Beacon Hill Roll Call: Jan. 17 to Jan. 21, 2022

  • An electric vehicle charging station, pictured in Turners Falls. The Transportation Committee held a virtual hearing on several bills, including one that would prohibit Condominium Associations, Historic District Commissions and Neighborhood Conservation Districts from banning or unreasonably restricting an owner from installing an electric vehicle charging station to charge their electric vehicle. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Published: 1/27/2022 2:33:40 PM
Modified: 1/27/2022 2:32:24 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of Jan. 17 to Jan. 21. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.

$55 million for COVID-19 (H 4340)

The House, 159 to 0, approved and sent to the Senate a $55 million COVID-19 response bill. A key provision provides $30 million to increase the number of COVID-19 testing sites and purchase COVID-19 tests — with $5 million of that earmarked to expanding vaccination rates among children ages 5 to 11 in communities disproportionately affected by the virus.

Another $25 million would be used for the acquisition and distribution of high-quality personal protective masks, including N95s and KN95s, to be distributed by Feb. 28, to children and faculty in elementary and secondary public school districts. The measure also mandates that the Baker administration pursue the highest allowable rate of federal reimbursement for the $55 million package.

“In the last couple of years we have learned a lot about how to treat, prevent and reduce the risks associated with the virus,” said Rep. Bill Driscoll, D-Milton, the House chair of the Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management. “We held additional oversight hearings in December and January because we wanted to understand the administration’s current and evolving plans to address omicron and what might be around the corner in the weeks and months ahead. The funding included in this legislation aims to close several gaps regarding accessibility to testing and high-filtration masks, particularly in schools. By providing the funding resources and several other extensions, like remote participation in public meetings, the commonwealth can take stronger and focused measures toward driving infection rates down and hopefully keep them down in the months ahead.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Consolidated amendment to COVID-19 package (H 4340)

The House, 158 to 1, approved several amendments to the COVID-19 package. The combined amendment was based on 23 individual ones filed by representatives.

Supporters said the amendments would enhance the bill and help in the fight against COVID-19.

Rep. Jeff Turco, D-Winthrop, the only representative to vote against the package of amendments, said he voted against them because they included substantive changes to tort laws.

“Specifically, the amendment included language that granted hospitals and medical providers immunity from liability for acts of negligence related to care and treatment involving COVID-19,” Turco said. “I do not support such a change without a full vetting and hearing process.”

A “Yes” vote is for the package of amendments.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Also up on Beacon HillDefault on student loans (H 4339)

The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would repeal a current law, passed in 1990, that created professional licensure consequences for anyone who defaults on their student loan. Under existing law, the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority and the American Student Assistance can request that a borrower’s state-issued professional or occupational certificate, registration or license be suspended, revoked or canceled for default on educational loans made or administered by either group.

Supporters said Massachusetts is one of only a handful of states in which a person can lose their professional license if he or she defaults on his or her student loans. They argued the law is unfair and counterproductive because it makes it harder for people to repay their loans by revoking their licenses and depriving them of the opportunity to earn income and make a living in their chosen field.

Allow cities and towns to prohibit fossil fuel infrastructure (S 1333)

The Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee held a virtual hearing on a measure that would allow cities and towns to require all new buildings, building construction projects or major renovation projects to be all-electric. The bill bans on-site fossil fuel infrastructure but does allow for natural gas and propane service if they are integral to the building’s function.

Sponsor Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, said the bill will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This bill is in response to the attorney general’s ruling that municipalities did not have the legal authority to prohibit new fossil fuel infrastructure,” Eldridge said. “The gas and oil infrastructure that is installed today will keep us locked in for decades to come, so it’s critical that we take action now. If we are to reach the net-zero emissions target set in the Next Generation Roadmap Act, we must pass forward-thinking legislation that empowers municipalities to combat climate change.”

Transportation bills

The Transportation Committee held a virtual hearing on several bills including:

Charging stations in condo buildings (H 3425): Prohibits Condominium Associations, Historic District Commissions and Neighborhood Conservation Districts from banning or unreasonably restricting an owner from installing an electric vehicle charging station to charge their electric vehicle. While the bill preserves the right of these local and private decision-making entities to regulate siting decisions, it does reduce their authority from being able to ban new installations of charging stations.

“As the commonwealth moves away from gas-powered vehicles, we are going to need increased access to charging stations,” said sponsor Michelle Ciccolo, D-Lexington. “With 40% of emissions coming out of transportation systems in the state, it is essential that we do everything we can to make owning and operating an electric vehicle as seamless as owning a gas vehicle. For that reason, we can’t have local siting boards prioritize aesthetics over access to charging.”

Allow some autonomous vehicles on roadways (H 3434): Permits electric-powered autonomous vehicles to be operated on Massachusetts roadways. Current law does not allow any autonomous vehicles on these roads.

“We have a unique opportunity to ensure that the emerging technologies behind automated vehicles contribute to our efforts to reduce carbon emissions,” said sponsor Rep. Michael Day, D-Stoneham. “We know that personal cars, trucks and commercial vehicles are some of the biggest drivers of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts, and this bill, if passed, would allow us to ensure that these new vehicles help us, and don’t hurt us, in our battle against climate change.”

Increased fines for handicapped parking violations (H 3393): Allows cities and towns to increase the current fines of $100 to $300 for drivers who violate handicapped parking violations. The bill would allow communities to assess an additional separate fine of up to $450 in addition to the $100 to $300 one. The up to $450 fine would be placed in a separate city or town account that would be used solely for funding and implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on public property and in public buildings within the city or town where the violation took place.

“In my district and across the state, cities and towns through commissions on disabilities have plans to make their communities more accessible,” said Rep. Bruce Ayers, D-Quincy. “However, oftentimes a lack of funding prevents them from enacting their plans. This bill allows them to place some of the financial burden on the backs of those who violate the laws that exist to protect the rights of people with disabilities.”


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