Beacon Hill Roll Call: Sept. 2 to Sept. 6, 2019

Published: 9/10/2019 5:13:36 PM

There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call looks at the handful of major legislation that was approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker so far in 2019.

In the first eight months of the 2019 session, only 69 bills out of more than 6,200 filed have been approved by the House and Senate and signed into law by Baker.

Twenty-six of those were local bills dealing with an individual city or town and 28 were on sick leave banks for individual state workers. Sick leave banks allow employees to voluntarily donate sick, personal or vacation days to a pool for use by ill fellow state workers so they can get paid while on medical leave.

Eleven other bills ranged from supplemental budgets and extending simulcast racing to regulating appraisal management companies and establishing a restaurant promotion commission.

The remaining four were major bills that were debated and came to a roll call vote in both branches and were signed into law by Baker.

$43.3 billion fiscal year 2020 state budget (H 4000)

House 159 to 0, Senate 39 to 1, approved and Baker signed into law a $43.3 billion fiscal year 2020 state budget. The package raises spending by $1.6 billion, or 4 percent, over fiscal year 2019.

In an unusual move, Baker signed the fiscal year 2020 state budget into law without vetoing any of the $43.3 billion in spending approved by the House and Senate. Beacon Hill Roll Call talked to several State House veterans and not one could remember any other time in the last four decades that the governor did not veto funding in the budget. Just last year, Baker vetoed $48.9 million from a $41.7 billion budget.

“The lieutenant governor and I and the secretary (of administration and finance) and a lot of our team spent a lot of time talking about the line item stuff, and basically came to the conclusion that this budget is balanced,” Baker said when he signed the bill. “We’re obviously going to pay a lot of attention to what happens to revenues in the first two quarters of the year because we did have a lot of volatility in the revenue base for 2019. So we’re going to work pretty hard to pay attention not just to the revenue side but also the spending side going forward.”

A “Yes” vote is for the budget.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Repeal cap on welfare benefits for kids (S 2186)

House 155 to 1, Senate 37 to 3, overrode Baker’s veto of a bill that repeals the current law that denies an additional $100 in welfare benefits to children conceived while — or soon after — the family began receiving welfare benefits, or if they had received family welfare benefits in the past. The law was adopted in 1995 as part of a welfare reform package that was aimed at discouraging families already receiving public support from having more children.

“Eliminating the family cap should be accompanied by other reforms to the (welfare) program designed to align the eligibility determination with federal standards and support recipients as they return to work,” Baker said in his veto message.

Supporters of the repeal said that there are some 8,700 children who currently fall under the cap in Massachusetts. These families are barred from receiving an additional $100 a month to help support that child. They said there are no facts to back up the charge that families are having more children to get the additional $100.

A “Yes” vote is for repealing the cap.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Ban conversion therapy for anyone under 18 (H 140)

House 148 to 8, Senate 34 to 0, approved and Baker signed into law a bill that would prohibit psychiatrists, psychologists and other health care providers from attempting to change the sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression of anyone under 18. Conversion therapy exposes the person to a stimulus while simultaneously subjecting him or her to some form of discomfort. The therapy is primarily used to try to convert gays and lesbians to be straight.

Mental health experts and LGBTQ groups charge that the practice is scientifically unproven and unsound, and can trigger depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts in youth.

“We can offer assurances to those still struggling with coming out, or whose parents are still coming to terms with their orientation or identity, that they will not be sent to a licensed therapist to change who they know themselves to be,” said Rep. Jack Lewis, D-Framingham, at the time of the vote.

“This vote was an appalling assault on parental rights in the commonwealth,” said Massachusetts Family Institute President Andrew Beckwith, who opposed lifting the ban. “Over 140 of our state legislators apparently believe that parents should not be able to get gender-confused children any treatment, even counseling, that might help them avoid cross-sex hormone injections, sterility or ‘transition’ surgery.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No on the first roll call; Yes on a second roll call, after she motioned to reconsider the bill

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

$200 million in Chapter 90 funding for local roads (H 69)

House 156 to 0, Senate 40 to 0, approved and Baker signed into law a bill authorizing $200 million in one-time funding for the maintenance and repair of local roads and bridges in cities and towns across the state. The package is a bond bill under which the funding would be borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds.

Other provisions include $200 million for rail improvements and $1.5 billion in bonding to allow for federal interstate repairs to advance. According to officials, 80 percent of the $1.5 billion would be reimbursed by the federal government.

Supporters said the $200 million would help cities and towns keep their roads and bridges safe, and allow many vital municipal road projects to move forward.

No one voted against the bill, but there are some legislators and city and town officials who say the same old $200 million that has been given since fiscal year 2012 is insufficient. For several years, the Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) has been seeking to increase the amount to $300 million.

Advocates say that cities and towns maintain and repair 90 percent of the roadways in Massachusetts. They note that because of revenue caps imposed by Proposition 2½, cities and towns are very dependent on state funding to keep roads and bridges from crumbling.

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

Also up on Beacon Hill State must pay towns $3.16 million for 2020 elections

State Auditor Suzanne Bump certified that the state, under a 1983 law, is required to pay communities $3.16 million to cover the cost of extra mandated polling hours for the 2020 March presidential primary, September state primary and November general election.

The 1983 Uniform Polling Hours Law mandates that cities and towns open polling locations for at least 13 hours at primaries and general elections. The law included language directing the state auditor to determine how much this state mandate would cost cities and towns. The state is required to reimburse communities based on Bump’s numbers.

“Our democracy is strengthened when we make it more convenient for voters to cast their ballots,” Bump said. “Since 1984, the Uniform Polling Hours Law has expanded voter access and done so without placing additional financial burdens on cities and towns.”

You can find out how much your community will receive at bit.ly/2k8ucwZ.

The opioid epidemic

The Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery held a hearing on some 30 pieces of legislation offering a wide range of possible solutions to the state’s opioid crisis that claims an average of five lives per day. One of the bills would require all first responders to carry the overdose-reversal medication naloxone (H 1747).

“No family should have to watch a loved one die in front of them, in front of a first responder, waiting for Narcan to show up,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Smitty Pignatelli, D-Lenox.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Liz Malia, D-Boston, would increase from 14 days to 30 days the number of days private insurance companies are required to cover addiction treatment (H 1732).

“While our fatal overdose numbers have thankfully declined by 11 percent in Massachusetts, according to the data just released, people are still dying,” Malia said.

Another measure would create campaigns to increase students’ awareness about substance use and inform students about a current state law that grants legal immunity to individuals who call for help when they overdose (S 1162).

Driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants (H 3012 and S 2061)

A jam-packed Transportation Committee hearing was held on bills that would grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Sen. Brendan Crighton, D-Lynn, Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, and Rep. Christine Barber, D-Somerville, are the chief sponsors of the proposals that would permit all qualified residents, regardless of immigration status, to apply for and receive a standard state driver’s license.

“This is a public safety bill,” Farley-Bouvier said. “The passage of this bill will mean that all drivers in the commonwealth will be trained, will be licensed and will be insured. When all drivers are trained, licensed and insured, all drivers, all passengers, all cyclists … and pedestrians are safer.”

“Let me be perfectly clear … passing these bills will make it even easier for criminal illegal aliens to evade law enforcement and victimize law-abiding U.S. citizens and Massachusetts residents,” testified Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson. “Making illegal immigrants eligible for official Massachusetts driver’s licenses is not only wrong, but it’s reckless.”

“In addition to safer roads, opening up the door for more drivers to obtain licenses can mean more state revenue,” concluded researchers at the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. “If Massachusetts chooses to issue driver’s licenses to all drivers, regardless of immigration status, an estimated 41,000 to 78,000 drivers would obtain new licenses within three years. This could generate $3.1 million to $5.8 million just in initial license fees collected by the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

“This legislation would make Massachusetts a target for even more fraud than it already experiences,” said Jim Lyons, chairman of the Republican State Committee, in a press release. “The message the radical Democrats are sending is that it’s OK to break our laws. There are more than 275,000 individuals living here illegally, and apparently the Democrats believe that their benefits outweigh the benefits of those who are abiding by the law.”

Ban face covering at public events

“It is time, federal, state and local, to make it illegal to cover your faces in public events and demonstrations,” tweeted Sen. Dean Tran, R-Fitchburg, last week. “A danger to public safety and our police officers. No one or group is above the law.”

Tran announced his intention to file such a proposal after four police officers were injured and 36 people were arrested last weekend during skirmishes between police and protesters demonstrating against a straight pride parade in Boston. Some of the protesters, including members of the leftist group Antifa, wore masks or bandanas to hide their faces.

“Everyone should feel safe attending public events,” Tran said. “Disguising oneself to cause disruption and inflict harm on others and law enforcement should not be tolerated.”




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