Beacon Hill Roll Call: Sept. 16 to Sept. 20, 2019

Published: 9/24/2019 5:32:03 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local senators and representatives from the week of Sept. 16 to Sept 20, 2019.

Allow unions to charge non-union members for some costs (H 3854)

House 154 to 1, Senate 39 to 1, successfully overrode Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto of a bill that would allow unions to charge non-members for the cost of some services and representation. The measure would also give unions several new rights including access to state workers’ personal contact information with their home addresses, home and cellphone numbers and personal e-mail addresses. The new law will take effect in 90 days.

The bill was filed as a response to a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees case that public employees cannot be forced to pay fees or dues to a union to which he or she does not belong. Freedom of speech advocates hailed the decision while labor advocates said it was an unjust attack on unions.

“I refuse to sign legislation that compels state and municipal government to turn over the cellphone numbers of private citizens, who happen to be government employees, without their permission, to private organizations,” Baker said in his veto message to the Legislature.

“Today the state Legislature made a strong statement that unions are in the public interest and will remain a strong force for economic fairness in Massachusetts,” said AFL-CIO President Steve Tolman. “The overwhelming bipartisan votes to override Gov. Baker’s veto by the House and Senate this week demonstrate that unions are not a partisan issue in Massachusetts. This new law represents the most comprehensive response to the Janus ruling of any state in the country by ensuring that unions will have the tools necessary to effectively communicate with their members while protecting their personal contact information from outside interests.”

“My rationale is very simple,” said Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, one of two legislators who voted to sustain the governor’s veto. “I believe an individual’s privacy rights trumps any organization’s wants — no matter who or what that organization is or represents. I tried to amend the legislation, which would allow a person to elect not to release their personal information, home address, home phone and personal email if they so choose. Unfortunately, this amendment failed primarily on party lines. I honestly do not understand why the unions are so insistent on having the information of a person who does not want to join the union.”

“Despite the best efforts of the governor and two bold lawmakers, the Legislature continues to insist upon a law that blatantly violates the privacy rights of state workers that opt not to enroll in a union,” said Paul Craney, spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “When this legislation becomes law, it will find itself in the courts and most likely be overturned by an impartial judge. Speaker DeLeo demonstrated that he puts the desires of union bosses ahead of the rights of hard-working state workers. DeLeo runs the House like a dictatorship, squashing any reform efforts or transparency.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Women’s history trail (H 4076)

House 156 to 0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill requiring the state’s Office of Travel and Tourism and Department of Transportation to develop and implement a Women’s Rights History Trail program, which will designate properties and sites that are historically associated with the struggle for women’s rights and women’s suffrage. The program is designed to promote education and awareness of the struggle for women’s rights in Massachusetts. The passage of this bill coincides with preparations for the yearlong centennial celebration of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women full voting rights.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to recognize the many notable women who have influenced Massachusetts in important and lasting ways as we prepare for the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage,” said the bill’s co-sponsor Rep. Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston. “The establishment of a trail will allow us to all hear and appreciate the powerful stories of strong women that will expand our understanding of history and shape our expectations for the future.”

“The creation of a women’s rights history trail in our commonwealth is an opportunity to rightfully credit and celebrate the many women who played a pivotal role in our state’s history, our nation’s democracy and the fight for women’s suffrage, and to inspire future generations of young women and men alike,” said Rep. Hannah Kane, D-Shrewsbury, a co-sponsor of the measure. “A boost for our commonwealth’s tourism industry, the trail provides municipalities across the Bay State with a valuable new mechanism to draw visitors and proudly highlight their connection to historical women, sites and properties.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Ban toxic flame retardants (S 2338)

Senate 38 to 0, approved and sent to the House a bill that would ban 11 toxic flame retardants from children’s products, bedding, carpeting and residential upholstered furniture sold or manufactured in Massachusetts, except for inventory already manufactured prior to Aug. 31, 2020. Another provision requires the Department of Environmental Protection to review, at least every three years, chemical flame retardants used in these type of products and include them on the list of prohibited chemical flame retardants that are documented to pose a health risk. Violators would be fined up to $1,000 for a first offense, and up to $5,000 for a second and subsequent offense.

Motor vehicles, watercraft, aircraft, all-terrain vehicles, off-highway motorcycles and electronic devices are exempt from this law as are any previously owned products that contain a retardant.

The House and Senate approved the bill at the end of last year’s 2018 legislative session, but Gov. Baker did not sign it.

“Massachusetts can be a leader in this area, but the specifics of the bill that emerged during the last hours of the legislative session limit its potential effectiveness,” Baker wrote to legislators. “A deliberative process involving all stakeholders and an implementation schedule that takes into account the realities of manufacturing and distribution practices are key components to any legislation. I look forward to working with the bill sponsors and stakeholders on a revised form of this legislation in the (2019) session.”

Supporters say that since 1975, manufacturers have added chemical flame retardants to a wide array of household items including products with polyurethane foam, such as sofas, car seats, strollers and nap mats. They are also incorporated into electronic products and building insulation.

They argue that the retardants, while well-intentioned, do more harm than good and have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, fertility problems, neurological disorders and other major health concerns. They note that firefighters are exposed to flame retardants when they go into burning buildings.

“For decades these flame-retardant chemicals have been harming our children and firefighters, and we now know that we don’t need them for fire safety,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Cynthia Creem, D-Newton. “It’s time we put health first. This is not a choice between fire safety and public health — with this bill, we can have both.”

“The science is clear,” said Rep. Marjorie Decker, D-Cambridge. “Flame retardant chemicals are linked to cancer, developmental problems for young children and negative behavioral health outcomes. We also know that these same chemicals only make fires more deadly.”

No senators voted against the bill. But representatives of chemical and electronics companies, as well as makers of children’s products and mattresses, testified against the bill at a hearing in May.

Ryan Trainer, president of the International Sleep Products Association, said that banning one specific chemical — antimony trioxide — would limit mattress manufacturers’ ability to meet federal flammability standards. He said that if the bill passed, it could force the redesign of many mattress styles, which would raise prices for consumers and businesses.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Also up on Beacon Hill $1.5 billion for public education system

Rep. Alice Peisch, D-Wellesley, and Sen. Jason Lewis, D-Winchester, the co-chairs of the Education Committee, unveiled a long-awaited consensus school finance reform bill that will invest $1.5 billion in its public education system over the next seven years. The bill, named the Student Opportunity Act, is expected to land on the Senate floor for debate and a vote sometime in October.

“The Student Opportunity Act builds on our ongoing efforts to support our neediest students and to close opportunity gaps,” said House Speaker Bob DeLeo, D-Winthrop. “The bill includes significant investments, placing a special emphasis on English learners and districts serving high concentrations of low-income students. In addition, this bill makes investments in school buildings, special education and transportation for districts across the state. Both the House and Senate have taken the noteworthy step of collaborating, side-by-side, to craft a bill that reflects a joint approach to support students.”

“I think this session, with the strong support of our leadership and all of the committee members, we have finally come to a consensus on a bill that, as the Senate president and the speaker indicated, will fully implement all of the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission,” Peisch said at a briefing for reporters.

“I think it’s fair to say that if this bill passes into law, we will have the strongest and most progressive education funding system in terms of how we reflect the needs of low-income students,” Lewis said. “However, we realize that even with all those changes in the increased Chapter 70 aid that districts will receive, that there’s more that we can and must do to support the needs of all school districts and all students across the state, whether they are in rural districts, suburban districts, Gateway Cities or others.”

“It is critical that we act upon the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission and take the necessary steps to address some of the historic inequities in our school funding formula so that all students in the commonwealth can access the same educational opportunities to prepare them for college and the workforce,” said GOP House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading. “I look forward to reviewing the details of the Student Opportunity Act and whatever changes the Senate makes to the bill, with the hope that the House and Senate can reach agreement on a final bill this session.”

“In the past year, thousands of parents marched on Beacon Hill making it clear they wanted additional funding and also a plan for how that funding would immediately begin to address the achievement gap crisis in Massachusetts,” said Keri Rodrigues, founder of Massachusetts Parents United. “Blank checks are simply not enough. The Student Opportunity Act fulfills our hopes for how the state can better support our children’s education.”

Ban coal rolling (H 3097)

The Transportation Committee’s hearing included a proposal that would prohibit anyone driving a diesel-powered vehicle from releasing significant quantities of soot, smoke or other particular emissions that obstruct or obscure another driver’s view of the roadway. The measure also bans anyone from retrofitting a diesel-powered vehicle with a device, smokestack or other equipment that enhances the vehicle’s capacity to emit these pollutants. Violators would be fined from $100 to $1,000.

“Pedestrians, cyclists and electric vehicles have long been favored targets for drivers of monster trucks ‘rolling coal’ to intentionally spew huge clouds of diesel exhaust at their perceived enemies in the nation’s culture war,” said Paul Rauber in an article in the Sierra Club’s magazine.

“I filed this bill because it was brought to my attention by a constituent as a public safety and environmental issue,” said the measure’s sponsor Rep. Brian Murray, D-Milford. “Coal rolling serves no useful purpose. The exhaust generated consumes extra fuel and can be directed at other vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians, which can pose a serious danger to others. And the unnecessary emissions are clearly harmful to the environment.”

Raise age for ‘speedy trials’ (H 1398)

The Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a bill that would raise from 65 years old to 75 years old the age at which a person can take advantage of the state’s Speedy Trial Law.

“Our judicial system here in the commonwealth is equipped with a tool called ‘Speedy Trials’ to allow those considered ‘near death’ to have their matters heard before the court without delay,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk. “While this is a sensible policy to make sure our elders do not spend their twilight years in a legal limbo, this statute is in need of a little updating.”

Supporters of the hike to 75 say that 65 is no longer considered “near death.” They argue that according to the Social Security Administration, because of advances in research, technology and medicine that have expanded life expectancy, a man reaching age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 84, and a woman until age 86.

Must pay sexual harassment fines from personal funds (S 871)

Another bill heard by the Judiciary Committee would prohibit public officials from using taxpayers’ money or campaign contributions to pay fines if he or she is found guilty or reaches a settlement in connection with an accusation of sexual harassment or sexual assault that occurred while serving as a public official. The bill requires that all payments of fines or settlements in those cases be made from the official’s personal funds.

“Taxpayers should not foot the bill for public officials who commit sexual assault or harassment,” said the bill’s chief sponsor Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton. “Those who are found guilty of assault or harassment should not be able to look to the taxpayers to bail them out. Similar bills have passed in other states, and in Washington, D.C., and both Democrats and Republicans passed a federal version of this legislation. It’s time Massachusetts joined them in passing this bill.”




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