There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

This week Beacon Hill Roll Call reports on some of the bills that were approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Charles D. Baker Jr. in the 2019 session.

Of the more than 6,000 bills that have been filed for consideration, only 148 have been approved and signed by the governor. And only 25 of those were bills that affect the entire state, while the vast majority were either sick-leave banks, local land-taking measures or other local-related measures applying to just one city or town.

Sick-leave banks allow public employees to voluntarily donate sick, personal or vacation days to a sick-leave bank for use by a fellow worker so he or she can get paid while on medical leave. Land takings are local land measures that usually only affect one city or town.

Here are five of the 25 important, statewide-related bills signed into law:

$200 Million In Chapter 90 Funding For Local Roads (H 69)—House 152-0; Senate 40-0, approved and on June 6 the governor signed into law a bill 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 package is a bond bill under which the funding would be borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds.

Other provisions include $200 million for rail improvements and $1.5 billion in bonding to allow for federal interstate repairs to advance. According to officials, 80 percent of the $1.5 billion would be reimbursed by the federal government.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Dylan Fernandes—Yes

Rep. Randy Hunt—Yes

Rep. David Vieira—Didn’t Vote

Sen. Julian Cyr—Yes

Ban Hand-Held Cellphones (S 2216)—House 154-1; Senate 38-1, approved and on November 25 Gov. Baker signed into law a bill that would prohibit drivers, except on-duty public safety personnel, from using a hand-held cellphone or other electronic devices to make calls or access social media. The measure allows drivers to use only a hands-free phone but allows him or her to perform a single tap or swipe to activate or deactivate the hands-free mode feature. Public safety personnel are exempt from the ban.

Use of a hand-held phone would be permitted in emergencies including if the vehicle is disabled; a disabled vehicle or an accident are present on a roadway; medical attention is required; and if police, firefighter or other emergency services are necessary for the personal safety of the operator or a passenger or to otherwise ensure the safety of the public.

Violators could be fined $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for a third and subsequent offense. A third offense would count as a surchargeable offense that could lead to higher insurance rates for the violator.

The measure also keeps the current mandate that police departments document the driver’s race only when they issue a ticket, write a warning or make an arrest after a traffic stop. Some say that will not gather enough data and that the only way to do so is to get the information on all cars that are stopped regardless of whether they are arrested or received a ticket or a warning.

(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

Sen. Julian Cyr—Yes

Campaign Finance Laws (H 4087)—House 155-0; Senate 39-0, approved and on November 26 the governor signed a bill making changes in the state’s campaign finance laws. Current law exempts legislative candidates and some candidates for mayor from the requirement that they use a depository reporting system which currently must be followed by statewide, county and many other municipal candidates. The bill requires legislative candidates and some candidates for mayor to adhere to the same strict requirements.

The depository reporting system requires candidates to file a monthly report that discloses all campaign finance activity. Legislative reports are under the current non-depository system and are filed only two or three times a year.

Another provision directs the Office of Campaign and Political Finance to write regulations regarding the appropriate use of websites and social media for campaign purposes. The measure also creates a special legislative commission to examine the feasibility of allowing candidates for state, county or municipal elected office to use campaign funds to pay for family care and childcare services for the candidate.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Dylan Fernandes—Yes

Rep. Randy Hunt—Yes

Rep. David Vieira—Yes

Sen. Julian Cyr—Yes

Children’s Health (S 2368)—House 155-0; Senate 40-0, approved and on November 26 Baker signed into law legislation 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 also allows foster children to remain covered by MassHealth until they turn 26, the same option that children covered by their parents’ private insurance currently have; examines the barriers to mental and behavioral health supports for children; establishes a commission to study mandated reporting laws; and provides for increased education around child sex abuse and exploitation.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Dylan Fernandes—Yes

Rep. Randy Hunt—Yes

Rep. David Vieira—Yes

Sen. Julian Cyr—Yes

$1.5 Billion For Education (H 4157)—House 156-0; Senate 39-0, approved and on November 26 Gov. Baker signed into law the Student Opportunity Act that invests $1.5 billion, mostly in the form of Chapter 70 Aid for local school districts, in the state’s public K-12 education system over the next seven years. The measure implements the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission which found the state was underfunding schools by more than $1 billion annually.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Dylan Fernandes—Yes

Rep. Randy Hunt—Yes

Rep. David Vieira—Yes

Sen. Julian Cyr—Yes

Also Up On Beacon Hill

Baker Proposes $44.6 Billion Fiscal 2021 State Budge—Gov. Baker fired the first shot in the long battle over the state budget for Fiscal Year 2021 that begins on July 1. He proposed a $44.6 billion package that increases overall state spending by 2.3 percent above the current fiscal year, according to the administration. The House in April will draft its own version of the budget followed by the Senate, which in May will propose yet another version. A House-Senate conference committee will eventually craft a plan that will be presented to the House and Senate for consideration and sent to the governor.

Automatic Voter Registration Is Underway—As of January 1, Massachusetts citizens who are not registered to vote will be automatically be registered when they apply for or renew their driver’s license or state identification cards at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, apply for MassHealth or sign up for health insurance through the Commonwealth Health Connecter. Citizens will have the ability to opt out of registering to vote when they are completing their applications.

Anyone who wants to vote in the presidential primaries on March 3 must be registered to vote by February 12. People who will not be applying for a driver’s license or health insurance before the registration deadline can register to vote at www.RegisterToVoteMA.com.

Voters can confirm their registration status, address and political party online at www.sec.state.ma.us/ele.

Allow 16- And 17-Year-Old Youths To Vote In Local Elections (H 720 and S 389)—The Elections Laws Committee held a hearing on two pieces of legislation that would allow cities and towns to permit people aged 16 and 17 to vote in their local city and town elections. Current law requires that voters be 18.

“We filed this bill because we believe in local control,” said Rep. Andy Vargas (D-Haverhill), a House co-sponsor of the proposal. “At least nine cities and towns have asked for the authority to lower the voting age for their municipal elections, but the state has essentially ignored these requests. If cities and towns want youth voices to be heard at the ballot box, the state shouldn’t stand in the way of their local intent. In the same fashion, no city or town will be required to lower its voting age under this bill. Cities and towns that are content with their current voting age can simply carry on.”

“It is time to give municipalities the option to empower their own young people,” said Sen. Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester), the sponsor of the Senate bill. “The Empower Act creates a local option that allows young people to vote in local elections, for municipalities who want to participate. Cities and towns have asked for this option for years, and I believe that young people deserve a voice in their local government.”

Require Decal For Drivers With A Learner’s Permit (H 3081)—The Transportation Committee’s agenda included a bill that would require a highly-reflective “L Plate” decal to be clearly visible to law enforcement officers on the front and back of any vehicle being operated by a driver with a learner’s permit. The size, fee and other details would be determined by the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

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 say the bill is a solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist. They note that families with more than one car would have to get two decals for each car and note 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.

Medal Of Liberty (H 4279)—A bill heard by the Veterans Affairs Committee would expand the current law that requires the Medal of Liberty to be awarded to the next of kin of Bay State service men and women killed in action or who died in service while in a designated combat area in the line of duty or who died as a result of wounds received in action.

The bill would expand the number of eligible veterans and require a medal to be awarded to the families of service members who died in service while in the line of duty or who died as a result of wounds received in service while in the line of duty. This eliminates the rule that the death had to be in combat, a war zone or as a result of action of an enemy.

“So often we see our service members suffer tragic circumstances during training exercises, accidents and other unforeseen events,” said the bill’s co-sponsors Reps. Brian Murray (D-Milford) and Michael Soter (R-Bellingham) in a joint statement. “While these situations are not necessarily combat-related, the dedication of our service men and women, as well as the loss their families suffer, are no less than if they were. As such, we should have a means of recognizing their sacrifice in an appropriate and respectful manner.”

Quotable Quotes — By the Numbers

State Auditor Suzanne Bump released the fiscal year 2019 report from her Bureau of Special Investigations that annually investigates allegations of public assistance fraud across the state. Here are some of the results:

$11,961,321.31: Amount of public assistance fraud in fiscal 2019.

1,077: The number of fraud cases.

$11,106.15: The average amount of fraud in each case.

40 percent: The percent of cases that involved individuals not reporting income they earned from employment.

310: The greatest number of cases of fraud for one county—Hampden

3: The least number of cases of fraud for one county—Dukes

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 January 20-24, the House met for a total of 36 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 24 minutes.

Monday, January 20: No House session; No Senate session

Tuesday, January 21: House 11 to 11:16 AM; Senate 11:07 to 11:11 AM

Wednesday, January 22: No House session; No Senate session

Thursday, January 23: House 11:01 to 11:21 AM; Senate 11:15 to 11:35 AM

Friday, January 24: No House session; No Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com.

Copyright © 2020 Beacon Hill Roll Call. All Rights Reserved.

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