Beacon Hill Roll Call: June 14 to June 18, 2021

  • Vials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, pictured in South Deerfield. Through the Massachusetts VaxMillions Giveaway, residents ages 18 and older who have received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, will have the opportunity to enter to win one of five $1 million cash prizes. Additionally, fully vaccinated residents between 12 and 17 years of age may enter for the chance to win one of five $300,000 scholarship grants. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Published: 6/24/2021 7:21:05 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on one roll call from the week of June 14-18. there were no roll calls in the Senate last week.

COVID-19 policy extensions (S 2475)

On June 15, the House, by a vote of 150 to 10, and the Senate on a voice vote without a roll call, approved and Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law on June 16, a conference committee version of legislation extending many of the measures instituted in Massachusetts during the COVID-19 state of emergency that expired when the emergency declaration ended at 12:01 a.m. on June 15. The House and Senate had approved different versions and a conference committee hammered out a compromise that addressed some issues and kept others in the conference committee to try to be worked out in the future.

The House approved the extensions on June 15 at 8:52 p.m. and the Senate at 8:54 p.m. Gov. Baker signed the bill into law at 9:40 a.m. on June 16. That means that during the more than 33 hours from 12:01 a.m. on June 15 until 9:40 a.m. on June 16, the extensions had expired and were not in effect.

Provisions include allowing public bodies subject to the Open Meeting Law to continue to hold remote meetings until April 1, 2022; allowing cities and towns to approve and extend permits for outdoor dining through April 1, 2022; allowing restaurants to offer alcoholic beverages, including mixed drinks, for off-site consumption with the purchase of food until May 1, 2022; and extending several protections that have been granted to tenants who experience difficulty paying rent through April 1, 2022.

Other provisions include reinstating until Dec. 15, 2021, the remote option for representative Town Meetings and meetings of nonprofits and public corporations; notary services; reverse-mortgage loan counseling; and flexibility for assisted living residences.

Several other matters were not resolved and remain before the conference committee including a House-approved provision keeping the cap on delivery fees charged to restaurants by third parties like Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats at 15 percent of the order price; a Senate-approved requirement that certain in-network telehealth services be reimbursed at the same rate as equivalent in-person services; and a Senate-approved extension of mail-in voting.

“The extensions provided for in this legislation will help support the commonwealth, as we continue to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, both economically and from a public health standpoint,” said Rep. Joe Wagner, D-Chicopee. “I was proud to have been designated to lead the House’s effort on this issue and am grateful to my colleagues for their efficient collaboration.”

“Although there were many positive aspects of that legislation, it left small property owners in the rental industry unable to evict problem tenants,” said Rep. David DeCoste, R-Norwell, one of the 10 representatives who voted against the measure. “In the current economic climate, the last thing the commonwealth should be doing is retaining policies that discourage property owners from placing their residential rental units on the market. I did not vote for that legislation because those problems were not addressed.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Also up on Beacon Hill Dispute continues over $5.3 billion

The battle over who controls the $5.3 billion in federal money the state received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) continued last week. The Baker administration argues that the governor doesn’t need legislative approval on how to spend the money. The Legislature disagrees and has approved a measure that would segregate the money in a separate fund and give the Legislature control over when and how to spend the money.

Gov. Baker proposed a compromise that would allow him to unilaterally spend $2.8 billion in several areas including housing and homeownership, economic development, job training, workforce development, health care and infrastructure. It would give the Legislature the authority to spend the rest.

Baker’s plan includes $300 million for expanded homeownership opportunities, focused on first-time homebuyers who are residents of disproportionately impacted municipalities; $300 million for senior and veteran housing; $100 for cultural facilities and tourism; $150 million for workforce credentials for entry and mid-level wages; $35 million for English for Speakers of Other Languages programs and Adult Basic Education; $50 million for financially stressed hospitals in disproportionately impacted municipalities; $175 million for addiction treatment and related behavioral health services; $300 million to improve culverts, dams and other environmental infrastructure; $100 million to enhance and modernize state park facilities; and $100 million to close the digital divide and increase broadband internet access,

“Our proposal will immediately invest $2.8 billion toward key priorities that will help jump-start our economic recovery, with a particular focus on those hit hardest by COVID-19, such as communities of color,” Gov. Baker said. “With over 4 million people fully vaccinated, Massachusetts is getting back to normal and back to work, but it is critical that we act now to make these critical investments to keep our recovery moving.”

The House and Senate leadership responded quickly.

“The Legislature has made clear its belief that appropriating American Rescue Plan funding must be done through a transparent and deliberative process,” said Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ron Mariano in a joint written statement. “We appreciate the governor’s spending proposal, but we continue to believe that this once-in-a-generation opportunity demands a thoughtful public vetting. To that end, we will continue to pursue placing these one-time federal dollars, which were intended to be spent over multiple years, into the segregated fund so that we can hear from communities and stakeholders throughout the commonwealth.”

Two weeks ago, Gov. Baker announced that $109.1 million from the fund will be distributed immediately to Chelsea, Everett, Methuen and Randolph. The Legislature didn’t resist the move. The Baker administration said these four communities were among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, but because of shortcomings in the federal ARPA funding formula, were set to receive disproportionately smaller amounts of federal funding compared to other hard-hit communities.

Combat human trafficking (S 1098)

The Judiciary Committee held a hearing on legislation that creates a human trafficking prevention business partnership, chaired by the governor, where participating businesses would adopt a zero-tolerance policy, participate in public awareness efforts, and help identify best practices and resources.

Other provisions include requiring training in identifying and responding to human trafficking for workers in the criminal justice system, court system, K-12 schools and hospitals; mandating public awareness signs with the trafficking hotline to be displayed at every state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) transportation station, rest area and welcome center, adult entertainment and sex-related product facilities, massage and bodywork facilities, nail salons, job recruitment centers, foreign transmittal agencies, hospitals and emergency care providers; prohibiting the temporary release of convicted human traffickers from prison; requiring licensed innholders to provide employees with human trafficking awareness training; and extending the civil statute of limitations for liability from three years to 10 years to provide survivors with adequate time to seek legal recourse against the trafficker.

“There is a perception that human trafficking is a problem that happens somewhere else, but the sad truth is that it does happen here, and we need to do more to stop it,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford. “As the sponsor of the 2011 landmark bill to combat human trafficking, it is an issue I’ve been very passionate to work on and it is deeply disappointing that in the decade since the passage of that legislation, we’ve had complete inaction on the issue on Beacon Hill. That is why I have repeatedly filed this legislation, which combats this pernicious problem by requiring training and information for individuals most likely to come in contact with someone being trafficked, mandating uniform data reporting among law enforcement and public awareness messaging. It also helps survivors of human trafficking to make sure that what they went through does not hold them back.”

Foster children

Two foster care-related bills filed by Rep. Joan Meschino, D-Hull, were part of a hearing by the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. Meschino said she filed the bills to “promote the safety, permanency and well-being of the child over the administrative convenience of the system.”

H 254 requires that siblings who are removed from their home together are placed in the foster care system together, unless the state Department of Children and Families (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 apart.

“This bill makes critical updates that bring the law into better alignment with the significant body of research that demonstrates the many benefits of maintaining kinship bonds and family integrity,” Meschino said.

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 any legal presumptions that particular types of unspecified offenses preclude a person from becoming a foster parent. Meschino said the bill “would not change any exclusions around violent offenses or felonies, which are essential for the protection of children.”

“This legislation remedies the over-disqualification of foster parents, which disproportionately impacts communities of color, and encourages kinship caregivers who can maintain precious racial and cultural connections for vulnerable foster children,” Meschino continued.

Expunge marijuana offenses (S 73)

The Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy held a hearing on a proposal that would allow people with criminal records related to minor marijuana possession offenses that would not be a crime under current law to seek expungement of those records. The measure also requires the state to inform these people that they are eligible to have their records expunged.

“Marijuana legalization in Massachusetts allows adults to possess and use cannabis in modest amounts for recreational use, but many residents, including a disproportionate number of people of color, still bear the burden of a criminal record from pre-legalization minor possession offenses,” said Sen. Jason Lewis, D-Winchester, the Senate sponsor of the proposal. “Massachusetts voters decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2008 and legalized recreational use in 2016, and it’s only fair to clear criminal records from the smallest pre-legalization offenses to help those individuals move forward without a criminal record getting in the way of their employment, housing or educational opportunities.”

2021 sales tax holiday (H 4714)

The House and Senate approved a measure that schedules this year’s sales tax holiday on Saturday, Aug. 14 and Sunday, Aug. 15. The holiday allows consumers to buy most products that cost under $2,500 without paying the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax. A 2018 law directs the Legislature to annually adopt a resolution establishing the date of a sales tax holiday by June 15. It says that if lawmakers fail to adopt the resolution, the Department of Revenue commissioner must designate a date by July 1. The Legislature didn’t approve the measure, choosing Aug. 14 and Aug. 15, until June 17 — two days beyond the deadline.

Beacon Hill Roll Call made repeated attempts to get a comment from legislative leaders of both parties on the tardiness and whether the dates are legitimate because of the missed deadline. No response was received from Senate President Karen Spilka, House Speaker Ron Mariano or House Minority Leader Brad Jones, as well as Sen. Eric Lesser and Rep. Jerald Parisella, the sponsors of the tardy measure.

Only Minority Leader Sen. Bruce Tarr responded.

“Legislative action on this matter was slightly delayed but the date chosen is consistent with the time frame on which the holiday has been in effect for nearly all of its existence,” Tarr wrote. “While the commissioner may have authority in this matter, it would seem that the best approach is consensus rather than confrontation. The administration and the Legislature should be able to agree on a date, and as soon as possible.”

Beacon Hill Roll Call also did not receive a response from the communications office of the Department of Revenue asking whether the commissioner plans to set the date as a result of the missed deadline or to keep the date as established by the Legislature.

A chance at $6.6 million in prizes for fully vaccinated residents

The Baker administration and Treasurer Deb Goldberg announced the Massachusetts VaxMillions Giveaway for residents who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Residents ages 18 and older who have received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, will have the opportunity to enter to win one of five $1 million cash prizes. Additionally, fully vaccinated residents between 12 and 17 years of age may enter for the chance to win one of five $300,000 scholarship grants.

Registration begins July 1. Drawings will be held once a week for five weeks beginning the week of July 26.

“Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from COVID,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “We are hopeful that this new initiative will encourage even more residents to get the COVID vaccine and help return our commonwealth to a new normal.”

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