Beacon Hill Roll Call: Sept. 11 to Sept. 1, 2023

By BOB KATZEN

Published: 09-22-2023 2:15 PM

There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

Tax reduction packages stuck in committee

It’s been three months since the House and Senate created a conference committee to hammer out a compromise version of different tax relief packages approved by each branch. Here’s the timeline of the bill, which was first approved by the House five months ago.

■April 13: House approves $1.1 billion in tax relief.

■June 15: Senate approved its own $590 million tax relief package.

■June 20: A conference committee is appointed to hammer out a compromise version of the two bills.

■Earlier this month, Gov. Maura Healey said the tax package is a top priority on the fall agenda. “Our job is not done until that tax package is done,” Healey said.

This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call reviews how local representatives voted on several roll calls on tax reductions.

$1.1 billion tax cut package (H 3770)

The House, 150-3, approved a $1.1 billion tax relief package. Provisions include combining the Child Care Expenses Credit with the Dependent Member of Household Credit to create one refundable $600 credit per dependent, while eliminating the current cap; exempt the first $2 million, instead of the current $1 million of the value of a person’s estate from the state’s estate/death tax that a person is required to pay following their death before distribution to any beneficiary; double the Senior Circuit Breaker Tax Credit from $1,200 to $2,400; increase the rental deduction cap from $3,000 to $4,000; reduce the short-term capital gains tax rate from 12% to 5%; raise the Earned Income Tax Credit from 30% to 40% of the federal credit; and replace the current business tax from the three-factor apportionment based on location, payroll and receipts with a single sales factor apportionment based solely on receipts.

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Another provision changes the tax refund distribution formula under a current law, known as 62F, that requires that annual tax revenue above a certain amount collected by the state go back to the taxpayers. Under current law, the money is returned to taxpayers based on how much he or she paid in 2021 taxes, while this tax relief package changes the formula and provides a flat-rate refund, unrelated to what the individual paid in taxes.

The measure would also change a current law that provides when the state’s Stabilization Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund, exceeds 15% of budgeted revenues, the excess is transferred to the Tax Reduction Fund, which eventually is returned to taxpayers. The Democrats’ tax relief bill would raise that percent to 25.5%.

A “Yes” vote is for the $1.1 billion in tax relief.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Aaron Saunders — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

How to distribute some future tax refunds (H 3770)

The House, 26-128, rejected an amendment that would change the law (known as 62F), approved by voters on the 1986 ballot, which requires that annual tax revenue above a certain amount collected by the state go back to the taxpayers. A few months ago, the law resulted in $2.9 billion being returned to taxpayers, using a formula based on how much each taxpayer paid in income taxes in 2021.

In the House’s $1 billion tax reduction bill, the formula is changed so that each taxpayer will receive a flat-rate refund, unrelated to what they paid in taxes. The amendment would strike the change and revert back to the refund based on what a person paid in income taxes in 2021.

A “No” vote is against the amendment and favors a flat-rate refund of the same amount for each taxpayer.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Aaron Saunders — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Raise trigger point for tax refund (H 3770)

The House, 25-129, rejected a Republican amendment to a section of the Democrats’ tax relief bill that would change a law that provides when the state’s Stabilization Fund — also known as the Rainy Day Fund — exceeds 15% of budgeted revenues, the excess is transferred to the Tax Reduction Fund, which eventually is returned to taxpayers. The Democrats’ bill would raise that percent to 25.5%.

The Republican amendment would eliminate that change and revert to the current 15% formula.

A “No” vote is against the 15% cap and favors the 25.5% cap.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Aaron Saunders — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Tax revenue from millionaire’s tax (H 3900)

The House, 25-132, rejected an amendment that would remove a section in the budget that exempts tax revenue generated from the recently voter-approved millionaire’s tax from counting toward the allowable state tax revenue limitations, under Chapter 62F, which provides that whenever revenue collections in a fiscal year exceed an annual cap tied to wage and salary growth, the excess is returned to taxpayers. Last year, $3 billion in refunds were returned to taxpayers when the law was triggered for just the second time since its passage in 1986. The revenue from the millionaire’s tax is deposited into the new Education and Transportation Stabilization Fund.

A “No” vote is against the amendment and supports exempting the revenue from the allowable state tax revenue limitations.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Aaron Saunders — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Also up on Beacon HillRequire state agencies to increase language access

Gov. Maura Healey signed an executive order instructing all state agencies to conduct a thorough assessment of their language access capabilities and develop a plan for improvement. The order is designed to make the delivery of services and resources more accessible and equitable for residents with limited English proficiency.

“Everyone in Massachusetts, regardless of what language they speak, deserves equitable access to government services and resources, but we recognize that language often poses a major barrier,” said Gov. Healey. “This executive order will help break down language barriers and bridge gaps. … We’re proud to take this important step toward making state government more accessible and equitable during Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month.”

“One in four Massachusetts residents speak a language other than English — which underscores why this executive order is so critical,” said Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll. “It is essential that we are setting people up for success by ensuring that they are able to read and engage with information provided by their state government. This … will help us work to ensure that all residents have the chance to get their questions answered and interact with their government in a way they understand. I am excited to see the implementation of strong language access plans across our state agencies and all the benefits this will bring to our state.”

Prohibit dividing children’s toys by gender (H 199)

The Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities Committee held a hearing on a proposal that would prohibit retail stores with more than 500 employees from dividing the display of toys for children under the age of 14 into sections by gender. The bill gives stores 30 days to correct any violation or be subject to a $1,000 civil penalty.

“Toys are just that, toys,” said sponsor Rep. Jack Lewis, D-Framingham. “They have no gender and families should be invited to shop without outdated gender norms dictating which aisles are intended for one gender over another. There is nothing inherently masculine about LEGOs and nothing inherently feminine about Easy-Bake Ovens. The companies themselves know this. It is time for major retailers to follow the lead of stores like Target and the state of California in letting kids simply play.”

Mandatory diaper changing stations (H 209)

Another bill heard by the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities would require public buildings and places of public accommodation to provide a private or semi-private diaper changing station accessible to all caretakers of children, regardless of sex, gender or disability. The requirement would apply only to new construction of public buildings or places of public accommodation and those undergoing significant renovation. Signs indicating the location of the diaper changing station must be posted at or near the entrance of a facility.

“As a dad of three young children, I’ve frequently experienced the difficulties of trying to find a diaper changing station while out with my kids,” said co-sponsor Rep. Simon Cataldo, D-Concord. “This bill aims to make it easier and safer for all parents and caretakers to change kids’ diapers in public buildings.”

“This legislation will make it clear that parents and children are welcome in the commonwealth’s public spaces,” said co-sponsor Rep. Steve Owens, D-Watertown. “By providing changing stations that are accessible to all, we can keep our children and public spaces clean and healthy.”

Allow pharmacists to test, screen and treat patients for some conditions (H 4066)

The Financial Services Committee held a hearing on a measure that would allow pharmacists to test, screen and treat some specific qualified health conditions including influenza, streptococcal infections, COVID-19 and HIV,

“Pharmacists are critical players in protecting the health of our communities, and they are more than capable of serving as care providers for common health conditions,” said sponsor Rep. Kay Khan, D-Newton. “Given that over 90% of Americans live within 5 miles of a pharmacy, this bill will make health care more accessible for everyone, especially the most underserved populations. Allowing vulnerable communities to get tested and treated for common diseases right down the street at their local pharmacy can significantly improve health outcomes, reduce health disparities and promote health equity across the commonwealth.”

Denial of coverage by health care insurers (S 663)

Another measure before the Financial Services Committee would prohibit health insurers from denying claims except in the case where the carrier has reasonable basis supported by specific information that the claim was submitted fraudulently. The proposal also requires insurers to provide clarifications of refusals, offer sufficient time for policy holders to resubmit claims and to respond to refusal appeals within 30 days.

Supporters said that some health insurers still deny claims filed by health care providers due to administrative or technical defects. They argued this creates disruptions in care for patients, who are often left responsible for bridging the gap between insurers and providers when errors arise.

“Whether it’s an administrative error or a technical default with a claim, too many medically necessary treatments are denied by insurance providers for the wrong reasons,” said sponsor Sen. John Keenan, D-Quincy. “We need to improve the process so that care is disrupted as little as possible when mistakes like this are made.”

Exempt cities and towns from gas tax (H 2846)

A measure heard by the Revenue Committee would exempt all cities and towns from the 24-cents-per-gallon state gas tax.

“Our current system requires cities and towns to wait for the annual distribution of local aid before seeing any kind of rebate or return of the taxes paid on the municipal purchase of fuel,” said sponsor House GOP Minority Leader Rep. Brad Jones, R-North Reading. “By providing a permanent exemption from the excise tax, cities and towns will have immediate access to these additional local revenues to use as they see fit. While we are all currently dealing with the continually high cost of gasoline and heating oil, this legislation represents one way we can provide our cities and towns with much needed tax relief.”

Exempt masks, face shield and gloves from sales tax (H 2732)

A bill before the Revenue Committee would exempt masks, face shields, medical gloves and smocks from the state’s 6.25% sales tax.

“As COVID-19 cases once again increase and we battle ongoing inflation, ensuring these products remain accessible and affordable is of the utmost importance,” said sponsor Rep. Tackey Chan, D-Quincy.

Revenge porn (S 1139)

The Judiciary Committee held a hearing on legislation that would prohibit the posting of sexually explicit images of another person online without their permission — commonly referred to as “revenge porn.” The practice is often used by ex-spouses or ex-partners.

“Massachusetts continues to be one of only two states in the nation that does not criminalize revenge porn and it is beyond time that we close this loophole,” said sponsor Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield. “Far too many individuals have suffered through this painful abuse, and continue to live in fear, all without having an avenue to seek justice.”

Another provision in the bill changes current law under which minors, under 18 years of age, who share explicit images of themselves or other minors can be charged with violating Massachusetts child pornography laws and be required to register with the Sex Offender Registry. The bill allows minors to be diverted to an educational program that would provide them with information about the consequences of posting or transmitting indecent visual depictions of minors.

Supporters say that under current law, when faced with an incident of sexting among teenagers, law enforcement officials are faced with either charging them with a felony or taking no action. They note the proposal provides law enforcement officers with a middle ground that will allow them to educate kids about the consequences of their actions without ruining their lives.

The House and Senate approved different versions of similar measures in 2022 but the proposals eventually died in the House from inaction.