Beacon Hill Roll Call: Dec. 13 to Dec. 17, 2021

  • Two University of Massachusetts Amherst police officers deploy tear gas on students and people rallying and rioting in the Southwest living area in January 2018. The Judiciary Committee recently held a virtual hearing on a proposal that would outlaw the use of tear gas by police officers and other law enforcement personnel. Staff File Photo

  • COMERFORD

Published: 12/23/2021 2:40:08 PM
Modified: 12/23/2021 2:39:54 PM

There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call reports on the percentage of times local senators voted with their party’s leadership in the 2021 session. No additional roll calls in the Senate are planned until 2022.

Beacon Hill Roll Call uses 111 votes from the 2021 Senate session as the basis for this report. This includes all roll calls that were not quorum calls or on local issues.

The votes of the 34 Democrats were compared to Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem, D-Newton, second-in-command in the Senate. We could not compare the Democrats’ votes to those of Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, because, by tradition, the Senate president rarely votes.

The senator who voted with Creem the smallest percentage of times is Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, who voted with her only 83 times (74.7 percent). Rounding out the top three who voted with Creem the least are Sens. Walter Timilty, D-Milton, who voted with her 91 times (81.9 percent) and Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, who voted with her 96 times (86.4 percent)

All in all, 31 of the 34 Democrats (99.1 percent) voted with Creem 90 percent or more of the time — including 11 (32.3 percent) who voted with Creem 100 percent of the time and six who voted with Creem all but once.

The votes of the two Republican senators were compared with those of GOP Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester. In 2021, as in 2020, neither of the two voted with Tarr 100 percent of the time. In 2021, the Republican senator who voted the smallest percentage of times with Tarr was Sen. Patrick O’Connor, R-Weymouth, who voted with Tarr 82.8 percent of the time. Sen. Ryan Fattman, R-Sutton, voted with Tarr 90 percent of the time.

The percentage next to the senator’s name represents the percentage of times the senator supported his or her party’s leadership in 2021. The number in parentheses represents the number of times the senator opposed his or her party’s leadership.

Some senators voted on all 111 roll call votes. Others missed one or more roll calls. The percentage for each representative is calculated based on the number of roll calls on which he or she voted.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — 99.0 percent (1)

Sen. Anne Gobi — 91.8 percent (9)

Sen. Adam Hinds — 97.2 percent (3)

Also up on Beacon Hill$4 billion for COVID-19 relief, recovery (H 4269)

Gov. Charlie Baker, after vetoing several items, signed into law a $4 billion package that spends the $2.55 billion in federal money the state received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the $1.45 billion surplus left over from the state’s fiscal year 2021 budget on relief and recovery from the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 18 months. The plan includes one-time investments in health and human services, education, housing, the environment including climate mitigation, economic development and jobs. The package also preserves another $2.3 billion in federal ARPA funds for future use by the state.

A key provision provides $500 million for a COVID-19 Essential Employee Premium Pay Fund for one-time payments to frontline workers who worked during the COVID-19 state of emergency. Baker vetoed a section of that provision that he said would create administrative obstacles that would interfere with the distribution of payments, including the requirement to consult with an extensive 28-member advisory panel on program design. He said vetoing this section will allow the administration to immediately get to work on the process to distribute these funds.

Other provisions include: $400 million in mental and behavioral health support; $200.1 million for public health infrastructure and data sharing; $95 million for grants to local boards of health to be prepared to respond to future public health threats; $60 million for food security infrastructure; $50 million for nursing facilities; $25 million for a grant program for community violence prevention focused on communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic; $500 million for the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund to provide relief to small businesses; $50 million for equitable and affordable broadband access and infrastructure improvements to close the digital divide; $135 million for the Mass Cultural Council; $75 million for grants to minority-owned small businesses; $595 million for investments in affordable and accessible housing; $25 million for tree planting; $15 million for parks and recreational projects; $6.5 million for clean energy retrofitting in affordable housing units; and $10 million for programs focused on recruiting and maintaining educators of color.

“The pandemic has had a significant impact on Massachusetts workers, families, communities and businesses for nearly two years and today’s signing directs billions of dollars in relief toward those hardest hit across the commonwealth,” Baker said. “While this package falls far short of the investment I called for to address the housing shortage, the important investments included in this bill will help to accelerate Massachusetts’ economic recovery and provide long-lasting benefits to infrastructure, health care, education systems and small businesses.”

Bridge construction projects affecting more than one city or town (H 2133)

The House gave initial approval to legislation that would require cities and towns to enter into an inter-municipal agreement when a bridge is being built or rebuilt on land owned by two or more cities or towns. The agreement must include: a determination if an alternative inter-municipal option that does not affect two communities is available; provisions for a buffer zone around the construction; all viable options for cost and benefit of the proposal as well as environmental benefits over the short and long-term; and consideration of the needs of nearby communities on quality of life, traffic, health and environmental impact.

Sponsor Rep. Bruce Ayers, D-Quincy, said the bill’s intent is to establish greater communication and collaboration between municipalities that may face this issue.

“Every community is different and has different needs,” Ayers said. “This is just one more step in the process to help ensure every community directly impacted has a voice.”

Give municipal boards the option to reschedule another meeting quickly (H 4035)

The House gave initial approval to a bill that would allow cities and towns to quickly set a new date for a hearing of any city or town board without being required to give the usual minimum of two weeks notice before the rescheduled meeting.

“Municipal board hearings are extremely important to the residents whose issues are being heard at these meetings,” said sponsor Rep. Tram Nguyen, D-Andover. “Yet when inclement weather or public safety concerns force a municipality to postpone a hearing, the current public notice requirement of two or more weeks results in long delays for citizens anxious for board decisions. This bill gives municipal boards the flexibility to continue the hearing and inform the public of the new date within three days of the postponement, thus allowing the municipality to address their residents’ issues in a timely manner.”

Allow cities and towns to establish a water or sewer bank (H 2151)

The House gave initial approval to a bill that would allow cities and towns to create a water bank or sewer bank to offset the cost of new and upgraded water infrastructure projects. Communities would also be allowed to assess a fee on the project developer to offset the cost of the projects.

“When a new business or development joins an existing municipal system or water district, the cost burden of installation, connection and expansion of related wastewater and stormwater resources falls on the supplier, rather than the developer,” said sponsor Rep. Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston. “This legislation would allow municipalities or water authorities to assess a reasonable, proportionate fee, which would then be designated for direct and ancillary water costs, ensuring that cities and towns are easily able to accommodate growth.

“Well-functioning water infrastructure is critical to public health, economic growth and environmental protection,” Dykema continued. “This legislation will give cities and towns another tool to help fund the increasing cost of maintaining their crucial water systems.”

“I’m always concerned, even suspect, when the open-ended term ‘may collect a reasonable fee’ appears in a bill,” said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “What may be reasonable to one may not be to another. What is the basis for this proposed reasonable fee and how is that calculated? By whom? Based on what?”

Telemarketers must show real phone number (S 2160)

The Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee held a virtual hearing on a bill that would prohibit “spoofing,” a practice used by telemarketing companies to have a fake telephone number show up on a consumer’s Caller ID. The company’s intent is to deceive, defraud or obtain anything of value, including financial resources or personal identifying information, from the consumer. Current law only prohibits the telemarketers from preventing their phone number from appearing on Caller ID but doesn’t address the legitimacy of the phone number that appears on Caller ID.

Sponsor Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, said it is becoming common practice for telemarketers to mask their telephone numbers with the consumer’s number and/or use a device to change the name or telephone number on a Caller ID display.

“Despite our best efforts to avoid unwanted phone calls from telemarketers — including signing up on the federally funded Do Not Call List — it all too often feels like these solicitations will never stop,” DiZoglio said. “In fact, despite its efforts to combat robocalls, the Federal Trade Commission has noted a recent dramatic increase in the number of these calls, as internet-powered phone systems have made it easy for scammers to target people from anywhere across the globe. A common practice for telemarketers is masking their telephone numbers with the phone number of the person they are calling.”

Repeal law providing 10 free 411 calls (H 3355)

The Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee’s virtual hearing also included legislation that would repeal a current law that requires phone companies to provide up to 10 free directory assistance calls per month for each business and residential customer on their landline phones. The measure leaves intact the current law providing unlimited 411 calls for the disabled, seniors over 65, and local and state governments.

Supporters said that as more and more consumers move away from traditional landline phones to cellphones and internet phones, it becomes harder for traditional phone companies to pay for the existing infrastructure, including free 411 calls.

“With changes in technology and consumer habits, customers don’t make as many traditional directory assistance calls as they have in the past, because they can access numbers stored on their cellphones, on the internet or through competitive directory assistance services,” said sponsor Rep. David Muradian, R-Grafton. “As a result, traditional directory assistance call volumes decreased by 80 percent from 2004 to 2010, dropping from 85.7 million to 16 million calls per year. Recognizing these trends, most states have either eliminated or drastically reduced free call allowances. This proposal would put Massachusetts in line with many states that do not have the free call allowance.”

Ban tear gas (H 4150)

The Judiciary Committee held a virtual hearing on a proposal that would outlaw the use of tear gas by police officers and other law enforcement personnel.

“Tear gas is banned on the military battlefield by the Geneva Protocol and the Chemical Weapons Convention, so therefore has no place in civil society,” said Rep. Mike Connolly, D-Cambridge. “I would suggest that when law enforcement reaches the point where they feel the use of a chemical weapon is necessary, then a failure in policing and a breakdown in communication has already occurred. Use of tear gas is now more problematic than ever given the potential for these chemical weapons to exacerbate both the respiratory effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the loss of trust between the public and the police.”

Allow cities and towns to lower speed limits (S 2283)

The Transportation Committee held a virtual hearing on a measure that would allow cities and towns to lower their speed limits by 5 mph.

“In 2020, there were 334 deaths on Massachusetts roads,” said sponsor Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton. “According to experts and the State Police, the likely cause is increased speeds. Lowering speed limits can reduce accidents, reduce the number of injuries that result from accidents and reduce the number of fatalities. Local officials are closest to the ground and are best suited to understand their city or town. This bill trusts local officials to determine if a modest adjustment to the posted speed limit is warranted in neighborhoods within their jurisdiction.”

Ban sale and use of helium balloons (H 982)

The Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee held a virtual hearing on a measure that would ban the sale and release of any balloon filled with helium or any type of lighter than air gas and impose up to a $100 fine on violators.

“Since the idea for this bill was first presented to me two sessions ago by the Provincetown Elementary School third-grade class, many states have already stepped up to reduce balloon litter, which harms birds, turtles and other wildlife,” said sponsor Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown. “Many cities and local jurisdictions including Provincetown, Nantucket, Chatham and Everett also have their own balloon-banning local bylaws. We need to catch up. While the statutes vary jurisdiction by jurisdiction, what is consistent across the country is the recognition that balloons present a threat of entanglement and ingestion to birds, marine life and mammals. Balloon litter often ends up between the high tide line and dune vegetation, which impacts nesting and migratory shorebirds as well as sea turtles. Balloon-related litter is often the No. 1 most common type of debris found all along our coastlines.”


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