Beacon Hill Roll Call, week of April 22-26

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Published: 4/30/2019 4:57:14 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of April 22-26.

All House roll calls are on proposed amendments to the $42.7 billion fiscal 2020 state budget that the House considered for four days last week.

 Behind the scenes of budget “debate”

Most of the decisions on which of the amendments are included and not included in the budget are made behind closed doors. Of the 1,369 budget amendments proposed, most of them are bundled into consolidated amendments. This year there were nine consolidated amendments and all but two were approved unanimously and without real debate. Those two each received only one vote against them.

The system works as follows: Individual representatives file amendments on various topics. All members are then invited to “subject meetings” in Room 348 where they pitch their amendments to Democratic leaders who draft consolidated amendments that include some of the individual representatives’ amendments while excluding others.

The categories of consolidated amendments include education and local aid; veterans and social services; and housing and mental health.

Supporters of the system say that any representative who sponsored an excluded amendment can bring it to the floor and ask for an up or down vote on the amendment itself. They say this system has worked well for many years.

Opponents say that rarely, if ever, does a member bring his or her amendment to the floor for an up-or-down vote because that is not the way the game is played. It is an “expected tradition” that you accept the fate of your amendment as determined by Democratic leaders.

Opponents also say this archaic inside system takes power away from individual members and forces legislators to vote for or against a package of amendments. They argued that individual amendments should be considered on a one-by-one basis on the House floor.

$42.7 billion fiscal 2020 budget

House 155-1, approved the House version of a $42.7 billion fiscal 2020 state budget and sent it to the Senate. During four days of budget deliberations the House added close to $72 million in spending.

Supporters said the budget is a fiscally responsible one that makes vital investments in the state while continuing fiscal responsibility and not raising taxes.

Chief budget writer and Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz, D-Boston, said that the budget was crafted out of members’ shared priorities and funds many important programs including housing, substance abuse and the environment. He noted that this is a budget of which all members can be proud.

“The state budget is a reflection of our values and the lack of a black or Latino member in leadership was apparent in the House budget,” said Rep. Russell Holmes, D-Boston, the lone vote against the budget. “Former Rep. Byron Rushing would not have stood for the New England Center for Arts & Technology and Teen Empowerment not being funded and neither will I.”

Holmes said the House missed the experience of former House Ways and Means chair Brian Dempsey who would have resisted and not have given in to [Speaker] DeLeo’s urges for “retaliation against” him by not fully funding Sportsman’s Tennis Club, No Books No Ball and the Lena Park Community Center. Holmes charged that Speaker DeLeo and Ways and Means chair Aaron Michlewitz, D-Boston, crossed a line, and in doing so, hurt his constituents.

“The speaker and Aaron padded their districts with earmarks for Winthrop and the North End on the backs of removing funds that provide services for poor African-Americans and Hispanics,” continued Holmes. “It is a racket and the racketeering is to support lobbyists, unions, fundraisers/donors and former legislators. Helping people has become a simply a byproduct of what occurs in the building.”

(A “yes” vote is for the budget. A “no” vote is against it.)

Rep. Natalie Blais Yes; Rep. Paul Mark Yes; Rep. Susannah Whipps Yes

Legislators’ Salaries (H 3800)

House 5-152, rejected an amendment that would eliminate the current system under which some 100 of the 160 representatives are paid stipends in addition to their base $66,256 base salary. These current stipends range from $15,000 to $80,000 for their service in Democratic or Republican leadership positions, as committee chairs or vice chairs and as the ranking Republican on some committees.

The amendment would reduce the stipend for the Senate president and speaker from $80,000 to $50,000; Senate and House Ways and Means Chairs from $65,000 to $35,000; Senate and House Majority Leaders from $60,000 to $30,000; and House speaker Pro Tempore and Senate Pro Tempore from $50,000 to $25,000. All other 152 members of the House would receive a stipend of $15,000.

The amendment also reduces the current annual general expense allowance for each legislator from $15,000 to $12,500 for members whose districts are within a 50-mile radius of the Statehouse and from $20,000 to $17,500 for districts located outside of that radius. This allowance is used at the discretion of individual legislators to support a variety of costs including the renting of a district office, contributions to local civic groups and the printing and mailing of newsletters. Legislators are issued a 1099 from the state and are required to report the allowance as income but are not required to submit an accounting of how they spend it.

Amendment supporters noted the proposal is based on the pay structure for the U.S. Congress where only a few positions have higher salaries and is designed to eliminate the pay inequity for representatives.

“Every two years, representatives arrive as a group of peers to the Statehouse that are elected from across the commonwealth,” said the amendment’s sponsor Rep. Russell Holmes (D-Boston). “We arrive as equals. That equality, under the current system, evaporates quickly upon the election of the speaker. Unfortunately, the speaker uses the authority of the naming of committee assignments and selecting a leadership team to manipulate the members for his causes and to work against one another. The amendment’s goal is to level the playing field and begin to end that manipulation.”

Opponents said the speaker and representatives in the leadership and committee chairs have a much heavier work load and deserve a higher salary. They noted that the current pay structure is based on a 2014 report of a bipartisan special commission set up to review the compensation of the state government and its bodies. The salary was determined to be inadequate to attract people to this job. They noted some additional increases in the bonus pay were given by the Legislature in January 2017 when it overrode Gov. Baker’s veto of the hikes.

(A “yes” vote is for the amendment. A “no” vote is against it.)

Rep. Natalie Blais No; Rep. Paul Mark No; Rep. Susannah Whipps No

Education and local aid (H 3800)

House 158-0, approved a consolidated amendment to fund education and local aid. Education Committee chair Rep. Alice Peisch, D-Wellesley, said the consolidated amendment contains increases over last year for many important items including $15.4 million for the Children’s Trust Fund; $2 million for Early College; $11.8 million for regional libraries; $3.1 million for Recovery High Schools; and $1 million for a new civic education grant program.

“The amendment adds to a Ways and Means budget that demonstrated a strong commitment to all sectors of public, birth through [Grade] 12 education throughout the commonwealth,” said Peisch. “The budget overall includes significant increases to Chapter 70, charter school reimbursement and early education, with an explicit commitment to low income students via the Chapter 70 reserve account … It also includes additional funds for libraries, the early college program and civics education programs.”

Peisch said the entire budget reflects the leadership’s ongoing dedication to educational improvement for all students to close the achievement and opportunity gaps.

Rep. Natalie Blais; Yes Rep. Paul Mark Yes; Rep. Susannah Whipps Yes

Social services and vets (H 3800)

House 160-0, approved a consolidated amendment on veterans and social services. Veterans Committee chair Linda Campbell, D-Methuen, said the consolidated amendment contains increases over last year for many important programs. She pointed out funding for some key items including $100,000 to help the Vietnam Veterans of America in Massachusetts with the processing of VA claims; $85,000 to the NEADS program that trains service dogs to assist veterans; $124,000 for funding for additional housing for women veterans; and $550,000 to the Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base program to provide clinical care, education and training to address veterans’ physical and behavioral health issues to include PTSD, traumatic brain injury, substance use disorder and suicide prevention.

“In the consolidated amendment, the House provides additional funding for veterans programs in the commonwealth over and above last year’s budget and the governor’s budget,” said Campbell. “I am proud that my colleagues in the House have once again demonstrated their support for critical programs and organizations that are providing the care that our veterans and their families deserve. Veterans can face a number of hardships as a result of their service, from PTSD to homelessness to substance abuse, and this increased investment will ensure our veterans can receive needed services within their own communities.”

Rep. Natalie Blais; Yes Rep. Paul Mark Yes; Rep. Susannah Whipps Yes

Housing and mental health (H 3800)

House 160-0, approved a consolidated amendment on housing and mental health. Rep. Kevin Honan, D-Boston, the chair of the Committee on Housing said the consolidated amendment includes a $400,000 increase in funding for the Alternative Housing Voucher Program; a $250,000 increase in funding for Housing Consumer Education Centers; $300,000 for the Home Works Program; $50,000 for a computer technology center for Commonwealth Housing; funding for individual communities across the state including $65,000 for a shelter in Haverhill and $50,000 for mobility access enhancements and renovations in Brockton.

“I am a strong supporter of the Housing Budget released by House Ways and Means for fiscal 2020,” said Honan. “It increases critical funding for programs such as the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, Rental Assistance for Families in Transition and funding for public housing. The budget was strengthened even further through an additional $1.735 million in funding through consolidated earmarks for local housing programs—including my amendment for a $250,000 increase in funding for Housing Consumer Education Centers.”

Rep. Natalie Blais Yes Rep. Paul Mark Yes Rep. Susannah Whipps Yes

Cap On Welfare Benefits For Kids (S 2186)

Senate 37-3, overrode Gov. Charlie 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. The House overrode the veto on April 10 and with the Senate override, the bill now becomes law.

Supporters of the repeal said that there are some 8,700 children who currently fall under the cap in the Bay State. 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 in order to get the additional $100.

“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,” said Baker in his veto message.

The governor added that under his proposal, “homeless families would no longer see a benefit reduction for accessing temporary shelter.”

(A “yes” vote is for repealing the cap. A “no” vote is against repealing it.)

Sen. Joanne Comerford; Yes Sen. Adam Hinds Yes

Gender X (S 2203)

Senate 39-1, approved a bill that would allow for residents to choose a third gender option, “X” in lieu of “male” or “female” on an application for a driver’s license, learner’s permit, identification card or liquor purchase identification card. No documentation would be required for the person to choose the “X” option. The House has already approved a different version of the bill and the House and Senate will work on a compromise version.

“Massachusetts has always led on equity and justice, especially in our proud bi-partisan support of LGBTQ people,” said Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro. “Today the Massachusetts Senate continued that tradition by passing legislation that provides the opportunity for Massachusetts residents who are transgender or gender non-conforming to self-identify on all Massachusetts identification documents. Legislation passed by the Senate allows for accuracy, privacy, and safety for individuals who do not fit neatly into a specific gender identity. I am grateful to my colleagues for their support of gender non-conforming people. Our vote today recognizes the dignity of all, no matter their gender identity or expression.”

. “Identifying documents serve a variety of crucial purposes that help society function on a basic level,” said Christopher Jay, an attorney for the Massachusetts Family Institute which opposes the measure. “Introducing false and incomplete information into the system undermines their purpose and harms society. There is no logical boundary here. If someone can specify their gender regardless of biological fact, why not specify a different race, age, height, weight or eye color according to how the person feels?”

Sen. Donald Humason, R- Westfield, was the lone vote against the bill. He did not respond to repeated attempts by Beacon Hill Roll Call to comment on his vote.

Sen. Joanne Comerford Yes; Sen. Adam Hinds Yes

Road safety (S 2570)

Senate 39-0, approved and sent to the House a bill designed to make roads safer and decrease the number of fatalities.

The proposal requires bicyclists at night to use both a red rear light and a red rear reflector. Current law requires only a red light or a red reflector. Current law and the new law both require a white light in the front.

The bill classifies several groups, including pedestrians, utility workers and cyclists, as “vulnerable road users.”

The measure requires the operator of a motor vehicle that is passing a vulnerable user to maintain a distance of at least three feet when traveling at 30 miles per hour or less and an additional foot of space for every ten miles per hour above 30 miles per hour. Current law only requires motor vehicle operators to pass at “a safe distance and at a reasonable and proper speed.”

Another provision requires a vehicle that is overtaking a vulnerable user or other vehicle to use all or part of an adjacent lane, crossing the centerline if necessary, when it cannot pass at a safe distance in the same lane and only when it is safe to do so.

The legislation also requires certain large vehicles or trailers that are purchased or leased by the state to be equipped with lateral protective devices, convex mirrors and cross-over mirrors.

“We need to keep working year after year to achieve a future in which traffic fatalities get as close as possible to zero,” said Sen. Will Brownsberger (D-Belmont), lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate. “This bill will help us move in the right direction.”

Sen. Joanne Comerford Yes; Sen. Adam Hinds Yes




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