Beacon Hill Roll Call: Sept. 28 to Oct. 2, 2

Published: 10/9/2020 2:40:20 PM

There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call reports on how local legislators voted on some of the bills that were approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker in the 2020 session.

Of the more than 6,000 bills that have been filed for consideration, only 178 have been approved and signed by the governor. Twenty-eight of those were bills that affect the entire state while the majority were sick leave banks, land-taking measures or other measures applying to one city or town. Of those 28 bills, 13 were directly related to the pandemic.

Here are six of the statewide bills that were signed into law:

Breakfast After the Bell (H 4896)

The House, 158 to 0, and the Senate, 35 to 0, approved a law designed to boost participation rates in school breakfast programs in high-poverty schools. The measure would require that breakfast be offered only after the school day begins, through a variety of ways including breakfast in the classroom, grab-and-go and second-chance breakfast. Currently, only 150,000 of the 300,000 students eligible for breakfast take part in it.

Supporters said that most school breakfasts are currently offered in the cafeteria before the bell, and the participation rate is less than 40 percent of eligible students because bus schedules and family obligations often result in the student not being able to arrive at school in time for breakfast. Participation is also low because of the stigma attached to the program. They said many students assume that everyone who arrives to school early for breakfast is from a poor family. The participation rate rises to up to 90 percent of eligible students participating in the lunch program later in the day.

“Ensuring breakfast access to all children who need it in our public schools was a priority pre-COVID-19 and is now more important than ever,” said the measure’s co-sponsor Rep. Aaron Vega, D-Holyoke. “Many districts have already implemented Breakfast After the Bell, including Holyoke, and are seeing the positive impact on school attendance, classroom engagement and a reduction in nurse visits.”

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

Protect people with disabilities — Nicky’s Bill (S 2367)

The House, 154 to 0, and the Senate, 40 to 0, approved a law that established a registry identifying individuals who have been found to have committed abuse against people with disabilities. The measure was filed by Sen. Mike Moore, D-Millbury, at the request of a constituent who is the mother of Nicky, who is an intellectually disabled and non-verbal.

Nicky had been inappropriately restrained and struck multiple times by her caretaker. Under current law, unless the offender is criminally convicted, no system exists to identify caretakers and prevent them from finding employment with another provider licensed by the state.

“Enacting this registry will help disrupt a cycle of abuse of individuals with disabilities and put in place common-sense protections that families in the commonwealth deserve,” Moore said. “There are clear benefits to screening prospective employees who intend to work within the licensed caretaker field.”

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

$1 billion-plus information technology bond (H 4932)

The House, 155 to 4, and the Senate, 39 to 0, approved a $1 billion-plus information technology bond titled “An Act Financing the General Governmental Infrastructure of the Commonwealth.” The state borrows the money to finance the projects in the package.

Hundreds of provisions in the bill include massive state projects including $165 million for telecommunications and data-security-related equipment; $140 million for the purchase and implementation of information technology, telecommunications and data-security-related items for various state agencies; $1.25 million for information technology upgrades for the House of Representatives; $40 million to replace State Police cruisers; and $20 million for police body cameras.

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

Improvements to local and regional public health system (H 4503)

The House, 149 to 0, and the Senate (on a voice vote without a roll call) approved a law to improve the delivery of public health services through enhanced collaboration between local boards of health and regional health districts. A key provision created a State Action for Public Health Excellence Program to encourage boards of health and regional health districts to adopt practices that will improve the effectiveness of the delivery of local public health services. The program also provides grants to improve these health systems and requires not less than 33 percent of the grants go to municipalities with a median household income below the state average.

Other provisions include the state providing at least four annual free public health educational and training opportunities to boards of health and regional health district officials; and setting minimum standards for local public health services.

“This legislation will work toward ensuring each resident of the commonwealth has access to the public health services they need to live a healthy life, regardless of their ZIP code or the size of their community,” said co-sponsor Rep. Hannah Kane, R-Shrewsbury. “(The bill) will significantly strengthen our local and regional health systems by tackling many of the financial and operational burdens municipalities face.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Help city and town governments (H 4777)

The House, 156 to 0, and the Senate (on a voice vote without a roll call) approved a law lowering the number of voters needed at an open Town Meeting to have a quorum. Other provisions include allowing representative Town Meetings to be held online and allowing towns to hold Town Meetings outside the town’s geographic limits if the selectboard determines it is not possible to conduct a meeting within the town in a way that ensures health and safety.

Another key section allows a mayor who is unable to submit an annual budget for fiscal year 2021 to the city council within 170 days after his or her inauguration to submit the budget within 30 days after the termination of the state of emergency, or on July 31, 2020, whichever is earlier.

Supporters said it is essential to provide municipalities with the flexibility they need to run their government. They said the bill would allow cities and towns to function while still being fiscally responsible and maintaining the health and safety of voters.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Mosquito control (H 4843)

The House, 158 to 0, and the Senate (on a voice vote without a roll call) approved a law that would grant additional tools to the State Reclamation and Mosquito Control Board to combat mosquito-borne illnesses including Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) and West Nile Virus (WNV). The measure gives the board the authority to take preventative, management and eradicative mosquito control measures to address the problem when the risk is elevated. The board must notify local authorities, property owners, agricultural entities and other stakeholders about spraying plans, products and timelines.

Other provisions include allowing cities and towns to opt out of mosquito control efforts if they provide a suitable alternative; requiring the board after each spraying action to provide a written report summarizing efforts and details of products used to stakeholders; and creating a Mosquito Control for the 21st Century Task Force to develop a sustainable, long-term mosquito plan using input from stakeholders and experts with the goals of protecting public health while minimizing environmental impacts.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Also up on Beacon Hill

Dozens of bills are stuck in committees where they will die unless the Legislature acts on them before the end of the 2020 session in early January. Here are six of them.

Feminine hygiene products (H 4293)

On Jan. 15, the Education Committee gave a favorable report to a bill that would require all public schools with grades six through 12 to provide free feminine hygiene products in the restrooms. Schools would also be required to ensure the products are available in a convenient manner that does not stigmatize any student who takes them. The bill is stuck in the House Committee on Steering, Policy and Scheduling.

Medway High School student Caroline Williams asked Rep. Jeff Roy, D-Franklin, to file the bill for her. She had written a paper on the topic for her English class and decided to take the next step.

“I recognized a significant gap in access to feminine hygiene products at school, and as a student, a girl, and a citizen, I found it necessary to do something about it,” Williams said. “For women and girls, pads and tampons are just as essential as toilet paper and this bill will ensure that these products are provided for students in the same way.”

“The time has come to recognize the need to offer these products in the restrooms at our schools,” Roy said. “We provide other paper products (toilet paper and hand towels) in the bathrooms as a matter of routine and with no charge. The fact that we would charge people money to use products that are no different than toilet paper or paper towels is clearly a wrong practice.”

Require suicide hotline on school ID cards (S 250)

On April 9, the Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery Committee gave a favorable report to a measure that would require all public schools that teach grades seven to 12, and all state colleges that issue student ID cards, to include the telephone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Crisis Text Line and the school’s campus police or security telephone number. If the school does not have a campus police or security telephone number, the local non-emergency telephone number would be provided. The bill is stuck in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

“Suicide is the second leading cause of death for 10- to 24-year-olds in the United States,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton. “Suicide rates in Massachusetts have increased by over 35 percent in the past 20 years. The risk is especially high for LGBTQ youth, who are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts and attempt suicide than their straight peers.

“Students report not knowing that school-based support is available, perceive them as difficult to access or are concerned about stigma that may follow if school employees know they are struggling,” Comerford continued. “Putting crisis phone numbers on the back of ID cards would ensure that every student is aware of free, confidential resources available to them at any time.”

Create commission on social status of men and boys of color (H 4024)

On Aug. 1, 2019, the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities gave a favorable report to a bill creating a 19-member permanent commission on the social status of men and boys of color. The commission is charged with conducting an ongoing study of all matters concerning black men and boys, including examining issues that disproportionately have a negative impact on black men and boys in Massachusetts. The commission would also work to improve economic, educational, criminal justice, public safety, health and wellness, identity, housing and societal outcomes for black men and boys in the state. The bill is stuck in the House Ways and Means Committee.

“The purpose of the commission is to arrange for an ongoing analysis and develop solutions to help remedy the social ills in society that impact black men and boys in the commonwealth,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Russell Holmes, D-Boston. “The ‘War on Drugs’ has had an enormous negative impact on black men and boys. It has taken men from our households and left the black community the most vulnerable it has been in this country since the end of slavery. We must eliminate the policies implemented at the federal, state and local level that persist and continue to make it difficult for black men and boys to succeed.”

Ban on Native American school mascots (S 2593)

On March 12, the Education Committee gave a favorable report to legislation that would ban the use of any Native American mascot by a public school including names like Redskins, Savages, Indians, Chiefs, Chieftains and Braves. Currently, more than 30 schools in the state use Native American mascots.

The measure would allow schools to continue to use uniforms or other materials bearing the banned name, logo or mascot, if they were purchased before the date of the ban, and if the school does not buy anything new with the banned logo. The bill is stuck in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Supporters say the use of these symbols is demeaning to Native Americans and stereotypes them as savages. They said this decision should not be left up to local communities and noted a statewide ban will ensure that no schools use these offensive symbols.

“The ban on Native American mascots … represents a prime opportunity for us to celebrate our collective heritage in ways that bring us together and bring healing,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Nika Elugardo, D-Boston.

Opponents say the mascots honor Native Americans by emphasizing positive traits like a fighting spirit, bravery, pride and dedication. Others say this is a decision that should be made by individual cities and towns.

“The citizens, both native and non-native in my district, had a debate when this piece of legislation was proposed years ago and overwhelmingly supported saving the mascot from elimination, (and) instead teaching the history of the Wamesit people,” said Rep. Dave Roberston, D-Tewksbury, an opponent of the ban. “I hope the towns and cities with such mascots work with their local tribes to celebrate and educate us on those who lived here before.”

Limit fee for cashing checks (H 4308)

On Feb. 27, the House gave initial approval to a bill that would set a cap on the fees check-cashing stores and outlets are allowed to charge. The maximum charge would be 5 percent of the value of a personal check or $5, whichever is greater, plus a $1 service charge; 2.5 percent of a government check plus a $1 service charge; 2.25 percent of a payroll check; and 3 percent of all other checks including traveler’s checks and cashier’s checks and money orders, plus a $1 service charge. The bill is stuck in the House Committee on Bills in the Third Reading.

Supporters said that of the 34 states that regulate check cashing, Massachusetts is one of eight that does not regulate the fees that may be charged. They argued these check-cashing stores are often located in low-income neighborhoods and take advantage of vulnerable residents.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kay Khan, D-Newton, said the bill will provide protections for the “unbanked” — people who do not have a checking, savings or money market account.

“As a consequence of not participating in mainstream banking institutions,” Khan said, “such consumers rely heavily on alternative financial services and are charged exorbitant fees that substantially reduce their net annual income in the long-term.”




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