Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives and senators from the week of September 30 through October 4.

College Closure (H 4099)—House 153-0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would require colleges and universities to post financial information online in a publicly accessible fashion, undergo regular budgetary screening and alert state officials if they face imminent closure.

All higher education institutions would be required to alert the Board of Higher Education if they have any liabilities that create a risk of “imminent closure.” That information would remain private to allow struggling institutions to recoup without alarming the public. The measure also requires board members at every college and university to undergo regular fiduciary and accreditation trainings.

If the board determines that a school does in fact face closure, the school would be required to create a contingency plan with details outlining how students can complete their programs, how their records would be maintained and how deposits would be refunded.

The board would impose a fine of up to a $1,000 per day if it determines that an institution has failed to comply with this new law. The board would also have the power to suspend state funding to the institution or revoke degree-granting authority.

“Last year, the students at Mount Ida College, were surprised to learn that their college was closing without any previous notification,” said Rep. James Arciero (D-Westford). “Fifteen-hundred students, including the daughter of one of my constituents had their well-planned academic lives turned on their heads. This legislation addresses that matter so that no other student will ever have to face a similar situation in the future.”

“This legislation supports and strengthens our higher education system and these vital engines of opportunity, and in so doing, protects the interests of students and families,” said Rep. Jeffrey Roy (D-Franklin), House chairman of the Higher Education Committee. “The financial screening and enhanced reporting provisions will help us keep Massachusetts at the top of the heap and avoid the significant negative consequences of college closures for students, staff and host communities. The training provisions will strengthen the governance of these institutions and assist boards in exercising their fiduciary responsibilities.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Dylan Fernandes—Yes

Rep. Randy Hunt—Yes

Rep. David Vieira—Yes

$1.4 Billion For Education (S 2350)—Senate 39-0, approved and sent to the House 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.

“Access to a high-quality public education is a fundamental right for every child, and that's why the Student Opportunity Act will make an unprecedented $1.5 billion investment in our public schools, ensuring that school districts across the commonwealth have adequate and equitable resources to provide all students, especially those facing adversity, with a high-quality public education,” said Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), the Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Education.

“One of the most important obligations of state government is educating our young people,” said Sen. Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow). “This historic legislation will ensure every kid in our commonwealth—regardless of zip code—is given the opportunity to receive a top-tier education. It is long past time to give our kids the support they deserve.”

"This has been a long time coming, as we all know,” said Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) said. “This is really a historic day in this chamber and that is not an overstatement by any means. We have been talking about making our kids a priority for many, many years … today, we are there."

"We urge the House to pass the bill with the same speed so that after years of advocacy by our members and communities we can all reap the fruit of a more just funding system," said Massachusetts Teachers Association president Merrie Najimy. "All communities will gain from this bill, but the biggest winners are low-income students in our Gateway Cities—many of whom are students of color—and students in our high-poverty rural districts."

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Julian Cyr—Yes

Sen. Vinny deMacedo—Yes

School Transportation For Homeless Kids (S 2350)—Senate 13-25, rejected an amendment that would require the state to reimburse cities and towns the cost, minus any federal funding the community receives, of providing transportation to students experiencing homelessness.

“This amendment would have only cost 0.01 percent [$16.2 million] of the cost of the bill and it was very unfortunate that this bipartisan amendment was not adopted,” said the amendment’s sponsor, Sen. Dean Tran (R-Fitchburg). “Homeless students should also have the right to benefit from this unprecedented school funding.”

Amendment opponents said the bill is focused on implementing the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission. They argued that the Legislature does provide some reimbursement to cities and towns through the regular annual budget and that there is a commission working to address student transportation needs, including homeless transportation.

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

Sen. Julian Cyr—No

Sen. Vinny deMacedo—Yes

Students Must Meet With Guidance Counselor(S 2350)—Senate 6-32, rejected an amendment that would require school districts to design plans to ensure that every enrolled high school student meets with a guidance counselor or school psychologist at least once a year. The amendment requires that each meeting allow enough time to discuss mental, emotional and physical well-being; college and career readiness; and academic success.

“Our intern, Tori Milun of Norwell, originally brainstormed this idea and brought it to my attention,” said the amendment’s author Sen. Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth). “I think that this is a common-sense, proactive piece of legislation that benefits the mental, emotional and academic well-being of all students. There are so many resources that school counselors are prepared to offer students, and it is the students who avoid guidance counselors who may need them the most.”

Amendment opponents said the amendment is well-intentioned but it will put additional stress on an already stressed resource and may create an unfunded mandate. They noted the Legislature is already working on this issue outside of this legislation.

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

Sen. Julian Cyr—No

Sen. Vinny deMacedo—Yes

Prop 2½ (S 2350)—Senate 34-4, approved an amendment requiring the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to analyze the impact of Proposition 2½ on the ability of municipalities to make their required local contributions in the short-term and long-term and recommendations to mitigate the constraints of Proposition 2½.

Prop 2½ allows communities to raise property taxes only 2.5 percent a year over the previous year’s levy. The limit can be overridden by a majority of voters.

Amendment supporters said many cities and towns are willing to step up and to tax themselves more to pay for vital services but Proposition 2½ puts a cap on that. They said that once the levy limit is reached, towns have no ability to raise revenue to pay for services and have to start laying people off and cutting services.

“Since the moment I began campaigning, I heard about the pressure that multiple municipalities in my district are under as a result of Prop. 2½ constraints,” said the amendment’s sponsor Sen. Jo Comerford (D-Northampton). “A major driver of municipal expenses has been education. These towns want to go the distance for our schools, and so it is only fitting that we use this education legislation to understand the impact Prop 2½ is having on their ability to help fund our schools, and then work with these communities to find an equitable way forward.”

"Proposition 2½ caps property tax hikes unilaterally imposed by municipal officials at 2.5 percent, but there is no limit to how much willing municipal taxpayers can tax themselves through a Proposition 2½ operational override — if a majority of the city’s or town’s electorate is so inclined," said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation (CLT), the group that created and put Prop 2½ on the 1980 ballot. "If those officials want to spend more, let them ask their constituents for more to spend. This is precisely why CLT proposed its property tax cap and why voters overwhelmingly adopted it. They can 'study the impact' but a solution is in their hands."

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

Sen. Julian Cyr—Yes

Sen. Vinny deMacedo—No

Increase From $30 TO $50 Per Pupil (S 2350)—Senate 11-27, rejected an amendment to a section of the bill that raises the per-pupil minimum aid from $25 to $30. The amendment would raise the aid to $50 over seven years. The sponsor said the hike would only cost approximately $8 million over the seven-year period.

“This increase in minimum per-pupil aid targets schools facing significant increases in their required local contribution without a corresponding increase in state aid,” said the amendment’s co-sponsor Sen. Michael Moore (D-Millbury). “This amendment further adjusts the local aid funding formula to more accurately provide for school districts’ costs, and to enhance resources available to our public schools so that all districts benefit from this legislation.”

Amendment opponents said the amendment is popular of course, but also regressive. They noted there are several things in the underlying bill that will assist these same communities at whom the hike is aimed. They noted the bill already hikes the minimum for $25 to $30 per pupil. And the bill also ensures that $30 is guaranteed and does not have to be fought for in each state budget.

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

Sen. Julian Cyr—No

Sen. Vinny deMacedo—Yes

Also Up On Beacon Hill

Universal Basic Income (UBI) Of $1,000 Per Month (S 84)—A bill before the Community Development and Small Businesses Committee would establish and implement a 3-year pilot program that gives 100 individual participants $1,000 per month to determine the individual, family and community economic impacts and state-level cost savings of a universal basic income. The participants would be from economically diverse cities or towns, including rural areas.

The program would then issue a report including the plusses and minuses of basic universal income; how it could be used to address historic and contemporary inequalities including institutional racism; and recommendations on implementing a statewide UBI program.

“The UBI bill provides individuals with financial relief and choices that are not possible with their current financial situation,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton). “It eliminates the bureaucracy of government-provide benefit programs.”

Supporters say it is time to try a pilot program of this often-discussed concept and then analyze it and see how it worked. They say UBI could be a key to alleviating poverty and note it would help workers impacted by job automation and provide Americans with a safety net.

They point out that a recent study from earlier this year on Finland’s UBI pilot program found that recipients reported greater general well-being, less stress, improved physical and mental health and an increase in confidence about having a bright future.

Democratic Presidential candidate Andrew Yang is a big supporter of UBI and it is one of the cornerstones of his campaign.

Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation is not big on the idea, to say the least. “Will selecting The ‘Lucky Hundred Pilots’ work out as well as the low-number license plate lottery, where many winners are seemingly connected to how much they contribute to whom?” asked Ford. “What an insane idea, even for Massachusetts. We’re told the state has a ‘revenue shortage’ and needs to raise taxes, but incredibly, legislators now want to give away even more working stiffs’ hard-earned money on such foolishness. The breaking point is quickly approaching; let’s speed it along.”

Order Of Names On Ballot (H 3712)—The Elections Laws Committee held a hearing on a proposal prohibiting the use of the word “incumbent” next to a candidate's name on local and state ballots. The measure also provides that all candidates be listed on the ballot in an order determined by a random lottery.

Current law allows incumbents to be identified and requires that they are listed first, followed by an alphabetical listing of candidates of established political parties and then an alphabetical list of non-party candidates.

“Currently, incumbents receive the top placement, which is known to be advantageous,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Mindy Domb (D-Amherst). “In addition, next to their name, information can be provided that reminds voters of the incumbent’s status so that ballots can read ‘candidate for re-election,’ a description which may be better suited for campaign literature than an electoral ballot. The solution is to have random placement and removal of incumbency information.”

Hearing By State Administration Committee And Regulatory Oversight—The Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight held a hearing on several bills last week including:

Equal Representation On State Boards And Commissions (H 2711)—Requires the composition of each appointed state public board and commission to broadly reflect the general public of the commonwealth, including persons of different backgrounds, abilities, interests and opinions and ethnic minorities. When practicable, the racial and ethnic composition of each board and commission must reflect the percentage of racial and ethnic minorities in the general population. The measure, effective in January 2022, requires that at least 50 percent of each board or commission be female.

Supporters said that a recent analysis showed that only 32 percent out of 50 of the most important of these boards and commissions are at gender parity and about one-third have fewer than 30 percent women.

“I believe that increasing diversity in our state’s workforce and leadership, in both the public and private sectors, is both a moral imperative and an economic imperative for our commonwealth,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester). “Our diversity is a strength and we must embrace it and pursue policies that lead to more equitable opportunities and outcomes for women, people of color, and those with disabilities.”

250th Anniversary Of The American Revolution (S 1813)—Establishes a 19-member special commission to investigate and study the promotion and celebration of the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution.

The commission would identify all opportunities for individuals and municipalities to participate in celebrations of the anniversary and recognize the particular history of their geographical areas. It would also investigate and promote under-represented voices in the American Revolution including women, native peoples, and persons of color.

“As we approach 250 years from major milestones on the pathway to the Revolution, we have an opportunity to celebrate our shared history, amplify under-represented voices from the time period, and drive economic activity across the state,” said sponsor Sen. Nick Collins (D-Boston). “From education, to preservation, to cultural tourism and commemorative events, the Revolution 250 organization has well researched, innovative programming, and it is my hope that Massachusetts will capture this moment and take part in the celebration.”

Quotable Quotes

“In Massachusetts, living in high-poverty neighborhoods affects six percent of all children, and these neighborhoods are mostly in the Gateway Cities and the City of Boston. Growing up in high-poverty neighborhoods has long-term impacts on our kids. All children and families deserve quality education, housing and access to opportunity. Investing in solutions that uplift children in poverty will create the change needed for everyone in the commonwealth to thrive.”

—Marie-Frances Rivera, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, on a report that 90,000 kids in Massachusetts live in concentrated poverty.

“Our administration is proud of the work Massachusetts communities have done so far to prepare for and adapt to the effects of climate change. With this funding, we hope to expand this critical work across the commonwealth and ensure every city and town is able to invest in climate-smart infrastructure and prepare for impacts like more intense storms, flooding and droughts.”

—Lt. Governor Karyn Polito on the Baker Administration’s $8 million grant program to provide funding to local cities and towns to adapt to climate change.

“We know domestic violence continues to be a pervasive challenge and impacts our communities—especially those most marginalized. Across the country, statistics show that communities of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, immigrants and refugees and those experiencing homelessness are disproportionately impacted by domestic violence. This isn’t just a domestic violence issue, this is a social justice and human rights issue.”

—Debra Robbin, executive director of Jane Doe Inc. on October’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“The idea that we’ve done our gun bills and that’s enough, well, those days are so behind us. It’s never enough. It’s not enough until we actually know that everything we have done allows people to live their lives and not unnecessarily be murdered at the hands of a gun.”

—Rep. Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge)

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 September 30 through October 4, the House met for a total of four hours and 27 minutes while the Senate met for a total of nine hours and 27 minutes.

Monday, September 30: House 11:01 AM to 11:27 AM; Senate 11:05 AM to 11:32 AM

Tuesday, October 1: No House session; No Senate session.

Wednesday, October 2: House 11:03 AM to 2:55 PM; No Senate session.

Thursday, October 3: House 11:01 AM to 11:10 AM; Senate 11:15 AM to 8:15 PM.

Friday, October 4: No House session; No Senate session.

Copyright © 2019 Beacon Hill Roll Call. All Rights Reserved. 

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com.

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