Beacon Hill Roll Call: July 25 to July 31, 2022

  • The House, 153 to 0, and the Senate, 40 to 0, approved and sent to the governor a bill that would make major changes to the oversight and governance structure of the state’s veterans’ homes in Holyoke and Chelsea. The proposal follows the deaths of 77 veteran residents in 2020 as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke facility, pictured. Staff File Photo/Carol Lollis

  • COMERFORD

Published: 8/4/2022 4:00:26 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from the seven-day period between Monday, July 25, and Sunday, July 31. The House and Senate held lengthy sessions. Beacon Hill Roll Call will continue to report on the dozens of roll calls over the next few reports.

While the House and Senate approved many bills, one measure that stood out was a bill that didn’t get approved. The House and Senate had previously approved different versions of a $4.57 billion economic development package that included some $1 billion in tax relief — $500 million in one-time tax rebates and $500 million for several permanent tax cuts. A conference committee was working on hammering out a compromise version but talks stalled because of the recent “discovery” of 62F, a 1986 law approved by the voters. That law requires that tax revenue above a certain amount collected by the state go back to the taxpayers. It is estimated that the 1986 law would return $2.5 billion in fiscal year 2022 revenue to Massachusetts taxpayers.

The conference committee did not act on the economic development bill so the $1 billion in tax relief is still bottled up in the conference committee. Some legislators favor repealing the law, which has only been used once since 1986. Others say the law should not be repealed and the $2.5 billion should go back to taxpayers.

Reproductive health care (H 5090)

The House, 137 to 16, and the Senate, 40 to 0, approved and Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill designed to further protect reproductive health care and those who perform abortions in Massachusetts. The measure declares that both reproductive health care and gender-affirming care are rights secured by the constitution or laws of Massachusetts, and shields providers of reproductive and gender-affirming care and their patients from out-of-state legal action. The measure ensures that patients who are more than 24 weeks into pregnancy can get an abortion because of a grave fetal diagnosis that indicates the fetus is incompatible with sustained life outside of the uterus without extraordinary medical interventions.

Other provisions include preventing the state’s cooperation with anti-abortion and anti-gender-affirming care laws in other states; mandating health insurance coverage for abortion and abortion-related care with no cost-sharing; ensuring access to emergency contraception; providing confidentiality to providers of reproductive and gender-affirming care; clarifying that vending machines may dispense over-the-counter drugs, such as Plan B — the “morning after” pill; and ensuring access to medication abortion on all public college and university campuses.

“Massachusetts remains steadfast in its commitment to protect access to reproductive health care services, especially in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade,” said Gov. Baker. “The court’s decision has major consequences for women across the country who live in states with limited access to these services, and our administration took quick action in the hours following that decision by issuing an executive order to protect access here in the commonwealth. This new legislation signed today builds on that action by protecting patients and providers from legal interference from more restrictive laws in other states.”

“Everyone deserves the right to decide whether and when to start a family, no matter where they live, how much money they make or who they are,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts. “But across half the states, millions of people are in danger of losing that right after the Supreme Court’s shameful decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. As extremist politicians in other states move to ban or severely restrict abortion, Massachusetts lawmakers have stepped up to meet the moment and lead in the other direction, passing a historic law that makes care more affordable and available.”

“With this bill, the Legislature gave Planned Parenthood a blank check to rewrite our commonwealth’s abortion laws, and Gov. Baker signed it for them,” said Andrew Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Family Institute. “Beacon Hill is working to make Massachusetts a regional hub for late-term abortion and to undermine every pro-life law in the nation.”

“As a candidate for governor in 2014, Charlie Baker was sold as a Bill Weld-style Republican — socially liberal but fiscally conservative,” said Catholic Action League Executive Director C.J. Doyle. “The abortion expansion bill (that) he signed … imposes new burdens on taxpayers and business owners, increases the scope of government with state colleges now dispensing Plan B abortion pills and denies personal freedom of choice for those opposed to abortion. There is no conscience clause for pharmacists, business owners or non-profit organizations, and the religious exemption is so narrowly drawn that most Catholic educational institutions will not qualify under it. Baker’s legacy on this legislation is one of higher spending, bigger government and less personal freedom.”

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

Sports wagering (H 5164)

The House, 151 to 2, and the Senate, 36 to 4, approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill that would legalize sports betting on professional and college sports for Massachusetts residents over 21 years old. Betting on Massachusetts colleges and universities would not be allowed unless the school is playing in a tournament like March Madness. The betting would be regulated by the Gaming Commission, the same commission that regulates the state’s casino gambling.

“Once signed by the governor, this new law will open a new industry for our commonwealth, creating jobs and economic growth,” said sponsor Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow. “It will also safeguard consumers and athletes with some of the strongest protections in the country while maintaining the integrity of sports.”

“The Massachusetts Legislature just pulled out all the stops, suspended several rules, and pulled an epic all-nighter to legalize sports betting,” said Rep. Mike Connolly, D-Cambridge. “And yet, important housing justice provisions such as local rent stabilization, right to counsel in eviction and foreclosure matters, local option real estate transfer fees to support the production of affordable housing, tenant opportunity-to-purchase legislation and eviction records sealing provisions were all left for dead. As a product of public housing and a longtime renter, this makes me question our priorities. While I recognize there’s a compelling case in support of legalized sports betting and didn’t want to kill the bill, I can’t help but feel uncomfortable at how gambling was a ‘must do’ this session but so many other urgent issues were either lesser priorities or ignored entirely.”

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

Public health systems (H 5104)

The House, 153 to 0, and the Senate, 39 to 0, approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill that would accelerate improvements to local and regional public health systems by requiring the Department of Public Health to enshrine a set of standards for foundational public health services. The measure creates minimum standards for every city and town; incentivizes municipalities to share services; creates a uniform data collection system; and dedicates funding for local boards of health and health departments.

“With the passage of this legislation, a person’s ZIP code will no longer determine the public health protections that they are afforded and local public health officials will have the resources they need to do their jobs,” said Senate sponsor Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton.

“The Legislature has focused on public health in a comprehensive, deliberative process since 2015 with the establishment of a special commission,” said House sponsor Rep. Denise Garlick, D-Needham. “The special commission’s 2019 report exposed the fractures in local public health, and the COVID public health crisis only magnified those inequities. The bill provides the tools and direction to move local and regional public health forward.”

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

Oversight for soldiers’ homes (H 5106)

The House, 153 to 0, and the Senate, 40 to 0, approved and sent to the governor a bill that would make major changes to the oversight and governance structure of the state’s veterans’ homes in Holyoke and Chelsea. The proposal follows the deaths of 77 veteran residents in 2020 as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke facility. A key provision would elevate the Department of Veterans Services to a cabinet-level executive office with direct reporting to the governor and the ability to hire and fire superintendents.

Other provisions include requiring superintendents of the two soldiers’ homes to be licensed as nursing home administrators and that they oversee day-to-day management and operation of the homes; requiring two annual home inspections by the Department of Public Health; creating an independent Office of the Veteran Advocate; maintaining local boards of trustees; and creating a statewide advisory Veterans’ Home Council.

“This legislation contains important improvements that will benefit the men and women who have served our nation and will reside at our commonwealth’s veterans’ homes for the years to come,” said Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield. “At the same time, we know that this work must continue. The working group established will allow us to have oversight over this implementation, to identify what we need to improve on further, and to continue to work to ensure that the tragedy that took place at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home never happens again.”

“The Senate has been clear that we must rethink how we deliver care to veterans of every generation across Massachusetts and ensure that our veterans are connected to their communities,” said Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland. “We are mindful that issues and circumstances may arise that compel additional thought, reassessment and legislative action, and that work will continue. To that end, I am creating a Senate working group, chaired by Sen. John Velis, to review implementation of this important bill, identify and act on issues that may arise requiring additional legislation, and work with the administration to ensure the reforms contained within are implemented as the Legislature intended.”

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

Benefits for military families (S 3075)

The House, 153 to 0, and the Senate, 39 to 0, approved and sent to Gov. Baker legislation that would support military families who relocate to Massachusetts by providing career stability for the spouses of service members and education for their children.

Provisions include making it easier for military personnel and their spouses to get a Massachusetts professional license, if their job requires one, so that they can continue their civilian careers and provide for their families without interruption; requiring the education commissioner to issue a military spouse a valid certificate for teaching if he or she holds a valid teaching license from another state; allowing children of military members to register and enroll in a school district at the same time it is open to the general population by waiving the proof of residency requirement until the student actually begins school; creating a Purple Star campus designation for certain schools that are military-kid friendly and show a major commitment to students and families connected to the nation’s military; and requiring that a child or spouse of an active-duty service member in Massachusetts continue to pay the in-state, less expensive tuition rate at state universities even if the service member is assigned to move out of the state.

“The (bill) is a momentous piece of legislation that will improve the lives of every single service member, veteran and military family member who resides in our state, now and in the future,” said Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield, Senate chair of the Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. “The legislation supports our military families in their transition to Massachusetts, introduces new benefits and services for veterans and National Guard members, and expands the ways our commonwealth recognizes the sacrifices of those who have served.”

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

$11.3 billion transportation and infrastructure package (H 5151)

The House, 153 to 0, and the Senate, 39 to 0, approved and sent to the governor an $11.3 billion transportation and infrastructure package that includes $1.375 billion for Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) modernization and $1.27 billion for non-federally aided roads and bridges.

Other provisions include $114 million for airport improvements; $25 million for municipal road pavement improvements; $20 million to be awarded under the Complete Streets Funding Program; $25.5 million for the Mobility Assistance Program; mandating the MBTA to establish a three-year safety improvement plan with measurable safety objectives; and directing the MBTA to contract with an independent third-party auditor for annual safety audits.

“Not only does this bill fund much-needed transportation repairs for all modes and communities, but it also goes much further to invest in infrastructure that is more modern, environmentally sustainable and regionally equitable,” said Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland. “The support for electric vehicles, regional transportation authorities, MBTA safety investments, low-income fares on public transit, expanded east-west connectivity and many other initiatives in this bill will benefit residents, visitors and businesses throughout Massachusetts.”

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 HillProhibit discrimination against a person with a natural hairstyle (S 2796)

Gov. Baker signed into law a bill that would make Massachusetts the 18th state in the nation to prohibit any person or entity — including educational institutions, workplaces and public spaces — from implementing any policy that would explicitly target someone who wears their natural hairstyle. The measure defines natural hairstyle as hair texture, hair type and protective hairstyles including braids, locks, twists and other formations.

“On the long march toward justice, and especially racial justice, the Senate’s unanimous passage of this legislation marks another step forward,” said Sen. Jason Lewis, D-Winchester, when the Senate approved the bill before sending it to the governor. “We would not be at this point without the great courage and strength of Mya and Deanna Cook, who as 15-year-old students faced discrimination and abuse from their high school for their hairstyles, and bravely stood up for their rights and those of so many other Black women.”

“This is a classic example, in many respects, of a citizen movement started by a very small number of people in which the right thing to do became clearer and clearer the longer the discussion went on,” Baker said upon signing the bill. “I am very glad that this made its way to our desk by the end of the session. I normally, as everybody knows, don’t comment on legislation that’s pending because it has the nasty tendency to change as it works its way through the process, but I said months ago that I hoped this would make it to my desk and I would be able to sign it, and I’m very glad this is our first post-pandemic signing ceremony.”

Adopt animals used in research — ‘The Beagle Bill’ (S 2992)

The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill that would require research labs to make every effort to offer healthy animals up for adoption by registered non-profit animal rescue organizations rather than euthanizing them when the research is done.

According to supporters, more than 60,000 dogs — almost all beagles — and nearly 20,000 cats are used each year for animal experimentation in the United States to advance scientific research and to test cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and other household products. Many research labs choose to automatically euthanize these cats and dogs once their experiments are over.

“The Senate has repeatedly and steadfastly supported this legislation, which is intended to give research animals an opportunity to be adopted after they have ended their service in research facilities,” said Senate sponsor Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester. “Dogs and other animals involved in research are making tremendous sacrifices to save our lives and make us healthier. It is important to recognize our humane obligation to them because we have a moral imperative to give them the opportunity for better lives when their research involvement is done.”

“We are so thrilled to have this bill enacted after five years of consideration,” said Cara Zipoli of the Beagle Freedom Project. “We look forward to developing partnerships between our research and animal welfare communities to ensure as many dogs and cats find loving homes as possible.”

Negro Election Day (S 2703)

On July 22, Gov. Baker signed into law legislation establishing the third Saturday in July as Negro Election Day. The third Saturday in July this year was July 16, which had already passed by the time Baker signed the bill, so it was not officially Negro Election Day. The Legislature approved and sent the bill to the governor on July 14, just two days ahead of the 16th.

The holiday commemorates a historically important event that has taken place in Massachusetts since the 18th century. It began when enslaved African Americans would hold an election of a king or governor as an act of civic engagement and self-governance. The annual celebration began to take place on the third Saturday of July during World War II when many African Americans were engaged in the war effort.

“This annual celebration demonstrates that our communities of color have always been engaged in our commonwealth’s civic process,” said sponsor Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem. “We must continue to commemorate the meaningful milestones African Americans have contributed to Massachusetts and our nation today and in all the days going forward.”

Poaching (S 2993)

The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker a measure that would regulate poaching — the illegal hunting that harms or kills wildlife including fish, birds, mammals and endangered or threatened species. Other provisions elevate the fines and penalties for poaching; align Massachusetts poaching regulations with other states; and bring Massachusetts into the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, which helps states work together to prevent illegal hunting across state lines.

Supporters said it has been close to 100 years since many of the state’s anti-poaching laws were last updated and noted the absence of action on these laws has resulted in weak, outdated penalties that are just a slap on the wrist.

“This legislation finally brings our laws, fines and penalties in line with other states,” said sponsor Sen. Michael Moore, D-Millbury. “It also brings Massachusetts into the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, a nationwide law enforcement network that allows our wildlife protection agencies to share information about poachers with other states. With the passage of this legislation, Massachusetts is making it clear that we will no longer be a safe haven for those who wish to do harm to our wildlife, marine life and ecosystems.”

Underground railroad museum (H 5096)

The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill creating a special commission to study the creation of an underground railroad, civil rights and black heritage museum in Springfield. The measure says the museum will serve as “a catharsis important to alleviate some of the lingering negative effects of the institution of slavery and the discrimination practiced against African Americans, which had state and federal governmental statutory sanction.” It also notes the bill is designed to enhance regional tourism and attract conferences and conventions to Springfield.

Rep. Bud Williams, D-Springfield, the sponsor of the measure, did not respond to repeated requests from Beacon Hill Roll Call to comment on his bill.


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