Beacon Hill Roll Call: Dec. 21 to Dec. 25, 2020

Published: 1/1/2021 3:12:21 PM
Modified: 1/1/2021 3:12:08 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of Dec. 21 to Dec. 25.

Police changes (S 2963)

The House, 107 to 50, and the Senate, 31 to 9, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a new version of a bill making major changes in the state’s policing system. The House and Senate adopted some of Gov. Baker’s amendments including scaling back a moratorium on the use of facial recognition software by law enforcement and limiting the influence of a civilian-led commission over police training.

A key provision creates an independent, civilian-led commission with the power to investigate police misconduct and to certify, restrict, revoke or suspend certification for police officers and maintain a publicly available database of decertified officers. Other provisions include banning the use of chokeholds; limiting the use of deadly force; requiring police officers who witness another officer using force beyond what is necessary or reasonable to intervene; and limiting no-knock police warrants in instances where children or people over 65 are present.

“Today’s Senate proposal reflects the amendments that the governor made to the bill two weeks ago,” said Baker’s Communications Director Lizzy Guyton. “After discussing the governor’s amendments with the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, the administration believes this package addresses the issues identified by the governor’s amendments and he looks forward to signing this version.”

Sen. Will Brownsberger, D-Belmont, noted the original bill was a full ban of facial recognition techniques.

“This (new version) is a partial ban, or a limit, a regulation of them, and a study to explore the need for full regulation,” he said. “It’s a pretty balanced thing. It’s not what everybody wants, but it’s the kind of compromise that hopefully people can recognize is forward motion.”

Massachusetts Black and Latino Caucus Chair Rep. Carlos González, D-Springfield, and Judiciary House Chair Rep. Claire Cronin, D-Easton, did not respond to requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call to comment on the bill.

When the original conference committee version of the bill was approved on Dec. 1, leaders of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police said in a letter that the legislation leaves police “disregarded, dismissed and disrespected.”

“The final compromise legislation is a final attack on police officers by lawmakers on Beacon Hill,” the letter reads. “It is 129 pages crowded with punitive measures, layers and layers of new bureaucracy, and the abridgment of basic due process rights of police. It was delivered with almost zero notice and zero time for our leadership, our legal team and our members to process it before debate and votes were scheduled.”

The coalition still has major problems with the new version.

“Our efforts, and those of other police organizations, made an impact in important areas, such as preserving qualified immunity for most police officers and ensuring that police training will continue to be overseen by qualified public safety personnel,” reads the latest letter from the Massachusetts Coalition of Police to its 4,000 plus members. “Unfortunately, the legislative process around police reform was mostly opaque, as opposed to transparent. It almost completely excluded law enforcement, even though police officers and their families will be directly impacted more than anyone else in the commonwealth. And finally, the conference committee report completely ignored the historic consensus that had been achieved between law enforcement and the Black and Latino Caucus.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — No

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Baker vetoes bill to increase abortion access (H 5179)

The House, 107 to 50, and the Senate on a voice vote without a roll call vote, approved the bill that would allow abortions after 24 weeks in the case of lethal fetal anomalies and lower the age from 18 to 16 at which a minor can choose to have an abortion without parental or judicial consent. The House and Senate sent the bill back to Gov. Baker after they rejected several of his proposed amendments including raising the age of consent back to 18. This time, Baker vetoed the entire bill. The House and Senate are poised to override the bill — they have sufficient support in each branch to do so.

“I strongly support a woman’s right to access reproductive health care, and many provisions of this bill,” Baker said in a letter that accompanied his veto. ”I support, for example, the provision that would enable a woman to access an abortion where the child would not survive after birth, and the modifications to the judicial bypass process that make it more accessible to minors who are unable to obtain the consent of a parent or guardian. I also support the changes that eliminate many outdated requirements and the 24-hour waiting period.

“However, I cannot support the sections of this proposal that expand the availability of later-term abortions and permit minors age 16 and 17 to get an abortion without the consent of a parent or guardian,” Baker continued. “I again urge the Legislature to enact the compromise version … (that I proposed) that would affirmatively protect a woman’s right to access an abortion but would restore the existing framework around late-term abortions and parental consent.”

“Gov. Baker’s veto of this legislation demonstrates a callous and dangerous disregard for the health and well-being of the people of the commonwealth,” reads a statement from the ROE Act Coalition, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts and the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts. “With this veto, the governor has made plain that he has no problem imposing medically unnecessary barriers that delay and deny care and forcing families to fly across the country to get compassionate care. Our abortion laws are broken, and with two recent actions against equitable abortion access, Gov. Baker is upholding our broken system.”

“These provisions are supported by large majorities in both chambers, and we respectfully call on the Legislature to override the governor’s veto,” the statement continues. “Unlike Gov. Baker, legislators understand that merely affirming the abstract right to safe, legal abortion is not enough; we must protect and improve abortion access so every person can get the care they need. It is up to the Legislature to once again lead where Gov. Baker has failed.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill expanding abortion. A “No” vote is against it. The Senate did not hold a roll call on the bill last week. The senators’ votes listed are from Nov. 18 when the Senate approved the measure by a 33 to 7 vote.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Health care and telehealth (S 2984)

The House, 157 to 0, and the Senate, 40 to 0, approved and sent to Gov. Baker a conference committee report of a bill that sponsors say will increase access to health care, protect patients and enhance care.

The bill requires behavioral health treatment delivered via telehealth to be permanently reimbursed by insurers at the same rate as in-person services. A similar reimbursement structure will also be implemented for primary care and chronic disease management services delivered via telehealth for two years. All other telehealth services will be reimbursed at the same rate as in-person services for the duration of the COVID-19 state of emergency, and 90 days after its expiration.

It also eliminates “surprise billing,” the much-criticized practice of charging patients who received health care services outside of their insurance plan’s network for costs that insurers refuse to pay.

Other provisions would allow registered nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists and psychiatric nurse mental health specialists who meet specific education and training standards to practice independently; recognize pharmacists as health care providers, enabling them to integrate more fully into coordinated care teams; allow Massachusetts optometrists to treat glaucoma; and ensure that critical services related to treatment of COVID-19 would be covered by insurance carriers, including MassHealth, at no cost to consumers.

“We commend legislative leaders for making progress on important policies that are critical to the health and health care of millions of Massachusetts residents, and we thank the conferees for their work during a very challenging time,” said Amy Rosenthal, executive director of Health Care For All.

“This conference committee report embraces the best of both the Senate and House bills to create comprehensive and necessary health care reforms,” said Sen. Cindy Friedman, D-Arlington, Senate chair of the Committee on Health Care Financing. “While there is still more to do to improve patient outcomes and access to care, this bill takes a meaningful step forward by ensuring that the commonwealth’s health care system can continue to meet the needs of patients during this unprecedented time, and long after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended.”

Lora Pellegrini, president of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans (MAHP) said the group is a strong supporter of ensuring telehealth services for the members and the employers it serves.

“For telehealth to truly deliver on its promise of increased access to high-quality care at lower costs, it is imperative that market-based negotiations set the reimbursement rate and any extension of mandated rates of payment be time-limited,” she said. “We applaud the conference committee for ensuring that some telehealth services can be negotiated after the current state of emergency, but we are concerned that it will require health plans to reimburse for other services at the same rate as in-person visits for two years.

“While we are pleased with other provisions in the bill, such as the increased Medicaid payment rates for community hospitals, MAHP is disappointed that the final conference agreement did not address the well-documented and growing concern of surprise billing in a comprehensive way,” Pellegrini continued. “Congress passed legislation (that) may result in higher premiums for employers and consumers, making it more important than ever that the Massachusetts Legislature establish a policy for out-of-network providers that is fair, but does not provide an excessive rate of payment.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

COVID-19 spending website (H 5187)

The House, 31 to 126, and the Senate, 4 to 35, rejected Gov. Baker’s amendment to a bill requiring the state to create a searchable website that will show how the state spends the federal funds it receives to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Baker’s amendment made several changes including deleting a section that requires the site to be updated on a weekly basis and replacing it with a requirement it be updated on a “regular” basis.

“I am supportive of the intent of this section and the Office of Administration and Finance is currently developing such a website,” Baker said in a letter attached to his amendment. “However, some of the requirements included in the section are unable to be implemented or are administratively burdensome, such as a requirement that the website be updated weekly. Additionally, I am recommending that the Feb. 1, 2021 deadline to implement this section be extended until March 30, 2021 in order to ensure that the site is fully operative.”

Opponents of the amendment said a weekly update is important, so people know where these millions of dollars are being spent. They said requiring a “regular” report is too vague.

In the House, a “Yes” vote is for Baker’s amendment. A “No” vote is against it.

In the Senate, however, the vote was on a motion to reject Baker’s amendment. Therefore, a “Yes” vote is against Baker’s amendment and a “No” vote is for Baker’s amendment.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Paul Mark — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Abundant vetoes

Gov. Baker vetoed millions of dollars in funding in the $46.2 billion fiscal year 2021 state budget. This is in sharp contrast to last year when, in an unusual move, the governor signed the fiscal year 2020 budget into law without vetoing any of the $43.3 billion in spending approved by the House and Senate. Beacon Hill Roll Call talked to several State House veterans at that time and not one could remember any other time in the last four decades that the governor did not veto funding.

Baker said his reason for vetoing most of the funding in fiscal year 2021’s budget was because it was not consistent with the budget he had filed.

Override supporters defended the funding and the programs and said cutting them would be irresponsible and result in a cut in services.

Here are some of the vetoes:

$500,000 to help legal permanent residents become citizens (H 5164)

The House, 132 to 25, and the Senate, 38 to 1, overrode Gov. Baker’s $500,000 veto reduction (from $1,741,575 million to $1,241,575) in funding for a Citizenship for New Americans Program to assist legal permanent residents of the state in becoming citizens of the United States.

A Yes” vote is for the $500,000. A “No” vote is against it.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

$300,000 for commission on LGBTQ youth (H 5164)

The House, 152 to 5, and the Senate, 38 to 1, overrode Gov. Baker’s $300,000 veto reduction (from $800,000 to $500,000) for the Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning (LGBTQ) Youth. The commission would use the entire $800,000 to address issues related to the implementation of the state’s anti-bullying law designed to combat the rising suicide rate among and incidents of violence and discrimination against LGBTQ youths.

A “Yes” vote is for the $300,000. A “No” vote is against it.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

$181,801 for Prisoners’ Legal Services (H 5164)

The House, 136 to 20, and the Senate, 37 to 2, overrode Gov. Baker’s $181,801 veto reduction (from $2,208,332 to $2,026,531 in funding for Prisoners’ Legal Services, a program that provides legal representation for indigent and disadvantaged defendants.

A “Yes” vote is for the $181,801. A “No” vote is against it.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

$500,000 for smoking cessation and prevention programs (H 5164)

The House, 150 to 7, overrode Gov. Baker’s $500,000 veto reduction (from $5,118,155 to $4,618,155) for smoking prevention and cessation programs. The Senate has not yet voted on this reduction.

A “Yes” vote is for the $500,000. A “No” vote is against it.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

$500,000 for gun and violent crime prevention (H 5164)

The House, 151 to 6, overrode Gov. Baker’s veto of the entire $500,000 for a neighborhood-based gun and violent crime prevention pilot program for targeted work with out-of-school youth and young adults ages 17 to 24. The funding would be used to prevent gun violence and other violent crime in neighborhoods and municipalities with the highest rates of violent crime.

Gov. Baker said that not only is this item not consistent with his budget recommendation, but he also argued that $14 million in funding is available in fiscal year 2021, carried forward from fiscal year 2020. The Senate has not yet voted on this reduction.

A “Yes” vote is for the $500,000. A “No” vote is against it.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Also up on Beacon Hill Ban toxic flame retardants (S 2338)

The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill that would ban 11 toxic flame retardants from children’s products, bedding, carpeting and residential upholstered furniture sold or manufactured in Massachusetts, except for inventory already manufactured prior to Dec. 1, 2021. Another provision requires the Department of Environmental Protection to review — at least every three years — chemical flame retardants used in these types of products and include them on the list of prohibited chemical flame retardants that are documented to pose a health risk. Violators would be fined up to $5,000 for a first offense, $25,000 for a second offense, and up to $50,000 for third and subsequent offenses.

Motor vehicles, watercraft, aircraft, all-terrain vehicles, off-highway motorcycles and electronic devices would be exempt from this law, as are any previously owned products that contain a retardant.

Supporters say that since 1975 manufacturers have added chemical flame retardants to an array of household items including products with polyurethane foam, such as sofas, car seats, strollers and nap mats. They are also incorporated into electronic products and building insulation.

They argue that the retardants, while well-intentioned, do more harm than good and have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, fertility problems, neurological disorders and other major health concerns. They note that firefighters are exposed to flame retardants when they go into burning buildings.

Baker unveils $668 million business relief package

Gov. Baker announced a $668 million program to provide financial assistance to small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The program is counting on federal funds that Massachusetts will receive from the COVID-19 relief bill recently passed by Congress. But the Baker Administration says it will soon start releasing millions in new funding to restaurants, retailers and other small businesses regardless of the fate of the federal funding.

Eligible industries for the new program, which offers grants of up to $75,000, include restaurants, bars, caterers, indoor recreation and entertainment establishments, gyms and fitness centers, event-support professionals (including photographers and videographers), personal services and retail stores.

More information on how to apply and eligibility requirements can be found at empoweringsmallbusiness.org.

Minimum wage hike and paid family and medical leave program

Effective Jan. 1, the state’s minimum wage rises from $12.75 per hour to $13.50 per hour and the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers will rise from $4.95 per hour to $5.55 per hour. This hike is the third of five annual increases mandated by a law passed in 2018 that will eventually bring the minimum wage to $15 per hour in 2023.

Massachusetts’ paid family and medical leave program also takes effect on Jan. 1. It allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected paid leave to care for a new child; up to 12 weeks to meet family needs arising from a family member’s active duty military service; up to 20 weeks to recover from a serious illness or injury; and up to 26 weeks to care for a seriously ill or injured service member. Beginning on July 1, workers will be able to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected paid leave to care for a seriously ill or injured family member.

For more information on the program, visit mass.gov/orgs/department-of-family-and-medical-leave.


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