Beacon Hill Roll Call: April 26 to April 30, 2021

Published: 5/7/2021 3:11:25 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call record local representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of April 26 to April 30. All the House roll calls are on the House version of a $47.7 billion fiscal year 2022 state budget.

Most of the decisions on which representatives’ amendments are included or not included in the budget are made “behind closed doors.” Or in the COVID-19 era, “behind closed Zoom meetings.” Of the 1,157 budget amendments proposed, most of them were bundled into consolidated “mega” amendments. This year there were seven mega amendments and all but one, which had just one vote against it, were approved unanimously.

The system works as follows: Individual representatives file amendments on various topics. All members then pitch their amendments to Democratic leaders who draft consolidated amendments that include some of the individual representatives’ amendments while excluding others.

The categories of consolidated amendments include 16 subjects such as programs relating to public safety, judiciary energy, environmental affairs, housing, labor and economic development.

House approves $47.7 billion budget (H 4000)

The House, 160 to 0, approved and sent to the Senate a $47.7 billion fiscal year 2022 budget. The House, over three days, added $59.8 million to the bill. The House version now goes to the Senate, which will approve a different version. 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.

“This budget meets the needs of our residents who have endured an unprecedented level of health and economic challenges over the past year,” said House Speaker Ron Mariano, D-Quincy. “The House continues to support the services and programs that have proven to be essential for so many, while making targeted investments to grow the Massachusetts economy.”

A “Yes” vote is for the budget.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Continue the film tax credit (H 4000)

The House, 160 to 0, approved an amendment that would indefinitely extend the film tax credit that is due to expire at the end of 2022. According to the Massachusetts Film Office, the state provides filmmakers with a package of tax incentives including a 25 percent production credit, a 25 percent payroll credit and a sales tax exemption. Any project that spends more than $50,000 in Massachusetts qualifies for the payroll credit. Spending more than 50 percent of the total budget or filming at least 50 percent of the principal photography days in Massachusetts makes the project eligible for the production credit and the sales tax exemption.

“Since the inception of the film tax credit in 2006, $2.8 billion in economic development has flowed into Massachusetts, stimulating many businesses that previously were not here, and creating new employment opportunities for thousands of people,” said the amendment’s sponsor Rep. Tackey Chan, D-Quincy. “It is essential, especially in light of the pandemic, that the commonwealth continues to champion job preservation, growth and continued investments in our local businesses.”

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Expand Conservation Land Tax Credit (H 4000)

The House, 160 to 0, approved an amendment that would expand the existing Conservation Land Tax Credit by raising the annual cap for this program from $2 million to $5 million over a three-year period, beginning on Jan. 1, 2022. The increase would remain in place until Dec. 31, 2031. This state tax credit provides an incentive for land with significant conservation value to be donated to public and private conservation agencies. The tax credit is equal to 50 percent of the fair market value of the donated property, up to a maximum credit of $75,000.

Supporters explained that the tax credit has already resulted in the permanent protection of some 14,000 acres of land valued at over $76.5 million. They noted that for 2021, the maximum $2 million in tax credits has already been committed to 33 projects that will protect about 1,954 additional acres. They said that leaves 83 additional projects representing another 1,482 acres of land on a waiting list, with some of the projects expected to be waiting until at least 2024 to receive the tax credit.

“The recent passage of the 2050 Roadmap bill recognized that naturally occurring carbon sequestration is a very important component of the state’s ability to reach its short and long-term goals for reducing carbon emissions,” said House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading, the sponsor of the amendment. “Increasing the tax credit program’s annual cap will help to clear up the backlog of projects that are currently pending and will reap significant environmental benefits for the commonwealth.”

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Consolidated amendment on public safety and judiciary (H 4000)

The House, 158 to 1, approved a $5.3 million consolidated amendment that funds public safety and judiciary programs. This is the only consolidated amendment that did not receive a unanimous vote.

“I am proud of the work we did in the House of Representatives to provide for our cities’ and towns’ local public safety needs,” said Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, D-Springfield, the House chair of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. “Chief among our accomplishments is our commitment to process all untested sexual assault evidence kits within 180 days of the budget’s passage. This is an essential step toward providing the justice that all of these survivors of sexual assault are owed.”

“I voted no because this amendment increased both funding for the State Police and the Department of Corrections by $1 million and $500,000, respectively,” said Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven, D-Somerville. “While there is good language on sexual assault evidence kit testing and spending accountability on ICE, I cannot vote for an amendment that increases funding to institutions that commit overtime fraud or force horrific living conditions on incarcerated people. At the very least, we must increase accountability before increasing spending.”

A “Yes” vote is for the consolidated amendment.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Consolidated amendment on energy, environmental affairs and housing (H 4000)

The House, 159 to 0, approved a $7.3 million consolidated amendment that funds energy, environmental affairs and housing programs.

“Housing is central to the well-being of individuals and families across the commonwealth,” said James Arciero, D-Westford, House chair of the Housing Committee. “Massachusetts is a high-cost state, and this impacts the ability of our residents to gain and retain decent affordable housing. This budget provides historic funding for our housing programs as we prioritize this basic, fundamental need of our citizens.”

A “Yes” vote is for the consolidated amendment.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Consolidated amendment on labor and economic development (H 4000)

The House, 159 to 0, approved an $11.9 million consolidated amendment that funds labor and economic development programs.

“As we work our way out of this pandemic, it is critical that the commonwealth play a vital role in supporting the growth of our economy and make targeted investments in areas that will improve the lives of our citizens and help those hardest hit by the pandemic, including those working in industries such as hospitality and retail,” said Rep. Jerry Parisella, D-Beverly, House chair of the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies.

A “Yes” vote is for the consolidated amendment.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Senate approves $400 million for new Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke (S 2439)

The Senate, 40 to 0, approved a bill authorizing $400 million to fund the construction of a new Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke. The push to construct the new facility follows the deaths of 77 veteran residents last year as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak at the current facility. The House has already approved a different version of the bill and a conference committee will hammer out a compromise version.

The measure also provides $200 million to increase geographic equity and accessibility of long-term care services for veterans, with a focus on areas that are not primarily served by the soldiers’ homes in Chelsea or Holyoke.

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.

“Massachusetts has always been a leader for veteran services, and this bill reflects the Senate’s deep commitment to those who have served our nation,” said Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield, Senate chair of the Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. “While our veteran population and their medical needs are changing, the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home’s mission remains the same: to provide care with honor and dignity. This bond bill will ensure that the next generation of residents at the home receives the care with honor and dignity that they have earned in service to our country.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Project Labor Agreement (S 2439)

The Senate, 37 to 3, approved an amendment that adds Project Labor Agreement language that mandates a pre-bid, pre-hire collective bargaining agreement for the construction of the new Soldiers’ Home and requires the recruiting of women, minority and veteran-owned businesses to participate in the design and construction.

“I am proud that the Senate added additional language during our debate that strengthens the bill to reflect our commonwealth’s collective values,” said Sen. Paul Feeney, D-Foxborough, the sponsor of the amendment. “It is critical that significant taxpayer-funded projects of this scope be completed on-time and on-budget with a diverse, local, safe, well-trained and highly skilled workforce. Additionally, we should be working diligently to assist women, minority and veteran-owned businesses in creating jobs and opportunities now and in the future.”

“According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 83 percent of the construction industry is ‘open-shop’ non-union labor,” said Sen. Ryan Fattman, R-Sutton, who voted against the amendment. “A project labor agreement on a taxpayer-funded project requires that only union labor be utilized, excluding 83 percent of those in the industry who are non-union even though their tax dollars also fund the project. We should allow both union and non-union workers an opportunity for employment, especially when it’s the public’s money. Project labor agreements are also known to increase the cost of taxpayer projects because of the lack of competition on who can work on said projects.”

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Also up on Beacon Hill Baker administration launches $70 million in summer learning programs

Gov. Charlie Baker announced the availability of more than $70 million in funding for school districts and community organizations to offer summer learning and recreational programs that will help students, who have been impacted by a year of remote and hybrid learning, grow academically and socially. Students at all grade levels will have opportunities to participate in a mix of programs offered at public schools, community colleges, recreation areas and other sites.

“Our administration has long maintained that children are best served academically, socially and emotionally when learning in-person and in the classroom,” Gov. Baker said. “After a challenging school year for students, teachers and staff, the focus must now shift to recouping any learning loss experienced remotely to ensure that our children are equipped for success in the classroom and beyond.”

“As important as this summer will be to jump-starting educational recovery, we must all embrace the reality that this will not be a one-and-done project,” said Education Secretary James Peyser. “It will be a challenge we will continue to work to resolve for both individual children and our public education system as a whole.”

For more information, email DESESummerProgramming@mass.gov.

Illegal dog leasing

Attorney General Maura Healey announced that two finance companies have agreed to settle allegations that they illegally leased dogs in Massachusetts. The Nevada-based companies, Credova Financial and Nextep Holdings, will stop collecting on their existing dog leases and transfer ownership of the dogs to the customers. The companies will also return any amounts that they have collected from customers since Jan. 1, 2021 and cancel any balances remaining on the leases, which total approximately $126,077. As part of the settlement, the companies also agreed not to originate any new dog leases in Massachusetts and to pay $50,000 to the state.

Dog leases are illegal in Massachusetts but are legal in other states. Here’s how it works: Pet stores offer the option of leasing as an alternative way to finance a dog. The customer makes monthly payments to the finance company for the duration of the lease. The customer can buy the dog at the end of the lease. If a customer misses a payment, the dog can be repossessed. The leases often carry high finance charges, which can range from hundreds of dollars to more than $1,000.

“Getting a dog can be a significant emotional and financial investment for many families, so when the dog is used as collateral in a lease, the end result can be expensive and heartbreaking,” Healey said. “State law clearly prohibits dog leasing for good reason, and our office will not allow companies to exploit Massachusetts families in this manner. We are pleased to be securing monetary relief for these pet owners.”

Baker files legislation on driving and roadway laws

Gov. Baker filed legislation that he says will “make Massachusetts roadways and streets safer for all travelers and will help reduce roadway fatalities across the state.” A key section allows 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 include increasing penalties for individuals who cause personal injury while driving on a non-administratively suspended license; allowing cities and towns to place cameras at intersections to take a photograph of the vehicle’s license plate only upon a traffic violation including running a red light and making an illegal turn on a red light; and requiring a driver to maintain a 3-foot “safe passing distance” and to travel at a speed that is reasonable and proper when passing a bicyclist or pedestrian when there isn’t any physical separation like a protected bike lane or curb.

“This road safety package we’re filing today addresses some of the most pressing issues that are facing commuters, and we are confident that passing this bill will help reduce roadway deaths and injuries and improve our transportation system safety,” Gov. Baker said.

“Gov. Baker apparently is feeling control withdrawal with the unavoidable loosening of his pandemic lockdown mandates,” said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “To compensate, he’s lurched to his ‘suite of safety reforms’ to reclaim control over his subjects. … What a difference from Republican Gov. Bill Weld, who vetoed the second mandatory seat belt law in 1994. Baker, a Weld administration protégé no less, now intends to break the promise made by advocates of the law that the state’s seat belt law isn’t and will never become the sole reason for stopping a motorist.”

Public Health Committee virtual hearing

The Public Health Committee will hold a virtual hearing on Monday, May 10, beginning at 10 a.m. Some of the bills on the agenda include:

Epinephrine in restaurants (H 2239): Requires restaurants to purchase and maintain a stock supply of epinephrine auto-injectors available to all customers, to be administered in the event of an aphylactic emergency. The Department of Public Health would promulgate regulations including requiring that the injectors be stored in an easily accessible unlocked location; determining the number and type of epinephrine auto injectors required; and training for people to administer the injection.

Restaurants must disclose certain ingredients (H 2288): Requires restaurants and other establishments that serve food to identify in English the presence of ingredients that contain protein derived from milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat or soybeans in the list of ingredients. The list must be included on menus or a separate food allergen list that is readily available to customers and employees or posted in a location where it is easily viewable.

Equal access to original birth certificates (H 2294): Gives equal access to original birth certificates to all persons born in Massachusetts. Under current law, adoptees born between 1974 and 2008 are unable to obtain original birth certificates without a court order. Supporters say this denial carries unintended consequences like making it harder to apply for a passport.


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