Beacon Hill Roll Call: July 5 to July 9, 2021

Published: 7/15/2021 2:59:11 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives and senators from the week of July 5 to July 9.

The House and Senate approved a $48.1 billion fiscal year 2022 budget. The House also approved a new set of rules under which the House will operate beginning Oct. 1.

$48.1 billion budget (H 4002)

The House, 160 to 0, and the Senate, 40 to 0, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a compromise version of a $48.1 billion fiscal year 2022 state budget. The House and Senate had approved different versions of the budget and a six-member conference committee hammered out a compromise version. Since fiscal year 2022 began on July 1, the state has been operating on a temporary one-month budget approved by the Legislature and the governor.

The budget is based on new estimates that tax collections in fiscal year 2022 will increase by more than $4.2 billion above the amount originally predicted by the governor, the House and the Senate a few months ago. In light of the pandemic, elected officials had for months braced themselves for a substantial decrease in tax revenues and a cut in some programs and/or even a tax increase.

The new estimates also led to the conference committee’s cancellation of a planned withdrawal from the state’s Rainy Day Fund of at least $1.5 billion. Officials also project a $1.1 billion deposit into the fund that will drive its balance to $5.8 billion by the end of fiscal year 2022. It also cancels a plan to raise fees on Uber and Lyft rides to generate new money for cities and towns, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and other infrastructure projects.

Other provisions include a $350 million fund that could be used in future years to help cover the cost of the $1.5 billion school funding reform law passed in 2019; permanently extending the state’s tax credit for film production companies in Massachusetts; and a new law that will provide victims of violent crime and human trafficking enhanced protections. That provision is based on a bill filed by Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford.

Although she ultimately voted for the budget, Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, said during the debate on the Senate floor that she objected to the fact that legislators were given only a few hours to read the 434-page bill before voting on it. The budget was released late Thursday night and was voted on Friday afternoon.

DiZoglio said that positioning members to take a vote on something they did not get adequate time to review is not acceptable.

“If we keep doing this over and over again, it’s not going to magically become acceptable,” she said. “The fact that we didn’t get even a day to review this is very disappointing. But what’s more disappointing … is the fact that those in our communities who have a stake in what happens in the bill before us, those it will impact most — our schools, our elderly populations, those who are coming from positions of powerlessness — those folks, probably many of them, still don’t even know that we’re taking this bill up today. And yet we continue to call what happens in this chamber part of the democratic process.”

A “Yes” vote is for the budget.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Adopt new House rules (H 3930)

The House, 129 to 29, approved a set of new House rules that will go into effect on Oct. 1. Until then, the House will continue to operate under the emergency COVID-19 rules it adopted last year.

The new rules package includes requiring both formal and informal sessions of the House to be livestreamed; giving House committee chairs the ability to allow for both in-person and virtual hearing testimony from the public; allowing any member serving on active reserve military duty to cast a House vote remotely; and requiring committees to publish names of representatives who vote against advancing a bill through committee but not the names of legislators who vote in favor of or do not vote on the matter.

“The challenges over the last 14 months have made us work and function differently,” said House Rules Committee Chair Rep. Bill Galvin, D-Canton, during debate on the House floor. “This experience has shown us a new way to operate and to utilize technology, both procedurally and administratively. As we emerge from the worst of the pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to incorporate lessons learned, thereby providing for a more efficient, flexible and accessible legislative process.”

House GOP Minority Leader Rep. Brad Jones, R-North Reading, said the few changes do not go far enough: “I offered multiple amendments to help shed more light on the way the House of Representatives and its committees conduct their business, but those amendments were struck down, leaving me with no choice but to reject the underlying rules package.”

A Yes” vote is for the House rules package.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Term limits for speaker of the House (H 3930)

The House, 35 to 125, rejected an amendment that would reinstate a 2009 rule that prohibited any representative from serving as speaker of the House for more than eight consecutive years. The rule was repealed in 2015.

“Instituting term limits is about putting in place the guardrails to help ensure a more democratic and responsive House,” said amendment sponsor Rep. Tami Gouveia, D-Acton. “One that fosters fair and thoughtful competition required of a strong democratic entity. It is important to so many of our constituents across the state that we bring diverse and distinct experiences, identities and geographic representations to the table and I believe that term limits for the speaker will help us do this more effectively.”

“While I appreciate different ideas to continuously improve our Legislature, I do not support term limits,” said Rep. Jim O’Day, D-West Boylston. “Term limits can place the House at a severe disadvantage during negotiations with the governor and other officials, which is not beneficial for advancing legislation or for our districts.”

A “No” vote is against term limits.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Paul Mark — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Allow members two hours to vote in committee (H 3930)

The House, 35 to 124, rejected an amendment that would give legislators two hours to vote electronically when casting a vote on a bill in committee.

“Members are often given very little time to respond to committee polls, even when the poll involves multiple bills and complicated issues,” said sponsor GOP House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading. “One of the more glaring examples … was a recent House Ways and Means poll that gave members just 16 minutes to review a 38-page supplemental budget and a separate election reprecincting proposal. That is simply not enough time to properly review and understand these bills.”

“The Republican caucus has consistently pushed for greater transparency during the rules debate of the House because the more information the public has access to the better,” said Rep. Todd Smola, R-Warren. “Having a two-hour window to read and comprehend legislation before it is voted out of committee is not asking for the world. This would help members digest bills and make informed decisions on what is before the House. Poll windows continue to shrink, and this practice contributes to the lack of transparent government for the people’s elected representatives.”

A “No” vote is against giving two hours to vote.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Paul Mark — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Post how representatives voted on bills in committee (H 3930)

The House, 38 to 121, and 41 to 117, rejected two similar amendments that would require that committees make public how each legislator on the committee voted on whether to favorably report a bill to the House. This would replace a section of the proposed rules that would only post the names of legislators who voted against the bill and list the aggregate vote tally without names, of members voting in the affirmative or not voting.

“The public has a right to know where their legislators stand on the issues being debated in committee, and it makes absolutely no sense to identify by name only those members who vote ‘no’ at an executive session or on a poll,” said Rep. Brad Jones, R-North Reading, sponsor of one of the amendments. “When we vote in the House chamber, our individual votes are displayed for all to see, and legislative committees should be held to the same standard by providing full disclosure of where each member stands on a given issue.”

“I believe every resident of Massachusetts has the right to hold their elected state representative accountable,” said Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven, D-Somerville, the sponsor of the other amendment. “Under current rules, there is no accountability on the votes we take in committee. This amendment ensures that every vote taken in committee is available to the public, including when bills are sent to study.”

Rep. Joe Wagner, D-Chicopee, opposed the listing of which representatives vote yes or did not vote.

“The names of those voting in the negative being there for everyone to see is sufficient in terms of transparency,” Wagner said during the debate on the House floor. “I’ve chaired committees for about 20 years, and I have always been concerned that when we take votes in committee, the votes that we take to advance legislation do not reflect necessarily, when an affirmative vote is taken, the support for the matter as it is before the committee.”

Both roll calls are listed. On both roll calls, a “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against it.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No/No

Rep. Paul Mark — No/No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No/No

Extend the emergency rules for COVID-19 (H 3929)

The House, 130 to 30, approved a measure that would extend until Oct. 1, the emergency rules under which the House has been operating since the COVID-19 pandemic began. There was no debate on the proposal.

House Speaker Ron Mariano, D-Quincy, told reporters his team wanted to keep temporary rules in place “until we were sure the pandemic was over.”

“The House of Representatives has been operating under emergency rules throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in response to the many public health and safety issues surrounding the coronavirus, and those temporary rules should be allowed to expire as planned on July 15,” Rep. Brad Jones told Beacon Hill Roll Call. “Now that more than 4 million Massachusetts residents are fully vaccinated, and the rest of the state has opened up, I cannot see any valid reason why the House should continue to operate under a different standard than the rest of the commonwealth.”

A “Yes” vote is for extending the emergency rules.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Also up on Beacon HillState must consider cultural, racial and religious identity of a child (H 255)

The Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities held a hearing on a bill that would require the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the courts to consider the cultural, racial, ethnic, religious and linguistic identity of a child when assessing where and with whom the child should live and other matters.

“This is one of a suite of bills aimed at promoting the safety, permanency and well-being of the child over the administrative convenience of the system,” said sponsor Rep. Joan Meschino, D-Hull.

Another measure (H 254) proposed by Meschino would require that siblings who are removed from their home together be placed in the foster care system together, unless the DCF can show clear and convincing evidence that it is in the best interest of at least one of the children for the siblings to be placed apart.

Her bill H 256 requires that minor, non-violent offenses committed more than five years before a person applies to become a foster parent be presumed irrelevant to the person’s application and prohibits DCF from establishing legal presumptions that particular types of unspecified offenses preclude a person from becoming a foster parent.

Help military families transferring to Massachusetts (S 2429)

The Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee held a hearing on a proposal to improve professional license portability for military personnel and their spouses who move to Massachusetts so they can continue their civilian careers and provide for their families without interruption.

Other provisions create the designation of public schools as “purple star” campuses to recognize a school’s commitment to helping military children with school transition and creating programs to recognize the value of military service and civic responsibility; create an easy transition process for students who will be relocated as a result of a parent’s military order, by allowing for remote registration in school; and guarantee continuity for in-state tuition rates for courses in higher education for members of the armed forces and their dependents.

“As the former chairman of the Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, and after working extensively with the Massachusetts National Guard, the Military Asset Task Force and others, it became clear that there were a number of areas we could improve upon in the commonwealth to better support members of the U.S. Armed Forces and military families,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Walter Timilty, D-Milton. “When military orders are issued and service members, along with their families, are relocated, it’s a trying time of adjustment for the whole family. We want our military families to know that Massachusetts fully supports their integration into the commonwealth.”

High school athletics (S 334)

The Education Committee held a hearing on a measure designed to prevent discrimination in interscholastic athletic and extracurricular activities in the state’s high schools. Currently, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) does not allow students over the age of 18 to play in interscholastic athletics.

Supporters of the bill explained that while most high school students graduate by the time they turn 18, there are some, particularly those on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), who do not finish school when they turn 18. An IEP is a plan developed to ensure that a student with an identified disability receives specialized instruction and related services.

“All students, regardless of academic ability, should be allowed to participate in interscholastic sports,” said sponsor Sen. Ryan Fattman, R-Sutton. “This bill will ensure greater access to those sports for students on IEPs.”


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