Beacon Hill Roll Call: Sept. 13 to Sept. 17, 2021

  • The Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, pictured in June 2020. The House, 160 to 0, and the Senate, 40 to 0, approved and Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill authorizing $400 million to fund construction of a new Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke. The push to construct the new facility follows the deaths of 77 veteran residents last year as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak. Staff File Photo/Carol Lollis

  • State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, speaks about the new climate change legislation at Energy Park in Greenfield earlier this month. The House, 145 to 14, and the Senate, 39 to 1, approved the bill and Gov. Charlie Baker signed it into law. A key section makes the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal net zero by 2050. Staff Photo/Julian Mendoza

Published: 9/23/2021 1:39:35 PM

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

This week Beacon Hill Roll Call reports on some of the bills that were approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker so far in the 2021 session.

Of the more than 7,000 bills that have been filed for consideration, only 47 have been approved by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor. Only 20 of those were bills that affect the entire state while the other 27 were either sick leave banks or other local-related measures applying to just one city or town.

Here are six of the 20 statewide bills signed into law, including comments from legislators at the time the bill was approved.

Climate change (S 9)

The House, 145 to 14, and the Senate, 39 to 1, approved and Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a lengthy climate change bill. A key section makes the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal net zero by 2050.

Other provisions in the measure codify environmental justice provisions into Massachusetts law by defining environmental justice populations and providing new tools and protections for affected neighborhoods; provide $12 million in annual funding for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to create a pathway to the clean energy industry for environmental justice populations and minority-owned and women-owned businesses; require an additional 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind and increase the state’s total authorization to 5,600 megawatts; set appliance energy efficiency standards for a variety of common appliances including plumbing, faucets, computers and commercial appliances; and set benchmarks for the adoption of clean energy technologies, including electric vehicles, charging stations, solar technology, energy storage and heat pumps.

“History has been made … with the passage of the Next-Generation Roadmap bill,” said Rep. Tom Golden, D-Lowell. “The roadmap sets us on a strong course to net zero by 2050 and significantly advances offshore wind, truly representing the best ideas from both chambers. Hats off to the House and the Senate for holding firm on ambitious emissions targets.”

“Massachusetts leads the nation in reducing carbon emissions, of which there are some measures that I have supported,” said Sen. Ryan Fattman, R-Sutton, who was the only senator who voted against the measure. “However, this legislation, often described as ‘far reaching’ by the media and economic experts, will ensure the costs of building homes and commercial economic development dramatically increase, making us the most expensive state in the nation to live and do business. In this time of economic recovery from COVID-19, this is not only inadvisable, it is detrimental to the long-term interests of keeping Massachusetts affordable and prosperous.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Help businesses and workers (H 90)

The House, 157 to 0, and the Senate, 40 to 0, approved and Gov. Baker signed into law a bill that supporters said will stabilize the state’s unemployment system and provide targeted tax relief to employers and workers.

Provisions exclude Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans from being taxed by the state in 2020; exclude $10,200 of unemployment compensation received by an individual with a household income of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level from gross income for tax purposes; and create a mechanism ensuring all employees can access 40 hours of paid sick time for any COVID-19-related issues, including testing positive, needing to quarantine or caring for a loved one.

Other provisions waive penalties on unemployment insurance taxes; freeze unemployment insurance rates paid by employers; and extend the state’s tax filing deadline from April 15, 2021 to May 17, 2021. Businesses also face a new surcharge, in the form of an excise tax on employee wages, through December 2022 to help repay interest due in September on federal loans.

“The House and Senate enacted legislation to make important updates to our state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, which has provided an economic lifeline for so many families in need,” said Rep. Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury, House chair of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “Our actions today will prevent a sharp increase in rates on our businesses, help stabilize the fund over the longer term, provide tax relief to lower-income jobseekers and ensure that needed jobless benefits continue to flow.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Present

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

$400 million for Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke (H 3770)

The House, 160 to 0, and the Senate, 40 to 0, approved and Gov. Baker signed into law a bill authorizing $400 million to fund construction of a new Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke. The push to construct the new facility follows the deaths of 77 veteran residents last year as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak.

The law also provides $200 million to increase geographic equity and accessibility of long-term care services for Massachusetts veterans with a focus on areas not primarily served by the soldiers’ homes in Chelsea or Holyoke.

“As the senator for the city of Holyoke and the Soldiers’ Home, I know what this new home means to so many in our community,” said Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield, Senate chair of the Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. “This has truly been a long and emotional process that started well before this legislation was first filed. From the very start, families and veterans gave me a very clear message: ‘Get this done.’ We could not let them down and I am proud to say that we have not let them down.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

$200 million for local roads and bridges (H 3951)

The House, 150 to 0, and the Senate, 40 to 0, approved and Gov. Baker signed into law a bill that includes authorizing $200 million in one-time funding for the maintenance and repair of local roads and bridges across the state. The $350 million package, a bond bill under which the funding will be borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds, also includes $150 million to pay for bus lanes, improvement of public transit, electric vehicles and other state transportation projects.

“When building a better normal post-pandemic, investment in transportation infrastructure is crucial,” said Sen. Pat Jehlen, D-Somerville. “Our communities should feel that their infrastructure is reliable and making it easier for them to go back to their normal activities.”

“This legislation recognizes that in addition to the backlog of local roads in need of repair, there is an unmet need for local projects that benefit all modes of transportation,” said Rep. Bill Straus, D-Mattapoisett, House chair of the Committee on Transportation. “I am pleased that the Legislature was able to provide municipal assistance for road work and expanded funding for towns and cities to advance public transit and reduce congestion.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

$48.1 billion fiscal year 2022 budget (H 4002)

The House, 160 to 0, and the Senate, 40 to 0, approved and Gov. Baker signed into law, after vetoing millions of dollars in spending, a compromise conference committee version of a $48.1 billion fiscal year 2022 state budget.

The budget was based on new estimates that tax collections in fiscal year 2022 will increase by more than $4.2 billion above the amount originally predicted by the governor, the House and the Senate. In light of the pandemic, elected officials had for months braced themselves for a substantial decrease in tax revenues and a cut in some programs and/or even a tax increase.

The new estimates also led to the conference committee’s cancellation of a planned withdrawal from the state’s Rainy Day Fund of at least $1.5 billion. Officials also project a $1.1 billion deposit into the fund that will drive its balance to $5.8 billion by the end of fiscal year 2022. It also cancels a plan to raise fees on Uber and Lyft rides to generate new money for cities and towns, the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) and other infrastructure projects.

Other provisions include a $350 million fund that could be used in future years to help cover the cost of the $1.5 billion school funding reform law passed in 2019; permanently extending the state’s tax credit for film production companies in Massachusetts; and a new law, based on a bill filed by Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford, that will provide victims of violent crime and human trafficking enhanced protections.

“The conference report … upholds our Senate values, charts a hopeful path forward for our commonwealth and more importantly reflects our priorities,” said Senate Ways and Means chair Mike Rodrigues, D-Westport. “We maintain fiscal responsibility and ensure our commonwealth maintains healthy reserves for years to come.”

Although she ultimately voted for the budget, Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, objected to the fact that legislators were given only a few hours to read the 434-page bill before voting on it. The budget was released late on a Thursday night and was voted on Friday afternoon.

DiZoglio said that positioning members to take a vote on something they did not get adequate time to review is not acceptable.

“If we keep doing this over and over again, it’s not going to magically become acceptable,” she said. “The fact that we didn’t get even a day to review this is very disappointing. But what’s more disappointing … is the fact that those in our communities who have a stake in what happens in the bill before us, those it will impact most — our schools, our elderly populations, those who are coming from positions of powerlessness, those folks — probably many of them still don’t even know that we’re taking this bill up today. And yet we continue to call what happens in this chamber part of the democratic process.”

A “Yes” vote is for the budget.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

COVID-19 policy extensions (S 2475)

The House, 150 to 10, and the Senate on a voice vote without a roll call, approved and Gov. Baker signed into law a conference committee version of legislation extending many of the measures instituted in Massachusetts during the COVID-19 state of emergency that expired when the emergency declaration ended at 12:01 a.m. on June 15.

The House approved the extensions on June 15 at 8:52 p.m. and the Senate at 8:54 p.m. Gov. Baker signed the bill into law at 9:40 a.m. on June 16. That means that during the more than 33 hours from 12:01 a.m. on June 15 until 9:40 a.m. on June 16, the extensions had expired and were not in effect.

Provisions include allowing public bodies subject to the Open Meeting Law to continue to hold remote meetings until April 1, 2022; allowing cities and towns to approve and extend permits for outdoor dining through April 1, 2022; allowing restaurants to offer alcoholic beverages, including mixed drinks, for off-site consumption with the purchase of food until May 1, 2022; and extending protections that have been granted to tenants who have difficulty paying rent through April 1, 2022.

Other provisions include reinstating until Dec. 15, 2021, the remote option for representative Town Meetings and meetings of nonprofits and public corporations; notary services; reverse-mortgage loan counseling; and flexibility for assisted living residences.

Several other matters were not resolved and remain before the conference committee, including a House-approved provision keeping the cap on delivery fees charged to restaurants by third parties like Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats at 15 percent of the order price; a Senate-approved requirement that certain in-network telehealth services be reimbursed at the same rate as equivalent in-person services; and a Senate-approved extension of mail-in voting.

“This partial report addresses issues common to both the Senate and House bills and is necessary to ensure that critical policies — including those relating to municipalities’ meetings, restaurants, tenants facing eviction, health care and child care — are available as expeditiously as possible,” reads a joint statement from Senate President Karen Spilka, House Speaker Ronald Mariano and Ways and Means chairs Sen. Michael Rodrigues and Rep. Aaron Michlewitz. “We will continue working together to resolve items in the near-term that were not included in today’s conference report, which deserve further consideration.”

“I couldn’t in good conscience vote to kick the can down the road as far as property rights,” said Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, one of only 10 representatives who voted against the bill. “By limiting homeowners’ rights to get rid of a nonpaying renter, (the bill) puts many in a terrible financial bind as they still have to pay taxes, insurance, mortgage and upkeep of the building. I do not believe it is fair or constitutional that the government has the ability to seize private property — which is basically what is happening. While I know there are legitimate issues, I would have rather given the judges the ability to use their discretion on a case-by-case basis as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach that solely favors one class over another.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Also up on Beacon HillUse campaign funds for child care services (H 769)

The Election Laws Committee held a virtual hearing on legislation that would allow candidates who are parents to use campaign funds to pay for child care services that they would not otherwise need if it wasn’t for their campaign.

Co-sponsor Rep. Mike Connolly, D-Cambridge, said he filed the bill to make running for office more accessible to working class folks raising young children.

“To achieve greater diversity in our elected bodies, we need to make it easier for potential candidates to cover the cost of child care,” Connolly said. “It is time for Massachusetts to join 17 other states and the federal government in making child care an allowable campaign expense.”

Tree wardens (H 2195)

The Municipalities and Regional Government Committee held a virtual hearing on a measure that would require that every city and town’s tree warden have sufficient training and certification; change the penalty paid to communities for someone who illegally removes shade trees from $500 to the often higher value of actually replacing the tree; and update antiquated laws, including the one that fines anyone who damages a tree or plant by driving an animal into it, but does not mention a car or truck because the current law was passed before the popular use of the automobile.

“The Massachusetts public shade tree law has not been materially updated for 100 years and must be reflective of the time we are living in,” said sponsor Rep. Steven Owens, D-Watertown. “This legislation would bring the commonwealth’s public shade tree law from the 19th to the 21st century. We know that a well-maintained urban tree canopy can act as a buffer against climate change. This bill will make sure our tree wardens have the training and tools they need to effectively manage our public trees.”

Bills heard by the Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight

This committee held a virtual hearing on dozens of bills, including:

Change “hearing impaired” to “deaf or hard of hearing” (S 2032): Changes all references to “hearing impaired” in state lawbooks to “deaf or hard of hearing.”

“I filed this legislation at the request of a group of students from the CAPS collaborative, which runs a program for deaf and hard of hearing students in the Newton public schools,” said sponsor Sen. Cindy Creem, D-Newton. “These students felt negatively impacted by the term ‘impaired’ and I have been working with them to change the terminology. I am hopeful that this session we can change our state laws to eliminate this hurtful term.”

State must translate vital documents into several languages (H 3199): Requires all state agencies to offer interpretation services and translate vital document notices, forms and applications for non-English speakers. The requirement would apply to any languages that constitute the primary language of at least 10,000 residents or one-half of 1 percent of all residents, whichever includes more languages.

“I filed this bill after hearing from countless residents about the difficulty of navigating state services due to language barriers, especially in emergencies,” said co-sponsor Rep. Adrian Madaro, D-East Boston. “As more of what we do moves online, we need to ensure that language access is delivered across all platforms, and that it is not an afterthought.”

“As a representative of a large bilingual community, I understand the importance and necessity of having documents and instructions translated in a person’s native language,” said co-sponsor Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, D-Springfield. “It is imperative for our state agencies to be inclusive and provide equal access to services, programs and activities for those who have first languages other than English and those who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

Gender identity on state documents (S 2012): Requires all state agencies to use gender identity inclusive language in all forms and documents. The legislation provides that the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ+ Youth produce guidelines to be used by agencies as they convert their forms.

“A constituent came to me after they had to fill out an official state document that offered only one option for a parental-unit: ‘mom’ and ‘dad,’” said sponsor Sen. Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester. “But my constituent’s family didn’t look like this. Simply put, the form was inaccurate. Thousands of Massachusetts residents identify as LGBTQ+. But so many of our bureaucratic forms do not reflect the diversity of our population. This legislation will ensure that every document and form spread across the state’s vast bureaucracy respects Massachusetts families as they are.”

Ban hostile architecture that targets homeless (H 3963): Prohibits the state, the MBTA and cities and towns from constructing “hostile architecture” that supporters of the ban say targets the homeless and tries to push them out of certain areas. The bill defines hostile architecture as “any building or structure that is designed or intended to prevent unhoused individuals from sitting or lying on the building or structure at street level.”

According to Robert Rosenberger, an associate professor of philosophy at Georgia Institute of Technology who has studied and written extensively on the subject, hostile architecture includes armrests that divide benches so that the bench is not long enough to sleep on and sprinklers that operate at night.

“Designing public spaces that are hostile to the unhoused community does nothing to address the problem of homelessness,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Mike Connolly, D-Cambridge. “In fact, designing public spaces with hostile architecture merely sends the issue further away from public view, making it more dangerous for those who are experiencing homelessness.”




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