Beacon Hill Roll Call: June 13 to June 17, 2022

  • COMERFORD

Published: 6/23/2022 2:39:38 PM
Modified: 6/23/2022 2:39:17 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ and representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of June 13 to June 17.

$350 million for roads, bridges (H 4638)

The House, 155 to 0, and the Senate, 38 to 0, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a $350 million package that includes authorizing $200 million in one-time funding for the maintenance and repair of local roads and bridges across the state to be distributed under the Chapter 90 program.

The 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.

“Chapter 90 provides vital road improvement funding to our communities,” said Sen. John Keenan, the Senate vice chair of the Transportation Committee. “It is my hope that we will get to the point where we can provide a greater amount in a multi-year appropriation so that municipalities, big and small, will be able to more effectively plan.”

Many local officials across the state continue to advocate for additional money, arguing that the cost of repairing roads has increased by up to 40% while the state has kept this funding flat at $200 million for the past 11 years.

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

Election law changes (S 2924)

The House, 126 to 29, and the Senate on a voice vote without a roll call, approved and sent to Gov. Baker a conference committee version of a bill making permanent the mail-in and early voting options used in Massachusetts in 2020 amid the pandemic. The House and Senate approved different versions of the bill and a conference committee hammered out this compromise version, which does not include a section allowing same-day voter registration that was in the Senate version but not in the House one.

The measure requires the secretary of state to send mail-in ballot applications, with return postage, to registered voters before each presidential primary, state primary and biennial state election. It also allows voters to request a mail-in ballot for all elections in a single calendar year.

Other provisions include reducing the registration blackout period from 20 days prior to an election to 10 days; electronic voting options for voters with disabilities and military service members; allowing a voter with disabilities to request accommodations including an accessible electronic ballot application, ballot and voter affidavit that can be submitted electronically; ensuring that non-felons who are incarcerated who are eligible to vote are provided with voting information and materials to exercise their right to vote; and requiring the secretary of state to conduct a comprehensive public awareness campaign to publicize the new voting and registration options.

“I’m proud to see the (bill) pass in the House and make its way to the governor’s desk,” said Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, Senate chair of the Committee on Election Laws and the bill’s co-sponsor. “When more people participate in voting, democracy wins.”

“I am concerned about the amount of money we are spending mailing out mail-in ballot applications when there are plenty of ways a voter can request a mail-in ballot if they want one,” said Rep. Colleen Garry, D-Dracut, the only Democrat to vote against the measure. “I would rather see these funds go to something more productive like free IDs so that everyone has an ID to vote, open bank accounts and get certain medications that require IDs. We are also putting a tremendous amount of work on our town clerks, especially in our smaller communities like in my district.”

“We are thrilled that both the House and Senate have voted in support of the (bill),” said the group MassVOTE. “Even though this version of (the bill) does lack a provision we have long supported — election day registration — we are very glad to see that popular pro-voter policies like mail-in voting, expanded early voting and jail-based voting are included, and will soon become law.”

“As a general rule, we should be promoting voting in person and on election day,” said Paul Craney, spokesperson for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “Anytime a voter loses control of their ballot before it’s given to an election official, it’s possible it could be lost or altered. The postal service cannot guarantee a 100% delivery rate.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Comprehensive behavioral health package (H 4879)

The House, 155 to 0, approved a bill designed to make mental health care more accessible. Provisions include the implementation of the nationwide 988 hotline to access 24/7 suicide prevention and behavioral health crisis services; a public awareness campaign on the state’s red flag laws that limit access to guns for people at risk of hurting themselves or others; creation of online portals that provide access to real-time data on youth and adults seeking mental health and substance use services, including a function that allows health care providers to search for open beds; giving the state additional tools to enforce existing parity laws that are aimed at providing equal benefits for physical and mental health treatment; and requiring insurance coverage of critical behavioral health services.

“Everyone deserves access to quality mental health services, yet far too many people face unnecessary barriers to care,” said Rep. Adrian Madaro, D-East Boston, House chair of the Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery Committee. “For too long, the health care system has not treated behavioral health as equal to physical health, creating obstacles in addressing the mental health crisis, which has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. That’s why this timely piece of legislation makes critical steps toward prioritizing mental health services for people across the commonwealth, including our youth who have been acutely affected.”

The Senate approved its own version of the bill in November. A House-Senate conference committee will likely hammer out a compromised version.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Also up on Beacon HillState of Massachusetts health care

Join the State House News Service and MASSterList for an in-person convening of government and industry leaders on the challenges and opportunities within the state’s health care system on Tuesday, June 28, at Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education (MCLE), 10 Winter Place in Boston. Doors open at 7:30 a.m. for networking and light refreshments, with the program beginning at 8:30 a.m. Sign up at bit.ly/3n8Evhl.

Sales tax holiday

The House and Senate set Saturday, Aug. 13, and Sunday, Aug. 14 as this year’s sales tax holiday weekend. This will allow consumers to buy most products that cost under $2,500 on those two days without paying the 6.25% sales tax.

Supporters of the holiday say it has been in effect for many years, would boost retail sales and consumers would save millions of dollars. They argue that the state’s sales tax revenue loss would be offset by increased revenue from the meals and gas tax revenue generated by shoppers on those two days.

Opponents of the bill say the state cannot afford the up to $30 million estimated revenue loss and argued the holiday actually generates little additional revenue for stores because consumers typically buy the products even without the tax-free days. They say the Legislature should look at broader, deeper tax relief for individuals and businesses and not a tiny tax-free holiday.

Borrow $5 billion for state projects (S 2920)

The Senate approved, on a voice vote without a roll call, a $5 billion bond bill that borrows money for hundreds of construction projects — the majority involving maintenance and modernization projects of buildings related to health care, higher education, information technology, workforce development, the environment and affordable housing. Many of the buildings are decades old. The Senate added millions of dollars during consideration of the package. A key provision imposes a five-year moratorium on any prison or jail construction in Massachusetts.

“We need a five-year pause on new jail and prison construction and prison expansion to ensure that the pathways away from incarceration for women and for men, pathways that the House and Senate helped create, are being justly used and often used,” said Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton.

“This legislation represents the Senate’s commitment to ensuring that our commonwealth’s institutions are modernized while continuing to responsibly steward our state’s fiscal health and strengthening our reputation as a good place to do business,” said Sen. Nick Collins, D-Boston, Senate chair of the Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets.

There were 174 amendments filed by members, many of which were offered by legislators for projects in their own district. Members pitched their amendments behind closed doors. In the end, there was debate on only a few individual amendments while most were bundled into two mega-amendments and approved or rejected on a voice vote without a roll call. The “Yes” mega-amendments included 127 amendments while the “No” ones included 18 amendments.

The House passed its own version of the package on May 19. A House-Senate conference committee will likely hammer out a compromise version that will then be sent to the governor.

Allow driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants (H 4805)

The House and Senate held a ceremonial bill signing for legislation that would allow, starting July 1, 2023, undocumented/illegal immigrants to apply for a Massachusetts standard driver’s license. The governor had vetoed the bill and the House and Senate overrode the veto — making it impossible to hold a signing of the bill by the governor.

The legislation requires an applicant “without legal presence” in the United States to provide the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) with a foreign passport and at least one of five other documents: a driver’s license from another state, a foreign driver’s license, a birth certificate, a foreign national identification card, or a marriage certificate or divorce decree from any U.S. state.

“I cannot sign this legislation because it requires the Registry of Motor Vehicles to issue state credentials to people without the ability to verify their identity,” Baker had said in his veto message. “The registry does not have the expertise or ability to verify the validity of many types of documents from other countries. The bill also fails to include any measures to distinguish standard Massachusetts driver’s licenses issued to persons who demonstrate lawful presence from those who don’t.”

“(This) is a piece of legislation I have been proud to co-lead on since I first entered the Senate,” said Sen. Adam Gomez, D-Springfield. “As a proud Puerto Rican … and the state senator for a district that is rich in diversity, I know that this bill will benefit generations of families across the commonwealth. Our state is rich in culture and has a deep-rooted sense of community. The Senate further affirmed their commitment to protecting all families, regardless of status, by overriding the governor’s veto of this bill and enacting it into law.”

“We are a nation of immigrants, and our commonwealth continues to be profoundly and positively shaped by immigrants from all over the world,” said Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland. “They deserve to be able to safely get to work and school, care for their families and participate in the lives of their communities.”

In the meantime, “Fair and Secure Massachusetts,” a group attempting to repeal the new law, is collecting signatures to put the issue on the November state ballot to let voters decide whether to repeal the law or let it go into effect in July 2023. To get the question on the ballot, supporters must collect 40,120 signatures by Aug. 24.

Sexual assault under false medical representation (H 1661)

The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill that makes it a criminal offense when a medical or health care professional induces a patient to engage in sexual intercourse or touching by falsely representing that the act is necessary for a legitimate medical purpose. The measure adds sections to the existing rape and indecent assault and battery statutes to criminalize behavior by medical professionals where there has been a fraudulent representation of the necessity and propriety of conduct and adds these crimes to the law on the statute of limitations for other sexual assaults.

Supporters said that under existing law the offender cannot be criminally punished.

“I am pleased that my colleagues in the House voted to pass (the bill) as it will establish protections for vulnerable patients and criminalize medical or health care professionals who knowingly and falsely claim sexual contact for a medical purpose,” said sponsor Rep. Kate Hogan, D-Stow. “This legislation provides necessary updates to Massachusetts’ sexual assault laws.”

Massachusetts Coalition of Police (H 2163)

The House gave initial approval to a measure that would allow members of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police to be paid when attending executive board meetings of their group without having to use accrued time off for their absence.

Supporters said that current law allows for members of the Massachusetts Police Association, a fraternal organization, to be excused from duty while attending executive board meetings.

“The Massachusetts Coalition of Police is the largest police union in the commonwealth,” said sponsor Rep. Jessica Giannino, D-Revere. “Currently, (its) executive board members must use accrued time off from their departments to attend executive board meetings. This bill affords the same courtesy as those in other organizations in being excused from duty to conduct this important business.”


Jobs



Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.


Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
 

 

Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy