Beacon Hill Roll Call: June 21 to June 25, 2021

  • COMERFORD

Published: 7/1/2021 3:16:34 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives and senators from the week of June 21 to June 25.

$5.3 billion in COVID-19 federal aid (H 3902)

Last week was another chapter in the ongoing dispute over who controls the $5.3 billion in federal money that Massachusetts received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

The Baker administration argues that the governor doesn’t need legislative approval on how to spend the money. The Legislature disagrees, and a few weeks ago approved a measure that would segregate the money in a separate fund and give the Legislature control over when and how to spend it. Gov. Charlie Baker responded with 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 remainder

Last week, on a strictly party line vote, the House, 30 to 130, and the Senate, 3 to 36, rejected the governor’s amendment.

“The Legislature stands firm in its commitment to employing an open, transparent and thorough public process to best understand how we as a state can make smart investments with these one-time federal dollars to address pressing and long-term needs while promoting a just recovery for all areas of the state,” said House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka in a joint statement. “Therefore, the Legislature will be holding a series of public hearings throughout the summer … with the goal of crafting spending plans directly informed by feedback from constituents and stakeholders, including those representing the areas identified by the governor in his proposal. We will continue to seek input from the governor and expect that he will file additional legislation so that his priorities can be part of that process. We invite the Baker administration to testify in these hearings.”

“While the administration has proposed working with the Legislature to appropriate all of the funds, the administration also remains concerned about holding up these funds with a process that would take years, while the communities that were hit hardest by the pandemic, including communities of color, wait,” said Baker Communications Director Terry MacCormack following the vote.

The original bill now goes back to the governor, who is likely to veto it. Both the House and Senate seem to have the number of votes necessary to override the veto.

A “No” vote is against the governor’s proposal allowing him to spend $2.8 billion.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Paul Mark — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Sen. Joanne Comerford — No

Sen. Anne Gobi — No

Sen. Adam Hinds — No

Legislature control of $4.9 billion, Baker control of $200 million (H 382)

The House, 160 to 0, approved a new version of the bill determining who controls the COVID-19 federal aid. This version would segregate $4.9 billion in a separate fund and give the Legislature control over when and how to spend that amount while giving the governor control over $200 million.

Supporters said this will give the Legislature control over the vast majority of the funds, but allow the governor to respond to any urgent public health and other needs that might require immediate use of the funds prior to the legislative hearings and action.

Rep. Daniel Hunt, D-Dorchester, the co-sponsor of the measure, did not respond to numerous attempts by Beacon Hill Roll Call asking him to comment on his proposal.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

$200 million for roads and bridges (H 3903)

The House, 160 to 0, approved a bill that includes authorizing $200 million in one-time funding for the maintenance and repair of local roads and bridges in cities and towns across the state. The package is a bond bill under which the funding would be borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds.

“The … bill is an important one, as every member knows and our municipal partners know, because it is essentially our unrestricted commitment and assistance to municipalities for local road and bridge repair and maintenance projects that they identify at home and know best how to prioritize,” said Rep. William Straus, D-Mattapoisett, House chair of the Transportation Committee. “There’s really no equivalent program without strings that’s provided in any other state in the country. It’s something we do. We’re not ahead of the pack, we’re the only one in the pack that provides this kind of assistance to our municipalities.”

Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) Executive Director Geoff Beckwith said he is relieved that the bill is moving forward and called it a much-needed first step.

“Communities depend on these funds for critical road repair projects,” Beckwith said. “Ideally, the state will also use a portion of this year’s large state surplus to supplement the $200 million bond bill and put more funding on the street, as it has done in past years to move above $200 million in total funding. MMA estimates that the annual cost of getting and maintaining 30,000 miles of municipal roads into a state of good repair is approximately $600 million, and communities don’t have the resources to get there themselves.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Death benefit for police officers (S 2480)

The Senate, 40 to 0, approved an amendment to a current law that gives a line of duty death benefit to a police officer only if he or she is killed in a vehicular accident or because of an assault by another person. The amendment would provide the benefit to any officer on duty who dies at the scene of an emergency regardless of whether the death is the result of a vehicular accident or an assault.

The amendment is in response to the recent tragic death of Worcester Police Officer Manny Familia who drowned while trying to save 14-year-old Troy Love, who also drowned. If the House approves the bill and the governor signs it, Familia’s family will receive an annual pension equal to the salary had he continued in the position he held at the time of his death.

“I filed this legislation because I view it as a common-sense update to the line of duty death benefits to ensure any officer who dies in the line of duty is eligible for the benefits they earned,” said the amendment’s sponsor Sen. Michael Moore, D-Millbury. “Officer Manny Familia tragically died while heroically trying to save the life of teenager, and it’s only right that his family receive the death benefit that they deserve.”

Sen. Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester, said the amendment will fix an unfair loophole.

“I am thankful that this amendment will ensure that the family of Officer Familia can access the benefits of his pension after he lost his life trying to save another,” Chandler said. “I am grateful for Officer Familia’s service to the city of Worcester, and I keep his family in my thoughts and prayers.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Also up on Beacon Hill Two-month sales tax holiday in July and August

Gov. Baker proposed a full two-month sales tax holiday during July and August this summer, during which consumers can buy most products that cost under $2,500 without paying the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax.

“A two-month sales tax holiday will provide a boost to Massachusetts’ taxpayers and Main Street economies as we continue to recover from COVID-19,” Baker said. “Massachusetts’ economic recovery is off to a good start, but it’s crucial that the commonwealth takes action now to spur more economic activity in communities and support taxpayers. Thanks to stronger-than-expected tax revenues, the commonwealth has managed to grow the Rainy Day Fund to a balance higher than it was at the beginning of the pandemic, and we can also afford to return these tax dollars to our residents and small businesses.”

Senate President Karen Spilka’s response virtually ensures that the proposal will be dead on arrival in the Legislature.

“We did do a weekend of sales tax holiday and I think that is sufficient for now,” Spilka said. “There’s a lot of need in the state.”

“Gov. Baker’s proposal to return some of taxpayers’ overpayment, considering the historic hardships imposed on citizens over the past 15 months, is proper and compassionate,” said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation (CLT). “The usual resistance to even this small tax relief proposal when the state finds itself awash in an unexpected $4 billion-plus revenue surplus and $5 billion-plus in additional federal grants, every cent provided by taxpayers, is shameful and demonstrates why we’ve always asserted at CLT: ‘More is never enough and never will be.’”

“Whether it’s investing in child care, emerging workforce needs, K-12 education, public health or families in need, there are no shortage of ways to responsibly invest to support an equitable economic recovery, however a short-term political gimmick is not one of them,” said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Sen. Mike Rodrigues, D-Westport.

“A two-month sales tax holiday is a smart, exciting and progressive economic incentive that will benefit our small businesses and our consumers just when they need it,” said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. “Consumers represent 70 percent of our economy, and it is important that we incent them to invest in our Main Streets, small businesses and communities. And for our lower-income families, this tax cut is all about temporarily suspending the most regressive tax on the books, just as their children are heading back to school.”

“We’ve learned from living through this pandemic that there are deep inequities in our state,” said Cindy Rowe, executive director of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action. “People are hungry, kids need public education, workers need reliable transportation. The people of Massachusetts are far wiser and more compassionate than our governor gives them credit for being. They know that using these federal tax dollars to invest in our greatest needs is far better and more compassionate than a two-month tax holiday. Let’s live up to our better selves and make this federal investment count.”

Healthy and green public schools (S 1382)

The Committee on Public Health held a hearing on legislation that would require the state to provide an assessment of the extent to which the state’s K-12 public school buildings provide students a healthy environment that is conducive to learning while efficiently using energy and limiting exposure to toxic building materials. The state would also develop standards for healthy and green schools and a plan for all schools to meet the standards by 2050, including protection against infectious disease; healthy indoor air quality and sufficient ventilation and air circulation; adequate availability of clean and safe water and water fountains; appropriate thermal comfort, humidity and temperature controls; appropriate artificial lighting and plentiful natural light; proper acoustic and noise control; and opportunities to shift to fossil-free fuels.

“Most school buildings in Massachusetts are over 50 years old, and many don’t comply with modern standards to protect students from toxins and other dangerous materials,” said sponsor Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton. “They also don’t provide adequate fresh air, clean water or other necessities for good learning. Tragically, schools serving low-income communities and people of color are more likely to be the least healthy. My bill directs the state to see where improvements are needed and set a plan so all students can learn in healthy environments where they can succeed.”

Allow lottery to be played online (H 36)

The Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee held a hearing on a measure that would authorize the Massachusetts Lottery to design, implement and regulate an online Lottery and establish rules and regulations to protect consumers including age verification measures to ensure players are at least 18 years old; limits of tickets that can be sold online; and procedures to allow players to voluntarily prohibit themselves from playing the Lottery online.

“The pandemic has highlighted the necessity of online and mobile services,” said State Treasurer Deb Goldberg, the sponsor of the proposal. “States that have launched online lottery programs have had incredible success. Allowing the Lottery to modernize and to compete in a rapidly evolving digital marketplace will enhance our ability to deliver unrestricted local aid to every community throughout the state, particularly relevant at a time when their resources are consistently spread thin.”

“During the pandemic, society saw an acceleration in the shift of consumer behaviors toward online and cashless transactions, as well as a dramatic increase in delivery and curbside pick-up orders that don’t require consumers to step foot in a store, including traditional Lottery retail locations such as supermarkets and restaurants,” said Lottery Executive Director Michael Sweeney. “While these developments were necessitated by the pandemic, they are likely to have a permanent impact on consumers. In order to have continued success, the Lottery must be able to adjust to today’s technology and to consumers expectations.”

Privacy of lottery winners (S 223)

The Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee’s hearing also included a proposal that would allow Lottery winners to request that their name, address and other identifying information not be disclosed by the Lottery Commission. It also requires the Lottery Commission to inform a winning ticket holder of their right not to have their personal information disclosed to the public.

“Allowing Lottery winners to opt-in to concealing information, such as their name and address, will prevent unwarranted attention or harm that may result after winning the award,” said sponsor Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford. “There are many exceptions to our public records laws, all of which are to protect the safety of the individuals involved. Although publishing winner information has been cited as a means to ensure transparency and public interest in the lottery program, the commonwealth should not undermine personal privacy and the safety of residents in the process.”

Sweeney opposes the bill.

“Providing a public record of winners is important to the integrity and public trust in our games, assuring the public that prizes are being awarded in a transparent manner,” he said.

Ban single-use plastics (S 579)

The Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture held a hearing on legislation that would ban single-use plastics including plastic water bottles, bags, straws, nips, polystyrene cups, take-out containers and hotel toiletries.

“Single-use plastics are a major source of litter and environmental harm, particularly for marine ecosystems,” said sponsor Sen. Jason Lewis, D-Winchester. “They increase waste disposal costs for our municipalities and also represent a threat to public health. This legislation includes a variety of measures that have already been adopted by many cities and towns in the commonwealth in order to reduce the amount of single-use plastics in our environment and replace them with readily available and more sustainable alternatives.”

“On plastic bags, our members support the effort to reduce the amount of plastic and paper bags we are using today,” said Bill Rennie, vice president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. “With over 140 local bag ordinances now in place, it is likely time for a uniform state standard. Our members’ No. 1 ask of any statewide bag bill is that it is just that — a statewide standard. Any bill must include strong statewide preemption, not allowing municipalities to deviate from the state law.

“Our members do oppose the broader call in the bill to ban a laundry list of single-use plastic products,” Rennie continued. “Rather, we urge the Legislature to look to ways where the state can build partnerships to expand education around efforts to reduce our overall usage of plastics and single use items. The customer is always going to be the one to make the choice, but we can educate better as a commonwealth around how to make those choices.”


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