Beacon Hill Roll Call: March 22 to March 26, 2021

Published: 4/2/2021 3:15:59 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives and senators from the week of March 22 to March 26.

Help businesses and workers (H 90)

The House, 157 to 0, and the Senate, 40 to 0, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a bill that supporters said will stabilize the state’s unemployment system and provide targeted tax relief to employers and workers.

Provisions exclude Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans from being taxed by the state in 2020; exclude $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 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.

Other provisions waive penalties on unemployment insurance taxes; freeze unemployment insurance rates paid by employers; and extend the state’s tax filing deadline from April 15 to 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.

“I am proud to vote for legislation that will support workers and advance an equitable recovery,” said Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, Senate chair of the Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management. “In Western Massachusetts, Main Street businesses and nonprofits are the foundation of our economy and rightfully targeted for relief in this bill.”

“Hundreds of thousands of people received benefits last year without taxes being withheld,” said Sen. Pat Jehlen, D-Somerville, Senate chair of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “They have no idea that they owe taxes on those payments and are going to be hit hard in April. The bill will give them more time to pay taxes owed, eliminate usual penalties, and most importantly create a tax exemption for our most vulnerable families.”

“Over the past year, thousands of Massachusetts workers have lost pay, or even lost their jobs, because they needed to stay home from work due to COVID symptoms, or to recover after receiving a vaccine,” said Steve Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. “Countless other workers have gone to work even when they might be sick because they can’t afford not to get paid. Workers need emergency paid sick time today, and we urge Gov. Baker to sign this critical legislation immediately.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Present

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Also up on Beacon Hill Climate change (S 9)

Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a climate change bill. A key section makes the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal net zero by 2050. The reduction would be phased in so that the emissions limit would be at least 50 percent for 2030, and no less than 75 percent for 2040. The measure also authorizes the secretary of energy and environmental affairs to establish emissions limits every five years and sublimits for at least six sectors of the Massachusetts economy: electric power, transportation, commercial and industrial heating and cooling, residential heating and cooling, industrial processes, and natural gas distribution and service.

Other provisions in the measure codify environmental justice provisions into Massachusetts law by 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.

“Climate change is an urgent challenge that requires action, and this legislation will reduce emissions in Massachusetts for decades to come while also ensuring the commonwealth remains economically competitive,” Baker said. “We are proud to have worked closely with the Legislature to produce bipartisan legislation that will advance clean energy sources and secure a healthy, livable environment for future generations.”

“The signing into law of the Next-Generation Roadmap Bill marks a historic moment for the commonwealth,” said Rep. Tom Golden, D-Lowell, former House chair of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. “We have aggressively expanded offshore wind and codified protections for environmental justice communities into law. This legislation is the product of countless hours of hard work by both my colleagues in the House and in the Senate and is a reflection of the priorities of both chambers.”

“There is no doubt we must protect our environment, however I cannot support legislation that drastically increases the cost of living and doing business in Massachusetts like the climate change bill,” said Rep. Marc Lombardo, R-Billerica. “Even independent experts such as the Beacon Hill Institute have determined that in order to achieve the arbitrary goals of the legislation, a gallon of gasoline will have to increase by $14 There is no way I can ever support that.”

“The bill is costly and will put unrealistic economic demands on ordinary people for decades to come,” said Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance Executive Director Paul Craney. “Its intent is to change behavior so that more expensive appliances, buildings and energy are used to meet arbitrary climate goals. … Only the very wealthy will be able to weather this storm.”

“Drawing from history, prohibition never works as planned,” said David Tuerck, president of the Beacon Hill Institute. “In this study, we conclude that this legislation is misconceived. The ‘absolute zero’ approach embodied in the legislation would be economically ruinous. It would increase costs to the average Massachusetts household to unacceptable levels.”

“This bill includes important provisions to make our appliances more efficient and increase the amount of electricity we get from renewable sources like the sun and the wind,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts. “It’s Massachusetts’ first big step on climate action in 2021 — but it can’t be the last step.”

Hellerstein said that, despite passage of this bill, a lot has been left on the table and legislators will need to take further action on climate. He said legislation to transition electricity, buildings and the transportation system to 100 percent clean energy is at the top of this year’s to-do list.

“Let’s take a few minutes to celebrate this bill,” he concluded. “And then, let’s make 2021 the year Massachusetts sets its sights on 100 percent clean energy.”

Bills filed for consideration in 2021-2022 session

Legislators have filed more than 6,500 bills for consideration in the 2021 to 2022 session. Here are some of the proposals:

Create state-owned bank (SD 2462): Establishes a publicly owned, state-run Bank of Massachusetts funded to the tune of up to $2 billion through the sale of bonds, funding from the Legislature and unclaimed property proceeds. A 10-member board of directors, chaired by the state treasurer, would provide a list of potential chief financial officers and chief operating officers to the governor, secretary of state and state treasurer, who would appoint the officers by a majority vote.

The bank would focus on providing capital access to underbanked populations, industries, small businesses, public-private partnerships or local governments for development of infrastructure and business.

“There are communities throughout Massachusetts, particularly in Western Massachusetts, that are underserved by traditional banking,” said the measure’s sponsor Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield. “A state-owned bank would provide underbanked populations such as minority-owned businesses and the cannabis industry the opportunity to access much-needed capital.”

“The Big Dig, State Police overtime pay, RMV backlogged/missing driver’s license suspensions, Farak, Dookhan and the state crime lab scandals, the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home deaths, the governor’s vaccination rollout,” cited Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “Oversight and accountability non-existent. Now Sen. Hinds wants to establish a state bank. Whoa boy! What could possibly go wrong, leaving taxpayers again on the hook? Even the Fed wouldn’t touch a bailout of this bank crisis-in-the-making.”

Live humans must answer business phone (SD 2331): Requires companies with 50 or more employees to provide on their website, in their chat services and in all their correspondence with customers a toll-free phone number and TTY phone number that connects customers live with company representatives for customer service related to billing and payments, products and services. The option would be required to be within the first menu of customer services. The measure also requires each company to employ at least one customer service representative to answer customer calls for every 500 customers to which the company has sold products and/or services.

“Customers deserve to be able to speak with a representative to resolve questions and concerns regarding a product or service,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover. “Some customers may prefer to submit requests via email or online chats, but others want to be able to pick up the phone and receive assistance directly from another person. When companies transition to exclusively online customer service, it creates barriers for customers and leaves behind folks with limited internet access and literacy. It’s a better common-sense business practice to at least provide consumers the option to speak with a representative via telephone.”

“The Legislature should first consider their customer service before imposing rules on businesses,” said Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance Executive Director Paul Craney. “It’s nearly impossible to locate how a lawmaker votes on a bill, and trying to make the State House more transparent should be the senator’s first focus.”

Train school nurses in Narcan (SD 2244): Requires school nurses to be trained in maintaining and delivering Narcan to students. Narcan is an emergency treatment used for the complete or partial reversal of opioid overdose.

“I filed this legislation to start a conversation about how we can ensure our schools and communities have the proper training to deal with opioid overdose,” said Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield, the measure’s sponsor. “We have lost far too many lives to the opioid epidemic and I hope to call attention to this critical issue as we develop this bill this session.”

State, local governments must have electric vehicles by 2035 (SD 2322): Requires all public state, city and town vehicles to be electric by 2035. The requirement is phased in and sets a goal of 50 percent by 2025 and 75 percent by 2030.

“Transportation contributes more to greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector,” said sponsor Sen. Joe Boncore, D-Winthrop. “We must not only build a more sustainable and resilient transportation system, but we in the commonwealth have a responsibility to lead by example. The electric vehicle legislation I filed this session is an equitable approach to electronic vehicle adoption. From school buses and MBTA buses to DPW trucks and fire engines, we put Massachusetts on a path to 100 percent electric vehicles by 2035.”

Feminine hygiene products (SD 2224): Requires all state-owned or rented buildings to maintain free menstrual products, including sanitary napkins, tampons and underwear liners in private and public restrooms and to make them available in a “convenient manner that does not stigmatize any persons seeking the products.”

“Nearly every woman has faced a time when they needed a menstrual product but didn’t have one and had to rely on the kindness of others to get one,” said sponsor Sen. Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester. “I believe that it is well within the state’s responsibility to ensure that menstrual products are provided in the restrooms of state buildings, free of charge. This is a simple courtesy for half of the population that relies on these products.”

Expand the bottle bill (SD 2483): Expands the state’s existing bottle bill law that requires a five-cent refundable deposit on glass, plastic, metal, aluminum and bi-metal containers holding beer and other malt beverages, carbonated soft drinks and mineral waters. The measure would require a deposit on bottles of most other carbonated and non-carbonated beverages including tea, energy drinks, water, wine, hard liquor and other drinks. It would cover containers in sizes as small as nips all the way up to three-liter containers and would exempt milk, certain juice products, infant formula and nutritive meal replacement liquids. The proposal also raises the deposit from five cents to 10 cents.

“We know even more now about the urgency of managing our growing mountains of trash, and updating the bottle deposit law will help,” said Sen. Cindy Creem, D-Newton, the sponsor of the proposal. “By expanding redemption to apply to almost all beverage containers and raising the deposit fee to a dime, we can make a big impact.”


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