Beacon Hill Roll Call: March 15 to March 19, 2021

  • Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston AP PHOTO/ELISE AMENDOLA

Published: 3/26/2021 4:28:20 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives and senators from the week of March 15-19.

Climate change (S 9)

The House, 145 to 14, and the Senate, 39 to 1, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a lengthy climate change bill. A key section makes the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal net zero by 2050. The House and Senate both voted to adopt many of the amendments that Gov. Baker proposed to the original measure approved by the Legislature in February.

Other provisions in the measure codify environmental justice provisions into Massachusetts law by defining environmental justice populations and providing new tools and protections for affected neighborhoods; provide $12 million in annual funding for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to create a pathway to the clean energy industry for environmental justice populations and minority-owned and women-owned businesses; require an additional 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind and increase the state’s total authorization to 5,600 megawatts; set appliance energy efficiency standards for a variety of common appliances including plumbing, faucets, computers and commercial appliances; and set benchmarks for the adoption of clean energy technologies including electric vehicles, charging stations, solar technology, energy storage and heat pumps.

“History has been made today with the passage of the Next-Generation Roadmap bill,” said Rep. Tom Golden, D-Lowell. “The roadmap sets us on a strong course to net zero by 2050 and significantly advances offshore wind, truly representing the best ideas from both chambers. Hats off to the House and the Senate for holding firm on ambitious emissions targets.”

“I applaud House and Senate leaders for preserving the key elements of last session’s bill, including energy efficiency standards for appliances, expanded offshore wind procurements and a requirement for at least 40 percent of Massachusetts’ electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts. “If Gov. Baker vetoes the bill, I hope legislators move quickly to override the veto and turn this bill into a law.”

A new study by the Beacon Hill Institute says that legislation calling for a net-zero emissions policy by 2050 is flawed and unrealistic.

“In this study, we conclude that this legislation is misconceived,” said co-author David Tuerck, president of the institute. “The ‘absolute zero’ approach embodied in the legislation would be economically ruinous. It would increase costs to the average Massachusetts household to unacceptable levels. If the commonwealth sought to reduce emissions by 100 percent, the price of a gallon of gasoline would have to rise above $14.10.”

“There is little doubt the legislation that passed today, if it becomes law, will cost taxpayers and businesses greatly in the future,” said Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance Executive Director Paul Craney. “The only questions that remain are just how much it will cost them and how ordinary, working-class families will be able to pay for it moving forward. Today’s legislation puts ideology ahead of common sense. It asks nearly every resident to make economic sacrifices in order to achieve unrealistic and ideologically driven climate goals.”

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

Help businesses and workers (S 35)

The Senate, 40 to 0, approved a bill that excludes Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans from being taxed by the state in 2020; excludes $10,200 of unemployment compensation received by an individual with a household income of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level from gross income for tax purposes; and makes employees eligible for up to five days of paid leave, at their regular rate of pay, capped at $850 per week.

Other provisions waive penalties on unemployment insurance taxes; freeze unemployment insurance rates paid by employers; create a mechanism ensuring all employees will be able to access 40 hours of paid sick time for any COVID-19-related issues, including testing positive, needing to quarantine or caring for a loved one; and extend the state’s tax filing deadline from April 15 to May 17. (The day after this vote, the Department of Revenue (DOR), citing powers it says it can use when the U.S. president declares a disaster, unilaterally moved the Massachusetts tax filing deadline to conform with the postponed federal deadline of May 17.)

Businesses would also face a new surcharge, in the form of an excise tax on employee wages, through December 2022 to help repay interest due in September on the federal loans.

“With more people getting vaccinated by the day and our economy reopening, this bill will bring much-needed relief to small businesses, keep our essential frontline workers safe and target tax relief to lift up low-income families who lost jobs during this pandemic,” said Sen. Mike Rodrigues, D-Westport, chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

The House has approved a different version of the measure and the Senate version now goes to the House for consideration.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Takeout and delivery of alcoholic beverages (S 35)

The Senate, 9 to 30, rejected an amendment that would extend the life of a current law that allows restaurants during the pandemic state of emergency to sell sealed containers of mixed drinks, beer and wine with takeout and delivery orders. Under the current law, restaurants would be able to continue to do this only until the governor lifts the ban. The amendment would extend the law for another two years after the governor lifts the ban.

“A year into the state of emergency we are seeing glimmers of hope for economic recovery,” said Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, the amendment’s sponsor. “But businesses, particularly in the food and beverage sector and other segments of the hospitality industry, are still in survival mode. If we have any intention of helping them actually recover, we will continue to need programs like beverages to go that provide our restaurants with much-needed revenue streams now and in the future.”

Amendment opponents said they support the alcohol takeout and delivery options but noted that the emergency ban is still in effect and will likely be in effect for a long time. They argued there is no pressing need to extend the takeout and delivery options and noted the extension can be revisited in the future.

A “Yes” vote is for extending the takeout and delivery of alcoholic beverages for two years following the end of the emergency. A “No” vote is against extending it.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — No

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — No

Permanent cap on delivery charges (S 35)

The Senate, 8 to 31, rejected an amendment that would permanently cap delivery fees by third parties like Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats at 15 percent of the order price. The amendment would replace the current law that lifts the cap on the day the governor lifts the pandemic emergency.

“We finally addressed the issue of capping third-party delivery fees to prevent price-gouging and pandemic-related windfalls in January of this year, 10 months into the state of emergency as our restaurant industry was hanging on for dear life,” said sponsor DiZoglio. “If we agree these delivery services should not be able to price gouge during the pandemic, we should agree they should not be able to price gouge once the state of emergency is lifted.”

“These measures are currently in place and will remain in place throughout the duration of the governor’s declaration of a public health emergency,” said Sen. Cindy Creem, D-Newton. “I did not believe the underlying bill — focused on time-sensitive tax relief to businesses and individuals — was the appropriate legislation to consider these important issues, and I look forward to considering them as separate legislation after the public hearing process.”

A “Yes” vote is for making the cap permanent. A “No” vote is against making it permanent.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — No

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — No

$5 million for Business Relief Fund (S 35)

The Senate, 8 to 31, rejected an amendment that would create and fund a $5 million Business Relief Fund to provide grants to struggling businesses affected by COVID-19 that thus far have not qualified for grants because of a lack of operational and income history. The amendment requires that businesses must have been open at least 90 days before the pandemic state of emergency was declared and on the day it was declared.

Amendment supporters explained that businesses that were not in business in 2019 don’t have income tax returns and other documentation from 2019 to compare to 2020 and show how their business has been adversely affected.

“When people dedicate their lives and their savings to starting their own businesses, to contributing to the economy and to the strength of the workforce by hiring and training employees, only to be told that they haven’t been around long enough to receive the aid that is being offered to established businesses, it is devastating,” said sponsor DiZoglio. “They deserve a chance to survive, to see a return on their investment, to contribute to the tax base and employ our family, friends, neighbors and fellow residents of the commonwealth. Every additional business that survives the pandemic in Massachusetts will enhance the longer-term health of our economy.”

Amendment opponents said they are open to the idea of the relief fund but argued that the Senate should focus on the bill itself, which offers millions of dollars in relief to businesses, rather than add amendments at this juncture. They said this idea can be revisited in the future.

A “Yes” vote is for the $5 million grant program. A “No” vote is against it.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — No

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — No

Also up on Beacon Hill Extend vote by mail until June 30

Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill that extends until June 30, 2021 the changes the Legislature approved, and the governor signed into law in July 2020, to make it easier to vote by mail and to expand early voting opportunities in the 2020 elections. The changes are set to expire on March 31. The bill extends the law for 90 days, and is designed to help cities and towns with any local elections they are holding prior to June 30.

“I thank the governor for signing this bill, so that town clerks can move forward with planning for their local elections,” Secretary of State Bill Galvin said in a statement announcing the bill’s signing.

“In the midst of a pandemic, Massachusetts citizens set voter participation records,” reads a statement by the Election Modernization Coalition. “This was a testament to their commitment to our democracy, and a direct result of mail-in voting, expanded early voting, and methods of returning ballots like secure drop boxes, that reduced barriers to participation. We appreciate that the Legislature and governor recognize that despite the early rollout of vaccines, we will remain in the pandemic for the foreseeable future and Massachusetts citizens must be able to participate safely in their municipal elections.”

Official state mushroom (SD 589)

This bill would make the Giant Puffball fungus the official mushroom of Massachusetts. Sen. Cindy Creem, D-Newton, filed the legislation on behalf of Arlington High School student Liam Nokes.

“He made a compelling case, characterizing the Giant Puffball fungus as easily recognizable, common in Massachusetts, ecologically important and nontoxic with no psychoactive properties,” Creem said. “I jumped at the rare and fun opportunity to work with a young and passionate constituent on legislation and introduce him to the legislative process.”

“Fungi are a vital part of the biosphere,” Nokes wrote to Beacon Hill Roll Call. “We rely on them for everything: from food, to pharmaceuticals, to healthy forests and decomposition. The Giant Puffball is beautiful and easy to identify. It is also one of the most interesting fungi in Massachusetts. Honoring it as the official state mushroom is a great opportunity to give fungi some long-deserved recognition.”

More mushrooms (HD 474)

This measure allows members of the public to collect mushrooms for personal use from state parks and forests that are overseen by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

Supporters explained it is currently illegal to remove plants from state parks and forests, but mushrooms are fungi, not plants.

“As such they fall into a gray area not specifically addressed by current state law,” explained the bill’s sponsor Rep. Carmine Gentile, D-Sudbury. “However, DCR enforcement officers do not allow the taking of any vegetation including mushrooms.”

Gentile filed the bill on behalf of his constituent David Babik.

“Our state parks are some of the largest and most promising areas to study mushrooms in Massachusetts,” Babik told Beacon Hill Roll Call. “However, to properly study a mushroom, it needs to be picked and analyzed in detail, often under a microscope. There are countless types of fungi in the Northeast that have not been documented. This bill would open up our green areas to give the mushroom-loving community an opportunity to explore their woods.”

Prevent hazing (HD 3637)

This proposal requires that public high schools provide a hazing training program for students. The program would be a requirement for students who participate in extracurricular athletics. The hazing program would include a definition of hazing; a description of a student’s responsibility to report hazing; the legal penalties associated with hazing and failure to report it; a description of potential school-level disciplinary proceedings for hazing; and a description of the negative impacts.

“Although hazing is a crime in Massachusetts, there is no requirement that students receive instruction on what they must do when confronted with this behavior,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Alice Peisch, D-Wellesley, chair of the Education Committee, “This bill would require high schools to teach student-athletes about their responsibility to prevent and report hazing, and about the negative consequences of hazing for all involved.”


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