Beacon Hill Roll Call: May 31 to June 4, 2021

  • The state Transportation Committee recently held a hearing considering a proposal that would exempt antique vehicles that are more than 50 years old from the state’s annual safety inspection if the owner is a member of a recognized antique automobile club. Pictured are antique vehicles at the Deerfield Lions Club’s Antique and Classic Auto Show held at Yankee Candle in 2016. Staff File Photo/Shelby Ashline

  • GOBI

Published: 6/11/2021 12:48:04 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ votes on roll calls from recent debate on the Senate version of a $47.72 billion fiscal year 2022 budget. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

MassHealth must report bed holds (S 3)

The Senate, 39 to 0, approved an amendment that would require MassHealth to report data to the Legislature relating to medical and non-medical leave of absence days, known as bed holds, for nursing home residents. The data would include the number of residents on a leave of absence, monthly capacity levels per nursing home, the total number of empty beds and the average MassHealth payment rate per resident. MassHealth is the state’s Medicaid program that provides health care for low-income people and those with disabilities.

Amendment supporters said the bed hold policy is an essential protection for MassHealth nursing home residents who leave the nursing home for a hospital stay or to visit with family and allows them to return to their same bed. They noted the program’s goal is to protect nursing home residents, especially those with dementia, from the confusion and trauma that might result if they were forced to move to a new room and a new bed after a short absence.

“We must ensure that vulnerable nursing home residents are provided with quality care and protected from the unnecessary trauma of returning to an unfamiliar environment following a hospital stay,” said the amendment’s sponsor Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford. “Facilities that cannot meet these basic obligations must not be allowed to operate in the commonwealth and will not survive the necessary post-COVID reforms. This data reporting is a starting point that will help ensure proper transparency and accountability in this industry.”

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

$100,000 for student loan ombudsman (S 3)

The Senate, 39 to 0, approved $100,000 to pay the salary of and advertise for the newly created position of student loan ombudsman who would serve under the attorney general as an independent mediator for student loan borrowers.

“For six years, we fought for the Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights to protect the nearly 1 million student loan borrowers across the commonwealth,” said Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, the sponsor of the amendment. “Since it was passed and signed into law this January, we have engaged with the Division of Banks and the Attorney General’s Office on implementation, and this funding will help set up a central ombudsman’s office to answer questions, investigate and take action on (student loan) servicers.”

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Automated external defibrillator (AED) in public safety vehicles (S 3)

The Senate, 39 to 0, approved an amendment that would provide $500,000 to fund the purchase by cities and towns of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) so that each police cruiser, fire engine, ambulance and other first responder vehicles will have the device available.

“AEDs are absolutely crucial to the mortality rate of someone experiencing a cardiac event,” said Sen. Ryan Fattman, R-Sutton, who sponsored the amendment. “In small towns found in central and western Massachusetts, like some of the ones I represent, police are often the first to respond to a 911 call, even in a medical emergency. Many municipalities do not have the resources to equip those vehicles with AEDs, which in turn allows precious moments to slip by for someone in a cardiac event. This bill establishes funding for municipalities to purchase AEDs through an AED trust fund for all safety vehicles, particularly in these smaller towns, so that this type of tragic scenario can be avoided.”

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Also up on Beacon Hill Dispute over who controls $5.3 billion in federal aid

The House early last week approved, on a voice vote without a roll call, a bill that would segregate the $5.3 billion in federal money the state received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in a separate fund and give the Legislature control over when and how to spend the money.

“To ensure that we maximize the impact of these one-time dollars, the House will be allocating them into a segregated fund, followed by the Senate,” said a joint statement from House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka. “These funds will be appropriated separately from the fiscal year 2022 state budget. … A public legislative process will allow all communities, especially those impacted the most by COVID-19, to help determine where investments are most needed. These investments may potentially be spread out over a number of years to ensure our continued economic vitality.”

But later in the week, Gov. Charlie Baker unilaterally announced that $109.1 million from the fund will be distributed immediately to Chelsea, Everett, Methuen and Randolph. Chelsea will get $28.5 million, Everett $33.3 million, Methuen $26.3 million and Randolph $21 million.

The Baker administration said these four communities were among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, but because of shortcomings in the federal ARPA funding formula, were set to receive disproportionately smaller amounts of federal funding compared to other hard-hit communities.

“Our administration committed additional funds to Chelsea, Everett, Methuen and Randolph to ensure all of the commonwealth’s communities received the funding they deserved from the federal relief package,” said Gov. Baker. “These four communities were disproportionately impacted by the virus, and this additional funding will support critical local COVID response and recovery efforts.”

“As authorized by the federal government, the $5.3 billion in discretionary funding does not require legislative appropriation and the administration is ready to work with municipal, non-profit, private sector and legislative partners to invest these funds quickly,” said Baker spokesperson Sarah Finlaw.

The response from House and Senate leaders was positive, but vague as to the status of the tug-of-war between the Legislature and the governor’s office over who controls the rest of the funds.

“The House and the Senate are glad that Chelsea, Randolph, Everett and Methuen are now receiving the additional funds promised to them as they continue their recovery efforts,” said the offices of Mariano and Spilka in a joint statement. “The Senate and House look forward to working with the administration and the public in an open and transparent process to equitably distribute federal funds.”

Altering license plates (S 2330)

The Transportation Committee held a virtual hearing on a bill that would allow owners of antique automobiles to alter their license plates to resemble the colors and design of the vehicle’s original year of manufacture. Current law prevents vehicle owners from altering the plates.

Supporters said antique automobiles are a living piece of our history and keeping them as authentic-looking as possible enhances that history. They noted that allowing owners to restore every detail of their automobiles not only gives them pride, but keeps the history of the automobile alive and authentic.

“We have a number of people who own and enjoy riding in and showing their antique vehicles,” said Senate sponsor Sen. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer. “It detracts from that when the plate is not also authentic.”

“Typically the cars that have those plates have been restored to perfection and having plates that match the year of manufacture is a nice complement to the restorations, but not if those plates are shabby-looking,” said the House sponsor Rep. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro. “By the limitations of these registrations these cars are not driven daily, so allowing the plates to be freshened does not open the door to any safety issues.”

Exempt antique vehicles from annual inspection (H 3498)

The Transportation Committee’s hearing also included a proposal that would exempt antique vehicles that are more than 50 years old from the state’s annual safety inspection if the owner is a member of a recognized antique automobile club. The measure does require that when the vehicle is sold, a safety inspection must be performed within seven days of being registered by the new owner.

“These cars are not driven on a regular basis, and are mostly driven to and for shows,” said sponsor Rep. Steve Howitt, R-Seekonk.

Driver’s license for illegal immigrants (S 2289)

The Transportation Committee will hold a virtual hearing on June 23, from 2 to 4 p.m. on legislation that would allow all state residents to apply for a standard Massachusetts driver’s license or identification card, regardless of their immigrant status.

“Now more than ever, this legislation is needed to ensure undocumented families across the commonwealth can live without fear of being pulled over when driving their child to school, going to work, buying groceries or attending a doctor’s appointment,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Brendan Crighton, D-Lynn. “This is a public health issue, racial justice issue and workforce mobility issue with broad support from a variety of stakeholders, and it is time for Massachusetts to join 16 states, along with Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, by passing this critical bill.”

“The economic purpose of (the bill) is to protect illegal immigrants and depress wages for Americans on the bottom rung,” said Steve Kropper, co-chair of the Massachusetts Coalition for Immigration Reform. “That makes us all poor. Legislating driver’s licenses for illegals is disrespectful. Licenses are gateway documents that build a story intended to deceive, suggesting lawful presence. (The bill) is so extreme it requires the state to conceal documents proving the applicant is illegal. The Sept. 11 terrorists’ visas had expired. They could obtain a Massachusetts license under this bill.”

New website helps residents access federal funds

A coalition launched FindYourFunds.org, a new website to help Massachusetts residents access federal funding. Information on available funds include new and expanded federal programs designed to provide direct cash payments to Americans, including the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and Economic Impact Payments commonly known as stimulus checks. The site offers information on who is eligible for these programs and how to apply, as well as links to free resources that provide guidance and application assistance.

“Thousands of families across Massachusetts are eligible for significant cash assistance from the federal government, but unfortunately a good amount of that money is being left on the table,” said Jill Shah, president of the Shah Family Foundation that is spearheading the website. “Whether it’s because they don’t know about these programs, don’t know how to apply or simply don’t know where to go for trustworthy information, FindYourFunds.org addresses these common barriers and helps ensure every Massachusetts resident gets the money available to them.”

“The pandemic caused an economic crisis that has laid bare the stark, systemic inequities and challenges facing low-income families across the commonwealth, especially Black and Latinx communities,” said Georgia Katsoulomitis of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. “Our lowest-income households are the most likely to be left out of this critical federal relief. FindYourFunds.org connects families to the multilingual information they need and is a resource state agencies can share broadly with families across the commonwealth. FindYourFunds.org will increase access and decrease barriers.”

The coalition also includes Children’s HealthWatch, Greater Boston Legal Services, the Massachusetts Association for Community Action and the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.




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