Beacon Hill Roll Call: March 27 to March 31, 2023

By BOB KATZEN

Published: 04-06-2023 11:05 AM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ votes on the only roll call from the week of March 27 to March 31. There were no roll calls in the House last week.

$350 million for roads, bridges (S 2375)

The Senate, 40 to 0, approved a bill that includes authorizing $200 million in one-time funding for the maintenance and repair of local roads and bridges. The $350 million 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 lane improvements, improvement of public transit, electric vehicles and other state transportation projects. The House has approved a different version and the Senate version now goes to the House for consideration.

Supporters said the funding, known as Chapter 90 funding, will help cities and towns make their streets and bridges safer for all drivers and will improve the public transportation system. They noted the money is relied on every year by local communities.

“This legislation will maintain and improve our state’s infrastructure, ensure that residents have safe and reliable transportation options and support sustainable, regionally equitable economic development in communities across the commonwealth,” said Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland.

“Our transportation system is the backbone of our commonwealth, connecting us to our jobs, families and communities,” said Sen. Brendan Crighton, D-Lynn, chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation. “This investment is not just an investment in infrastructure, but an investment in the future of our commonwealth, enabling our cities and towns to make the necessary improvements to promote efficient and safe travel for all.”

Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, is one of the biggest advocates for more Chapter 90 funding above the $200 million.

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“We are grateful that the Senate has moved so quickly on this important legislation,” Beckwith said. “Cities and towns are anxious to begin the road construction season, and are waiting for this necessary infusion of funds. Communities are facing huge cost pressures as they seek to maintain 30,000 miles of local roads, so we hope the Legislature can send the best bill possible to the governor as soon as possible, as a first step in investing in the massive infrastructure needs at the local level.”

A “Yes” vote is for the $350 million package.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Paul Mark — Yes

Also up on Beacon Hill$388.6 million fiscal year 2023 supplemental budget (H 3548)

Gov. Maura Healey signed into law a $388.6 million fiscal year 2023 supplemental budget. Provisions include $65 million for free school meals; $130 million to keep expanded nutrition assistance in place for a few more months; $2 million for the reimbursement of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for victims of benefit theft; $250,000 for a free abortion-related legal hotline; $45 million for emergency shelter assistance; $40 million to support affordable housing for immigrants and refugees; and $2 million for the Boston branch of the NAACP for costs of some programs to be included in its 114th National NAACP Conference.

Other provisions keep some pandemic-era programs, set to expire, in place, including allowing restaurants to sell beer, wine and cocktails for takeout; expanding outdoor dining; and extending the authority for public bodies, agencies and commissions to hold their meetings remotely.

“I’m proud that the first major bill signed into law by our administration dedicates crucial resources to help Massachusetts families access safe and secure housing, keep food on the table and pay for child care,” said Gov. Healey. “Additionally, this bill supports our health care workforce, crucial housing and economic development programs like MassWork, and our efforts to compete for federal funding.”

“This supplemental budget injects urgently needed funds into programs that support Massachusetts families and drive housing and economic development across our state,” said Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll. “It also takes important steps to educate the public on their options around reproductive health care, extends accessibility and flexibility for public meetings, protects access to clean water and bolsters broadband infrastructure.”

Hearing on constitutional amendments

The Judiciary Committee held a hearing on several proposed amendments filed by representatives and senators to amend the state constitution. Any proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by legislators needs the votes of a majority of the 200-member Legislature in the 2023 to 2024 session and the same in the 2025 to 2026 session in order to appear on the November 2026 ballot for voters to decide. None of these proposals have yet been approved.

Eminent domain (H 83): Would prohibit private property from being taken by the government for private commercial enterprise, economic development or any other private use without the consent of the owner. A similar measure was originally filed in 2005 as a response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows communities to seize private homes and businesses solely for commercial purposes. The ruling also allows states to establish laws prohibiting the practice.

“The right to own property is a basic principle of the commonwealth and it is one that I feel strongly should be upheld,” said the proposal’s sponsor House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading. “The government should never have the power to make value judgments with respect to private property. This proposed amendment would protect property owners by explicitly affirming that economic development and private commercial uses do not constitute acceptable public uses for the purpose of eminent domain takings in the commonwealth.”

Change mandatory retirement age for judges (H 36): Would change the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 years old to 75 years old.

“In recent years we have seen an increased need to bring judges back to the bench after their mandatory retirement age,” said sponsor Rep. Paul McMurtry, D-Dedham. “This proposal would allow them to stay on the bench and provide the court with their years of experience.”

His or Her Excellency (S 10): Would amend the part of the state constitution that creates the title “His Excellency” for the governor and lieutenant governor. The proposal would add “Her Excellency” as a possibility.

“[The bill] is one of a several bills filed to clean up language in our constitution that privileges male gender by using male pronouns to refer to office holders,” said sponsor Sen. Will Brownsberger, D-Belmont. “I’m hopeful that the Judiciary Committee will report out a consolidated bill that makes all the necessary corrections.”

Oath of office (H 33): Would amend a current section of the constitution that gives Quakers the option to change the oath a person must take upon taking office from the current: “I do solemnly swear, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the commonwealth of Massachusetts and will support the constitution thereof. So help me God.” Currently Quakers are allowed to change the word “swear” to “affirm” and the words “So help me God” with “under the pains and penalties of perjury.” The amendment would give that same option to anyone, not just Quakers.

“The state constitution only allows people of Quaker faith to have the option of affirming their oath,” said sponsor Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst. “The amendment would remove the Quaker eligibility [only] for this option. Federal officials, including the president, a U.S. representative and a U.S. senator all have the opportunity to choose to swear or affirm their oaths of office.”

Appoint lieutenant governor (H 38): Would grant the governor the power to appoint a lieutenant governor if the office is vacant because of the death, resignation, removal from office or incapacity of the lieutenant governor. The appointment would have to be confirmed by a majority vote of the House and Senate. Current law leaves the seat vacant until the next election.

Sponsor Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, did not respond to requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call asking her why she filed the proposal.

Limit judicial appointments to seven years (H 34): Would limit judicial appointments to seven years but would allow judges to be reappointed by the governor for an unlimited number of years every seven years. The appointment would have to be approved by the Governor’s Council as required under current law.

Sponsor Rep. Vanna Howard, D-Lowell, did not respond to requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call asking her why she filed the proposal.

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