Beacon Hill Roll Call: Oct. 5 to Oct. 9, 2020

Published: 10/15/2020 2:20:51 PM

There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call looks at Question 1, one of the two questions on the ballot that will be decided directly by voters in November.

Secretary of State William Galvin has mailed the “Information for Voters on the 2020 Ballot Questions,” nicknamed the “Red Book,” to voters across the state. If you didn’t receive a copy, you can see one online at bit.ly/3jWkxDk or call the secretary’s office at 1-800-462-VOTE to have one mailed to you.

Question 1 asks voters if they approve of a proposed law that would require that motor vehicle owners and independent repair facilities be provided with expanded access to mechanical data related to vehicle maintenance and repair.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s Office of Administration and Finance is required by law to analyze the fiscal consequences if the proposed law is approved. “The proposed law has no discernible material fiscal consequences for state and municipal government finances,” the analysis states.

“Massachusetts voters voted a record-setting 86 percent in favor of the Right to Repair ballot initiative in 2012,” said Tommy Hickey, director of the Right to Repair Coalition, the group urging a “yes” vote on Question 1. “Technology has evolved and there was a loophole in the law carving out wireless communications that manufacturers are using to restrict access to independent repair shops forcing consumers to dealerships. This ballot initiative would give car owners direct access to their diagnostic and repair information because we, as a coalition, believe if you bought the car, you should get all the information necessary to fix it and share the information with a repair shop of your choice.”

“Question 1 is not Right to Repair,” said Conor Yunits, spokesperson for the Coalition for Safe and Secure Data, the group urging a “no” vote on Question 1. “We already have Right to Repair in Massachusetts, and it works: more than 70 percent of post-warranty repairs are done by independent mechanics. They are a critical piece of the repair network and that will not change. Question 1 is about major national retail chains like AutoZone and NAPA spending $21 million in Massachusetts because they want your data. Question 1 creates an ‘open access platform’ that connects to every vehicle in Massachusetts and unlocks a secure system, which is why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warns that malicious actors could access and potentially take control of your vehicle.”

A dispute has also erupted between the two groups on whether the availability of this information can be dangerous for victims of domestic violence.

“Domestic violence advocates warn how dangerous this information could be,” Yunits said. “Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, wrote, ‘Access to vehicle data, particularly call logs and GPS location, enables persons who perpetrate abuse to possess the tools necessary to track and monitor their victim.’”

But supporters of Question 1 disagree.

“The Jane Doe group was ill-informed that this ballot initiative was about GPS location, which it is not,” Hickey responded. “They have since withdrawn their position after finding out that this was simply about mechanical information necessary to diagnose, maintain and repair the car. In fact, they have also stated they did not give permission to car manufacturers to use their group’s name in the voter guidebook.”

Toni Troop, director of Communications and Development for Jane Doe Inc., responded to Beacon Hill Roll Call’s request to explain the situation.

“This past week, many of you received a 2020 Voters Guide in the mail,” Troop said. “In that guide, Jane Doe Inc. is quoted and portrayed as opposing Question 1. We would like to be clear that (we were) not consulted about our inclusion in this guide. While Jane Doe Inc. is not taking a public stand on this ballot question, at this time, we do not believe that a ‘yes’ vote on Question 1 would uniquely compromise survivor safety in the manner portrayed by opponents (of the bill).”

Opponents of Question 1 defended their use of the quotes from Jane Doe.

“Our Red Book language quotes directly from public testimony Jane Doe Inc. submitted to the Legislature,” Yunits countered. “We followed appropriate channels to inform them this language would be included in the Red Book before it was submitted in July.”

“When we were first presented with the Right to Repair issue late last year, we turned to our coalition partners in California for guidance given that they had recently navigated a similar initiative in their state,” Troop said. “Drawing from their experiences and insight, we wrote testimony in opposition to the Right to Repair legislation. At the time, our analysis of that legislation raised some safety and privacy concerns for victims and survivors of sexual and domestic violence that we did not feel had been adequately addressed by proponents. We raised specific concerns regarding the potential for abuse.

“Since January, our analysis has evolved,” Troop continued. “The current ballot question proposed is distinct from what was initially proposed in California and does not appear to pose the heightened risk of breach of personal information as suggested by those who oppose this initiative.”

“Let’s be very clear,” said Brian Johnson, owner of Brian’s Auto Repair and Tire in Fitchburg and a supporter of Question 1. “Car manufacturers have one goal here, and one goal only — to steer you to their dealerships where you will pay more for the services. They may tell you otherwise, but the bottom line is this: Without access to their secure gateways, we will have no way of accessing the diagnostic information we need. And it is prohibitively expensive to gain that access.”

“Right to Repair 2020 is not about repair at all,” said General Manager Jason Pappas of Copeland Chevrolet in Brockton, an opponent of Question 1. “The OnStar system is the largest vehicle telematics system in the United States and as a Chevrolet dealer we do not use it to repair vehicles. We connect to vehicles through the OBD 2 Connector under the dashboard, which is the same way independent repair facilities connect to a vehicle. Vote ‘no’ on Question 1 and protect your data. This is nothing more than a data grab by aftermarket parts manufacturers and large repair chains.”

Here are the official arguments, gathered by the secretary of state, by each side of the question. A maximum of 150 words is allowed.

In favor of Question 1

Written by Tommy Hickey, Massachusetts Right to Repair, 617-248-9772, massrighttorepair.org.

“A ‘yes’ vote for Right to Repair will guarantee that as technology advances, drivers can continue to get their cars repaired where they want. We passed the first Right to Repair law in 2012, but as new cars become more computerized, auto manufacturers are using a loophole to restrict access to data needed to diagnose problems, make repairs and perform maintenance. This means car owners are steered toward more expensive dealer repair options. Vote ‘yes’ to protect independent repair shops and preserve your ability to shop around. Voting ‘yes’ provides access only to mechanical and repair information, not personal information. A ‘yes’ vote ensures that you will have the choice to provide access to the repair information necessary to fix your car to your local independent repair shop even as cars become more computerized. It’s your car, you paid for it, you should get it fixed where you want.”

Against Question 1

Steve McElhinney, Coalition for Safe and Secure Data, 617-398-0281, safeandsecuredata.org.

“Vote ‘no’ on Question 1 to protect your privacy, your safety and your family. Question 1 has nothing to do with fixing cars. Question 1 is a data grab by third parties who want to gather your personal vehicle information and access it remotely, including location data in real time. Domestic violence advocates warn how dangerous this information could be. Jane Doe, the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, wrote, ‘Access to vehicle data, particularly call logs and GPS location, enables persons who perpetrate abuse to possess the tools necessary to track and monitor their victim.’ A similar proposal failed in California after the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault warned, ‘from this information, a third party, such as a sexual predator, could stalk and/or harm victims.’ Privacy advocates, cybersecurity experts and domestic violence advocacy groups urge you to vote ‘no’ on Question 1.”

Also up on Beacon Hill Mandate masks (HD 5181)

Reps. Jon Santiago, D-Boston, Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, and Christina Minicucci, D-North Andover, filed a bill that would require every person in Massachusetts to wear a face covering when in any indoor or outdoor public setting, including any building open to the public, elevators, hospitals, doctor’s and dentist’s offices; while using public transportation, any taxi or ride-sharing vehicles; and at outdoor public spaces including parks, streets, sidewalks or recreation areas when a distance of at least 6 feet cannot be maintained by any non-household member.

Individuals would be allowed to remove their masks when seated at a restaurant or other food establishment while eating or drinking if a distance of at least 6 feet is maintained from other tables. They could also remove the mask when engaged in exercise and when in an outdoor public area as long as the 6-foot distance from non-household members is maintained.

The measure exempts children under the age of 2 years old; people with a medical condition, breathing problem, mental health condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a face covering or prevents them from removing it without assistance, as long as medical documentation can be readily verified. The ban would stay in effect until the end of the COVID-19 state of emergency.

The Department of Public Utilities (DPU) commissioner and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), would be required to create and oversee a process to distribute face coverings to local emergency management directors or local health officers for use by municipal employees and residents.

The mandate would be enforced by local boards of health, and first-time violators of the ban would be given a written warning followed by a civil penalty of up to $100 for each subsequent violation.

The state would be required to post a travel advisory at all points of entry into Massachusetts, including airports, maritime ports, bus and train stations, and digital electronic highway signs. The advisory would state that all travelers entering Massachusetts from a state with a COVID-19 positivity rate of 5 percent or higher will be required to quarantine for a period of 14 days.

Other provisions prioritize COVID-19 testing for vulnerable populations; institute enforceable workplace safety standards to protect workers, customers and communities; and bolster the capacity of local boards of health.

“The last eight months have been incredibly challenging for our commonwealth and our country,” said co-sponsor Santiago, who is also a doctor. “As a frontline health care provider who treated patients throughout the entirety of Boston’s COVID-19 surge, I have seen loss beyond measure and don’t want us to forfeit our hard-earned progress. Now is the time to double down on strategies that mitigate transmission and allow for a safe reopening.”

The other two co-sponsors, Reps. Domb and Minicucci, did not respond to repeated e-mails from Beacon Hill Roll Call asking them to comment on the proposal.

Gender-neutral municipal boards (HD 5227)

Rep. Smitty Pignatelli, D-Lenox, filed legislation that would give cities and towns the power to adopt a gender-neutral title for their current board of selectmen or board of aldermen. Under current law, each city or town can change the titles, but only by filing special legislation with the Legislature and having it approved by both branches and signed into law by Gov. Baker.

“Our bill would allow the towns to make the change at their respective Town Meetings without having to file special legislation,” Pignatelli said.

Gov. Baker bobblehead

The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum in Milwaukee recently unveiled a bobblehead of Gov. Baker. The group will be donating $5 from every Baker bobblehead sold to the Protect the Heroes Fund in support of the 100 Million Mask Challenge of the American Hospital, which calls on manufacturers, the business community and individuals to coordinate and facilitate new relationships with hospitals and health systems to produce needed personal protective equipment (PPE). Since April, the sales of bobbleheads featuring Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx, other governors and 35 essential heroes have raised $275,000 for the Protect the Heroes Fund.

The bobbleheads are available at bobbleheadhall.com. Orders will be shipped in January. The cost is $25 each, plus a flat-rate shipping charge of $8 per order.

“During these unprecedented times, we want to continue to raise funds for an amazing cause while putting a smile on people’s faces with bobbleheads,” the museum’s co-founder and CEO Phil Sklar said. “We received a lot of requests to make a bobblehead of Gov. Baker and other governors who have been instrumental in the continued fight against COVID-19, so we’re excited to be releasing his bobblehead.”

‘More to the Story’ mental health campaign

The state has launched a campaign to encourage people to have conversations with family and friends who may have mental health problems. The campaign aims to help people look beyond a person’s answers like “I’m fine” to recognize the signs that someone may be struggling. The campaign’s site, bit.ly/33Vn7E9, offers many resources.

Replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day (H 3665)

A bill that would replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day has not seen any action in the House since it had a public hearing on April 30, 2019. The holiday would acknowledge the history of genocide and discrimination against indigenous people and celebrate their thriving cultures.

“Most of what many of us learned about Columbus is simply false,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Jack Lewis, D-Framingham. “Ancient Greeks had already proven that the world was not flat. And the European monarchs who rejected (Columbus’) proposed voyages, those of France, England and Portugal, rejected them because they knew his math about the circumference of the world and the distance between Europe and Asia was wrong.”

Lewis noted that Columbus instituted brutal tactics during his expeditions and returned home in shackles, stripped of his previous titles. “What legacy of Columbus are we actually celebrating?” he asked.

“The Indigenous Peoples Day bill did not move out of the committee where it was heard, despite hundreds of your letters in support, hours of testimony and lobbying of committee members,” notes the movement’s website, indigenouspeoplesdayma.org. “We thank you for all that you have done, and promise that we will get a new Indigenous Peoples Day bill introduced in January of 2021.”

Columbia Gas pays $56 million fine

The Department of Public Utilities (DPU) approved a settlement agreement under which Columbia Gas of Massachusetts will pay $56 million for its role in the 2018 Merrimack Valley gas explosions, leave the state and transfer all its assets to Eversource by Nov. 1. The $56 million will provide debt relief to thousands of low-income gas customers and fund clean energy and energy efficiency measures in older homes and buildings in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover. The agreement resolves DPU’s investigation into the company’s pipeline safety compliance and emergency response related to the September 2018 explosions.

“Our approval of this settlement ensures that Columbia Gas is held accountable for the tragic gas incident in the Merrimack Valley, and provides needed support to the impacted communities and low-income residents,” said DPU Chair Matthew Nelson.

Eversource is required to implement a safety and reliability program and address any remedial actions remaining from Columbia’s pipeline safety violations. Eversource is also required to develop a clean energy analysis to ensure that its business strategies are consistent with the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction requirements.




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