Beacon Hill Roll Call: March 25 to March 29, 2024

Students learn American Sign Language during a class at the Sunderland Public Library in 2023. The House gave initial approval to several bills last week, including H 466, which would require that ASL be taught in all Massachusetts public elementary and secondary schools to increase interactions between hearing persons and deaf and hard-of-hearing persons, as well as children with autism. Current law allows but does not require schools to teach ASL.

Students learn American Sign Language during a class at the Sunderland Public Library in 2023. The House gave initial approval to several bills last week, including H 466, which would require that ASL be taught in all Massachusetts public elementary and secondary schools to increase interactions between hearing persons and deaf and hard-of-hearing persons, as well as children with autism. Current law allows but does not require schools to teach ASL. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By BOB KATZEN

Published: 04-05-2024 11:58 AM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of March 25 to March 29. There were no roll calls in the House last week.

Debt collection practices (S 2713)

The Senate, 39-0, approved and sent to the House a bill that would make some changes to state laws about debt collection practices.

The measure includes reducing from 12% to 3% the maximum interest rate that can be charged for judgments on consumer debt; increasing from $750 per week to $975 per week the amount of a person’s wages that is protected from garnishment because of a debt; reducing from six years to five years the time in which a company can bring suit to collect a consumer debt; and ensuring that no one is imprisoned for failure to pay a consumer debt.

“In Massachusetts, no family should have to choose between putting food on the table or making a minimum payment on a ballooning debt,” said Sen. Paul Feeney, D-Foxborough, Senate chair of the Committee on Financial Services. “Debt collection practices can, at times, be predatory, unlawful and designed to squeeze every dime out of middle-class and low-income families, especially with the added burden of accumulating interest and additional fees that are designed to push families over a financial cliff. The [legislation] will not eliminate debt or an obligation to pay, but it will add needed guardrails to protect hard-working families from financial ruin, give a lifeline to those caught in a debt spiral and help deliver hope to those in a vicious cycle.”

“This bill aims to implement stricter regulations on debt collectors in order to prevent financial mistreatment of Massachusetts residents,” said chief sponsor Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Marlborough. “It seeks to safeguard consumers’ economic security during debt repayment, prohibit excessively high interest rates and eliminate the possibility of consumers being sent to ‘debtor’s prison’ when facing legal action.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Paul Mark — Yes

Safety for firefighters (S 2712)

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The Senate, 40-0, approved and sent to the House legislation that would create a public database of violations of the state’s fire prevention laws and a public notification system to alert workers of violations.

The measure is designed to boost safety for firefighters and people conducting “hot work,” including welding, plasma cutting and spark-producing construction. The proposed law has been 10 years in the making and was first prompted by the March 2014 deaths of firefighters Edward Walsh and Michael Kennedy, who perished while fighting a fire that was caused by welders, working without a city permit, on a building next door to the brownstone in which they died.

“This legislation represents historic regulatory reforms that the Walsh-Kennedy Commission helped institute across the hot works and welding industry in Massachusetts,” said chief sponsor Sen. Nick Collins, D-Boston. “Passing this legislation will ensure that the critical reforms, training, oversight and accountability needed to prevent tragedies like the Back Bay fire will be the law of the land. We do this in honor of Boston Fire Lt. Edward Walsh and firefighter Michael Kennedy so that their sacrifices are not in vain.”

“The heartbreaking loss of life in the 2014 Back Bay fire is a constant reminder of the importance of firefighter safety,” said Sen. Walter Timilty, D-Milton, Senate chair of the Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. “I am honored to have shepherded this crucial bill through the committee. Today, the Senate’s action represents an important step forward in ensuring that our remarkable firefighters have the resources that they need to keep themselves safe and protect our communities.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Paul Mark — Yes

Also up on Beacon HillHouse approves several bills

The House gave initial approval to several bills last week, including:

City and town assessors (H 2112): Amends current law that allows municipalities to give stipends to assessors who receive their Certified Assessment Evaluator certificate from the International Association of Assessing Officers, or their Certified Massachusetts Assessor certificate from the Massachusetts Association of Assessing Officers Inc. The bill increases the stipend municipalities may award for these certificates from $3,000 to $5,000 for full-time assessors and also adds two new certificates that would result in getting the stipend.

“Assessors play a vital role in the financial issues of every city and town in the commonwealth,” said sponsor Rep. Tom Stanley, D-Waltham. “This legislation improves the profession, enhances the assessor’s skill set, and improves taxpayer efficiency and services to property owners.”

Free public transportation for veterans going to medical appointments (H 3527): Provides free transportation on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) system for veterans who travel to or from a Veterans Affairs hospital for medical care. The veteran must present proof of a medical appointment on the date of travel in the form of a notice from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs indicating the veteran’s name and the date and location of the appointment.

“I have heard from a number of veterans who say it can be a challenge to get transportation to their medical appointments,” said sponsor Rep. Jerry Parisella, D-Beverly. “This bill would cover the cost of public transit for those seeking care ... and help reduce one of the barriers, the cost of transportation, for those who have served our country with honor.”

Allow youth soccer referees (H 1852): Would allow minors who are 12 and 13 years old to referee youth soccer games for matches in which the age bracket of the players is younger than the 12- or 13-year-old referee.

Other provisions require the referee’s parents or guardians to provide the employer with a written consent form; require the employer to provide the parent or guardian with written policies describing the responsibilities of a referee and provide the minor with training; and mandating that an adult representing the employer is on the premise during the match.

“This legislation would benefit both the youths in question and their communities as these programs are extended,” said co-sponsor Rep. Kathy LaNatra, D-Kingston.

Allow some 17-year-olds to vote in primaries (H 705): Would allow voters who will turn 18 and be eligible to vote in a November general election to also vote in the preceding primary election even though they will only be 17 at the time of the primary.

Supporters said that allowing 17-year-olds to have a voice would establish a foundation for lifelong engagement in the democratic process and bolster civic engagement.

Rep. Joan Meschino, D-Hull, first sponsored the bill in 2020 at the request of then-16-year-old Hingham High School student Samantha Bevins, now a 21-year-old junior at Dartmouth College studying government and public policy, who wanted this group to be allowed to vote in the Massachusetts March 2020 presidential primary.

Bevins said she is thrilled to learn that the bill received initial approval.

“I proposed this legislation … when I was 16 because I wanted first-time voters in the commonwealth to have the same rights as my peers in 27 other states and Washington D.C.,” Bevins said. “It is crucial that young people have the opportunity to fully participate in their first election cycle by having a say in the primaries on candidates who will ultimately be on the ballot in the general election. I am hopeful our bill will [receive further approval] soon in order to fully enfranchise first-time voters before the next Massachusetts state primaries.”

“This legislation promotes a model of civic engagement and full enfranchisement that is critical to foster among our young people, who are the future of this country,” Meschino said. “Hingham resident Samantha Bevins and her peers’ continued engagement in the advocacy process during consecutive legislative sessions demonstrates that these young adults are fully equipped and ready for the opportunity to fully engage in the election process, and I commend them for their groundbreaking efforts.”

American Sign Language (H 466): Would require that American Sign Language (ASL) be taught in all Massachusetts public elementary and secondary schools to increase interactions between hearing persons and deaf and hard-of-hearing persons, as well as children with autism. Current law allows but does not require schools to teach ASL.

“Every student deserves access to diverse linguistic opportunities,” said sponsor Rep. Carol Doherty, D-Taunton. “By requiring that ASL courses be offered for credit alongside traditional world languages in Massachusetts public schools, we’re not only fostering inclusivity for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community but also enriching our educational landscape with a vibrant and vital language.”

Suicide prevention hotline on student IDS (H 1999): Would require all public schools with grades 6 to 12 and all public and private colleges to include on their student identification cards the telephone and text number for the 988 suicide and crisis hotline. The bill includes a provision that allows any schools and colleges that have a supply of old ID cards without the 988 line to continue to distribute those IDS until the supply is gone.

Supporters said that while suicide is a leading cause of death for people of all ages in the United States, young people are particularly at risk. They noted that according to a study published by the National Center for Health Statistics at the end of last year, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Americans ages 15 to 24, representing a 56% increase in the previous decade. They argued there are significant disparities in these numbers, with LGBTQ youth being at greater risk, and Black youth seeing a 73% increase in youth suicide rates in that same time period.

“It can be difficult for someone to reach out for help even in the best of times and it is essential that we seize every opportunity to provide the necessary resources for our children,” said co-sponsor Rep. Jack Lewis, D-Framingham. “[The bill] is a vital step in connecting those in their most vulnerable years with the lifesaving help and assistance they need and put the commonwealth in line with the 19 states including Arkansas, Louisiana and New York who have passed similar legislation.”

“This legislation is one simple way we can make sure our students have the resources they need to help themselves and their friends in a time of crisis,” said co-sponsor Rep. Natalie Higgins, D-Leominster. “The 988 helpline is a critical support for our community, and ensuring all of our youth learn about it will help all future generations get the mental health support they need when they need it most.”