Beacon Hill Roll Call: Sept. 20 to Sept. 24, 2021

  • COMERFORD

  • Vials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. The House, 131 to 28, approved an order that requires all representatives and House staff to be vaccinated to be allowed to work in the State House. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Published: 9/30/2021 2:25:54 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ and representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of Sept. 20 to Sept. 24.

COVID-19 rules for House operation (H 4121)

The House, 131 to 28, approved an order that requires all representatives and House staff to be vaccinated to be allowed to work in the State House; and to maintain full vaccination status against COVID-19 on an ongoing basis, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A key section establishes an eight-member House Working Group on COVID-19 that will include seven members appointed by Democratic Speaker Ron Mariano and one member appointed by GOP Minority Leader Brad Jones. The working group has the power to establish many of the details of the vaccine mandate including establishing the deadline for people to be vaccinated and establishing a system for exempting from the vaccine anyone who chooses not to get vaccinated because of a qualifying disability or medical condition that contraindicates administration of the vaccine or because of a sincerely held religious belief.

Other provisions require that all members and staff be granted paid time off to receive the vaccine; be required to follow any other rules established by the working group, including wearing face masks, maintaining social distancing or being tested for COVID-19; declare a state of emergency in the House and extend the House rule that allows members to vote and participate remotely in the House session until a majority of House members call for an end to the state of emergency.

“Vaccination is the best tool for mitigating the risk of spreading COVID-19 and we need to know where we stand collectively as colleagues and as a House,” said Rep. Bill Driscoll, D-Milton, the House chair of the Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management. “It was essential we move forward with mandating a proof of vaccination in order to consistently convene in-person once again. Vaccines have proven to be the most effective tool in keeping us safe and, layered with other non-pharmaceutical measures, will guide us through to the other side of the delta variant and afford us the opportunity to return in-person.”

“The House took actions … that I could not support,” said Rep. Michael Soter, R-Bellingham. “The safety of all members and staff is of the utmost importance. However, I’m disappointed to see these crippling guidelines put in place. This is the people’s House, and we are one of the last entities in the state to discuss a reopening plan. We should be leading the charge in educating individuals on the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccination and not use mandates and threats. By doing so, we would increase participation and decrease hesitancy.”

“The first step to reopening this building is a commitment to each other that we will do everything we can to keep our staff, our colleagues, our families and the public safe,” said Rep. Kate Hogan, D-Stow. “We know that vaccines are the most effective tool, by far, in keeping us safe by reducing the risks of transmission, hospitalization and death, particularly when used with masks and social distancing protocols. Therefore, the vaccine requirement is necessary to optimally provide for the continued safety of the House as a workplace for our members, officers, staff, employees and eventually, the public.”

“I was disappointed by the order. … I truly want to get behind a good comprehensive reopening plan,” said Rep. Kimberly Ferguson, R-Holden. “So here’s the issue: What we have before us today unfortunately is a vague document with no detailed guidelines, no metrics, no clear parameters. What we have here is a document (that) gives the eight-member working group … the ultimate and final say in all further actions, mandates and policies regarding COVID-19 in the House. No debate, no further votes, no further House discussions are needed. And that concerns me. How can we as a body vote today on something with such lack of clarity? How can we as a body vote on many policies we haven’t been able to see yet?”

A “Yes” vote is for the vaccination requirement and the other rules.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Increase hours that retired public employees can work (H 4007)

The House, 158 to 0, overrode Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto of a bill that would increase from 960 hours per year (18 hours per week) to 1,200 hours per year (23 hours per week) the maximum amount of time a public retiree collecting a pension is allowed work for the state or local government.

“I support providing municipalities and state agencies with increased flexibility to make appropriate staffing decisions,” Gov. Baker said in his veto message. “However, an increase of 240 more hours per year is a significant policy change and moves the commonwealth and its municipalities closer to a place where employees continue to work near full-time while collecting a pension, without any corresponding changes to improve the current practice. I therefore proposed an amendment that would have increased the number of hours to 975, which more accurately reflects half-time, thereby allowing some flexibility to retired employees who are bumping against the current 960-hour limit. In addition, I proposed a waiver to the hour caps for personnel in positions where a critical shortage of qualified personnel has been determined.”

Supporters of the increase to 1,200 hours said that allowing retirees to work 23 hours per week is reasonable and will help many retirees who are struggling to make ends meet. They said it is unfair to punish retirees who would like to work more hours and provide their services to the state or local government.

“As we continue to navigate this pandemic and its effects on our local and state government, it is imperative that we are able to utilize the knowledge and experience that many of our retirees possess,” said Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick. “This is important as many of these roles are evolving and allowing our retirees to assist in this process without hindering their pensions will help us turn the corner toward more efficient government practices both during these challenging times and post-pandemic.”

A “Yes” vote is for the increase to 1,200 hours.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Repeal the harbor tax credit and medical device tax credit (H 4008)

The House, 130 to 29, overrode Gov. Baker’s veto of a bill that would repeal the current medical device tax credit and the harbor maintenance tax credit. Gov. Baker supported retaining both tax credits.

“I see no reason to repeal the medical device user fee tax credit, as it is claimed annually by its intended beneficiaries and supports medical device companies operating in the commonwealth,” Gov. Baker said in his veto message. “Similarly, I do not support the repeal of the harbor maintenance tax credit. It serves as a benefit to shippers, importers and exporters who generate critical commercial activity in and around Massachusetts ports.”

Supporters of repealing the tax credits said the Tax Expenditure Review Commission’s recent report made clear these two tax credits do not provide meaningful benefit to the state and its residents. They noted that no other states offer these credits, which are mostly used by large, profitable companies.

A “Yes” vote is for abolishing the tax credits.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Repeal $5,000 asset limit for some welfare recipients (H 4012)

The House, 130 to 29, overrode Gov. Baker’s veto of a bill that would repeal a current law that prohibits anyone with assets of more than $5,000 from being eligible for Transitional Assistance to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) — a program that provides cash assistance and employment support to families with children and pregnant women with little or no income or assets. Assets include things like bank accounts, retirement accounts and cash. Some things do not count as an asset, including the person’s house and one car.

“TAFDC extends a vital lifeline to certain Massachusetts residents, but I disagree with eliminating the current asset test completely,” Gov. Baker said in his veto message. “I do support reforming the TAFDC asset rule to allow recipients who meet the asset test at the time of application to continue to accrue assets in excess of the current limit without risk of losing eligibility for TAFDC. I would welcome the opportunity to further develop this policy in partnership with the Legislature to ensure these benefits are available for the commonwealth’s families in highest need.”

Supporters of repealing the $5,000 asset limit said it is unfair to deny families with children and pregnant women who may have as little as $6,000 to $10,000 in assets from benefiting from the TAFDC program. Some said the asset limit encourages people to spend down their assets at a time when they should be preserving or increasing savings.

A “Yes” vote is for repealing the $5,000 asset limit.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sex education (S 2534)

The Senate, 38 to 1, approved and sent to the House legislation that would require that all public schools offering a comprehensive sexual health education curriculum “provide medically accurate, age-appropriate sexual health education.”

Under current law, public schools are not required to teach sex education and the bill does not change that, but rather mandates that any schools that choose to teach sex education are required to follow a curriculum, based on age, that includes human anatomy, reproduction and sexual development; the benefits of abstinence and delaying sexual activity; the importance of effectively using contraceptives to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS; ways to effectively discuss safe sexual activity; relationship and communication skills to form healthy, respectful relationships free of violence, coercion and intimidation; and information about gender identity and sexual orientation for all students, including recognition that people have different sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.

The measure also requires any school offering sex education to notify parents about the school’s sex education curriculum and gives parents the right to withdraw a student from the instruction. Another provision creates a process for parents to inspect the program instruction materials before the start of the course.

Supporters said that under the bill, local cities and towns still have the authority and power to decide whether sex education is taught in their schools. They said the measure will ensure that schools that choose to teach sex education will have a framework to follow. They noted the bill will prepare students to make healthy decisions and will reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

“I am very proud that the Massachusetts Senate has once again reaffirmed our commitment to this commonsense healthy policy that will ensure our youth have the tools needed to protect their health and form respectful relationships,” said sponsor Sen. Sal DiDomenico, D-Everett. “This legislation makes it clear that sex education in the commonwealth must be inclusive for all students and emphasize the importance and necessity of consent.”

“This is a highly controversial bill, as demonstrated by the fact that it has failed to pass for multiple sessions,” said Sen. Ryan Fattman, R-Sutton, the only senator who voted against the measure. “If this legislation is to pass into law, it would be a direct usurpation of the local school district’s decision-making abilities. Each community has different needs based on their specific demographics, which is why they should have the ability to decide their curriculum. By mandating a statewide sex education curriculum, you directly take away the ability of a community to decide how sensitive topics like sex education are taught.”

“It is quite troubling that our elected officials think taking local control away from school districts and parents regarding sex ed curriculum is a good idea,” said Andrew Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Family Institute. “And even worse is the type of graphic content they want to push on students in the curriculum they are sanctioning. In what reality does normalizing high-risk sexual activity like anal and oral sex for teens or teaching young vulnerable girls how to obtain abortions without their parents’ knowledge or consent result in healthy youth?”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Change gender on birth certificates and more (S 2533)

The Senate, 39 to 0, approved and sent to the House a bill that would allow people to change their gender on their birth certificate, driver’s license, learner’s permit, identification card or liquor purchase identification card, including to a non-binary option other than male or female. The possible designations include “female,” “male” or “X,” which would indicate that the person is another gender or an undesignated gender. The gender can only be changed by an adult, an emancipated minor or the parent or guardian of a minor.

No documentation is required but the person changing the gender must submit an affidavit executed under the penalty of perjury attesting that the request is to conform to the person’s gender identity and is not made for any fraudulent purpose. The bill also directs the state to develop a plan for allowing a non-binary option on all state forms and instances where a gender choice is required.

“People know what gender they are,” said sponsor Sen. Jo Comerford, D- Northampton. “This bill simply allows for gender identification and IDs as diverse as our people. The Legislature must ensure that all of our constituents have access to IDs with nonbinary gender markers as beautifully diverse as they are.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Also up on Beacon HillAllow insurance discounts for drivers who take a course in marijuana impairment (H 1130)

A bill before the Financial Services Committee would allow insurance companies to offer discounts to licensed drivers who complete a marijuana impairment education course offered by driving schools and insurance companies.

“This legislation was filed with the intent of incentivizing drivers to educate themselves on the effects of driving under the influence of marijuana and would ultimately keep our roads safer,” said sponsor Rep. Hannah Kane, R-Shrewsbury.

Must notify consumer of fees (H 1127)

Another measure pending before the Financial Services Committee would require insurance providers to notify consumers in writing if there is a fee assessed for processing an electronic payment transaction.

“Electronic payments offer convenience and have become increasingly popular in recent years, but they can come with a hidden cost to the consumer in the form of added fees,” said sponsor House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading. “By requiring insurers to give written notification of these fees, this legislation will provide an extra layer of transparency so consumers can make a more informed choice on how they pay their bills.”

Discourage businesses from moving call centers overseas (S 2056)

A bill before the committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight would discourage businesses from closing call centers and customer service centers in Massachusetts and relocating overseas. The measure, which would apply only to businesses with 50 or more full-time employees, would impose a $10,000 per day fine on any businesses that do not comply with the new law. The secretary would be allowed to waive the ban if the employer demonstrates that a lack of a loan or grant would result in substantial job loss in the state or harm the environment.

Other provisions would require that the secretary of labor and workforce development compile a semiannual list of all businesses that relocate a call center; ban the state from providing any business on the list with state grants, guaranteed loans or tax benefits for five years; and require all state-business-related call center and customer service work be performed by state contractors entirely within Massachusetts.

“Family-supporting jobs in call centers across the commonwealth have served as a source of economic growth and a pathway to the middle-class for countless Massachusetts residents, yet communities are seeing these opportunities dramatically reduce year-over-year due to the greedy practice of corporate offshoring,” said sponsor Sen. Paul Feeney, D-Foxborough. “This bill will reduce and eliminate the offshoring of call-center jobs in the commonwealth by creating greater scrutiny, transparency and oversight to ensure that none of the commonwealth’s taxpayer dollars are lost to offshoring. This practice only benefits companies who are often hiring workers for very low wages, and in many instances horrible working conditions overseas, for pennies on the dollar of wages and benefits here in Massachusetts in what is a global race to the bottom.”


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