Massachusetts State House

The Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill in Boston.

Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives from the week of July 29 through August 2. There were no important roll calls in the Senate last week.

No Vetoes Of Funding In $3.3 Billion State Budget—In an unusual move, Gov. Charles D. Baker Jr. signed the fiscal 2020 state budget into law without vetoing any of the $43.3 billion in spending approved by the House and Senate. Beacon Hill Roll Call talked to several State House veterans and not one could remember any other time in the last four decades that the governor did not veto funding in the budget. Just last year, Baker vetoed $48.9 million from a $41.7 billion budget.

“The lieutenant governor and I and the secretary [of Administration and Finance] and a lot of our team spent a lot of time talking about the line item stuff, and basically came to the conclusion that this budget is balanced,” said Baker at the signing ceremony last week. “We’re obviously going to pay a lot of attention to what happens to revenues in the first two quarters of the year, because we did have a lot of volatility in the revenue base for 2019. So we’re going to work pretty hard to pay attention not just to the revenue side but also the spending side going forward.”

“Only a besieged governor, embroiled in so many distractions, could not find a single cent of wasteful spending that needed his veto in a bloated $43.3 billion budget, an increase of almost $2 billion over last year’s spending,” said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “With a fiscal year 2019 ‘revenue surplus’ (over-taxation) bonanza of $2 billion to squander, Charlie Baker, who needs to be loved at any cost, had to keep all his friends in the Legislature happy with him—fat, happy, and satiated.”

Baker did veto six items in the budget, including a section that included the state’s meals tax among the items exempt from the state’s 6.25 sales tax during the sales tax holiday weekend set for August 17 and 18. On those two days, consumers can buy most products that cost under $2,500 without paying the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax.

The Revenue Department ruled a few weeks ago that for the first time, meals would be exempt from the sales tax that weekend. The department also ruled that alcohol would not be exempt. This created a problem for restaurants because restaurants don’t separate food and alcohol when diners are given their tab. The establishment taxes both and does not have a system to separate the two.

There was agreement among the governor, the legislative leadership and the Massachusetts Restaurant Association that the best solution was to follow what has been done at all other sales tax holidays and not exempt meals from the sales tax.

“Something needed to be done,” said Bob Luz, the CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. “We thank Gov. Baker and the Legislature for coming to a resolution.

“Many restaurant systems are not equipped to handle both taxable and non-taxable items on the same transaction and there was much confusion in the function business,” continued Luz. “Restaurant owners would have had to produce two separate checks to customers, one with non-taxed food items and the other will taxable alcohol purchases, creating confusion for owners, employees and the general public. The burden far outweighed any potential benefits.”

Allow Unions To Charge Non-Union Members For Some Costs (H 3854)—House 156-1 approved (Senate approved on a voice vote without a roll call) and sent to Gov. Baker a bill that would allow unions to charge nonmembers for the cost of some services and representation. The measure would also give unions several new rights including access to state workers’ personal contact information including their home address, home and cellphone number and personal e-mail address.

The governor vetoed the bill. It will now take a two-thirds vote in each branch to override the veto and put the bill on the lawbooks. It’s certain the Legislature will override the veto because the measure was approved with veto-proof margins including last week’s 156-1 vote in the House and a 38-1 vote in the Senate in June.

The bill was filed as a response to a 2018 US Supreme Court ruling in the Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees case that public employees cannot be forced to pay fees or dues to a union to which he or she does not belong. Freedom of speech advocates hailed the decision while labor advocates said it was an unjust attack on union.

“While I have supported changing Massachusetts law to address recent changes in how public sector unions work with non-union members, including allowing public sector unions to charge non-members for costs associated with representation in grievances and updating some of the rules of engagement between state employees and public employee union, I refuse to sign legislation that compels state and municipal government to turn over the cellphone numbers of private citizens, who happen to be government employees, without their permission, to private organizations,” Baker said in a very long sentence in his veto message to the Legislature.

“The legislation passed by both the House and Senate to ensure that public sector unions remain a strong force for economic fairness in the wake of the Janus Supreme Court ruling received overwhelming bipartisan support after a thorough debate,” AFL-CIO president Steve Tolman said in a statement. “We urge both branches to override Gov. Baker’s veto.”

“The governor responded in the only appropriate way: veto a bill that would violate the personal privacy of countless state workers,” said Paul Craney, spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “State workers can enjoy the weekend knowing the governor has their back. Legislative leaders should get the message; the Janus ‘fix’ needs to be fixed. It went too far and only benefited union bosses at the expense of workers.”

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

Rep. Dylan Fernandes–Yes

Rep. Randy Hunt—Yes

Rep. David Vieira—Yes

Improve Children’s Health (H 4012)—House 152-0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill designed to make it easier for children and their families to navigate the state’s complicated and often difficult to understand health-care system. A key provision requires health insurance companies to perform monthly updates of their provider databases that tell patients which doctors and other medical resources are available to them. Patients complain that many physicians are listed as local and taking new patients despite having retired, moved or stopped accepting new patients.

The measure ensures that foster children are able to remain covered by MassHealth until they turn 26, the same option that children covered by their parents’ private insurance currently have. It also creates a Health Policy Commission analysis of children under age 21 with medical complexities, their insurance and availability of care.

“I am proud of the House’s leadership and steadfast commitment to caring for our most vulnerable children,” said Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Claire Cronin (D-Easton). “This bill will assess the healthcare and wellness needs of children in the commonwealth and expand access to services for these children and their families. This is a step forward to ensuring that all of our children have equal access to quality healthcare.”

“Nothing is more heartbreaking than talking to a constituent whose child is in crisis, but they’re having difficulty finding healthcare services in the complex system of providers, insurers and resources,” said Health Care Financing chairman, Rep. Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg). “By identifying and addressing these difficulties in this legislation, we are working to ensure that every child in the commonwealth will be able to access high-quality services quickly and efficiently.”

“This bill makes important reforms to increase access to healthcare, supports further study of issues critical to children’s behavioral health and takes an important look at improving the state’s foster care system,” said Rep. Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge). “It will strengthen and expand access to care for children both by collecting data, as well as assessing current methods in the pursuit of providing the kind of behavioral health care children need.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Dylan Fernandes—Yes

Rep. Randy Hunt—Yes

Rep. David Vieira—Yes

Meet Beyond 9 PM—House 125-31, approved a motion to allow the House session to continue beyond 9 PM. Under House rules, the House cannot meet after 9 p.m. unless the rule is suspended.

Supporters of rule suspension said that the House has business to finish and should stay in session to work on it.

Opponents of rule suspension said it is irresponsible for the House to debate and vote late at night when taxpayers are asleep.

(A “Yes” vote is for meeting beyond 9 PM. A “No” vote is against it.)

Rep. Dylan Fernandes—Yes

Rep. Randy Hunt—No

Rep. David Vieira—No

Also Up On Beacon Hill

Appraisal Management (H 3904)—Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill that would establish a system for the state to license and regulate appraisal management companies (AMCs). It is estimated that 80 percent of appraisal orders in the Bay State are processed by AMCs. The other 49 states already have AMC registration in place.

“AMC registration is a nationwide licensing requirement with an August 2019 deadline,” writes Allan Cohen in the New England Real Estate Journal. “AMC registration comes right out of the federal Dodd-Frank law enacted by the U.S. Congress in 2010.”

“Specific in its language about firewalls, Dodd-Frank gave impetus to the use of AMCs acting as an intermediary between lenders and appraisers,” continued Cohen. “The goal is to protect consumers and avoid having financial institutions fall back into poor lending practices. Using an AMC as a firewall reduces the frequency of relational lending and influencing appraisers to meet valuation targets or certain values.”

“Appraiser independence is vital to both safety and soundness of financial institutions, and to consumers who regularly rely on the appraisal obtained by the lender to determine if the price they are paying for a house is reasonable,” said Rep. Tom Stanley (D-Waltham), the sponsor of the bill, when the House first approved it in June 150-0. “Missing the … deadline impacts everyone either looking to buy a home or refinancing a mortgage as AMCs will not be able to operate in the state. There’s no opposition to this legislation. It’s time to sign this bill into law and comply with the Dodd-Frank Act requirements.”

Homes For First Responders (S 793)—The Housing Committee held a hearing on legislation that would allow MassHousing to create a special home loan program for first responders who are required to live within a minimum distance from the city or town they serve. The measure only offers the loan to responders who meet program income limits and live in the eligible home as the primary resident for the term of the loan.

Sen. Diane DiZoglio (D-Methuen), the bill’s sponsor, said that the men and women who dedicate their lives to the public safety of Massachusetts residents deserve this assistance. “First responders, including law enforcement officers and firefighters, often cannot find affordable housing in the city or town in which they work,” said DiZoglio. “A particular challenge for first responders is that many municipalities across Massachusetts have residency requirements for these employees. Several non-profit groups have been established to assist first responders in achieving housing goals. With this in mind, I have filed this legislation so that the commonwealth can adopt a similar program statewide. Those who dedicate their lives to the public safety of Massachusetts residents deserve this assistance.”

Post Abuse Hotline Numbers (590)—A bill before the Education Committee would require that all public schools post a toll-free telephone number operated by the Department of Children and Families to receive reports of child abuse, neglect or child-at-risk. The number would have to be posted in a clearly visible location in a public area of the school and be written in both English and Spanish.

“I was inspired by other states that have done this, namely Texas, to ensure that everyone working with children—especially students who often know more about what’s going on with their classmates—knows there is a state resource to help a child in peril,” said Rep. Anthony Vega (D-Holyoke), the bill’s sponsor.

Drunk Driving (H 1580)—The Bay State now stands alone as the only state in which a person convicted of drunk driving for the first time is not given the option to install an ignition interlock device which requires the driver to blow into a mouthpiece before starting the vehicle. The device determines whether the driver’s blood alcohol concentration is above or below a preset legal limit. If the result is above the limit, the car will not start. Under current law, ignition interlocks are required for operators driving under a hardship license after two or more drunken driving convictions.

Rep. Tim Whelan (R-Brewster), a former police officer, is sponsoring a bill that he says would allow drivers who are convicted for the first time of drunk driving to reduce the length of their license suspensions by applying to have an ignition interlock system installed in their vehicle to ensure operator sobriety. “Massachusetts is the only state in the nation that does not allow for interlocks {for first offenders] in lieu of license suspension,” said Whelan.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) says Breathalyzers have stopped a driver who is drunk from starting his or her vehicle over 3 million times since MADD began advocating for the devices in 2006.

Loans To Repair Septic Systems (H 869)—The House gave initial approval to a bill that would allow cities and towns to provide low interest loans to homeowners to aid in the repair, replacing or updating of a faulty or discharging septic system. Rep. Paul Schmid (D-Westport) filed the bill to prevent further nitrogen pollution due to run off from these systems.

“Nitrogen pollution is putting our waters in peril by encouraging algae growth and some communities, like Westport, are under court order to clean up their waterways,” said Schmid. “Faulty or discharging septic system are an integral contributor to the problem.”

Allow Spouse To Be Caregivers (S 28)—The Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities has given a favorable report to and recommended passage of a bill allowing spouses to serve as paid caregivers for their partner living with a disability covered by MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program that provides health care for low-income and disabled persons.

Currently, other family members including siblings, children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nephews and parents are already considered eligible caregivers under MassHealth rules. MassHealth says that spouses are currently not included because they are considered “legally responsible” for the care of their spouse. However, 15 states, covering 42 percent of the national population, do allow this under federal authority.

“I’m pleased that this important bill was approved by the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities,” said Sen. Jo Comerford (D-Northampton), the sponsor of the measure. “Making this simple change to our MassHealth program will not only affect care, it will likely yield budgetary savings. More importantly, it reflects our basic societal commitments to empowering people with disabilities, working for the economic security of families, and valuing the human compassion and love shared by spouses.”

“We are facing a significant crisis in our ability to recruit and retain enough home care workers to meet the needs of older adults and persons with disabilities,” said Mass Home Care’s executive director Lisa Gurgone. “This bill will allow MassHealth to compensate spouses willing and able to provide loving care to their partners.”

Quotable Quotes

“This year alone in Massachusetts, over 40,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer. We owe it to them—and to everyone at risk of developing this disease—to do everything in our power to prevent cancer and improve access to screenings and treatment.”

—Marc Hymovitz, director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, on a new report that Massachusetts is leading the nation when it comes to implementing policies and passing legislation to prevent and reduce suffering and death from cancer.

“Combating climate change means we have to break our dependence on fossil fuels and go electric. Traditional buses are a menace, spreading toxic pollution in our communities and making people sick. These buses are a good first step in the MBTA’s promise to provide a 100 percent electric fleet, and that transformation needs to happen much faster than is planned.”

—Staci Rubin, senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation on the MBTA’s debut of three new zero-emission electric buses on the Silver Line.

“This legislation is a much-needed update to the way consumers receive digital entertainment streaming services. Multimillion-dollar media companies are using our public rights of way to deliver their product yet are not paying their fair share for that use.”

—Rep. Paul McMurtry (D-Dedham) on his legislation that would impose a fee on digital streaming providers like Hulu and Netflix equal to 5 percent of the revenue those companies earn in Massachusetts. The switch by many consumers from traditional cable to these streaming services has resulted in a loss of revenue that is given to local community media centers, which are an important resource to local public, educational and government news and information.

“I know [Gov. Baker is] in DC trying to get wind farms off the Cape approved to put in … admittedly, I have no idea what the hell wind farms do. I’m not smart. But I do know that the minute they legalize sports betting here in the state, it creates tax revenue.”

Last Week’s Session

Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time that the House and Senate were in session each week. Many legislators say that legislative sessions are only one aspect of the Legislature’s job and that a lot of important work is done outside of the House and Senate chambers. They note that their jobs also involve committee work, research, constituent work and other matters that are important to their districts. Critics say that the Legislature does not meet regularly or long enough to debate and vote in public view on the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been filed. They note that the infrequency and brief length of sessions are misguided and lead to irresponsible late-night sessions and a mad rush to act on dozens of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of an annual session.

During the week of July 29 through August 2, the House met for a total of seven hours and 25 minutes while the Senate met for a total of eight hours and 21 minutes.

Monday, July 29: House 11:02 AM to 12:45 PM; Senate 11:04 AM to 4:59 PM.

Tuesday, July 30: House 11:01 AM to 11:06 AM; no Senate session.

Wednesday, July 31: House 11:08 AM to 4:36 PM; no Senate session

Thursday, August 1: House 11:06 AM to 11:15 AM; Senate 1:04 PM to 3:30 PM.

Friday, August 2: No House session; no Senate session

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