Beacon Hill Roll Call: Jan. 4 to Jan. 8, 2021

Published: 1/15/2021 3:31:42 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of Jan. 4 to Jan. 8. The 2019 to 2020 legislative session has ended and the 2021 to 2022 session is now underway.

Climate change (S 2296)

The House, 145 to 9, and the Senate, 38 to 2, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a 57-page climate change bill. A key section makes the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal net zero by 2050.

“This bill steps up the pace of our collective drive to contain climate change,” said Sen. Mike Barrett, D-Lexington, Senate Chair of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. “It’s the strongest effort of its kind in the country. With the tools the Legislature assembles here, we’re constructing the response we need and providing a blueprint to other states.”

“I support green energy research and usage,” said opponent Rep. Paul Frost, R-Auburn. “My concern is this bill would be forcing and mandating higher prices at the gas pumps and on home heating oil, and higher electricity costs on homeowners, renters and small businesses. Green energy is costly to produce with today’s technology and not always reliable. Therefore, I look forward to a time when it will be cost-effective and far more dependable than now.”

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

$626.5M economic development package (H 5250)

The House, 143 to 4, and the Senate, 40 to 0, approved and sent to Gov. Baker a $626.5 million economic development package that did not include a House-backed plan to have Massachusetts join other New England states in legalizing sports betting.

Provisions include $50 million in funding for transit-oriented housing; $30 million for a program similar to the federal Paycheck Protection Program that loans money to businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to pay employee payroll, mortgage interest, rent, utilities and interest on other debt obligations; $35 million for loans for community development lending institutions to extend capital to small businesses, with a focus on minority- and women-owned businesses; $50 million for neighborhood stabilization to help return blighted or vacant housing back to productive use; $6 million for a competitive grant program administered by the Massachusetts Cultural Council to promote artists in creating new mediums to showcase their art, and to promote local museums to showcase their exhibits remotely; $102.3 million for local economic development projects across the state; $20 million for a competitive grant program fund dedicated to supporting community development, infrastructure projects and climate resilience initiatives in rural communities and small towns; and the creation of the Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights that would require student loan borrowers to be licensed at the state level, prohibit servicers from engaging in predatory, unfair and unlawful practices, and establish a student loan ombudsman in the Attorney General’s Office to resolve complaints and help borrowers navigate repayment options.

“The economic development agreement reached is a comprehensive COVID-19 relief package that will provide desperately needed support to our restaurant sector, our small businesses and especially those most disproportionately impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic,” said Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, Senate chair of the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. “While no single piece of legislation on its own can repair the damage to our communities and our economy caused by COVID-19, the set of measures included in this report sends an unambiguous signal to the people of our commonwealth that help is on the way.”

Opponents did not offer any arguments on the House or Senate floor during debate.

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

$52.9M for schools (H 5164)

The House, 157 to 0, and the Senate, 39 to 0, overrode Gov. Baker’s veto of the entire $52.9 million in funding for one-time grants to school districts, charter schools and educational collaboratives to help in COVID-19 prevention and to maintain educational quality during the pandemic.

Supporters of the $52.9 million said schools desperately need this funding to continue to operate in various modes during the pandemic.

In his veto message, Gov. Baker said, “I am filing a supplemental budget request today for $53 million to prioritize more targeted measures to address COVID-related learning gaps.”

A “Yes” vote is for the $52.9 million.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

$300K for PACE (H 5164)

The House, 126 to 27, and the Senate, 37 to 2, overrode the governor’s veto of the entire $300,000 for the Partnership to Advance Collaboration and Efficiencies (PACE) initiative. According to its website, PACE is a collaborative initiative of Massachusetts’ nine state universities and 15 community colleges to create a “systematic effort for campus collaborations, which will benefit each institution, their geographic region and the state. It is designed to promote cost savings and operational efficiencies, increase productivity and improve service delivery.”

Supporters of the $300,000 said PACE generates savings for all 24 campuses.

In his veto message, Baker said his reason for vetoing the $300,000 was because it was not in his original version of the budget that he filed.

A “Yes” vote is for the $300,000.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

$150K for AFL-CIO (H 5164)

The House, 131 to 26, and the Senate, 38 to 1, overrode the governor’s veto of the entire $150,000 for the operation of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO Workforce Development Programs to provide dislocated worker assistance, layoff aversion and job training with a focus on pathways to quality careers through traditional and non-traditional apprentice and pre-apprenticeship training.

In his veto message, Baker said his reason for vetoing the $150,000 was because it was not in his original version of the budget that he filed.

A “Yes” vote is for the $150,000.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Also up on Beacon Hill Policing changes (S 2963)

Gov. Baker signed into law legislation making major changes in the state’s policing system. 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.

“This bill is the product of bipartisan cooperation and thanks to the Black and Latino Caucus’ leadership on the hugely important issue of law enforcement accountability, Massachusetts will have one of the best laws in the nation,” Baker said. “Police officers have enormously difficult jobs, and we are grateful they put their lives on the line every time they go to work. Thanks to final negotiations on this bill, police officers will have a system they can trust, and our communities will be safer for it.”

“In a deeply challenging year for the dedicated men and women in law enforcement, this reform will create meaningful opportunities for us to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to the values of honesty, integrity and accountability,” said Public Safety and Security Secretary Thomas Turco. “As we implement these measures, our work remains focused on strengthening preparedness, preventing crime at every level and building positive relationships in the communities we serve.”

The leaders of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police said in a letter to its more than 4,500 members that the process through which this legislation was created was “deeply flawed and a disappointment to law enforcement professionals across Massachusetts.”

“Our members continue to move forward to protect and serve with the same enthusiasm, bravery and care our members have always brought to the job for the communities they patrol and keep safe each and every day,” the letter states. “Unfortunately, they also move forward in a state of elevated risk — with no allowable provisions for protecting themselves or others in certain life-and-death situations. Because this legislation was passed with an emergency preamble, many sections of the law became effective on Jan. 1, 2021 and were immediately enacted and contradict current police training.

“Under the commonwealth’s Police Reform Legislation, the new training standards and programs needed to address this gap are still months away from being established,” according to the letter. “This dangerous condition continues to exist at the same time officers must adjust for the abridgment of their due process and qualified immunity rights.”

Laura’s Law: Emergency room entrances and signs leading to the ER must be marked (H 5246)

The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill that would require all hospitals to meet minimum criteria and standards that ensure safe, timely and accessible patient access to hospital emergency departments and rooms. The regulations, which would be crafted by the Department of Public Health, would include legible indoor and outdoor signs and lighting, including way-finding signs that are designed to help a person find their way to the emergency room without lengthy explanations or complicated maps; monitoring of all emergency department access points; requiring proper security monitoring of any prominent hospital door or entrance that is locked at night and through which a patient might try to enter; and any other safety feature that the department deems necessary to ensure daytime or nighttime entry to an emergency room or department.

The measure is called “Laura’s Law” in memory of Laura Levis, a 34-year-old woman, who on Sept. 16, 2016 went to CHA Somerville Hospital while suffering an asthma attack. Peter DeMarco, Levis’ husband, has led the campaign for passage of the legislation. He is a journalist who wrote about Laura’s death almost two years ago for the “Boston Globe” in a story called “Losing Laura.”

According to DeMarco’s story, “Laura chose a locked door to try to access the emergency room because the correct door was not properly marked. Though Laura was on surveillance video, the hospital security desk was left unattended all night, so no one saw her. When a nurse from the emergency department eventually looked out the door for Laura, she did not see her, as the spot where Laura collapsed was in near darkness.”

Laura had called 911 but by the time first responders found her, she had collapsed in cardiac arrest and died a few days later on Sept. 22.

“I want to thank the Legislature for recognizing all the good that can come from one woman’s tragedy,” DeMarco said. “I look forward to working in whatever way I can with Gov. Baker’s office toward Laura’s Law’s final passage.”

Sexual misconduct on college campuses (H 5241)

The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill that would require public and private institutions of higher education in the state to conduct high-quality campus sexual misconduct climate surveys at least once every four years and annually report survey results on their websites.

Provisions include requiring colleges and universities to adopt policies on sexual misconduct involving students and employees and publish the policies on their websites; requiring these schools to adopt memorandums of understanding with local law enforcement agencies to establish respective roles and responsibilities for each party related to the prevention of and response to on-campus and off-campus sexual misconduct; requiring schools to provide campus safety and sexual misconduct data and outreach information in an accessible format on their websites, as well as contact information for resources available to reporting students and employees; and requiring all colleges and universities to provide free access to a sexual assault crisis service center either on campus or off campus by entering into and maintaining a memorandum of understanding with a sexual assault crisis center and a domestic violence program.

Sens. Michael Moore, D-Millbury, and Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, and Reps. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, and Patricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, all sponsored earlier versions of the bill and also supported the new version that was sent to the governor.

“We must create a culture and a system that supports the community members of higher educational institutions that report acts of sexual violence and thoroughly investigate those reports,” Hinds said. “I plan to work alongside the Legislature to enact a strong set of standards that college communities can rely on.”

State seal and motto (H 5245)

The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill that would create a special commission to examine the state seal and motto, including those parts of it that have been controversial or misunderstood.

The commission would make recommendations for a revised or new version of the seal and the motto. The seal currently includes a Native American holding a bow in one hand, an arrow in the other hand and a disembodied arm holding a sword above him. The current motto is “By the sword we seek peace, but only under liberty.”

The commission would determine “whether the seal and motto accurately reflect and embody the historic and contemporary commitments of the commonwealth to peace, justice, liberty and equality, and to spreading the opportunities and advantages of education.”

Supporters of the special commission say the current seal is politically insensitive and the bow and arrow depict violence. They note the sword-wielding arm is that of Capt. Miles Standish, a pilgrim whose army killed many Native Americans in the 1600s.

Supporters of the current seal say it is a sacred symbol. They argue that the depiction is appropriate and note that the arrow is pointing downward, which is known as a Native American symbol signifying peace.

Racial disparities in maternal mortality (H 4818)

The House and Senate approved and sent to the governor a bill that would create a special commission to examine and make recommendations to reduce or eliminate racial disparities in the death of mothers before, during and after childbirth.

The commission would look for problems and solutions by examining evidence-based practices, including approaches taken by other states or grassroots organizations to reduce or eliminate racial disparities in maternal mortality or severe maternal morbidity; barriers to accessing prenatal and postpartum care, how that care is delivered and the quality of that care; and how historical and current structural, institutional and individual forms of racism, including implicit bias or discrimination, affect the incidence and prevalence of maternal mortality in communities of color.

“Black people giving birth in Massachusetts are twice as likely as white people to die due to complications during and after childbirth,” said Senate sponsor Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham. “We cannot allow that to stand, nor can we tackle a problem without understanding the full extent of its impact. The maternal health disparities commission established by this legislation will center the experiences of Black and Brown birthing people and directly enable the crafting and enactment of legislation that combats these stark health inequities and advances affordable, accessible and safe maternal health care regardless of race or ZIP code.”

Notify about sewage (H 4921)

The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill that would institute a statewide notification system so that Massachusetts residents know within two hours of the start of any combined sewer overflows (CSO) discharge if their rivers are unsafe for recreation or public use. The notifications would continue every eight hours until the discharge ends and then within two hours of the end of the discharge.

Combined sewers exist in 19 Massachusetts communities, which tend to be in older industrialized areas. These sewers are those that collect stormwater and wastewater together. CSOs happen during heavy storms when stormwater floods the sewers and spills out of specially designed overflow channels into rivers. Untreated sewage that can carry bacteria and endanger human health may be present in the overflow and this may disrupt local ecosystems.

The bill requires sewage system operators to issue a public advisory of any overflows to the state departments of Environmental Protection and Public Health, local boards of health, all municipalities that are directly impacted, and individuals who subscribe to an email or text notification; as well as post on a public website run by the sewage system operator and report to the two largest local news organizations.

“Many citizens have fought for this for years — and they will now be able to receive individual notification of sewage spills,” said co-sponsor Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen. “State government has a responsibility to ensure that our residents and local leaders are notified of public health concerns. This legislation also has a huge economic component. Our waterways in Massachusetts are treasured by all, and we all want to be able to enjoy and respect these treasures. Their viability is critical to local economies. Now, our next battle will be to upgrade our sewage treatment facilities to prevent CSOs.”

“People who kayak or boat or fish in our rivers need to know when there are discharges, so they can avoid exposure to the bacteria, parasites and viruses — including COVID-19 — in that sewage,” said co-sponsor Sen. Pet Jehlen, D-Somerville. “The (Environmental Protection Agency) says people should stay away from sewage-contaminated water for 72 hours. This law will give them the information so they can stay safe.”


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