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Beacon Hill Roll Call: Feb. 24 to Feb. 28, 2020

Published: 3/4/2020 5:32:40 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records votes of local senators and representatives from the week of Feb. 24 to Feb. 28.

$122 million supplemental budget (H 4502)

House, 154 to 0, 37 to 0, approved a $122 million fiscal year 2020 supplemental budget. Key provisions provide $15 million for heating energy assistance to help low-income seniors, working families and other households pay winter heating bills. Another item ensures the Healthy Incentives Program, which provides fruit and vegetables to recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), is available year-round.

Other provisions include $2 million for smoking prevention and cessation programs; $300,000 for the Cannabis Control Commission; and $2.8 million for the Early Intervention Program for families of children up to 3 years old who have developmental difficulties because of health or environmental conditions.

Supporters said the budget is necessary to cover expenses and to fund various state programs and agencies that are running out of money. They argued the funding reflects immediate deficiencies to crucial programs that their constituents rely on every day.

Only final approval is needed in both branches prior to the measure going to Gov. Charlie Baker.

A “Yes” vote is for the budget.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Deadline for filing amendments (H 4507)

On Wednesday, Feb. 26, the House, 120 to 31, approved a motion that set Friday, Feb. 28, 2020 as the deadline for representatives to file amendments to H 4506, the $600 million tax hike bill to pay for improvements in the state’s transportation system. Provisions include increasing the gas tax by 5 cents for most drivers and 9 cents for diesel fuel; increasing the excise tax on jet fuel from 5 percent to 7.5 percent; raising fees on Uber and Lyft rides by up to $145 million; requiring corporations to pay as much as $150 million in higher minimum taxes; and eliminating an exemption for rental car companies that has allowed them to avoid paying the sales tax on new vehicles purchased in Massachusetts for their rental fleets.

Supporters of the Feb. 28 (two-day) deadline said the deadline gives legislators ample time to file amendments to this important bill.

Opponents of the Feb. 28 deadline said representatives received a copy of the legislation only hours ago and argued that providing two days to draft and file amendments is unfair. They said Monday, March 2, is a more reasonable deadline that will give members four days to do so.

“We ended the last fiscal year with a multi-million dollar surplus, our Rainy Day Fund is at an all-time high of $3.47 billion, the state is moving forward with plans to put a $2 billion millionaires tax on the 2022 ballot, and now we’re being asked to take up a proposal that will raise taxes by another $600 million,” said Rep. Brad Jones, R-North Reading. “This bill will have a significant, long-term financial impact on the state’s taxpayers and the business community. In fairness to the members, there should be additional time given to review the proposal and to file amendments.”

A “Yes” vote is for the Feb. 28 deadline. A “No” vote is against it. This vote is only on the deadline for filing amendments and is not a vote on the tax hikes themselves.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Improvements to local and regional public health systems (H 4503)

House, 149 to 0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill to improve the delivery of public health services through enhanced collaboration between local boards of health and regional health districts. A key provision creates a State Action for Public Health Excellence Program to encourage boards of health and regional health districts to adopt practices that will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the delivery of local public health services. The program would also provide grants to improve these health systems and requires not less than 33 percent of the grants go to cities and towns with a median household income below the state average.

Other provisions include the state providing at least four annual free public health educational and training opportunities to boards of health and regional health district officials; and setting minimum standards for local public health services.

Each of the state’s 351 cities and towns has its own board of health, which is designed to ensure many health-related items including food safety in restaurants, response to public health emergencies, housing code violations, and water quality at beaches and pools. Cities and towns have vastly different staffing levels and most small towns lack a full-time staff.

“Public health departments of the 351 communities of the commonwealth deal with issues seen and unseen across a wide range, from water quality and effective sanitation, to substance use disorders and suicide prevention,” said the bill’s co-sponsor Rep. Denise Garlick, D-Needham. “These are the issues and concerns of the quality of life in Massachusetts. This bill is vitally important and timely given our current concerns over emergency preparedness with infectious diseases such as… (the coronavirus).”

“This legislation will work toward ensuring each resident of the commonwealth has access to the public health services they need to live a healthy life, regardless of their ZIP code or the size of their community,” said co-sponsor Rep. Hannah Kane, R-Shrewsbury. “(The bill) will significantly strengthen our local and regional health systems by tackling many of the financial and operational burdens municipalities face.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

ID cards for homeless (S 2555)

Senate, 37 to 0, approved and sent to the House legislation that directs the Registry of Motor Vehicles to implement a specific, burden-free, no-cost process for persons experiencing homelessness to obtain state identification cards. The process would accept alternative forms of documentation to prove Massachusetts residency since homeless people often do not have the usual documents necessary.

“State IDs are essential for everyday life,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester. “Without one you can’t get a job, open a bank account or access stable housing. Obtaining a state ID usually means gathering a few documents, waiting in line and paying a small fee. But for people experiencing homelessness, especially unaccompanied homeless youth, a few documents and a fee are insurmountable barriers. The state must implement a specific, burden-free process for the homeless population to obtain identification cards. This (bill) is a matter of helping people get back on their feet and breaking a cycle of poverty.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Persons with disabilities (S 2554)

Senate, 37 to 0, approved and sent to the House a bill that updates terminology in current state law and investigative practices related to the protection of persons with disabilities. The bill replaces “disabled person” with “person with a disability” and renames the Disabled Persons Protection Commission, which would now be named the Commission for the Protection of Persons with Disabilities. This independent state agency is tasked with protecting adults with disabilities from abuse through investigation, oversight, public awareness and prevention. The commission investigates instances of abuse committed against persons with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 59 through an act or omission of their caregivers.

The bill’s sponsor Sen. John Keenan, D-Quincy, said the legislation makes a number of administrative changes that will enable the commission to streamline and enhance operations and increase protections for persons with disabilities, including improving interagency collaboration for extreme risk cases and codifying an expanded definition of what constitutes abuse.

“People are not defined by the disabilities they may have — they are so much more,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. John Keenan, D-Quincy. “This legislation recognizes that important truth. It places the proper emphasis on people instead of their disabilities.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Video camera monitoring on school busses (S 2553)

Senate, 13 to 24, rejected an amendment that would allow cities and towns to install and operate video camera monitoring systems, with audio recording capabilities, on school buses to catch drivers who violate traffic laws and don’t stop when a school bus has its red flashing lights on.

All recorded video images obtained through the use of the monitoring system that do not identify any violations would be destroyed within 30 days. Images that identify a violation would be destroyed within one year. School buses installed with the monitoring system would post signs indicating the use of the system.

“While school buses are statistically the safest way to transport school children, according to National Association for Pupil Transportation, between 2008 and 2017, there were 1,241 people killed in school-transportation-related crashes — an average of 128 fatalities per year,” said the amendment’s sponsor Sen. Diane DiZoglio, D-Methuen. “Twenty-two other states explicitly allow local governments or school districts to use cameras to capture images and issue tickets for drivers illegally passing stopped school buses, with violators subject to fines, revocation of driver’s licenses and even criminal charges. It is time Massachusetts steps it up on this issue and passes this important public safety legislation, which will go a long way in supporting efforts to save lives and prevent injuries.”

Amendment opponents said the underlying bill already allows cities and towns to install and operate video camera monitoring systems, on school buses. They noted the amendment unnecessarily raises fines from $25 to $250.

“(This amendment) mainly operated to increase fines available through camera enforcement,” said Sen. Will Brownsberger, D-Belmont. “I voted against it because I feel we should not be imposing heavy financial burdens on people. I believe the certainty of a modest fine is enough to reduce unsafe driving behavior.”

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

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — No

Also up on Beacon Hill Forum on carbon-free greater Boston

The State House News Forum is sponsoring a forum with government and business leaders on Wednesday, March 11, from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. on the opportunities and obstacles for a carbon-free Greater Boston, the policy challenges ahead and panel discussions on Expanding Access to Direct Renewable Energy Sources and New Municipal and Institutional Practices and Policies. The event will be held at MCLE New England, 10 Winter Place in Boston.

Organizers say the urgency of climate change poses pressing challenges for government and businesses. They note that Boston has targeted 2050 as the year to become carbon neutral, a goal that would require shifting to new energy sources and procurement practices and setting new efficiency standards. To reach the carbon-free goal in 30 years, policies need to be implemented in the short-term, particularly expanding the generation and procurement of renewable energy.

Tickets are only $10. Light refreshments will be served. For more information and to buy tickets, visit bit.ly/3afJrsi.

Increase fine for not stopping for a school bus (H 3673)

The House gave initial approval to a measure that adds a seven-day license suspension to the current $250 fine for not stopping for a school bus.

“I filed this bill after hearing from concerned parents and school bus drivers,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol. “Motorists put children’s lives in danger when they fail to stop for the school bus as children get on or exit.”

Whipps also noted that according to the American School Bus Council, one-third of children who are killed outside the school bus are between 5 and 7 years old; nearly two-thirds of bus-related fatalities of school-age children occur outside the school bus; and passing vehicles are responsible for two-thirds of school bus loading and unloading fatalities.

Failure to renew driver’s license (H 3082)

The House gave initial approval to a bill changing a current law that a person who was issued a valid driver’s license and fails to renew his or her license can be arrested for driving without a license. This bill would change that to make it a civil infraction, punishable by only a fine, if a person’s license has simply expired.

“People should not get arrested for simply not renewing their license,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Chris Markey, D-Dartmouth. “So long as the person’s license is not suspended and they merely forget to renew, we should not punish them and have them have a criminal record. It is merely an administrative task, that people may genuinely forget to do. Forgetting to complete a form should not be a crime.”

Expand options for adoptions (H 1492)

The House gave initial approval to a bill that strikes a current law that prohibits a brother, sister, uncle or aunt of a child from adopting that child.

“Legal permanence is so important to young people, and this bill would benefit children across our commonwealth,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Jack Lewis, D-Framingham. “It is time that Massachusetts join the great majority of other states, 48 to be exact, in updating our adoption laws that currently prevent siblings and some other family members for being considered as potential adoptive parents. This legislation does not change the criteria for adoption. Siblings and other family members would still need to meet the current criteria asked of other adoptive parents.”

Fines for interfering with funerals (H 3160)

The House gave initial approval to a bill amending the current law that imposes a $50 fine or one-year prison sentence on drivers who interfere with a funeral procession. The bill would eliminate the option of a prison sentence.

Violations include driving between the vehicles forming a funeral procession; joining a funeral procession to secure the right-of-way; and passing a funeral procession on a multi-lane highway on the funeral procession’s right side unless the funeral procession is in the farthest left lane.

Supporters said that a prison sentence for this offense goes too far and is not necessary.




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