Beacon Hill Roll Call: June 1 to June 5, 2020

Published: 6/12/2020 1:55:04 PM
Modified: 6/12/2020 1:54:49 PM

The House and Senate continued to hold remote sessions with just a few members in the chambers to avoid spreading COVID-19. Most members listened to the debates from their homes or business offices through their computers, and voted via phone.

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on roll calls for the week of June 1 to June 5. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.

Help restaurants (H 4767)

House, 156 to 0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill designed to help revive and stimulate the restaurant industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. The measure 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 does not include mixed drinks.

The proposal requires orders for cocktails to be placed by midnight, or earlier if the establishment closes before then. 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.

“In Massachusetts, we have seen countless small, local restaurants and pubs adversely impacted by COVID-19, with mom-and-pop establishments fearful that in addition to layoffs and lost revenue, they will not be able to reopen their doors following the shutdown,” said Sen. DiZoglio, who filed a separate bill (detailed below) to allow the delivery of mixed drinks. “The sale of to-go mixed drinks during this time would generate critical revenue, helping to alleviate the burden that restaurants in our communities are feeling and supporting them in their efforts to retain employees and pay rent and taxes. It is time for Massachusetts to step it up and join the 34 states that have already adopted these measures.”

“Restaurants are among the hardest, if not the most impacted businesses by the coronavirus shutdown,” said Steve Clark, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Restaurant Association (MRA). “Allowing mixed drinks to-go is another tool for restaurants to attempt to increase revenue opportunities. We hope Massachusetts joins the other neighboring states in authorizing this legislation. There is just something about a professionally made cocktail that can’t be replicated at home.”

Another key provision would cap delivery fees by third parties like GrubHub, DoorDash and Uber Eats at 15 percent of the order price until 45 days after the COVID-19 state of emergency ends. When the pandemic struck, many restaurants were not equipped to offer online ordering or delivery, and are forced to rely heavily on these delivery companies.

“Third party delivery companies have been a source of frustration for our industry, with reports of these platforms charging up to a 30 percent commission on individual orders,” Clark said. “Due to the current situation, regulating the transparency of these platforms is more important than ever. As restaurants look for new ways to survive with increased takeout and delivery, third party delivery companies will play a prominent role. That prominent role will need increased regulation to ensure transparency and fairness for all who utilize these platforms.”

The delivery companies argue that arbitrarily limiting fees to 15 percent is unfair. They said the cap will mean they will have to charge their customers more or pay their delivery drivers less.

The measure also allows cities and towns to authorize some changes to state licensing and local zoning procedures to make it easier and faster for restaurants to open outdoor seating. Another provision would temporarily waive late fees for any restaurants that are behind on paying the revenue from the meals tax to the state.

A “Yes” is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Help city and town governments (H 4777)

House, 156 to 0, Senate on a voice vote without a roll call, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a bill that would lower the number of voters needed at an open Town Meeting to have a quorum. Other provisions include allowing representative Town Meetings to be held online and allowing towns to hold a Town Meeting outside the geographic limits of the town if the Selectboard determines it is not possible to conduct Town Meeting within the geographic limits of the town in a manner that ensures health and safety.

Another key section allows a mayor who is unable to submit an annual budget for fiscal year 2021 to the City Council within 170 days after his or her inauguration to submit the budget to the City Council within 30 days after the termination of the governor’s declaration of emergency, or on July 31, whichever is earlier.

Supporters said it is essential to provide municipalities with the flexibility they need to run their government. They said the bill would allow cities and towns to function while still being fiscally responsible and maintaining the health and safety of voters.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Make it easier to vote by mail (H 4768)

House, 155 to 1, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would direct Secretary of State William Galvin to send applications for a mail-in ballot to every registered voter by July 15 for the Sept. 1 primary and by Sept. 14 for the Nov. 3 general election. The bill also includes expanded in-person early voting options for voters prior to the elections.

Other provisions include a reduction from 20 to 10 in the number of days before the date of the election that a person must register to vote; allowing local election officials to process mail ballots before election day in a central location; providing return postage for ballots and applications for ballots; setting Aug. 25 as the deadline to apply to early vote by mail in the Sept. 1 primary and Oct. 27 as the deadline to apply to early vote by mail in the Nov. 3 general election; providing for electronic signature and submission of early voting by mail applications; providing for absentee voting by any person taking precaution related to COVID-19; and requiring Secretary of State William Galvin in conjunction with the commissioner of the Department of Public Health to establish emergency regulations requiring public health safeguards for in-person voting, including social distancing of voters and election officers, face coverings and personal protective equipment.

“COVID-19 presents unprecedented challenges to our election administration in the commonwealth,” said Election Laws Committee Chair John Lawn, D-Watertown. “We have worked closely with legislators, advocates, city and town clerks and various stakeholders to draft bipartisan legislation that will protect both the health and safety of our voters and the integrity of our democracy by ensuring that all voices are heard.”

“Today the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed by a nearly unanimous vote a very strong reform to our election laws,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause, which has fought hard for the bill. “The legislation will allow every voter who wants to vote from the safety of his or her own home (the ability) to do so. The House has recognized the urgency of passing legislation to help protect our fall elections and moved quickly to help keep voters safe.”

“We applaud the House for swiftly passing ... the bill, with the included amendments (that) introduces robust reforms that strengthen our elections in light of COVID-19, and deserve to be permanently implemented moving forward,” said Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, executive director of MassVOTE.

Rep. Colleen Garry, D-Dracut, the lone opponent of the bill, spoke to her concern about the manpower needed in the clerk’s offices, especially in smaller communities.

“The expense of the expansion of the mailings and the need for more elections personnel on longer early voting days and the possibility of fraud (is why I voted against the bill),” Garry explained. “I heard loudly from my constituents that they did not agree with this proposal.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

More time to register to vote (H 4768)

House, 144 to 12, approved an amendment that would shorten the voter registration blackout period for the 2020 elections by reducing from 20 to 10 the number of days before the date of the election that a person must register to vote.

“The goals of (the bill) is to make voting as accessible and as safe for all in the midst of COVID-19,” said Rep. Patricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, the sponsor of the amendment. By closing this blackout period, we have taken an incremental, but important step in making voting more accessible. Twenty days is much too long. It is our hope that the 10-day cutoff is made permanent; and/or what would be much better: we achieve our goal of election day registration.”

Opponents offered no arguments on the House floor. There was no response from several of the amendment’s opponents despite repeated attempts by Beacon Hill Roll Call to get a statement regarding why they voted against the amendment.

A “Yes” vote is for reducing the days to 10.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Election day registration (H 4768)

House, 16 to 139, rejected an amendment that would allow voters to register to vote at the polls on election day. Under current law, a person must register at least 20 days before the date of the election.

“Election day voter registration is the ultimate way to ensure that every voter is enfranchised,” said the amendment’s sponsor Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton. “It falls to the Legislature to make voting as easy and accessible as possible to as many as possible, particularly our constituents who spend more time worrying about how they are going to pay their bills than if their voter registration is up-to-date or turned in. The need and the urgency for us to make things as easy and straightforward for the average person has never been more pressing than in the era of COVID-19.”

“I spoke with the clerks several times throughout the bill drafting process to understand their needs and provide solutions that will make the 2020 elections fair and safe for everyone,” said Election Laws Committee Chair John Lawn, D-Watertown. “We believe that the final bill does just that and, overwhelmingly, my colleagues agree. While considering the new technology that clerks will be using, the great increase in processing mail-in ballots and our heavy reliance on senior poll workers, we feel that election day registration would be an added stress and may lead to potentially longer lines at the polls, making it more challenging to keep our voters and election officials healthy and safe.”

A “Yes” vote is for allowing people to register on election day. A “No” is against it.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Also up on Beacon Hill Most House and Senate incumbents are unchallenged

Despite the serious times and the state facing several crises, a total of 125 incumbent Republican and Democratic legislators will face no major party challenger in either the Sept. 1 primary election or the Nov. 3 general election. That means that 62.5 percent of the 200 legislative seats, (160 in the House and 40 in the Senate) will likely go to the incumbent. The only way an incumbent could lose his or her seat would be in the handful of districts in which a third-party candidate is running, or a candidate mounts a write-in campaign.

Sixty seats — 48 in the House and 12 in the Senate — will feature major party competition in either the primary or general election or both. The remaining 15 seats are open races with no incumbent because the occupant chose not to run for re-election.

Currently the House membership includes 125 Democrats, 31 Republicans and one unenrolled. The Senate is made up of 36 Democrats and four Republicans.

Front-line health workers (H 4749)

The Labor and Workforce Development Committee accepted written and video testimony on a bill that would create a legal presumption that any COVID-19 diagnosis of a front-line health worker is work-related. These front-line workers include emergency medical technicians, emergency room and urgent care medical personnel, and emergency room and urgent care non-medical staff.

“I filed this bill to ensure that front-line health workers do not get denied workers’ comp,” said Rep. Chris Hendricks, D-New Bedford, the sponsor of the measure. “This bill creates a legal presumption that any COVID-19 diagnosis with these folks is work-related. This would ease their burden while pursuing workers’ compensation, which would provide immediate wage relief and medical care.”

Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) weighs in

The seven justices of the state’s SJC penned an open letter to members of the judiciary and attorneys across the state. Here are some excerpts:

“The events of the last few months have reminded us of what African-Americans know all too well: that too often, by too many, black lives are not treated with the dignity and respect accorded to white lives. As judges and as lawyers, we are both saddened and angry at the confluence of recent events that have revealed how much more we need to do to create a just, fair and peaceful society.

But we must do more than express our feelings of sadness and anger. As judges, we must look afresh at what we are doing, or failing to do, to root out any conscious and unconscious bias in our courtrooms; to ensure that the justice provided to African-Americans is the same that is provided to white Americans; to create in our courtrooms, our corner of the world, a place where all are truly equal.

As lawyers, we must also look at what we are doing, or failing to do, to provide legal assistance to those who cannot afford it; to diminish the economic and environmental inequalities arising from race; and to ensure that our law offices not only hire attorneys of color, but also truly welcome them into the legal community.

And, as members of the legal community, we need to reexamine why, too often, our criminal justice system fails to treat African-Americans the same as white Americans and recommit ourselves to the systemic change needed to make equality under the law an enduring reality for all.

Perhaps most importantly, it is a time for solidarity and fellowship with African-American judges and attorneys, to acknowledge their pain, to hear about the conversations they now have with their children, and to stand together when others may try to divide us.”

Allow restaurants to sell hard liquor (S 2740)

A bill filed last week by Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, would allow restaurants to sell sealed containers of mixed drinks with takeout and delivery orders. The proposal requires orders for cocktails to be placed by midnight, or earlier if the establishment closes before then. The measure defines mixed drinks as a drink sealed in a container holding between 4 and 64 fluid ounces of liquor and mixer that have been combined.

Several days before the bill was filed, Baker was asked if he would support a bill allowing “to-go cocktails.”

“Anything beyond (the beer and wine law) would require legislation, and I don’t think there’s anything pending on that at this point,” he said.

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