Beacon Hill Roll Call: July 20 to July 24, 2020

Published: 7/31/2020 3:43:57 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of July 20 to July 24.

Changes in policing (S 2800)

The House, 93 to 66, approved a bill making changes in the state’s policing system. The measure creates a Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Committee (POSAC) — an independent state entity composed of law enforcement professionals, community members and racial justice advocates — to standardize the certification, training and decertification of police officers for misconduct including bias, conviction of a felony, submission of false timesheets and use of excessive force.

The bill revokes qualified immunity in any case that results in decertification of the officers and creates a commission to study qualified immunity and report findings by March 31, 2021. Qualified immunity is a judicially created legal doctrine established by the U.S. Supreme Court. Under current qualified immunity, police officers and other government officials can only be held accountable in civil suits for violating someone’s rights if a court has previously ruled that it was “clearly established” those precise actions were unconstitutional

Other provisions include creation of a Commission on the Status of African Americans, banning the use of facial technology and chokeholds, regulating the use of tear gas and rubber bullets unless officers have no other options to protect public safety, restricting “no-knock” warrants and barring school officials from sharing student information with outside law enforcement agencies.

“Change is never easy, but with this vote, the House of Representatives acts to ensure fairness and equality,” said House Speaker Bob DeLeo, D-Winthrop. “It is the product of countless hours of conversations with a wide swath of stakeholders, including the members of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus.”

“The legislation in the House and the Senate are nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to the events happening hundreds of miles away from here,” said Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association President Jeff Farnsworth. “These bills are not a response to any current situation in Massachusetts. These bills are being used to make a political statement. They do not address issues in Massachusetts. As law enforcement leaders, our primary mission is to ensure the safety of our residents and our communities. We do not believe that this legislation will do that. It has the very real possibility of doing just the opposite.”

The Senate has approved a different version of the bill, and a House-Senate conference committee will likely try to hammer out a compromise version.

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

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Define unprofessional conduct (H 4860)

The House, 44 to 115, rejected an amendment to a section of the bill that provides for the decertification of a police officer for, among other offenses, “unprofessional police conduct.” The amendment would define “unprofessional police conduct” as “on-duty behavior by a law enforcement officer which is established by probable cause to be a violation of state and/or federal law, excessive use of physical force or repeated, sustained instances of behaviors which violate departmental policies or bring the law enforcement agency into disrepute.”

“This term is not defined anywhere in the bill and (my amendment) sought to specifically define what it is, rather than allowing another body to later have to divine our legislative intent,” said the amendment’s sponsor Rep. Tim Whelan, R-Brewster, a former Massachusetts state trooper.

Opponents said the amendment would limit the scope and authority of the independent commission the bill sets up. They argued the commission should be allowed to do its work without its hands tied by the Legislature.

A “Yes” vote is for defining “unprofessional police conduct.” A “No” vote is against defining it.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Paul Mark — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

No-knock warrant (H 4860)

The House, 83 to 76, approved an amendment to a section of the bill that sets the rules under which a judge can issue a “no-knock warrant” that does not require a law enforcement officer to knock and announce his or her presence and purpose before forcibly entering a residence. The measure requires the request for the warrant to establish probable cause that if the law enforcement officer announces his or her presence, then his or her life or the lives of others will be endangered.

The amendment would require that the police officer filing the affidavit swear that he or she has no reason to believe that minors or adults over the age of 65 are in the home.

Amendment supporters said the amendment would wisely limit the use of no-knock warrants. They cited cases in which young children and senior citizens were accidentally shot by police executing a no-knock warrant.

“The bill already limits the scope surrounding issuance of no-knock warrants to matters where weapons are present, and for life-safety concerns,” said Rep. Tim Whelan, R-Brewster. “The amendment further restricts the issuance of no-knock warrants, even when weapons and firearms are believed to be present, and compromises the safety of the police officers serving these warrants in highly dangerous situations.”

A “Yes” vote is for requiring that the filing officer swear that he or she has no reason to believe that minors or adults over the age of 65 are in the home. A “No” vote is against requiring it.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Tear gas (H 4860)

The House, 38 to 121, rejected an amendment that would ban the use of tear gas by law enforcement officers in Massachusetts.

“When thousands of people gather to protest the state-sponsored murder of Black people, the response shouldn’t be to fire chemical weapons at them,” said the amendment’s sponsor Rep. Mike Connolly, D-Cambridge. “But, too often, we have seen the indiscriminate use of tear gas on our streets, even though tear gas is actually prohibited in international warfare by the Geneva Protocol and the Chemical Weapons Convention. To be sure, the underlying bill we are considering today will add some limitations on the use of tear gas, but this amendment would have made the bill even stronger.”

“This amendment would have prohibited law enforcement’s use of tear gas in all situations,” said Rep. Michael Day, D-Stoneham, vice chair of the Judiciary Committee. “The underlying bill imposes heightened restrictions and regulates the use of tear gas by requiring law enforcement to exhaust crowd de-escalation measures (first). This bill also establishes substantial oversight over the use of tear gas by requiring law enforcement agencies who do use it to provide a written report detailing all measures taken in advance of the event to reduce the probability of danger and all de-escalation measures taken. The independent commission will then review that report and determine whether further investigation or corrective action should be taken.”

A “No” vote is for allowing the use of tear gas.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Paul Mark — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Police dogs (H 4860)

The House, 43 to 115, rejected an amendment that would strike a section of the bill that allows an attack on a person by a police K-9 to be the basis of an inquiry into an officer that can lead to his or her decertification.

Amendment supporters said the injuries or death caused by a dog should not be the basis of an inquiry that can lead to decertification of an officer. They noted the dogs are trained, but are not human beings. The purpose of a K-9 is rarely to show force but rather a tool that is used to find missing persons, detect illegal drugs or detain a person.

“The bill regulates the use of canines by law enforcement and empowers the independent commission to investigate officer-involved injuries or deaths,” said Rep. Michael Day, D-Stoneham, who opposed the amendment. “If police use of a dog causes injury or death, we want the commission to be able to review the circumstances of the incident. We further require the commission to make a report to the Legislature of all complaints and actions, including officer-involved injuries or deaths.”

A “No” vote, against the amendment, is for allowing an attack on a person by a K-9 to be the basis of an inquiry into an officer that can lead to decertification of the officer.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Paul Mark — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Stroke patients (S 2835)

The Senate, 40 to 0, approved and sent to the House a bill that would allow first responders to transport stroke patients to the facilities best equipped to treat them, rather than the closest, as currently required. The measure is designed to ensure patients experiencing the most severe cases of stroke are triaged by ambulance crews and transported to hospitals capable of performing procedures to remove the blood clot causing the stroke, restore blood supply to the brain and save threatened tissue.

“What is particularly troubling is that, in many cases, the death and disability is largely preventable,” said sponsor Sen. Marc Montigny, D-New Bedford. “We must act now to implement necessary reforms so that our loved ones can receive the very best care and treatment.”

“If you’re having a stroke, it’s critical that you get proper medical attention right away,” said Allyson Perron Drag, government relations director for the American Heart Association in Massachusetts. “Getting the right treatment immediately may minimize the long-term effects of a stroke and even prevent death. This bill will save lives and prevent disability.”

According to the American Heart Association, in 2017, stroke accounted for one in every 19 deaths nationally. In Massachusetts, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death, claiming 2,370 lives per year.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Small brewers (S 2829)

The Senate, 40 to 0, approved and sent to the House a bill that supporters say will resolve a decade-long distribution dispute between beer brewers and wholesalers. The measure is a compromise that was reached by the Massachusetts Brewers Guild, representing craft breweries, and the Beer Distributors of Massachusetts

According to Senate President Karen Spilka’s office, current law makes it difficult for a brewer to end a relationship with their distributor and this jeopardizes potential growth. The bill would allow a brewery that produces less than 250,000 barrels per year (or just over 3.4 million cases) to end its relationship with a distributor with a 30-day notice. If a distribution contract is terminated, the brewery would be responsible for fairly compensating the wholesaler the fair market value of the distribution rights, in addition to other costs for inventory and marketing investments. The legislation calls for both parties to engage in an expedited arbitration process to resolve such issues.

“Craft brewing is an industry that has grown in Massachusetts as a result of innovation, entrepreneurship, hard work and dedication to supporting small businesses, and is now thriving,” Spilka said. “Solving this decade-long dispute was a priority of mine long before becoming Senate president and I look forward to seeing this important agreement codified in law.”

“Massachusetts is home to more than 200 breweries that represent the unique culture and contours of our local communities,” said Sen. Joe Boncore, D-Winthrop, the sponsor of the original version of the proposal. “This legislation will create a level playing field for craft brewers.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Martin Luther King Jr. memorial plaque (H 2799)

The Senate, 40 to 0, approved a measure, already given the nod by the House in December 2019, providing for the installation and maintenance of a plaque in the House chamber containing a portion of the address that Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered to a joint convention of the Massachusetts House and Senate in April 1965.

The plaque reads as follows: “Let me hasten to say that I come to Massachusetts not to condemn, but to encourage. It was from these shores that the vision of a new nation conceived in liberty was born, and it must be from these shores that liberty must be preserved; and the hearts and lives of every citizen preserved through the maintenance of opportunity and through the constant creation of those conditions that will make justice and brotherhood reality for all of God’s children.”

“Dr. King’s 1965 speech reminds all legislators of our heavy responsibilities to create a commonwealth where Black people receive equal and just treatment,” said Sen. Carol Lovely, D-Salem. “The placement of this plaque in the House chamber will make the State House a more inclusive and inspirational place for those of us who work here as well as for those who come to see our work.”

The measure needs final approval in each branch before it goes to Gov. Charlie Baker for his signature.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Also up on Beacon Hill Extend moratorium on evictions and foreclosures

Gov. Baker extended the moratorium on most residential, commercial and nonprofit evictions and foreclosures for 60 days until Oct. 17. The moratorium, approved by the Legislature and signed by Baker on April 20 was set to expire on Aug. 18. The April law gave Baker the power to postpone the expiration in increments of up to 90 days.

The law does allow emergency “for cause evictions” that involve allegations of criminal activity or lease violations that are “detrimental to the health or safety of other residents, health care workers, emergency personnel or the general public.”

Another provision prohibits landlords from charging late fees or sending reports to credit rating agencies as long as a tenant provides notice within 30 days of a late payment that his or her failure to pay was tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Baker noted he is aware that the extension will impact many landlords who rely on rental income to pay their own expenses. He strongly encouraged “tenants to continue to pay rent, and homeowners to make their mortgage payments, to the extent they are able while the moratoria remain in place.”

“(We have) made available $20 million in emergency rental and mortgage assistance to help lower-income tenants and homeowners make their housing payments,” Baker said. “Between now and Oct. 17, my administration will assess whether additional federal and state resources should be made available for this purpose.”

Mosquito control (H 4843)

Gov. Baker signed into law legislation that would grant additional tools to the State Reclamation and Mosquito Control Board to combat mosquito-borne illnesses including Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) and West Nile Virus (WNV). The measure gives the board the authority to take preventative, management and eradication methods to address the mosquito problem when the risk is elevated. The board must notify local authorities, property owners, agricultural entities and other stakeholders about spraying plans, products and timelines.

Other provisions include allowing cities and towns to opt out of mosquito control efforts if they provide a suitable alternative control plan; requiring the board after each spraying action to provide a written report summarizing efforts and details of products used to stakeholders; and creating a Mosquito Control for the 21st Century Task Force to develop a sustainable, long-term mosquito plan using input from stakeholders and experts with the goals of protecting public health while minimizing environmental impacts.

“The intersection of environmental and public health concerns will be our new normal as the climate changes,” said Rep. Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston. “This legislation requires that Massachusetts plan ahead. Under this new law, the commonwealth will develop an effective, comprehensive response to mosquito-borne disease that minimizes pesticide use, engages the public, and maximizes the use of sustainable best practices.”

“I am most proud that the bill establishes a Mosquito Control for the 21st Century Task Force to recommend updates to our outdated system,” said Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, Senate chair of the Public Health Committee. “I am hopeful that the task force’s recommendations will lead to a more modern system that recognizes the latest evidence about effective mosquito management, public health and environmental protection.”

During the hearing on the original version of the legislation in May, many groups and individuals testified against the bill. They expressed concern about land, rivers and wetlands conservation, organic agriculture, wildlife and exposure to toxic chemicals. On June 11, the Senate approved its own version of the bill that addressed some of these concerns.

Allow restaurants to sell hard liquor (H 4856)

Gov. Baker signed into law a bill that would allow restaurants to sell sealed containers of mixed drinks with takeout and delivery orders. A law passed in April allows restaurants and bars to sell limited quantities of beer and wine, in their original containers, with takeout and delivery orders. The order did not include mixed drinks.

The proposal requires orders for cocktails to be placed by midnight or earlier if the establishment closes before that. The measure defines mixed drinks as a drink sealed in a container holding up to 64 fluid ounces of liquor and mixer that have been combined. The Legislature attached an emergency preamble to the bill that means it will take effect immediately instead of in the usual 90 days.

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