The House And Senate: The Massachusetts Legislature officially began its 2022 session last week. The House and Senate held brief sessions with little of the ceremonial pageantry that usually accompanies the beginning of a new year on Beacon Hill. The Massachusetts State House is the last state capitol building in the nation that is still completely closed to the public, and in addition, most legislators and staff members continue to work and vote remotely amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

There were no roll calls in the House and Senate last week. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call begins a recap of the 2021 session. Here are some of the bills that were approved by the House and Senate and signed into law by Governor Charles D. Baker Jr. in the 2021 session. Most bills that were still pending at the end of 2021 are carried over into 2022 in the same status they had in 2021.

$48.1 Billion Fiscal 2022 Budget (H 4002)—House 160-0, Senate 40-0, approved and Gov. Baker on July 16, 2021, signed into law, after vetoing several items, a $48.1 billion fiscal 2022 state budget for the fiscal year that began on July 1.

The budget was based on new estimates that tax collections in FY22 will increase by more than $4.2 billion above the amount originally predicted by the governor, the House and the Senate. In light of the pandemic, elected officials had for months braced themselves for a substantial decrease in tax revenues and a cut in some programs and/or even a tax increase.

The new estimates also led to the cancellation of a planned withdrawal from the state’s Rainy Day Fund of at least $1.5 billion. Officials also project a $1.1 billion deposit into the fund which will drive its balance to $5.8 billion by the end of fiscal year 2022. The budget also cancels a plan to raise fees on Uber and Lyft rides in order to generate new money for cities and towns, the MBTA and other infrastructure projects.

Other provisions include a $350 million fund that could be used in future years to help cover the cost of the $1.5 billion school funding reform law passed in 2019; permanently extending the state’s tax credit for film production companies in Massachusetts; and a new law, based on a bill filed by Senator Mark C. Montigny (D-New Bedford) that will provide victims of violent crime and human trafficking enhanced protections.

“[This budget] … upholds our Senate values, charts a hopeful path forward for our commonwealth and more importantly reflects our priorities,” said Senate Ways and Means chairman Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport). “We maintain fiscal responsibility and ensure our commonwealth maintains healthy reserves for years to come. It safeguards the health and wellness of our most vulnerable populations and new supports for children and families.”

Although she ultimately voted for the budget, Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) said that she objected to the fact that legislators were given only a few hours to read the 434-page bill before voting on it. The budget was released late on a Thursday night and was voted on Friday afternoon.

Sen. DiZoglio said that positioning members to take a vote on something they did not get adequate time to review is not acceptable. “If we keep doing this over and over again, it’s not going to magically become acceptable,” she said. “The fact that we didn’t get even a day to review this is very disappointing. But what’s more disappointing … is the fact that those in our communities who have a stake in what happens in the bill before us, those it will impact most—our schools, our elderly populations, those who are coming from positions of powerlessness, those folks, probably many of them, still don’t even know that we’re taking this bill up. And yet we continue to call what happens in this chamber part of the democratic process.”

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

Representative Dylan Fernandes—Yes

Representative David Vieira—Yes

Representative Steven Xiarhos—Yes

Senator Julian Cyr—Yes

Senator Susan Moran—Yes

$400 Million For New Soldiers Home In Holyoke (H 3770)—House 160-0, Senate 40-0, approved and on May 20, 2021 Gov. Baker signed into law a bill authorizing $400 million to fund the construction of a new Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke. The push to construct the new home follows the deaths of 77 veteran residents in 2020 at the current facility as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak.

The bill also provides $200 million to increase geographic equity and accessibility of long-term care services for Bay State veterans with a focus on areas that are not primarily served by the soldiers’ homes in Chelsea or Holyoke.

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

Rep. Dylan Fernandes—Yes

Rep. David Vieira—Yes

Rep. Steven Xiarhos—Yes

Sen. Julian Cyr—Yes

Sen. Susan Moran—Yes

Roads And Bridges (H 3951)—House 160-0, Senate 40-0, approved and Gov. Baker signed into law on May 28, 2021, a bill that includes authorizing $200 million in one-time funding for the maintenance and repair of local roads and bridges in cities and towns across the state. The $350 million package, a bond bill under which the funding would be borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds, also includes $150 million to pay for bus lanes, improvement of public transit, electric vehicles and other state transportation projects.

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

Rep. Dylan Fernandes—Yes

Rep. David Vieira—Yes

Rep. Steven Xiarhos—Yes

Sen. Julian Cyr—Yes

Sen. Susan Moran—Yes

Help Businesses And Workers (H 90)—House 157-0, Senate 40-0, approved and Gov. Baker signed into law on April 1, 2021, a bill that supporters said will stabilize the state’s unemployment system and provide targeted tax relief to employers and workers.

Provisions exclude Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans from being taxed by the state in 2020; exclude $10,200 of unemployment compensation received by an individual with a household income of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level from gross income for tax purposes; and create a mechanism ensuring all employees will be able to access 40 hours of paid sick time for any COVID-related issues, including testing positive, needing to quarantine or caring for a loved one.

Other provisions waive penalties on unemployment insurance taxes; freeze unemployment insurance rates paid by employers and extend the state’s tax filing deadline from April 15, 2021, to May 17, 2021. Businesses would also face a new surcharge, in the form of an excise tax on employee wages, through December 2022 to help repay interest due in September on the federal loans.

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

Rep. Dylan Fernandes—Yes

Rep. David Vieira—Yes

Rep. Steven Xiarhos—Yes

Sen. Julian Cyr—Yes

Sen. Susan Moran—Yes

Also Up On Beacon Hill

Allow Spouse To Be A Paid Caregiver (S 89)—The Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities Committee held a hearing on legislation that would expand the current law that allows most family members, except spouses, to serve as a paid caregiver for relatives with disabilities who are eligible for nursing home care under MassHealth—the state’s Medicaid program that provides health care for low-income and disabled persons. The bill would allow a spouse to be a paid caregiver.

Restaurant Must Make A Picture Menu Available (H 4027)—Another bill heard by the Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities Committee would require restaurants to make available to customers a photographic or visual menu that contains a written description and a photograph of each food and drink item to assist individuals ordering with communication impairments. The state would be required to develop a program for restaurants to be designated as “Communication Impairment Friendly” and maintain a listing of restaurants receiving that designation on its website.

“I was inspired to file the bill after a student from Leicester Middle School and her mother visited my office hours,” said sponsor Representative David H. A. LeBoeuf (D-Worcester). “The student expressed how she noticed how difficult it was for non-verbal individuals to order at a restaurant and her mother, who worked in human services, also shared some anecdotes. This bill would make it easier for our nonverbal citizens to patronize local businesses by requiring restaurants to have one version of a picture menu available.”

Several Bills Heard By The Education Committee: Here are three proposals that were the subject of a hearing by the Education Committee last week:

Mental Health Of Students (H 572)—Adds mental health of students to the current list of physical illnesses that qualify as a legitimate reason for a student’s absence from school. Representative Carol A. Doherty (D-Taunton) sponsored the legislation that was initiated and backed by the Class of 2021 at Oliver Ames High School in Easton.

Sunscreen Lotion (S 309)—Allows any person, including students, parents and school personnel to possess and use a topical sunscreen product without a physician’s note or prescription while on school property or at a school-related event or activity to avoid overexposure to the sun if the product is regulated by the Federal Food and Drug Administration for over-the-counter use.

“Melanoma is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in children aged 15-19,” said sponsor Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro). “Routine application of sunscreen has proven to significantly reduce young people’s risk of developing this cancer. Sunscreen is essential to protecting the health of adolescents, so it makes good sense that sunscreen is accessible in schools and can be applied without the undue burden of obtaining a prescription.”

Study Air Temperatures In Public Schools (S 379)—Creates a commission to study the regulation of minimum and maximum allowable air temperatures in public school classrooms and facilities, as well as any relevant statistics on the number of air-conditioned public schools in Massachusetts, and the impact of indoor air quality on children.

Copyright © 2022 Beacon Hill Roll Call. All Rights Reserved.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.