Beacon Hill Roll Call: Oct. 14 to Oct. 18, 20

Published: 10/22/2019 6:44:10 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives and senators from the week of Oct. 14 to Oct. 18.

$715 million supplemental budget (H 4127)

House 154 to 0, approved and sent to the Senate a $715 million fiscal year 2020 supplemental budget to cover expenses and to fund various state programs and agencies that are running out of money.

Provisions include $30 million for the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program to help low-income elders, working families and other households pay winter heating bills; $10 million for emergency shelter assistance; $8 million for the collection and testing of sexual assault evidence kits; and creation of the Massachusetts Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture Program to help the education, training and employment of veterans currently working or who hope to work in the field of agriculture.

The bill did not include Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposal to save taxpayers $175 million over two years by doubling the tax exemption for taxpayers with children and other dependent relatives who are elderly or have a disability. Instead, the bill deposits $428 million into the Rainy Day Account, an increase of $360 million from the governor’s proposed $168 million deposit. The current Rainy Day Fund is estimated to be at $3.3 billion.

Supporters said the package is a reasonable and fiscally responsible one that will begin to close out the books on the fiscal year 2020 state budget.

No one spoke against the budget during debate on the House floor, but Rep. Russell Holmes, D-Boston, was the only person to vote against it. Holmes did not respond to repeated requests from Beacon Hill Roll Call to comment on why he opposed the bill.

A “Yes” vote is for the $715 million budget.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Didn’t vote

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

$500 million to combat fentanyl trafficking (H 4127)

House 38 to 115, rejected an amendment that would establish a $5 million grant program to help support regional fentanyl interdiction programs focused on combating fentanyl trafficking.

“There have been thousands of opioid-related overdose deaths recorded in Massachusetts over the last several years, and fentanyl is playing an increasingly larger role in contributing to these fatalities,” said the amendment’s sponsor House GOP Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading. “Fentanyl has been present in 92 percent of all opioid-related deaths this year, compared to 30 percent just five years ago. ... We need to do everything we can to help law enforcement stop those individuals who are putting this poison on our streets.”

No one spoke against the amendment during debate on the House floor. House budget chief Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, D-Boston, did not respond to repeated requests from Beacon Hill Roll Call to comment on why he opposed the amendment.

A “Yes” vote is for the $5 million program. A “No” vote is against it.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Paul Mark — Didn’t vote

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Meet beyond 9 p.m.

House 125 to 28, approved a motion to suspend rules to allow the House session to continue beyond 9 p.m. Under House rules, the House cannot meet after 9 p.m. unless the rule is suspended.

Supporters of rule suspension said that the House has business to finish and should stay in session to work on it.

Opponents of rule suspension said it is irresponsible for the House to debate and vote late at night when taxpayers are asleep.

A “Yes” vote is for meeting beyond 9 p.m.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Didn’t vote

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Protect people with disabilities — Nicky’s Bill (S 2367)

Senate 40 to 0, approved a measure that would establish a registry that identifies individuals who have been found to have committed abuse against people with disabilities. The measure was filed by Sen. Mike Moore, D-Millbury, at the request of a constituent who is the mother of Nicky, an intellectually disabled and non-verbal individual.

Nicky had been inappropriately restrained and struck multiple times by her caretaker. Under current law, unless the offender is criminally convicted, no system exists to identify caretakers and prevent them from finding employment with another provider licensed by the state.

“Enacting this registry will help disrupt a cycle of abuse of individuals with disabilities and put in place common-sense protections that families in the commonwealth deserve,” Moore said. “There are clear benefits to screening prospective employees who intend to work within the licensed caretaker field and I am hopeful that the bill will advance to the governor’s desk to help protect our most vulnerable residents like Nicky.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Children’s health (S 2368)

Senate 38 to 0, approved legislation designed to make it easier for children and their families to navigate the state’s complicated and often difficult to understand health care system. A key provision requires health insurance companies to perform monthly updates of their provider databases that tell patients which doctors and other medical resources are available to them. Patients complain that many physicians are listed as local and taking new patients despite having retired, moved or stopped accepting new patients.

The measure also allows foster children to remain covered by MassHealth until they turn 26, the same option that children covered by their parents’ private insurance currently have; allows children who have aged out of the foster care system to automatically be enrolled in MassHealth; examines the barriers to mental and behavioral health supports for children; establishes a commission to study mandated reporting laws; and provides for increased education around child sex abuse and exploitation.

“The well-being of children has been a longtime priority of mine, and I am thrilled that our chamber has passed this comprehensive piece of legislation,” said Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Sal DiDomenico, D-Everett. “By ensuring continuous health care coverage until age 26 for these young people, we guarantee they have the same access to basic health care that their peers are afforded. We are giving more at-risk youth across the commonwealth a better chance to lead a healthy and successful life. I am confident that legislation will go a long way toward helping thousands of children access the health care coverage they deserve.”

The House has already approved a different version of the bill. A House-Senate conference committee will likely be appointed to hammer out a compromise version.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Also up on Beacon Hill Holocaust and genocides in curriculum (H 566)

The Education Committee is considering a proposal that requires every school district to include in its curriculum a unit of instruction on the Holocaust and genocide. It provides that these topics will be taught in middle school and/or high school, with the specific grades to be decided by the local authority.

“Education is key to combating hatred, and by including genocide in the curriculum students will have the opportunity to explore how stereotypes, prejudice, and religious and ethnic hatred can escalate to atrocity,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Jeff Roy, D-Franklin. “Inclusion of genocide education also seeks to deter indifference to crimes against humanity and human suffering wherever they may occur. It has been said that no problem in the world poses the question on what it means to be human quite like genocide, because genocide is not simply about killing people, but about destroying humanity.”

Lower tolls during off-peak hours (S 2033)

The Transportation Committee held a hearing on legislation requiring the state to design and implement a statewide program for transponder users that charges toll rates that are different depending on time of day and are at least 25 percent lower during off-peak hours.

Supporters say the bill is designed to encourage motorists to travel during non-peak hours and help relieve the traffic congestion in the state.

Election laws

The Committee on Election Laws held a hearing on several bills, including giving cities and towns the option to allow local business owners who pay the community more than $1,000 in taxes to vote in local municipal elections (H 3650); establishing a pilot program to provide for convenient voting by smart phone for military personnel, their families and civilians stationed or working abroad who are allowed to register and vote (H 3763); and requiring voters to show identification at their polling places to be allowed to vote (H 658).

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