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Beacon Hill Roll Call, July 30 to Aug. 3, 2018



Beacon Hill Roll Call
Thursday, August 09, 2018
THE HOUSE AND SENATE

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ and representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of July 30-Aug. 3.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT (H 4868) — House 151-0, Senate 37-0, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker an economic development package including a sales tax holiday allowing consumers to buy most products that cost under $2,500 on Saturday, Aug. 11, and Sunday, Aug. 12, without paying the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax.

Other provisions authorize $50 million for a grant program targeting coastal communities and creating jobs in the maritime economy sector; $250 million for the MassWorks Infrastructure Program which provides a one-stop shop for municipalities and other eligible public entities seeking public infrastructure funding; and $12.5 million in capital dollars for MassVentures to continue providing competitive grants to Massachusetts-based companies commercializing technologies.

Tax breaks in the package include tax credits to businesses to occupy vacant storefronts in downtown areas and the establishment of a $2.5 million Apprenticeship Tax Credit program for apprenticeships in computer occupations, health care and the manufacturing industry.

Supporters said the bill would be a real shot in the arm for the state by stimulating the economy, creating jobs and making Massachusetts friendlier to businesses.

“Too many families are struggling to make ends meet and too many workers are looking for work,” said Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, the sponsor of the package. “This bill is designed to rebalance the scales so that our economy works for everyone and fosters growth in every corner of our commonwealth. It will put people back to work rebuilding our roads and bridges and revitalizing our downtowns. And it will prepare the next generation with the skills needed to succeed in a changing economy.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the package.)

Rep. Stephen Kulik, Yes

Rep. Paul Mark, Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps, Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds, Yes

REGULATION AND TAXING OF SHORT-TERM RENTALS (H 4841) — House 119-30, Senate 30-8, approved and sent to the governor a bill that extends the state’s current 5.7 percent hotel and motel tax and up to a 6 percent local option room occupancy tax to short-term rentals offered by Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO while leaving the regulation of these rentals including registration, licensing and inspections up to local cities and towns.

The measure also allows local cities and towns to impose a local impact fee of up to 3 percent on operators who rent out two or more professionally-managed short-term rental units within a municipality.

Other provisions create a central state registry of short-term rentals and require that a city or town dedicate no less than 35 percent of revenue generated from the new local option fee to either affordable housing or local infrastructure needs.

Supporters said the bill strikes a balance and levels the playing field of taxes and regulation of these untaxed and unregulated short-term rentals and hotels and motels that are currently regulated and taxed.

Opponents said the bill is simply another example of an anti-business, unwarranted tax and overregulation by the state.

Estimates are that the state will reap $34.5 million from the new taxes and local communities which impose the optional local tax will receive some $25.5 million.

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

Rep. Stephen Kulik, Yes

Rep. Paul Mark, Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps, Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds, Yes

AUTOMATIC VOTER REGISTRATION (H 4667) — House 134-16, Senate 36-0, approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill that would automatically register to vote a person who fills out an application with the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) or MassHealth, unless the person opts out. Officials at the RMV and MassHealth would be required to explain to each person that the transaction automatically registers them to vote, unless they opt out, and also inform them that noncitizens are ineligible to vote.

Supporters said an estimated 680,000 eligible voters in the Bay State are not registered to vote.

“Automatic voter registration will make voting more accurate, more secure, and more available to all,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts which was part of the coalition pushing for the bill. “That’s good for democracy, for election security, and for voters. Utilizing existing technology to modernize the voter registration process just is basic common sense.”

“The FBI just arrested dozens of illegal immigrants who easily obtained Massachusetts driver’s licenses with stolen identities,” said Rep. Shaunna O’Connell, R-Taunton. “Under this law, those felons would be automatically registered to vote. Furthermore, this law creates a burdensome unfunded mandate on cities and towns.”

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

Rep. Stephen Kulik, Yes

Rep. Paul Mark, Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps, Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds, Yes

$2.2 BILLION FOR CLIMATE ADAPTATION AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION (H 4835) — House 148-2, Senate 37-0, approved a bond bill allowing the state to borrow up to $2.2 billion for climate change adaptation, environmental and natural resource protection and investment in recreational assets.

The package includes earmarks for hundreds of millions of dollars for hundreds of projects in legislators’ districts across the state — many of which will never be funded. The Baker administration ultimately decides which projects are affordable and actually get funded. But it cannot fund most of them because the governor’s office is also required to adhere to the state’s annual bond borrowing cap.

Provisions include $105 million for dam and flood control projects; $160 million for roads and bridges; $60 million for the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust to improve water by providing low-interest loans to municipalities; $45 million for hazardous waste cleanup; and $15 million for the Electric Vehicle Incentive Program that gives grants to cities and towns, state agencies, and state universities to purchase electric vehicles and install charging station.

“We’ve come out with a strong bond bill that funds necessary environmental investments across the state, including an agricultural estate tax credit, which aims to ensure a thriving agricultural economy here in Massachusetts, and investments in protecting our cities and towns,” said Rep. “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, chairman of the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. “This bond bill aims to preserve our land and restore dams and seawalls, which as we know, have suffered severe damage from storms over the years. I believe these efforts will have a lasting impact throughout the commonwealth.”

Neither of the two opponents of the bill responded to Beacon Hill Roll Call’s request for a statement from them.

(A “Yes” vote is for the package.)

Rep. Stephen Kulik, Yes

Rep. Paul Mark, Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps, Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds, Yes

OPIOIDS (H 4866) — House 151-0, Senate on a voice vote without a roll call, approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill aimed at combatting the opioid problem in the Bay State by addressing opioid addiction, prevention and treatment.

The measure establishes a statewide standing order for Narcan, expanding access to this opioid overdose-reversing drug without an individual prescription; establishes a statewide program to provide remote consultations with primary care practices, nurse practitioners and other health care providers for persons over the age of 17 experiencing chronic pain; establishes a community-based behavioral health promotion and prevention trust fund to promote positive mental, emotional and behavioral health among children and young adults and to prevent substance use disorders among children and young adults; and establishes a center for police training in crisis intervention to serve as a clearinghouse for best practices in police response to people with mental illness and substance use disorders.

Other provisions require most prescriptions for controlled substances be provided electronically; permit a patient to partially fill a prescription for a schedule II substance and return to the original dispensing pharmacy for the remaining amount of the prescription, and prohibit the use of drug coupons for opiate drugs.

“Despite efforts to suppress the opioid crisis, families across the commonwealth continue to lose their loved ones to substance use disorder,” said Sen. Cindy Friedman, D-Arlington, Senate chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery. “This legislation builds upon the work the state has done around opioid misuse and prevention and provides another set of tools to reduce harm, save lives and increase access to evidence-based treatment. We have a major epidemic on our hands and we have to use everything at our disposal to cure this disease.”

“The Massachusetts Legislature has been steadfast and unwavering in the face of the relentless disease of addiction,” said Rep. Denise Garlick, D-Needham, House chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery. “This disease is a reality that people face every single day, but we are pouring our best expertise and resources into this fight. We are in this for the long haul and we are not backing down — we are in this battle together to save lives.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Stephen Kulik, Yes

Rep. Paul Mark, Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps, Yes

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

ALLOW NEIGHBORHOODS TO BAND TOGETHER AND FORM A DISTRICT WITH POWER (H 4546) — It was a surprise that the House and Senate did not give final approval to a local option bill allowing a city or town to authorize the creation of community benefit districts which would allow owners of contiguous property in a city or town to form a district and require property owners in that district to pay for additional services, improvements, events and other projects and activities within the district. The districts would be operated by a nonprofit board.

The Legislature meets in informal sessions for the next several months and the rules basically allow just one person in either the House or Senate to prevent passage of any bills. That means the controversial measure is effectively dead for this year.

The demise of the proposal is very unusual considering the bill was approved 149-2 by the House on May 30 and 25-10 in the Senate on July 18. Only final approval was needed in each branch prior to the measure going to the governor.

Enter an unlikely coalition of liberal and conservative groups who started a lobbying campaign against the bill.

The conservative faction said the bill was nothing more than another unnecessary tax on property owners. The liberal faction said the bill gives too much power to a few wealthy property owners in a neighborhood.

Andre Leroux, executive director of the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance, supported the bill and believes that community benefit districts can be a game changer. “The bill establishes a way for communities to organize a public-private-nonprofit partnership to support their downtown, Main Street, cultural district, historic area or other important place,” said Leroux. “It’s really about empowering local people to tackle their own challenges.”

Rep. Denise Provost, D-Somerville, one of only two representatives to vote against the bill in the House in May, said this new option allows certain property owners to create their own fiefdoms and the ability to assess other property owners for purposes determined by themselves. “These are the kind of activities for which local government exists,” said Provost. “Why would we want to have a class of … private, parallel quasi-governments to perform these functions?

Is the democracy, transparency and accountability of local elected government a problem?”

DIABETES (H 4844) –— The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill requiring the commissioner of public health to establish a diabetes action plan.

The plan would develop goals and action to reduce the prevalence and impact of diabetes in the Bay State, improve diabetes care and control complications associated with the disease.

“In Massachusetts, nearly 700,000 people suffer from diabetes,” said Rep. Jennifer Benson, D-Lunenburg, the sponsor of the measure. “By 2025, that number is expected to balloon to 900,000, at a cost of $8.8 billion per year in medical expenses. This bill will ensure that we have the data we need and a plan to address this public health crisis head-on.”

ALZHEIMER’S (H 4817) — The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill requiring the executive office of health and human services to conduct an assessment of all state programs that address Alzheimer’s disease and to create and maintain an integrated state plan to address and assist in the treatment of Alzheimer’s.

The goal is to accelerate the development of treatments that would prevent, halt or reverse the course of Alzheimer’s disease; coordinate the health care and treatment of individuals with the disease; and ensure the assessment includes ethnic and racial populations who have a higher risk for Alzheimer’s, with the goal of decreasing health disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

CHARGE DIFFERENT TOLLS AT DIFFERENT TIMES OF DAY (H 4800) — The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker a proposal directing the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to design and implement a temporary pilot program to test the technological feasibility of charging toll rates that are different depending on the time of day, with the goal of relieving congestion for motorists.

The measure forbids the program from resulting in a toll rate increase on any road or driver and must include a discount structure, including off-peak discounts of not less than 25 percent.

Baker amended the bill to eliminate the pilot program and replace it with a study that would provide a detailed analysis of practical pathways to reduce motor vehicle congestion.

Sen. Joseph Boncore, D-Winthrop, said the time for studies is over and it is time to take some concrete action to solve the traffic congestions problem in the Bay State.

He said that the program is aimed at drivers who have more flexibility to use the roads during off-peak hours, instead of during rush hour. He noted that studies have shown that if the number of drivers on the road is reduced a mere 5 percent, traffic congestion could be reduced by 25 percent.

“Gov. Baker should veto the congestion pricing bill,” said Citizens for Limited Taxation Executive Director Chip Ford. “It’s nothing more than a carrot-and-stick temptation, bait that will only be switched to higher tolls during rush hour. This is Massachusetts. We all know that when something sounds too good to be true, it’s too good to be true, for sure.”