Beacon Hill Roll Call: Dec. 26 to Dec. 30, 2022

By BOB KATZEN

Published: 01-05-2023 4:15 PM

There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call concludes its series on bills that were approved by the Legislature in 2022 on roll call votes and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker.

Allow ambulances to be used for injured police dogs — Nero’s Law (S 2573)

The Senate, 38 to 0, and the House on a voice vote without a roll call, approved and Gov. Baker signed into law legislation that requires EMS personnel to provide emergency treatment to a police dog and use an ambulance to transport the dog injured in the line of duty to a veterinary clinic or veterinary hospital if there are not people requiring emergency medical treatment or transport at that time.

Sponsor Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford, first filed the bill in 2019 following the tragic death of Yarmouth Police Sgt. Sean Gannon, who was shot and killed in the line of duty. His K-9 partner, Nero, was severely injured and was rushed to the animal hospital in the back of a police cruiser. Nero survived. Montigny also cites the heartbreaking loss of the beloved K-9 Kitt of the Braintree Police Department.

“K-9 officers protect the men and women in law enforcement as well as the community at large,” Montigny said. “These animals endure extreme danger from gun violence, narcotics and even explosive materials. Allowing our emergency personnel to provide basic treatment and transport is a commonsense measure that honors their contributions across the commonwealth.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Make adoption by family members easier (S 2616)

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The Senate, 39 to 0, and the House on a voice vote without a roll call, approved and the governor signed into law a bill that repeals a law prohibiting adoption of children by family members including older siblings, aunts and uncles. The proposal allows these family members, with the permission of the county probate courts, to legally adopt their relatives. The previous law only allowed these family members to apply to become a guardian.

Sponsor Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, said the previous law was put in place at the start of the last century to prevent inheritance abuse, but the state has since adopted legal protections, such as conservatorships, to prevent this from happening.

“Our families are often our largest sources of support and what a family looks like can mean different things to different people,” Lovely said. “I filed (the bill) to better reflect the realities of the lives of Massachusetts residents who love and care for one another. … Our most vulnerable youth deserve to be cared for by the people who know and love them, and who can best assess their needs.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Access to birth certificates (S 2294)

The Senate, 40 to 0, and the House on a voice vote without a roll call, approved and Gov. Baker signed legislation giving equal access to original birth certificates to all persons born in Massachusetts.

Under prior law, adoptees born between 1974 and 2008 were unable to obtain original birth certificates without a court order that also unseals their record. The measure closes this gap and allows adopted individuals over the age of 18 or the adoptive parents of a child under 18 to access the adoptee’s original birth certificate without the unsealing of the information.

“The Joint Committee on Public Health heard powerful testimony from adoptees who could not access their original birth certificate due to a current loophole in state law addressed by this legislation,” said Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, Senate chair of the Committee on Public Health.

“The Senate took a major step in assuring equality by guaranteeing that all adoptees, regardless of when they were born, will have access to their original birth certificate,” said Sen. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, sponsor of the bill. She noted that she has waited six years for its passage and that so many have waited their entire lives. “We tell them the wait is over and they matter.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Access to mental health care (S 3097)

The Senate, 39 to 0, and the House on a voice vote without a roll call, approved and Gov. Baker signed into law a bill designed to make mental health care more accessible.

Provisions include mandating coverage for an annual mental health wellness exam, comparable to an annual physical; a public awareness campaign on the state’s red flag laws that limit access to guns for people at risk of hurting themselves or others; implementation of the nationwide 988 hotline to access 24/7 suicide prevention and behavioral health crisis services; mandating coverage and eliminating prior authorization for mental health acute treatment and stabilization services for adults and children; establishing an Office of Behavioral Health Promotion to coordinate state initiatives that promote mental, emotional and behavioral health and wellness for residents; and creating an interim licensure level for licensed mental health counselors so that they can be reimbursed by insurance for their services, and be eligible for state and federal grant and loan forgiveness programs.

“The health care system in Massachusetts is only as strong as its weakest link, and for far too long, mental health care has been overlooked and underfunded,” said Sen. Cindy Friedman, D-Arlington, Senate chair of the Committee on Health Care Financing. “Of particular importance to me, this bill will finally provide the state the tools it needs to enforce existing mental health parity laws and it will address the emergency department boarding crisis that’s impacting too many of our children and their families. I have long believed that Massachusetts should deliver affordable, high-quality and accessible care to its residents, and this includes mental health care.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Also up on Beacon Hill 4% tax on earnings over $1M takes effect Jan. 1

Beginning with 2023 earnings, taxpayers will pay an extra 4% income tax, in addition to the current flat 5% one, on earnings of more than $1 million annually. Language in this new constitutional amendment, approved as Question 1 by voters in November 2022, requires that, “subject to appropriation,” the revenue will fund public education, affordable public colleges and universities, and the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges and public transportation.

“Our coalition of community organizations, faith-based groups and labor unions is committed to protecting the will of the people as expressed through Question 1: higher taxes on those who can most afford them, and greater investment in transportation and public education across the state,” said Steve Crawford, spokesperson for Raise Up Massachusetts, the group that spearheaded the “Vote Yes on Question 1” campaign and promoted the question as the Fair Share Amendment. “We will work with state leaders to ensure that the new revenue from the Fair Share Amendment is directed toward critical investments in our classrooms, campuses and transportation systems.”

“For some taxpayers, Question 1 will mean an 80% increase to their state income tax,” said Paul Craney, spokesperson for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “The taxpayers that will be impacted by this are small business owners, retirees, home sales and high income earners. The only appropriate response by the speaker, Senate president and Gov.-elect Maura Healey is to support broad tax cuts and tax eliminations that everyone will benefit from. Massachusetts is on the verge of returning to the days of Taxachusetts unless these broad tax cuts are adopted and they must be done so very quickly because the negative impacts associated from Question 1 will not wait.”

Revenge porn (S 3167)

The Senate approved a proposal that would prohibit the posting of sexually explicit images of another person online without their permission — commonly referred to as “revenge porn.” The practice is often used by ex-spouses or ex-partners. Massachusetts is one of only two states that does not have a law about this crime.

Another provision changes current law under which minors, under 18 years of age, who share explicit images of themselves or other minors can be charged with violating Massachusetts child pornography laws and are required to register with the Sex Offender Registry. The bill allows minors to be diverted to an educational program that would provide them with information about the consequences of posting or transmitting indecent visual depictions of minors.

“Under current law, when faced with an incident of sexting among teenagers, the police are forced with either charging them with a felony or doing nothing,” said sponsor Rep. Jeff Roy, D-Franklin. “The bill … provides law enforcement officers with a middle ground that will allow them to educate kids about the consequences of their actions without ruining their lives. It will have a tremendous impact on people who have become entangled in the web and transmittal of images that can cause traumatic and lifetime harm through a diversion program that will educate them about the legal and personal consequences of sexting.”

The House approved a different version of the measure in May. The Senate version now goes to the House for consideration.

Theft of catalytic converters (S 3169)

The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would create a “chain of custody” for used catalytic converter sales. A catalytic converter is a device that converts the environmentally hazardous exhaust emitted by a vehicle’s engine into less harmful gasses. The measure requires the buyer to keep records of each converter purchased, from which vehicle it was removed from and who the seller was. These records would be made available upon request to law enforcement.

Supporters explained that several communities have seen a rise in catalytic converter thefts because the converters use platinum, palladium or rhodium to operate. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the values of the metals contained inside catalytic converters have skyrocketed. As of March 2022, rhodium is valued at $20,000 per ounce; palladium at $2,938 per ounce; and platinum at $1,128 per ounce.

“Many scrapyards and black-market buyers have an open call out for catalytic converters, which they turn around and sell to metal recyclers,” says the Cavallo and Signoriello Insurance Agency in Massachusetts. “Ten years ago, a thief could earn between $20 and $200 per stolen converter. Today, thanks to the spike in the value of these metals, that range is more like $300 to $850, for just a few minutes of work.”

“Catalytic theft is an epidemic,” said House sponsor Rep. Steve Howitt, R-Seekonk. “It is not only very costly to the vehicle owner, if they do not have comprehensive insurance, it creates an inconvenience to have repairs done. This bill would try to tighten up the market in Massachusetts for these thieves to pawn their stolen goods.”

The House approved a different version of the measure in October. The Senate version now goes to the House for consideration.

Minimum wage hike from $14.25 to $15 per hour effective Jan. 1

Effective Jan. 1, 2023 the state’s minimum wage rises from $14.25 per hour to $15 per hour. This hike is the final one of five annual increases mandated by a law passed in 2018 that has brought the minimum wage from $11 per hour in 2018 to the current $15 per hour.

In addition, the minimum wage for tipped workers will increase from $6.15 per hour to $6.75 per hour — provided that their tips bring them up to at least $15 per hour. If the total hourly rate for the employee including tips does not equal $15 at the end of a shift, the employer is required to make up the difference.

“I’m pleased to see this scheduled increase to our minimum wage go into effect,” said Rep. Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury, House chair of the Labor and Workforce Development Committee. “It is welcome news for many workers, though clearly more help is needed to support hardworking families struggling with rising costs.”

“With high inflation, worker shortages and supply chain disruptions, the upcoming minimum wage increase is just the latest challenge for Massachusetts small business owners,” said Christopher Carlozzi, the Massachusetts state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. “With the cost of labor rising, the price tag of products and services will also rise, and those costs will likely be passed to consumers. Main Street and consumers need relief but unfortunately this wage hike will only create more uncertainty.”

Inflammatory Breast Cancer Awareness Day (H 3147)

The House approved a bill that would establish an Inflammatory Breast Cancer Awareness Day in Massachusetts, the second Tuesday of every October.

“I was thrilled that my colleagues and I were able to pass this very important piece of legislation,” said sponsor Rep. Sean Garballey, D-Arlington. “This designation will go a long way to increase awareness and strengthen efforts to provide education about this rare and aggressive disease. ... Inflammatory breast cancer accounts for 1% to 5% of all breast cancer cases yet represents 10% of all deaths due to breast cancer.”

Pay hikes for legislators, Maura Healey and others

The governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, secretary of state, attorney general, auditor, 40 senators and 160 representatives will receive pay raises when they take office.

Here’s how it all went down last week:

Outgoing Gov. Charlie Baker announced that the 200 members of the Legislature will receive a 4.42% pay hike for the 2023-2024 legislative session that begins Jan. 3, 2023. The hike will increase the base salary of each senator and representative by $3,117 per year — from the current $70,537 to $73,654. The total cost of the hike for all 200 legislators is $623,400 per year.

Baker is required under the state constitution to determine the amount of a pay raise or cut that state legislators receive for the 2023-2024 session. All Massachusetts governors are obligated to increase or decrease legislative salaries biennially under the terms of a constitutional amendment approved by the voters in 1998. The amendment, approved by a better than two-to-one margin, requires legislative salaries to be “increased or decreased at the same rate as increases or decreases in the median household income for the commonwealth for the preceding two-year period, as ascertained by the governor.”

Looking back, legislators’ salaries were increased by $4,280 per year for the 2021-2022 legislative session, $3,709 per year for the 2019-2020 legislative session and $2,525 per year for the 2017-2018 session. Those hikes came on the heels of a salary freeze for the 2015-2016 legislative session, a $1,100 pay cut for the 2013-2014 session and a $306 pay cut for the 2011-2012 session. Prior to 2011, legislators’ salaries had been raised every two years since the pre-constitutional amendment base pay of $46,410 in 1998.

In the meantime, a second pay hike for close to 70% of the state’s 200 legislators also takes effect Jan. 3. Currently an estimated 139 of the state’s 200 legislators receive a stipend for their service in Democratic or Republican leadership positions, as committee chairs or vice chairs, and as the ranking Republican on some committees. All 40 senators and 99 of the 160 representatives receive this bonus pay that ranges from $17,039 to $90,876. Legislation approved by the Legislature in 2017 requires that every two years the stipends of these 139 legislators be increased or decreased based on data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) that measures the quarterly change in salaries and wages. That formula will raise the stipend in 2023 for all of these 139 legislators. The biggest hike goes to House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka’s whose salaries will rise from $178,473 to more than $214,000.

Additionally, the 2017 law requires that every two years the salaries of the governor and the other five constitutional statewide officers be increased or decreased based on the same data from the BEA. Incoming Gov. Maura Healey’s salary will increase by $37,185 above Baker’s current $185,000 salary for a total of $222,185. Healey will also receive the governor’s standard $65,000 housing allowance, bringing her total annual compensation to $287,185 in 2023. Incoming Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll’s pay will increase from $165,000 to $198,165.

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