Beacon Hill Roll Call: May 16 to May 20, 2022

  • The House, 155 to 0, approved a bill that makes changes in the cannabis industry, including a section that would require the state to put its tax and licensing revenue from the sales of marijuana into a newly created Social Equity Trust Fund to provide grants and loans designed to assist entrepreneurs and businesses from communities disproportionately harmed by the decades of marijuana prohibition. AP File Photo/Marina Riker

Published: 5/26/2022 3:12:36 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of May 16 to May 20. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.

Marijuana laws (H 4791)

The House, 155 to 0, approved a bill that makes changes in the cannabis industry, including a section that would require the state to put its tax and licensing revenue from the sales of marijuana into a newly created Social Equity Trust Fund to provide grants and loans designed to assist entrepreneurs and businesses from communities disproportionately harmed by the decades of marijuana prohibition. The measure would also allow municipalities to vote by a local referendum or through a vote of the municipal government for social consumption of marijuana to take place in their community. The Senate has already approved its own version of the bill and a House-Senate conference committee will likely hammer out a compromise version.

Supporters explained that opening an average cannabis retail shop can require up to $1.5 million. They noted that since federal cannabis laws prevent these businesses from accessing traditional bank loans, lack of capital can pose an insurmountable barrier.

“This legislation builds upon the House’s multi-session efforts to create a fair and successful cannabis industry, fostering equitable opportunities to those disproportionately impacted by the systemic racism of historic drug policy,” said House Speaker Ron Mariano, D-Quincy. “With this legislation, the House addresses ongoing concerns that have only become more pronounced with the growth of the cannabis industry, such as the host community agreement process and systemic barriers for minority-owned businesses to enter the cannabis market.”

“I voted against the cannabis bill first based on the principle that I believe legalization was a mistake,” said Rep. Jeff Turco, D-Winthrop, one of only two members who voted against the measure. “I believe this bill compounds the mistake by using taxpayer funding to finance new entrants into the cannabis market. In addition, this bill will allow people convicted of distributing cannabis in a school zone and to children to be permanently expunged from their criminal record. In light of all of these concerns, I voted against the bill.”

Rep. Marc Lombardo, D-Billerica, the only other representative who voted against the measure, did not respond to requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call for a comment.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Public meeting before licensing (H 4791)

The House, 29 to 126, rejected an amendment that would require that a public hearing be held prior to the signing of an agreement between a host city or town and a marijuana business.

“Under current law, a public meeting must take place in a community prior to a cannabis business applying for a license from the Cannabis Control Commission,” said amendment sponsor Rep. Paul Frost, R-Auburn. “However, that public meeting can and has taken place after a host community agreement is already signed and agreed to between the business and community officials. My amendment sought to require that the public meeting must take place prior to the signing of the host community agreement. This way residents, especially those impacted by the location of such a business, can have input prior to any agreement on addressing impacts being finalized. It makes the process far more transparent and consistent from community to community.”

Rep. Dan Donahue, D-Worcester, co-chair of the Committee on Cannabis Policy, opposed the amendment.

“The Cannabis Control Commission under this legislation will have the ability to promulgate new regulations … which … could include possibly the preference to have a host community agreement meeting before they sign,” Donahue said during the debate in the House. “This bill is about setting the boundaries for what could be included in a host community agreement. It doesn’t deal with the processes for which a municipality will engage their community members in signing the host community agreement.”

A “No” vote is against the amendment.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Paul Mark — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Borrow $5 billion for state projects (H 4790)

The House, 155 to 0, approved and sent to the Senate a $5 billion bill that borrows money for hundreds of projects — the majority involving maintenance and modernization projects of buildings — many of which are decades old. The House added $125 million during consideration of the package. A key provision imposes a five-year moratorium on any prison or jail construction in Massachusetts.

There was no debate on the House floor during consideration of the package. There were 256 amendments filed, many of which were filed by legislators for projects in their own districts. Members pitched their amendments behind closed doors. In the end, there was no debate or vote on individual amendments, but rather approval of a single consolidated amendment that included some, but not all, of the 256 amendments.

“I’m pleased that the House of Representatives advanced this critical legislation to ensure funding for several governmental facility projects,” said House Speaker Ron Mariano, D-Quincy. “The House bill also includes a moratorium on the construction of all new prisons in the commonwealth. This moratorium is consistent with the goals of the Legislature’s 2018 criminal justice reform legislation, which looked to reduce our prison population, limit solitary confinement and increase access to mental health support.”

Rep. Danielle Gregoire, D-Marlborough, the House chair of the Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets, did not respond to requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call to comment on passage of the bill. Her committee held a hearing on the original version of the measure sponsored by Gov. Charlie Baker back in January.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Also up on Beacon HillAllow cities and towns to impose water fees (S 2869)

The Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government held a virtual hearing on legislation that would allow cities, towns and water or wastewater districts to impose “reasonable” fees that would be used only to remedy/offset impacts that water withdrawals and discharges have on the natural environment.

Supporters said that “water banking” at the local level has proven to be an effective tool for mitigating the impacts of water withdrawals on both the natural environment and local and regional water infrastructure systems.

“In response to administrative consent orders and increasingly stringent regulatory mandates, communities are being encouraged to establish water banks or mitigation funds,” said sponsor Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton. “These funds are needed to design and construct water, sewer and stormwater improvements that are required to mitigate environmental impacts directly attributed to new or increased demands placed on these essential services.”

Raise fines for animal cruelty (H 2132)

Stuck in the Bills in Third Reading Committee since it was approved by the House on Dec. 30, 2021, is a bill that would amend current law that imposes up to a seven-year prison sentence and/or $5,000 fine for a first offense of animal cruelty and a 10-year prison sentence and/or $10,000 fine for a second offense. The bill leaves the prison sentences as they are but raises the fines to $5,500 for a first offense and $11,000 for subsequent offenses. It also creates a special account where up to $500 for a first offense and up to $1,000 for subsequent offenses would go to fund improvements to animal shelters in the city or town in which the violations occurred.

“Animal cruelty laws in Massachusetts are strong, but not strong enough,” said sponsor Rep. Bruce Ayers, D-Quincy. “We need to set a stronger precedent that animal cruelty will not be tolerated. The additional funds generated through this bill will help subsidize much-needed improvements to animal shelters across Massachusetts, putting the financial burden on the backs of those who violate the law.”

Addressing the inaction on the bill for the past five months, Ayers said he’s confident about the merits of this bill and feels that it will continue through the legislative process.

$500 payments to 330,000 low-income workers

The Baker Administration announced that 300,000 low-income workers will each receive $500 under the second round of the COVID-19 Essential Employee Premium Pay Program that was part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) approved by the Legislature in December 2021. The administration was given the power and flexibility to implement the program and announced last week that this second round of checks will be mailed out soon.

Massachusetts residents will be eligible for the $500 if their 2021 income from employment was at least $13,500 — and their total income put them below 300% of the federal poverty level. Individuals who received a first-round payment through this program or received unemployment compensation in 2021 will not be eligible for this second round of payments, nor will state executive branch employees who received or will receive a one-time pandemic-related payment from the state.

For more information about eligibility and other details, visit bit.ly/3wRh68L or call 866-750-9803 Monday through Friday between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.


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