Beacon Hill Roll Call: June 6 to June 10, 2022

  • COMERFORD

  • Some marijuana buds, pictured at Silver Therapeutics in Orange. A bill that would add Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and opioid use disorder to the current list of conditions for which a doctor could prescribe medical marijuana is stuck in the Committee on Health Care Financing, which gave it a favorable report on March 24. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Published: 6/16/2022 1:48:30 PM
Modified: 6/16/2022 1:46:15 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ and representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of June 6 to June 10.

Legislature overrides veto of bill allowing driver’s licenses for undocumented/illegal immigrants (H 4805)

The House, 119 to 36, and the Senate, 32 to 8, gained the two-thirds vote necessary to override Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto of legislation that would allow, starting July 1, 2023, undocumented/illegal immigrants to apply for a Massachusetts driver’s license.

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.”

“By making driver’s licenses accessible to individuals regardless of immigration status, Massachusetts will take a strong step to both strengthen our economy and strengthen relations between immigrants and law enforcement,” said Elizabeth Sweet, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.

“This is a victory for all, making our roads safer and allowing the 185,000 immigrants without status the ability to earn a driver’s license,” said sponsor Sen. Brendan Crighton, D-Lynn. “No one should fear deportation over essential everyday tasks, such as getting to work, school, doctor’s appointments and grocery stores.”

“We all know the many issues our commonwealth’s RMV has had,” said Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield, an opponent of the proposal. “Just this week it was announced that 53,000 licenses sent out were missing a key fraud protection feature and will need to be replaced. My vote has nothing to do with immigration and has everything to do with the enormous ask we are making on an already underfunded and understaffed RMV. I remain concerned that RMV employees will now be tasked with reviewing hundreds of additional foreign documents, in hundreds of different languages and formats, without any additional funding or training.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — No

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Election law changes (S 2924)

The Senate, 37 to 3, approved and sent to the House a conference committee version of a bill making permanent the mail-in and early voting options used in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The House and Senate had approved different versions of the bill and a conference committee hammered out a compromise version, which did not include the 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 out mail-in ballot applications, with return postage, to registered voters before each presidential primary, state primary and biennial state election. It also allows registered 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 currently eligible to vote are provided with voting information and materials to exercise their right to vote; mandating that felons who are incarcerated but prohibited from voting are notified of their right to vote upon release and given the opportunity to fill out a voter registration form; and requiring the secretary of state to conduct a comprehensive public awareness campaign to publicize the new voting and registration options.

“This landmark election reform bill will empower voters and strengthen our democracy,” said Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, Senate chair of the Committee on Election Laws and the co-sponsor of the bill. “In 2020, mail-in and early voting options helped generate record-breaking turnout. It is now time to build on this progress and enact long-lasting voting reforms.”

“I am so proud that at a time when access to the ballot is under attack in states nationwide, Massachusetts is passing landmark voting reforms to permanently enshrine expansions to voting access in statute and further underscore the commonwealth’s commitment to ensuring all eligible voters can exercise their right to vote,” said Senate Majority Leader Sen. Cindy Creem, D-Newton. “Although I am disappointed same-day registration was not included in the final bill, even with the Senate offering multiple compromise approaches, I will continue to push for its passage and plan to file legislation on the subject going forward.”

Opponents say the bill goes too far and does not provide sufficient safeguards to protect the integrity of the voting process. They argued that universal mail-in voting was designed solely to protect voters during the pandemic. They argued that continuing this forever would cost far too much for smaller towns.

Despite repeated attempts by Beacon Hill Roll Call, none of the three Republican senators who voted against the bill responded to requests for a comment on why they voted “No.” They are: Sens. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, Ryan Fattman, R-Sutton, and Patrick O’Connor, R-Weymouth.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Require certification for technicians who sterilize, maintain surgical equipment (S 2913)

The Senate, 39 to 0, approved and sent to the House a measure that requires standardized certification of an estimated 1,800 Massachusetts hospital technicians who are responsible for ensuring that surgical instruments are safe and sanitary to protect patients from possible infection. The measure also requires the technicians to complete an annual continuing education curriculum. It was filed as a response to several high-profile incidents across the state in which surgical tools used in operations on patients may have been improperly disinfected.

Supporters said technicians are currently allowed to work with a high school diploma or equivalent degree and without additional relevant training, despite being required to keep up to date with the latest practices for more than 37,000 different surgical instruments.

“As a world leader in the health care industry, Massachusetts must maintain the highest standards of patient safety,” said sponsor Sen. Mike Rush, D-West Roxbury. “I’m proud of the work my colleagues in the Senate and I have done today to protect the citizens of the commonwealth as well as those who come from around the globe to seek treatment.”

“(These) technicians play an unseen but vital role for patients undergoing surgery,” said Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, Senate chair of the Committee on Public Health. “They are responsible for ensuring that equipment and instruments used during surgical procedures are properly decontaminated, cleaned, inspected and sterilized prior to patient use. Every day, thousands of Bay Staters rely on them doing their job with perfection.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Also up on Beacon Hill$350 million for roads, bridges (H 4638)

The Senate approved a House-approved $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 formula. Only final House and Senate approval are needed prior to the measure going to the governor.

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, better public transit, electric vehicles and other state transportation projects.

“The commonwealth’s overall transportation system relies on the health of our roads, bridges and other critical infrastructure,” said Sen. Brendan Crighton, D-Lynn, chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation. “The bill … represents a $350 million investment that will help cities and towns make the improvements they need so that residents can travel safely and efficiently.”

Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, is one of the biggest advocates for increased Chapter 90 funding.

“With the local road construction season underway, passage of the Chapter 90 bond bill is an important priority so that communities can maximize the number of projects that can be completed this year,” Beckwith said.

Many local officials continue to advocate for more funding and argue 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.

Expanded use of medical marijuana (H 4537)

A bill that would add Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and opioid use disorder to the current list of conditions for which a doctor could prescribe medical marijuana is stuck in the Committee on Health Care Financing, which gave it a favorable report on March 24. The bill is a redrafted version of an earlier bill, sponsored by Rep. Michael Soter, R-Bellingham, designed to expand access to medical marijuana for veterans.

“This legislation is the result of a collaboration with a constituent of mine, Stephen Mandile, who is a veteran, local elected official and father,” Soter said. “The initial intent of the bill was to expand access to medical marijuana for veterans. However, I am disappointed to say that specific veteran-related pieces of the original bill were removed during the committee process, the scope of the bill has changed and the current language works to benefit a broader population while straying away from the initial intent of a strong veteran-centric bill.”

Several bills heading to study committee

The Committee on Cannabis Policy recommended that several bills be shipped off to a study committee where bills are rarely actually studied and are essentially defeated. It is a way to kill a proposal without holding a vote on the bill itself. Here are some of the bills that will soon be sent off to a study committee:

Prevent youth substance abuse (S78): Would direct 1% of the state tax revenue generated from the cannabis excise tax toward a fund that would be responsible for supporting programs dedicated to prevention of youth substance use.

“A report released this week by the Department of Public Health indicated the rate of opioid-related overdose deaths increased 8.8% in 2021 compared to 2020,” said sponsor Sen. Patrick O’Connor, R-Weymouth. “With the continued rise in substance use deaths, I believe we need to provide as much support as possible to ensure we do not lose any more of our neighbors. The state currently financially benefits a great deal from the legalization of cannabis, and I believe this legislation provides us with an opportunity to educate young people on the dangers of addiction. I am looking forward to filing the bill again next session.”

Prohibit testing for marijuana use without consent (H 4026): Would prohibit doctors and health care facilities from testing a patient for the presence of marijuana without first obtaining written consent from the patient. If written consent is given, the measure prohibits the release of the results to anyone except for the patient unless the patient gives written consent.

Sponsor Rep. Russell Holmes, D-Boston, said he filed the bill after hearing from a constituent who was tested for marijuana, without her consent, by her primary care physician during a routine physical that included standard urine and blood work. Holmes noted she was under federal probation and marijuana — while legal in Massachusetts — is still prohibited federally. A positive test could have forced her again away from her family and back to federal prison.

“My constituent changed her primary care physician because she could no longer trust her,” Holmes said. “That was the only recourse she had. The bill will be filed again next term because more protection is needed.”

Fine for open container of marijuana in a vehicle (H 149): Would apply the current alcohol open container law to marijuana. This would impose a $100 to $500 civil penalty on anyone who is driving with an open container of marijuana or any marijuana products in the passenger area of a vehicle.

Sponsor Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, said the bill doesn’t criminalize anything but simply imposes a civil fine — the same as having an open container of beer. He noted that police have a very hard time enforcing impaired driving under the influence of marijuana use due to lack of a Breathalyzer-type test.

“As dispensaries become more popular and accessible, there will naturally be more of a chance for use while driving,” Dooley said. “And while I believe the vast majority of users are responsible, this is meant to hopefully incentivize those few who might partake while driving.”


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