Beacon Hill Roll Call, Jan. 2 to 5, 2018

Beacon Hill Roll Call
Tuesday, January 09, 2018

The House and Senate kicked off the 2018 legislative session last week on Beacon Hill. Most of the activity was ceremonial and there were no roll calls in either branch.

This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call reports on the number of times each senator sided with Republican Gov. Charlie Baker on his 179 vetoes of items in the 2017 session.

A two-thirds vote is required to override a gubernatorial veto in the 40-member Senate that includes 33 Democrats and seven Republicans. The governor needed the support of 15 senators to sustain a veto if all 40 senators voted — and fewer votes if some members were absent. Baker fell short of that goal as nine votes were the most support he received on any veto. The Senate easily overrode all 179 vetoes, including 17 that were overridden unanimously.

The vetoes had little support among Democrats in the Senate. Only two of the chamber’s 33 Democrats voted with Baker to sustain any vetoes while the other 31 did not support the governor even once. The Democratic senator who supported Baker the most times was Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, who supported him 79 times (44.1 percent). The only other Democrat to support the governor was Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford, who supported Baker three times (1.6 percent.)

The GOP senator who voted with Baker the most times was Sen. Ryan Fattman, R-Webster, who supported the governor 149 times (83.2 percent). Fattman even surpassed GOP Minority Leader Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, who only voted with the Baker 109 times (60.8 percent).

The Republican senator who voted the least amount of times with Baker was Sen. Patrick O’Connor, R-Weymouth, 79 times (44.1 percent).

Other Republican senators and how many times they supported Baker include Sens. Vinny deMacedo, R-Plymouth, 133 times (74.3 percent); Donald Humason, R-Westfield, 119 times (66.4 percent); and Richard Ross 92 times (51.3 percent).

PERCENTAGE OF TIMES LOCAL SENATORS SUPPORTED GOV. BAKER’S VETOES — Here are how local senators fared in their support of Gov. Baker on his vetoes.

The percentage next to the senator’s name represents the percentage of times that the senator supported Baker’s vetoes.

The number in parentheses represents the number of times that the senator supported Baker’s vetoes.

Some senators voted on all 179 roll call votes. Others missed one or more of the 179 votes. Each record is based on the number of roll calls on which a senator voted and does not count the roll calls for which he or she was absent.

Sen. Adam Hinds, 0 percent (0)

Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, 0 percent (0)


REQUIRE DECAL FOR DRIVERS ON LEARNER’S PERMIT (H 2761) — The House gave initial approval to legislation that would require two copies of a highly reflective decal or other symbol to be clearly visible to law enforcement officers on the window of any vehicle being operated by a driver with a learner’s permit or a junior operator’s license. The size, fee and other details would be determined by the Registry of Motor Vehicles. A violation of the requirement would result in a fine up to $50.

Supporters said this would warn other motorists that the driver is inexperienced and encourage them to take extra caution. They say the requirement would likely reduce the frustration of other motorists, reduce unnecessary honking, prevent injuries and maybe even save lives.

Opponents noted that that if a permanent decal is used, experienced drivers would often be driving the car with the decal and be mistaken for a novice behind the wheel. They argue that some motorists might pass student drivers illegally on a double yellow line to avoid being stuck behind someone learning to drive.

“NON-EMERGENCY” VS. “NON-ESSENTIAL” STATE WORKERS — “Due to the current winter situation, the governor has directed that non-emergency state employees working in Executive Branch agencies should not report to their workplaces on Thursday, January 4, 2018,” said the notice on Gov. Baker’s website.

Up until a few years ago, governors often used the term “non-essential” employees instead of “non-emergency.” Those governors were often criticized and asked why “non-essential” employees were hired in the first place. Somewhere along the line, someone figured it out and ever since that time governors have used “non-emergency.”

SEPTEMBER 2018 PRIMARY ELECTION DATE CONFLICTS WITH JEWISH HOLIDAYS — Under existing law, the 2018 state primary election would be held on Tuesday, Sept. 18, which coincides with the important Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. If there is a conflict with a religious holiday, state law requires Secretary of State Bill Galvin to move the primary to a date within seven days of the original Sept. 18 — giving Galvin a choice of the 15 days from Sept. 4 until Sept. 18 to hold the election. A logical choice would be to hold the election the week before on Tuesday, Sept. 11, but that would create another problem because that date coincides with the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

Galvin’s office held a hearing last week to allow public input on the problem. Only one person showed up to testify — Benjamin Bloomenthal, who is considering a primary challenge to Rep. Cory Atkins, D-Concord. He suggested that Galvin set the election date for either Tuesday, Sept. 4 or Thursday, Sept. 6.

EVERSOURCE LOWERS ITS RATE INCREASES — Eversource announced that because of the reduction in the federal corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, the power company will voluntarily reduce its rate increases for its 1.4 million Bay State customers. These hikes were approved by the Department of Public Utilities in November.

The increase in eastern Massachusetts was going to be $12.2 million but the company now says it will use the tax savings to lower the rate by $35.4 million. In western Massachusetts, the approved increase of $24.8 million will instead be a $16.5 million increase — a savings of $8.3 million.

“We believe it’s important that our customers reap the benefit of a lower tax rate,” said Eversource Massachusetts Electric Operations President Craig Hallstrom. “As a regulated power company our rates are based on our costs, including federal taxes, so if taxes are reduced ultimately costs are reduced and that benefits our customers.”

The reductions were announced two weeks after Attorney General Maura Healey called on Eversource and other state utility companies to pass their tax savings along to its customers.

“This tax bill is being paid for by the people of Massachusetts, so the money should go back in their pockets,” said Healey. “Our office filed this action to ensure that these savings go to customers. We are glad that Eversource has done the right thing by agreeing to lower its rates and we call on all our state-regulated utilities to do the same.”

Eversource spokeswoman Priscilla Ress dismissed Healey’s claim that the rate cuts were a reaction to Healey’s action and said the filing was strictly voluntary.

BAY STATE’S LEGALIZATION OF POT COULD BE IN JEOPARDY — U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a reversal of the Cole Memorandum, written in 2013 by the Obama Administration’s Deputy Attorney General James Cole. The memo provided non-interference guidance to federal prosecutors instructing them to take a laissez-faire stance and not interfere with the laws in states that have legalized the medical or recreational use of marijuana.

“It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission,” said Sessions. “Therefore, today’s memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all U.S. Attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country.”

Gov. Baker opposed the legalization of pot but disagrees with Sessions. “The Baker-Polito Administration fully supports the will of the voters and the Cannabis Control Commission’s mission,” said Baker spokesman Brendan Moss. “The administration believes this is the wrong decision and will review any potential impacts from any policy changes by the local U.S. Attorney’s Office.”

U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling is the federal official who will make the decisions in Massachusetts on whether to enforce the federal law prohibiting the use of marijuana.

In a written statement, last week, Lelling said his office will pursue federal marijuana crimes but will focus on bulk drug traffickers and criminal gangs rather than on retail pot stores and individual buyers.

“This office will pursue federal marijuana crimes as part of its overall approach to reducing violent crime, stemming the tide of the drug crisis, and dismantling criminal gangs, and in particular the threat posed by bulk trafficking of marijuana, which has had a devastating impact on local communities,” Lelling said in his statement. “As with all of our decisions, we will continue to use our prosecutorial discretion and work with our law enforcement partners to determine resource availability, weigh the seriousness of the crime and determine the impact on the community.”

On Monday, Jim Borghesani, Director of Communications for ‘Yes on 4,’ the successful campaign to legalize marijuana said that Lelling’s statement was vague and does not adequately clarify the prosecutor’s intentions. “Massachusetts voters deserve clear, unambiguous answers from U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling to the following questions,” said Borghesani. “Will your office prosecute businesses granted a license by the Cannabis Control Commission in the areas of cultivation, testing, manufacturing or sales and lawfully operating within all parameters of that license? And will your office pursue charges against licensed cannabis businesses lawfully utilizing banking services or the banks lawfully providing those services?“

Lelling responded that he will not rule out prosecuting state-sanctioned marijuana businesses and said his office will proceed on a case-by-case basis to determine whether a case is worthy of expending limited federal resources to pursue.

“Congress has unambiguously made it a federal crime to cultivate, distribute and/or possess marijuana,” said Lelling. “As a law enforcement officer in the Executive Branch, it is my sworn responsibility to enforce that law, guided by the Principles of Federal Prosecution. Deciding, in advance, to immunize a certain category of actors from federal prosecution would be to effectively amend the laws Congress has already passed, and that I will not do.”

“By scuttling the Cole Memo Jeff Sessions has created a procedural vacuum and has done his state U.S. Attorneys no favors,” responded Borghesani. “We understand the reluctance to provide categorical answers but moving forward under a vast cloud of uncertainty is difficult for all stakeholders, including the residents of Massachusetts.”

STATEWIDE HEARINGS ON MARIJUANA REGULATIONS — The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission announced a series of hearings across the state to get public input on the regulations that it adopted in December on the legalization of recreational marijuana including licensing, cultivation, manufacturing, retail sales, social use, enforcement and administrative appeals.

The hearings kick off on Monday, Feb. 5, from 8:30 to 11 a.m. at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield. The final hearing is on Tuesday, Feb. 13, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Bolling Municipal Building in Roxbury. A hearing scheduled for Greenfield is Tuesday, Feb. 6, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the William B. Allen Community Room in the John Olver Transportation Center.

A complete list of hearings is at www.mass.gov/news/cannabis-control-commission-notice-of-public-hearing

The meetings are open to the public and everyone is welcome to testify.

People can also send their thoughts and opinions to CannabisCommission@State.MA.US. Or by regular mail at Cannabis Control Commission, 101 Federal S., 13th Floor, Boston, MA 02110. The deadline for submissions is 5 p.m. on Feb. 15, 2017.