways and Means Committee last week unveiled its own $47.65 billion version.

The budget recommendation would increase spending by $1.189 billion, or 2.6 percent over the current year’s budget, and proposes to spend $1.792 billion, or 3.9 percent, more than Gov. Baker recommended in his January budget proposal. Debate on the House version is scheduled to begin during the week of April 26.

After the full House finally approves a version of the package, the Senate will follow suit with its own draft, and a House-Senate conference committee will eventually craft a plan that will be presented to the House and Senate for consideration and sent to the governor.

Creation of a ‘Green Bank’ to finance clean energy (S 2231)

A proposed bill would require the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) to conduct a study of clean energy project finance gaps, including project capital, project credit support and enhancement, project finance insurance and project pipeline development. The study would develop recommendations as to potential sources of additional funding to support these clean energy projects. The measure also allows MassCEC to create a “Green Bank” to provide the investment capital necessary to accelerate the deployment of a range of clean energy technologies in the building, transportation, industrial and other sectors to meet the state’s net zero emissions goal.

“This is an important piece of legislation because it gives MassCEC the authorization and resources needed to help support clean energy initiatives beyond the seed-funding stage,” said sponsor Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton. “The MassCEC is an excellent organization that already plays a critical role in clean energy financing. This bill would help seize the opportunity to expand that role and direct support where it is most needed and most effective.”

Universal basic income of $1,000 (S 1883)

This proposed bill would establish a universal basic income pilot program run by the state Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) under which 100 people would be given $1,000 per month over a two-year period. Participants would be a diverse representation of all demographics of the state including race, gender identity, sexual orientation and educational achievement. Recipients would be allowed to spend the money without restrictions except for a prohibition on the purchase of illegal drugs.

The program would be funded by a public-private partnership with local businesses, nonprofits and/or private foundations, and no state money would be used to fund the monthly grants. However, administration of the program would be handled by the DTA, which is funded with state money.

Following the completion of the program, DTA would have up to a year to issue a report including information about how the funds were spent; the socioeconomic background of the participants prior to entering into the study; how the participants’ qualities of life evolved over the period of time of the study; and recommendations for permanent implementation of this program on a larger scale.

“COVID relief payments directly to individuals have highlighted the important role direct assistance can play in stabilizing vulnerable individuals and families,” said Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, the bill’s sponsor. “This pilot creates a floor of income for targeted individuals, and so far we have seen when that happens it results in positive outcomes for kids, health care access and more.”

Attorney general reminds residents that vaccines are free, no ID is required

As more people become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, Attorney General Maura Healey sent out an advisory indicating that while the federal government encourages vaccine providers to ask patients for IDs, Social Security numbers and health insurance information, these are not required to get vaccinated. She added that the vaccine is also free to everyone.

“Our most vulnerable populations, including immigrants, have been hard hit by COVID-19 infections, yet they often face the greatest barriers to accessing the vaccine,” Healey said. “We are reminding both residents and vaccine providers that people don’t need identification or health insurance to get the vaccine. It’s vital that we work to remove these kinds of obstacles so we can effectively combat this virus and make sure vaccines are accessible to our most at-risk residents.”

Healey’s office notes that denying a vaccine to a patient because of a lack of ID may violate Massachusetts anti-discrimination laws and that deceiving or misleading a consumer into believing that identification or health insurance is legally required, when no such requirement exists, may also be a violation of the state’s consumer protection law.

Healey warns people about funeral expense scams

Attorney General Healey, in partnership with the Massachusetts Funeral Directors Association (MFDA), also warned residents about potential scams and other attempts to exploit families seeking relief through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Funeral Reimbursement Program, which began April 12 and offers federal government assistance to help pay for up to $9,000 in funeral costs for anyone whose death after Jan. 20, 2020 is attributed to COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, scammers often target people when they’re at their most vulnerable and use it as an opportunity to take advantage of them to make money,” Healey said. “This fund was set up to offer financial relief for those who tragically and unexpectedly lost someone to COVID-19, and we want to make sure applicants are on alert for scams and don’t get exploited.”

She noted that FEMA will not initiate contact with anyone by phone or email.

Consumers who receive unsolicited telephone calls, emails or text messages seeking personal information from anyone claiming to be a federal employee or a funeral home should hang up and report it to the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362; the National Center for Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721; or local law enforcement.


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