Beacon Hill Roll Call: June 29 to July 3, 2020

Published: 7/10/2020 1:09:14 PM
Modified: 7/10/2020 1:09:02 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of June 29 to July 3.

$200 million for
local roads and bridges (H 4803)

The House, 159 to 0, and Senate, 39 to 0, reduced Chapter 90 funding from $300 million to $200 million for the maintenance, repair and improvement of local roads and bridges. The House in March and the Senate in early June approved proposals that included $300 million in Chapter 90 funding for cities and towns’ local roads and bridges. That $300 million was a $100 million increase over last year.

The Senate version of the legislation also established a new seven-member MBTA board of directors to succeed the current Fiscal Management and Control Board. The MBTA board of directors would be responsible for governing and exercising the corporate powers of the MBTA. The Senate version differed from the House version, which does not create a new MBTA board but instead expands the existing Fiscal and Management Control Board.

Last week, the House and Senate reached an agreement to reduce the road and bridge funding to $200 million and to keep the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board in place for another year. That measure is now on Gov. Baker’s desk.

Supporters of the reduction say that, in retrospect, the state cannot afford the extra $100 million while state revenues are down by billions of dollars.

Despite repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call, House Transportation Committee Chair Rep. Bill Strauss, D-Mattapoisett, and Senate Chair Joseph Boncore, D-Winthrop, did not respond when asked to explain why they both championed the original $300 million and then supported the reduction to $200 million.

The Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) expressed mixed feelings.

“On behalf of cities and towns, we are glad that the Chapter 90 bond bill has been enacted, so that communities can access desperately needed funds to repair and rebuild local roadways,” said MMA Executive Director and CEO Geoff Beckwith. “However, our members are understandably disappointed that the funding level remains flat at $200 million, rather than the $300 million amount that representatives and senators voted to support earlier in the process.”

A “Yes” vote is for the $200 million.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Make it easier to vote by mail (H 4820)

The House, 155 to 1, and Senate, 39 to 0, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker 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 prior to the elections. Voters who wish to vote in person are given seven days (from Aug. 22 to Aug. 28) to vote early in the primary and 14 days (from Oct. 17 to Oct. 30) to vote early in the general election. Voters can also choose to vote on election day.

Other provisions provide pre-paid return postage for ballots and applications for ballots; set Aug. 26 as the deadline to apply to early vote by mail in the Sept. 1 primary and Oct. 28 as the deadline to apply to early vote by mail in the Nov. 3 general election; provide for absentee voting by any person taking precaution related to the COVID-19 pandemic; and require Galvin, in conjunction with Department of Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, 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, frequent use of sanitizers and sanitary use of marking pens.

“This bill is essential to the operation and integrity of democracy in the commonwealth during this public health crisis,” said Election Laws Committee House Chair John Lawn, D-Watertown. “In a time where we are witnessing state election actions that are resulting in a disproportionate burden on the voter, Massachusetts must take the lead in providing safe and equitable access to the polls for its citizens. This legislation does just that.”

“The Massachusetts Legislature just adopted a critical election reform package that will help ensure that no citizen has to choose between their health and their right to vote,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause. “The bill embodies best practices from across the country and will help our election system cope with the unprecedented threat of COVID-19.”

“We applaud the House, Senate and governor for firmly moving to brace our elections for COVID-19,” commented Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, executive director of MassVOTE. “Now we need to prepare. This means partnering with local election officials to ensure that they have the tools they need to run our elections this fall and educating voters so they may confidently cast their ballots in September and November.”

Rep. Colleen Garry, D-Dracut, the lone opponent of the bill, did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call to explain why she voted against the measure. Back on June 3, Garry did offer the reason she voted against an earlier version of the bill: “I was very concerned about the manpower needed in the clerk’s offices, especially in the smaller communities like I represent. The expense of the expansion of the mailings and the need for more election personnel on longer early voting days and the possibility of fraud (is why I voted against the bill.) 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

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Racial disparities in maternal mortality (H 4818)

The House, 159 to 0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would create a special 23-member commission to examine and make recommendations to reduce or eliminate racial disparities in the death of mothers before, during and after childbirth.

The commission would look for problems and solutions by examining evidence-based practices, including approaches taken by other states or grassroots organizations to reduce or eliminate racial disparities in maternal mortality; barriers to accessing prenatal and postpartum care, how that care is delivered and the quality of that care; and how historical and current structural, institutional and individual forms of racism, including implicit bias or discrimination, affect the incidence and prevalence of maternal mortality in communities of color.

“Tragically in the commonwealth, black women are twice as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes and have twice the rate of maternal morbidities as white women,” said Rep. Kay Khan, D-Newton, one of the bill’s sponsors. “These inequities are the result of generations of systemic racism in health care. This legislation offers a long overdue opportunity to begin righting this wrong. As leaders in state government, and personally for me as a nurse, I believe it is incumbent upon us to do everything we can to ensure all Massachusetts mothers are healthy and thriving.”

The 23-member commission would include the House and Senate chairs of the Committee on Public Health and members from the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, the Massachusetts Medical Society and the Ellen Story Commission on Postpartum Depression. Others include a midwife, an obstetrician and a gynecologist; two members from a community of color; and a person who has lost an immediate family member to maternal mortality.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

$1.1 billion for COVID-19 response (S 2789)

The Senate, 39 to 0, approved a bill that would provide $1.1 billion to cover expenses related to response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Baker has been urging the Legislature to quickly get a spending bill to his desk because the state cannot be eligible for federal reimbursements for costs related to the pandemic until a package is approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor. The House has approved a different version of the bill and a conference committee will reconcile the two versions.

The package includes $350 million for personal protective equipment, $139 million for rate add-ons for providers, $82 million for child care needs including emergency child care for essential workers, $15 million for essential behavioral health services including services for children, $15 million for food security support, $10 million for grants to community foundations with direct support like housing assistance, and $10 million for wage and benefit support to workers impacted by the pandemic.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Also up on Beacon HillDiMasi is cleared to lobby

A ruling by Superior Court Judge Robert Gordon last week has cleared former House Speaker Sal DiMasi to register as a lobbyist. The ruling overturns a March 2019 ruling by Secretary of State William Galvin that denied DiMasi the right to register as a lobbyist because of his conviction on federal criminal charges of accepting $57,000 in illegal payments in exchange for helping a private company be awarded a state software contract. DiMasi served five years in prison until his compassionate release to fight his throat cancer in 2016.

Galvin’s denial of DiMasi’s application was based on a 2009 law that calls for anyone found to be in violation of state ethics, lobbying or campaign finance laws to be disqualified from lobbying for 10 years. Gordon ruled that the law does not apply to DiMasi because DiMasi’s conviction on federal bribery charges was not cited in the 2009 law.

“We are gratified by today’s decision, which adopts our ‘common-sense construction’ of the Lobbying Law,” said Meredith Fierro, DiMasi’s attorney. “As we have said from the beginning, the secretary did not have authority to disqualify Mr. DiMasi from registering as a lobbyist. Mr. DiMasi looks forward to using his knowledge and experience to advocate for important causes such as health care for the homeless and prison reform.”

Galvin has not given up, however.

“This decision sets a very bad precedent and I will be appealing it,” he said.

Extend the eviction moratorium (HD 5166 and SD 2992)

Reps. Mike Connolly, D-Cambridge, and Kevin Honan, D-Boston, and Sen. Patricia Jehlen, D-Somerville, filed bills last week that would extend the current moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for failure to pay until one year after Gov. Baker lifts the COVID-19 state of emergency. The proposal also freezes rents for the same period of time and creates a fund to aid those unable to pay housing costs due to the pandemic. The current moratorium ends on Aug. 18, and supporters say that without the extension, there could be tens of thousands of tenants evicted.

Jehlen said an estimated 125,000 families are expected to be at risk and argued the extension of the moratorium will save lives.

“The scale of the problem is enormous,” Jehlen said. “The governor is allocating $20 million in federal funds for housing stability, which would not help even half of the 20,000 evictions the housing court expects to be filed when the moratorium ends. Just before it expires, over a million Massachusetts families will lose $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits and will have trouble paying rent.”

“While this Legislature passed the nation’s strongest eviction and foreclosure moratorium back in April, we know that many families are still struggling to pay their rents and mortgages,” Honan said. “A mass number of evictions in August when the moratorium ends will create not just a housing emergency, but a serious public health risk. We must do everything we can to promote housing stability while we continue to ride out this first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Help restaurants (H 4767)

A bill designed to help revive and stimulate the restaurant industry during the COVID-19 pandemic passed in the House by a vote of 156 to 0 more than a month ago on June 3. The Senate has yet to act on the proposal.

The measure would allow restaurants to sell sealed containers of mixed drinks with takeout and delivery orders. A new 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 new law did not include mixed drinks.

The House-approved measure 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 a mixer that have been combined.

“We’re getting feedback, we’re pulling together information and possibly other areas that we may want to add to it, but that is clearly on our radar and we are working on it,” Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, told the State House News Service last week.

“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.”

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. “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 that they will have to charge their customers more or pay their delivery drivers less.

Gov. Baker expressed support for the bill’s passage. He said he did not know why it appears to have stalled out, but attributed the lack of movement to a disagreement of some sort between the branches.

“We supported the restaurant bill when it was originally proposed, and that’s one of those elements I would hope would make it through the process,” Baker said. “In fairness, the Legislature, despite the difficulty of the framework through which they have to operate now, has passed a lot of legislation that’s provided significant support to many businesses and a lot of communities around Massachusetts over the course of the past 90 days or so. But we certainly support the restaurant bill and think it would be a good thing.”

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.

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