Beacon Hill Roll Call: Aug. 2 to Aug. 6, 2021

Published: 8/12/2021 3:03:07 PM

There were no roll call votes in the House or Senate last week. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call reports local senators’ roll call attendance records for the 2021 session through Aug. 6.

The Senate has held 74 roll calls so far in 2021. Beacon Hill Roll Call tabulates the number of roll calls on which each senator votes and then calculates that number as a percentage of the total roll call votes held. That percentage is the number referred to as the roll call attendance record.

More senators have 100 percent roll call attendance records so far this year than in recent memory. Thirty-nine of the 40 members did not miss any roll calls and have 100 percent roll call attendance records. This can be attributed to the fact that under emergency rules adopted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority of the 40 senators are not in the Senate chamber during a session. Most are watching and listening to the session from their home or business and voting remotely. Senators’ votes are communicated to Senate officials during the session or prior to the session if senators are informed in advance that there will be a roll call vote.

The number of senators who had 100 percent roll call attendance records in the prior four years was 33 in 2020, 28 in 2019, 20 in 2018, 24 in 2017, and 17 in 2016.

It is a Senate tradition that the Senate president only votes occasionally. Senate President Karen Spilka follows that tradition and only voted on 35 of the 74 roll calls.

The percentage listed next to the senator’s name is the percentage of roll call votes on which the senator voted. The number in parentheses represents the number of roll calls that he or she missed.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — 100 percent (0)

Sen. Anne Gobi — 100 percent (0)

Sen. Adam Hinds — 100 percent (0)

Also up on Beacon Hill Possible 2022 and 2024 ballot questions

Sponsors of possible ballot questions for the November 2022 and November 2024 election faced their first deadline in the long process to get their proposed law or constitutional amendment on the ballot. Sponsors had until Aug. 4 to submit the proposal and the signatures of 10 citizens.

There were 30 initiative petitions filed with Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, including 28 proposed laws and two proposed constitutional amendments. Healey will decide by Sept. 1 if the proposals pass muster and meet constitutional requirements.

If a proposal for a law is certified by Healey, the next step is for supporters to gather 80,239 certified voter signatures by Dec. 1, 2021. The proposal would then be sent to the Legislature and if not approved by May 4, 2022, proponents must gather another 13,374 signatures by July 6, 2022, for the question to appear on the November 2022 ballot.

The process for the proposed two constitutional amendments is different, requiring approval by at least 25 percent of both the 2021-2022 and 2023-2024 Legislature to appear on the November 2024 ballot.

Proposed laws include requiring paper ballots to be used and hand-counted in all Massachusetts elections; legalizing the sale of consumer fireworks; requiring the state to make legal assistance available in eviction proceedings; permitting restaurants and bars to hold “happy hours” during which some alcoholic drinks are free or the price is reduced; banning smoking of tobacco products, marijuana, electronic and/or battery operated vaping devices in multi-living units; requiring voters to show ID before voting; requiring that if a child is born alive, all reasonable steps, in keeping with good medical practice, must be taken to preserve his or her life; providing a tax credit for taxpayers who buy zero-emission vehicles, heating systems or home solar-powered electricity; making it a felony to target a person’s ability to make a living by posting on social media and or other media platforms; and banning the teaching of critical race theory in schools by “prohibiting any teacher from presenting the nation’s history to his or her students with the specific intent of making students feel personally responsible, at fault or liable, either individually or as a member of a racial or ethnic group, for the actions or omissions of others.”

One of the proposed constitutional amendments declares that corporations are not people and do not have the same rights as individuals, and that money is not free speech and may be regulated. That amendment is in response to the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, which allows corporations to donate an unlimited amount of money to Super PACs (political action committees) that are formed to support or oppose candidates. The PAC is not allowed to communicate directly with the candidate or his or her campaign.

See the complete list of possible ballot questions at bit.ly/3yOaxnm.

Restrict recording of neighbor’s backyard (H 1783)

The Judiciary Committee held a virtual hearing on legislation that would allow a person to sue a neighbor if the neighbor records the activities in the person’s backyard without the written consent of the person and “with intent to harass, annoy or alarm the person or with intent to threaten the person or property of another person.” Supporters said the bill excludes front yards and side yards as those often face public ways and have a lesser assumption of privacy than does a backyard.

“I filed this bill after personally observing a situation where a homeowner’s neighbor’s cameras egregiously and abusively filmed his backyard,” said sponsor Rep. Joe McKenna, R-Webster. “Those cameras provided no discernible purpose to secure the property, they were pointed directly into the abutting property’s backyard only. The bill allows one who feels victimized in such situations to pursue private action, to sue in civil court, if reasonable measures to resolve the issue have been taken with no result.”

Expungement of racist ‘white only’ language in property deeds (H 1465)

In 1947, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racist “white only” language in property deeds prohibiting Blacks and other racial minorities from living on the property were illegal and unenforceable. However, under current Massachusetts law, there is no mechanism in place to remove these covenants from property deeds and they remain in the deeds of hundreds of homeowners across the state.

The Judiciary Committee held a virtual hearing on legislation, filed by Rep. John Barrett, D-North Adams, that would allow the state’s land courts to approve a property owner’s request to remove racist language from their property deeds. Barrett explained that some property owners in his district brought this issue to his attention when they learned that they had a “white only” covenant in their property deed. Barrett cited one covenant that states: “No persons of any race other than the white race shall use or occupy any buildings or any lot, except that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of a different race domiciled with an owner or tenant.”

“Not many were aware when they bought their homes that the covenant language was included in the deed,” Barrett said. “Knowing this language is there is unsettling, to say the least. As one homeowner said to me, ‘It is not who we are.’ This is an issue (that) impacts the entire commonwealth, especially where homes and developments were built prior to 1945.”

Consumer and professional licensing bills

The Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee held a virtual hearing on several bills including:

Allow restaurants to sell fresh produce, meats (H 411): Allows Massachusetts restaurants to sell fresh produce, meats and other whole foods as long as they adhere to all federal, state and local health and safety laws.

“A study conducted by the Pioneer Institute last year estimated that as many as 3,600 — or 22.5 percent — of Massachusetts restaurants would not be able to survive the economic impact of COVID-19,” said the bill’s sponsor House Republican Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading. “I filed (the bill) to give struggling restaurants an alternative means of generating more business and revenue during the pandemic so they could maintain their workforce and keep their doors open. As we continue to deal with the unprecedented fallout of the coronavirus, we need to continue to consider all possible options to help protect jobs and ensure a strong economic recovery.”

Discrimination in housing market (S 208): Supporters say this bill is designed to end housing discrimination in Massachusetts. Under current law, only the state Commission Against Discrimination is permitted to make a referral to the state Board of Registration of Real Estate Brokers and Salespeople (BRREBS) seeking license suspension of a real estate broker who engages in discriminatory practices. The bill would authorize any fair housing enforcement agency to make a referral to BRREBS and would also make such a referral mandatory instead of leaving it to the agency’s discretion, which is the system under current law. Another provision would increase the penalty for a first offense from a 60-day license suspension to 180 days, and for a second offense from 90 days to one year.

Supporters, including the Coalition to End Housing Discrimination, cited a study measuring discrimination in the rental housing market in the greater Boston area. This study showed that brokers show white prospective tenants twice the number of apartments shown to Black prospective tenants and screen out Section 8 voucher holders 85 percent of the time. They noted the study proves there is rampant discrimination based on race and source of income in Massachusetts.

Prohibit early cancellation fees (S 231): Prohibits phone, cable and other utility providers from imposing a fee for termination or early cancellation of a contract if the customer has died before the end of the contract period.

“Family members who are left to pick up the pieces after a loved one has passed on should not have to deal with cancellation fees from the TV or phone provider of their loved one,” said sponsor Sen. Patrick O’Connor, R-Weymouth. “They have enough to sort through and they certainly don’t need to be nickel and dimed by larger corporations.”

Live humans must answer business phone (S 206): Requires companies with 50 or more employees to provide on their website, in their chat services and in all their correspondence with customers a toll-free phone number and TTY phone number that connects customers live with company representatives for customer services related to billing and payments, products and services. The option would be required to be within the first menu of customer services. The measure also requires each company to employ at least one customer service representative to answer customer calls for every 500 customers to which the company has sold products and/or services.

“Customers deserve to be able to speak with a representative to resolve questions and concerns regarding a product or service,” said the bill’s co-sponsor Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover. “Some customers may prefer to submit requests via email or online chats, but others want to be able to pick up the phone and receive assistance directly from another person. When companies transition to exclusively online customer service, it creates barriers for customers and leaves behind folks with limited internet access and literacy. It’s a better common-sense business practice to at least provide consumers the option to speak with a representative via telephone.”


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