Beacon Hill Roll Call: Aug. 3 to Aug. 7, 2020

Published: 8/14/2020 2:08:07 PM
Modified: 8/14/2020 2:07:55 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from late-night sessions during the week of July 27 to July 31.

$1 billion-plus information technology bond (H 4932)

The House, 155 to 4, and the Senate, 39 to 0, approved and Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a $1 billion-plus information technology bond titled “An Act Financing the General Governmental Infrastructure of the Commonwealth.” The state will borrow the money to finance the projects in the bill. The original version of the package was filed by Baker more than a year ago on April 11, 2019.

“We are pleased to have worked closely with the Legislature to sign this bill into law and continue investing in information technology improvements, public safety upgrades and food security across the commonwealth,” Gov. Baker said.

“The Legislature is using a new tactic, which is to borrow money in hopes the public doesn’t catch on,” said Paul Craney, executive director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “If this package was funded through tax hikes, there would have been a more robust debate for how to pay for it. Many of the election year pet project earmarks would have been left out. Unfortunately, lawmakers know the public doesn’t pay attention to state debt, so they were able to add more debt to the most indebted state in the country.”

Provisions in the bill include massive state projects, including $165 million for state telecommunications and data-security-related equipment; $140 million for the purchase and implementation of information technology, telecommunications and data-security-related items for various state agencies; $1.25 million for information technology upgrades for the House of Representatives; $40 million to replace State Police cruisers; and $20 million for police body cameras.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Economic development (H 4879, S 2842)

The House, 156 to 3, and the Senate, 40 to 0, approved different versions of an economic development package. One of the major differences is that only the House version legalizes sports betting.

The packages include $20 million for financial and capital assistance grants to restaurants impacted by the pandemic; $10 million for grants to promote marketing and advertising for in-state cultural and tourist activities during the reopening process; $40 million to redevelop blighted buildings; $50 million for local economic development projects; $10 million for climate-resilient affordable housing developments; and $15 million for community college high-demand workforce grants.

Other provisions authorize an additional 2,800 megawatts of offshore wind development; extend the state and local permits held by a real estate developer unable to proceed with a project due to pandemic disruptions for one year; allow farmer brewers and farmer distillers to sell and provide samples of their alcoholic beverages at agricultural events and farmers markets; mandate equitable opportunities in state contracts by expanding an affirmative marketing program that elevates hiring firms owned by women and people of color; loosen regulations for hair braiders; and exclude forgiven Paycheck Protection Program loans from Massachusetts taxable income for the purposes of personal income taxes.

“Since this crisis started, more than a million people have applied for unemployment assistance, and our economy was put into a coma to stop the coronavirus,” said Senator Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, Senate chair of the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. “This legislation gives us the opportunity to rebuild our economy from the bottom up, and from the middle out.”

A House-Senate conference committee will work out a compromise version of the two bills.

A “Yes” vote is for the package.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Health care (H 4888)

The House, 158 to 0, approved a bill that sponsors say will increase access to health care, protect patients and enhance quality care. Key provisions would require health insurers to cover telehealth visits for primary care and chronic disease management at the same rate as in-person visits for one year. Behavioral telehealth services, over both phone and video, would be covered at the same rate as in-person care permanently.

The Senate has approved a different version of the legislation, and a House-Senate conference committee will work out a compromise.

The measure also includes protections against “surprise billing,” the much-criticized practice of charging unsuspecting patients who received health care services outside of their insurance plan’s network for costs that insurers refuse to pay. Another provision would allow registered nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists and psychiatric nurse mental health specialists who meet specific education and training standards to practice independently.

Amy Rosenthal, executive director of Health Care For All, said she is encouraged by the House passage of the bill, which takes important steps to address issues and gaps in health care access for residents during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the future. However, she also said she is disappointed that the Legislature did not adopt a critical provision to ensure access to medications for certain chronic conditions and potential COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

Although no senators voted against the bill, some small businesses and health insurance companies have expressed concerns that it goes too far.

“We believe requiring plans to pay telehealth at an in-person rate for two years is too long, and we recommend a shorter time frame for the sunset of payment parity, such as 90 days after rescission of the governor’s executive order mandating telehealth,” said the leaders of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Association of Health Plans and the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business.

They suggested that a transition period tied to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic would allow for payers and providers to negotiate appropriate reimbursement for certain health care services that may not represent a comprehensive in-person consultation between a member and a provider. They also argued that currently contracted rates between providers and insurers for telehealth services cannot be circumvented by statute.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Climate change (H 4912)

The House, 142 to 17, approved a climate change bill that addresses a 2050 emissions reduction roadmap, solar energy net metering, grid modernization and workforce development. A key section makes the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal net zero by 2050, including a 50 percent decrease by 2030, and a 75 percent reduction by 2040.

The Senate has approved a different version of the bill and a conference committee will hammer out a compromise version of the measure.

Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts, said the House bill doesn’t go far enough and missed its chance to put Massachusetts on track to 100 percent renewable energy when it passed this flawed bill.

“While these are good steps, it’s important to be clear about what this bill does not do,” Hellerstein said. “It does not end the use of dirty, polluting oil and gas. Rather, it allows the burning of fossil fuels to continue for decades, and it postpones necessary action in favor of studies and roadmaps. This roadmap doesn’t take us where we need to go. It puts us on a road that still ends with the use of fossil fuels. That’s a shame.”

By contrast, some think the bill goes too far.

“The bill acts as an endorsement of the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), as well as allowing for similar tax schemes in the future,” said Paul Gangi of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. The TCI is a regional collaboration of 12 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia that seeks to improve transportation, develop the clean energy economy and reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector.

“The House’s vote is a blueprint for long-term carbon taxes without needing a legislative vote,” Gangi continued. “The bill allows for the Legislature to continue to cede legislative authority to unelected bureaucrats on matters of taxation, regulation and regional agreements.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

State seal and motto (S 2848)

The Senate, 39 to 0, approved a measure that would create a special commission to investigate the official state seal and motto, including “those features that may be unwittingly harmful to or misunderstood by Bay State citizens to ensure that they faithfully reflect and embody the historic and contemporary commitments of the state to peace, justice, liberty and equality, and to spreading the opportunities and advantages of education.”

The commission would make recommendations by Oct. 1, 2021 for a revised or new design of the seal and motto. The seal currently includes a Native American holding a bow in one hand, an arrow in the other hand and a disembodied arm holding a sword above him. The motto is “By the sword we seek peace, but only under liberty.”

The commission would also make recommendations for an educational program on the history and meaning of the seal and motto.

Supporters of the special commission say the current seal is politically insensitive and the bow and arrow depict violence. They note the sword-wielding arm is that of Captain Miles Standish, a pilgrim whose army killed many Native Americans in the 1600s and portrays Native Americans a “surrender state.”

Supporters of the current seal say it is a sacred symbol. They argue that the depiction is appropriate and note that the arrow is pointing downward, which is known as a Native American symbol signifying peace.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Telecommuting by state workers (S 2842)

The Senate, 39 to 0, approved an amendment that would establish a special commission on telecommuting to evaluate and study the impact of telecommuting on state workers. The commission, required to submit its report by Dec. 1, 2021, would look at the costs and potential cost savings associated with working remotely; the IT requirements needed to allow remote work; the effect of remote work on employee productivity, recruitment and retention; and the environmental impact of telecommuting.

Amendment sponsor Sen. Walter Timilty, D-Milton, noted studies illustrate that telecommuting boosts employee morale, encourages a better work-life balance, reduces absenteeism, lowers turnover rate, enhances health of workers, improves the environment and improves productivity.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Racial disparities in maternal mortality (S 2865)

The Senate, 39 to 0, approved a bill that would create a special commission to examine and make recommendations to reduce or eliminate racial disparities in the death of mothers before, during and after childbirth.

The commission would look for problems and solutions by examining evidence-based practices, including approaches taken by other states or grassroots organizations to reduce or eliminate racial disparities in maternal mortality; barriers to accessing prenatal and postpartum care, how that care is delivered and the quality of that care; and how historical and current structural, institutional and individual forms of racism, including implicit bias or discrimination, affect the incidence and prevalence of maternal mortality in communities of color.

Supporters said that among the developed nations of the world, only the United States continues to allow people giving birth to die in increasing numbers, and the outcomes are staggeringly worse for people of color, who experienced a 238 percent increase in the risk of maternal death between 1978 and 2015.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Also up on Beacon HillBreakfast After the Bell (H 4896)

Gov. Baker signed into law a bill designed to boost participation in school breakfast programs in high-poverty schools. The measure requires that breakfast be offered only after the school day begins through a variety of ways, including breakfast in the classroom, grab-and-go and second-chance breakfasts.

Supporters say that most school breakfasts are offered in the cafeteria before the bell, and the participation rate is less than 40 percent of eligible students because bus schedules and family obligations often result in the student not being able to arrive at school in time for breakfast.

Participation is also low because of the stigma attached to the program. Supporters said many students assume that everyone who arrives to school early for breakfast is from a poor family. The participation rate rises to up to 90 percent of eligible students participating in the lunch program later in the day.

Martin Luther King Jr. plaque (H 2799)

Gov. Baker signed into law a measure providing for the installation and maintenance of a plaque in the House chamber containing a portion of the address that Martin Luther King Jr. delivered to a joint convention of the Massachusetts House and Senate in April 1965.

The plaque reads as follows: “Let me hasten to say that I come to Massachusetts not to condemn, but to encourage. It was from these shores that the vision of a new nation conceived in liberty was born, and it must be from these shores that liberty must be preserved; and the hearts and lives of every citizen preserved through the maintenance of opportunity and through the constant creation of those conditions that will make justice and brotherhood reality for all of God’s children.”

Natural hairstyles (H 4930)

The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would prohibit any person or entity, including educational institutions, workplaces and public spaces, from implementing any policy that would explicitly target someone who wears their natural hairstyle. The measure defines natural hairstyle as “hair texture, hair type and protective hairstyles, including braids, locks, twists and other formation.”

The bill also expands existing anti-bullying law in schools to include recognition for students who may be more vulnerable to bullying because of their natural hairstyle. Another provision requires the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) to investigate complaints filed against employers who have discriminated based on natural hairstyle.

“Though racial discrimination is already illegal, discrimination against hairstyles that are considered historically Black is a pervasive issue in our society that needs to be addressed,” said Rep. Steven Ultrino, D-Malden, the sponsor of an earlier version of the proposal. “I am happy that the Legislature has shown its commitment to ending racial injustice and continuing to fight for laws that protect every resident of the commonwealth.”

‘White only’ language in property deeds (HD 5187)

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 covenants from property deeds and they remain in the deeds of hundreds of homeowners across the state.

Rep. John Barrett, D-North Adams, filed a bill that would allow the state’s land courts to approve a property owner’s request to remove racist language from his or her property deeds. He explained that some property owners brought this issue to his attention when they learned they had a “white only” covenant in their deed.




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