Beacon Hill Roll Call: July 12 to July 16, 2021

Published: 7/22/2021 4:46:54 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives and senators from the week of July 12 to July 16.

$200 million for local roads, bridges (H 3951)

The House, 150 to 0, and the Senate, 40 to 0, approved and Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill that authorizes $200 million in one-time funding for the maintenance and repair of roads and bridges in cities and towns across the state. The $350 million package, a bond bill under which the funding would be borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds, also includes $150 million to pay for bus lanes, improvement of public transit, electric vehicles and other state transportation projects.

“Public transportation is a public good,” said Senate Transportation Committee Chair Sen. Joe Boncore, D-Winthrop. “The $350 million investment is among the largest Chapter 90 bond bills to date and represents the Legislature’s commitment to safe roads, reliable bridges and modernized transit infrastructure.”

“The longstanding state-municipal partnership established under the Chapter 90 program is critical to helping cities and towns meet their transportation infrastructure needs,” said GOP House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading. “Today’s agreement continues the House and Senate’s ongoing commitment to support this important road and bridge program.”

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

Also up on Beacon Hill Baker signs $47.6 billion fiscal year 2022 budget

Gov. Chalie Baker signed into law a $47.6 billion state budget for fiscal year 2022, which began on July 1. The governor and the Legislature were mostly on the same page since the Legislature approved the budget unanimously by a 160 to 0 vote in the House and a 40 to 0 vote in the Senate. Baker did disagree with the Legislature on some spending and he vetoed close to $8 million from the package approved by the Legislature. He also vetoed a section that further delays implementation of a charitable giving tax deduction approved by voters in 2000. The Legislature will soon act on overriding some of the vetoes, which takes a two-thirds vote of each branch.

“The … budget makes historic investments in our communities, schools, economy and workers as Massachusetts emerges from the pandemic,” Gov. Baker said in a message to the Legislature. “As we continue in our economic recovery, we are focused on supporting those communities that have been hardest hit by COVID-19, and this budget will complement our $2.9 billion proposal to invest a portion of Massachusetts’ federal funds in urgent priorities that support communities of color and lower-wage workers.”

Baker continued, “By working with our legislative partners to carefully manage the commonwealth’s finances and by reopening our economy, we now expect to make a $1.2 billion deposit in the Stabilization Fund through this budget, bringing the balance to $5.8 billion, an increase of over 400 percent since we took office. We are able to responsibly grow our reserves without raising taxes, while continuing to make historic investments in our schools, job training programs and downtown economies.”

Repeal law allowing religious exemption from required vaccinations (H 2411)

The Public Health Committee held a virtual hearing on legislation that would repeal the current law that allows parents to exempt their children on religious grounds from any required school vaccinations unless an emergency or epidemic of disease is declared by the Department of Public Health.

Current state law requires students to be immunized against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, poliomyelitis and other communicable diseases designated from time to time by the Department of Public Health. It allows exemptions in cases where a doctor certifies the child’s health would be endangered by a vaccine or in cases where the parent or guardian states in writing that vaccination or immunization conflicts with his or her sincere religious beliefs.

Sponsor Rep. Andy Vargas, D-Haverhill, said that several other states, including Connecticut, New York and Maine, have removed non-medical exemptions for childhood vaccines.

“Above all the lessons learned through the pandemic, perhaps the most powerful one is that, whether we like it or not, Americans, Massachusetts residents and human beings have a responsibility for the health and safety of one another,” Vargas said. “As lawmakers, we have to reason with the facts, listen to trained experts, trust the science and make tough decisions to stop preventable death and illness. We learned this the hard way during the pandemic.”

“This measure would usurp the right of parents to control the health care of their own children and empower the state to intrude into the exclusive concerns of the family,” Catholic Action League Executive Director C.J. Doyle told Beacon Hill Roll Call. “It would also coerce the consciences and violate the religious freedom rights of orthodox Catholics and other pro-life citizens, who find the use of fetal tissue or cell lines from aborted children, used in the production or testing of numerous vaccines, to be morally objectionable. In any conflict between a constitutional right and a compelling state interest, the American legal tradition has always held that the government should make a reasonable accommodation for the sincerely held religious beliefs of citizens. Rep. Vargas’ bill repudiates that tradition and prohibits that accommodation.”

College students’ transcripts (H 1347)

The Higher Education Committee held a virtual hearing on a bill that would prohibit public and private colleges from withholding a student’s entire academic transcript if the student owes the school money for any loan payments, fines, fees, tuition or other expenses. The measure would allow schools to withhold from the transcript only any academic credits and grades for any specific course for which that student’s tuition and mandatory course fees are not paid in full.

Supporters said currently schools can withhold a student’s entire transcript even though it might be just one course for which the student has not paid. They said this means that these students cannot use any credits to transfer to more affordable institutions or to obtain employment.

“Higher Education institutions are supposed to be vehicles of opportunity, economic mobility and promises of a better future,” said sponsor Rep. David LeBoeuf, D-Worcester. “Continuing to foster adverse practices that disproportionally penalize low-income students go against these principles and the principles of the commonwealth. It is our responsibility to make sure those who pursue higher education are not saddled with debt or denied advancement opportunities because of limited financial resources. This bill begins to address this issue by eliminating a counterintuitive practice that has no place in Massachusetts.”

College athletes can profit (S 832)

Another measure heard by the Higher Education Committee bill would allow college student-athletes to earn compensation from the use of their name, image or likeness without affecting that student’s scholarship eligibility. Other provisions allow a student-athlete to obtain representation from an agent for contracts or legal matters; require agents to have specific credentials, verify their eligibility through a public registration process and keep detailed records; and require colleges to establish a Catastrophic Sports Injury Fund to compensate student-athletes who suffer severe long-term injuries.

“Just two weeks ago, after years of delay, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) finally began allowing college athletes to earn compensation from the use of their name, image or likeness,” said Senate sponsor Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover. “I had originally introduced my athlete compensation bill last session, but I believe this bill is all the more important in light of the NCAA’s recent policy shift. My proposed bill would codify the NCAA’s rule change into Massachusetts law and provide additional clarity both for athletes and higher education institutions as they figure out how to comply with the NCAA’s guidelines. We need to act now.”

“Even though the NCAA has updated (its) policy, this legislation would ensure that Massachusetts student athletes’ constitutional rights can never be infringed upon again in the commonwealth,” said Rep. Steven Howitt, R-Seekonk, House sponsor of a similar bill (H 1340). “It is important for the commonwealth to join the 24 other states who have already signed similar bills into law.”

Allow ambulances to be used for police dogs (S 1606)

The Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee held a virtual hearing on legislation that would require 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.

Co-sponsor Rep. Steven Xiarhos, R-Barnstable, spent 40 years on the Yarmouth Police Department and was the officer who sent a team of highly trained officers on a mission to find and arrest an armed and violent career-criminal in April 2018. He and sponsor Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford, filed the bill in response to the tragic events on that day when Police Sgt. Sean Gannon was shot and killed and his K-9 partner Nero was severely injured and had to be rushed to the animal hospital in the back of a police cruiser. Nero survived.

Xiarhos said he will never forget the sight of K-9 Nero being carried out, covered in blood and gasping for air.

“Despite the paramedics present wanting to help save him, they could not legally touch K-9 Nero as current Massachusetts law prohibits helping a police animal wounded in the line of duty,” Xiarhos said. “Instead, the police officers placed K-9 Nero in the back of a police cruiser and drove him to the closest veterinary hospital.

“These incredible animals risk their lives to work alongside law enforcement in dangerous situations,” Montigny said. “It is only humane to allow for them to be transported in a way that reflects their contributions to our commonwealth. Sgt. Gannon was a native son of New Bedford and therefore his K-9 partner Nero is part of our community’s extended family. We hope that this never has to be used, but it demonstrates the respect for the crucial work these animals do.”

Hairdressers, barbers, manicurists and others must be trained in domestic violence, sexual assault awareness (H 311)

The Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure held a virtual hearing on a measure that would require all applicants for a new or renewal of a license to be a hairdresser, barber, cosmetologist, manicurist or massage therapist to complete, in person or online, one hour of domestic violence and sexual assault awareness education as part of their educational requirements to be licensed in their field.

“Domestic violence and sexual assault are life-threatening issues in our communities, which were only exacerbated by COVID-19,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Christine Barber, D-Somerville. “Nearly one in three women statewide have experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner. As legislators, we have a duty to provide resources and support to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Salon professionals often build trusting personal connections with clients and are uniquely positioned to see the details of their clients’ bodies, as they work directly with their skin, hair, heads and hands. Their unique role puts them in a position to observe potential signs of domestic violence or sexual assault … and has the potential to minimize violence and save lives.”


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