Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local senators and representatives from recent debate on legislation banning the sale of flavored vaping and tobacco products. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

Gov. Charles D. Baker Jr. signed into law a bill that makes Massachusetts the first state to ban the sale of flavored vaping and tobacco products—including mint and menthol cigarettes. The measure also imposes a 75 percent excise tax on e-cigarettes.

Another provision requires commercial health insurers and MassHealth to cover the costs of smoking cessation programs and nicotine replacement therapy. The measure also raises the penalties on retailers for illegal tobacco sales and provides that businesses that don’t comply with the new law could have their Lottery licenses temporarily suspended.

“It is essential our young people have the opportunities to safely grow up in the commonwealth, and we have made strides in the prevention of youth nicotine and taken bold action in the face of a growing, deadly public health risk,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “Today e-cigarettes are the most commonly used form of tobacco by youth in Massachusetts. This legislation will further restrict the sale of nicotine-containing products to minors, providing the opportunity for them to live healthy, safe lives.”

“These products are already outlawed for children,” said Rep. Shaunna O’Connell (R-Taunton), who opposed the law. “I trust that adults can make intelligent decisions on these products.”

“The current youth vaping epidemic is the result of age-old industry tactics used to target kids,” said Sen. John Keenan (D–Quincy), the lead sponsor of the legislation. “We had made great strides in Massachusetts at decreasing the number of youth smokers, but with the introduction of e-cigarettes and the variety of flavors available, we lost decades of progress. With this bill, we are telling Big Tobacco they can never again use flavors to target kids in Massachusetts … My hope is that as we listened to the brave voices of the young people in Massachusetts, other states will do the same and pass legislation to prevent youth nicotine addiction.”

Some opponents argued the bill will hurt Bay State businesses on the New Hampshire border. “This bill will just send even more business over the border and some of that business will be young adults,” said Rep. Colleen Garry (D-Dracut). “I don’t think it will stop people from smoking. It will just have them buying cigarettes and other things in New Hampshire.”

Here are local senators’ votes on some proposed amendments to the ban:

Exempt Military (S 2407)—Senate 9-29, rejected an amendment which would allow retailers to maintain reserves of flavored tobacco products for sale to customers who present a valid military identification.

Amendment supporters said men and women who serve and risk their lives to protect our freedom should not be denied the right to smoke flavored tobacco in their own country. They noted that under Massachusetts law they are allowed to smoke marijuana but not a flavored cigarette.

Some amendment opponents said once you allow flavored tobacco back in the state there is no telling where it might end up. Others said the words “military identification” is a broad term and there are some identifications considered military that are given to dependents and family members. They argued it would be very difficult to keep track of who has the right type of identification to enable them to go into a store that may or may not have enough of the product for them.

(A “Yes” vote is for allowing military personnel to buy flavored tobacco. A “No” vote is against allowing it.)

Sen. Julian Cyr—No

Sen. Vinny deMacedo—Present

Fiscal Impact Of The Ban (S 2407)—Senate 9-30, rejected an amendment requiring the Revenue Committee and Ways and Means Committee to conduct a fiscal analysis on the expected loss of tax revenues from the ban and its impact on important state programs.

Amendment supporters said menthol products represent up to one-third of the state’s excise tax revenue and that means 10s of millions of dollars will be lost. They argued that consumers will go to border states to purchase flavored tobacco resulting in a loss of tax revenue for the state and income for convenience store owners. They noted the ban is not guaranteed to reduce the use of menthol and because people will buy it out of state and still suffer the same health problems they would if they bought it in Massachusetts.

Amendment opponents said it would be very difficult to project the amount of lost revenue. They noted that the ban will result in better health with some people smoking less and teens not getting started in the first place.

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

Sen. Julian Cyr—No

Sen. Vinny deMacedo—Yes

Do Not Allow Confiscation Of Vape Items And A Car (S 2407)—Senate 39-0, approved an amendment that would delete from the bill a section that allows police officers who discover untaxed e-cigarettes, vaporizers, vape pens, e-cigars, e-hookah and other vaping devices in the possession of a person who is not a licensed distributor, to seize the items and any vending machine or other receptacle including a motor vehicle, boat or airplane in which the items are found. The items would be forfeited and turned over to the state, which would destroy the items and either destroy or auction off the vehicle.

Amendment supporters said the section is draconian and goes too far by allowing law enforcement to confiscate a person’s car for simply possessing untaxed vaping equipment. They said the Senate must make sure the state doesn’t overstep its bounds and seize and sell or destroy a car that a person needs to go back and forth from work and for daily living.

(A “Yes” vote is for deleting the section and against confiscation.)

Sen. Julian Cyr—Yes

Sen. Vinny deMacedo—Yes

Also Up On Beacon Hill

Gov. Baker signed four other major pieces of legislation into law last week including:

Ban Hand-Held Cell Phones (S 2216)—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 device to make a call 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; 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 would 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 basically 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 the drivers are arrested, received a ticket or a warning.

Supporters said that the bill would save lives and prevent accidents. They noted that the measure does not ban cellphone use but simply requires the use of hands-free ones. They pointed to accidents, deaths and injuries involving handheld cellphones.

Some opponents say that the restriction is another example of government intrusion into people’s cars and lives. Others note that there are already laws on the books prohibiting driving while distracted and that the bill is a bonanza for insurance companies which will collect millions of dollars in surcharges.

“Our administration is committed to keeping the commonwealth’s network of roads safe, and this legislation will substantially reduce distracted driving and hold operators accountable when they are looking at an electronic device instead of looking at the road ahead,” said Gov. Baker.

“It is such a relief to finally see a hands-free bill pass in our commonwealth,” said Safe Roads Alliance president Emily Stein. “It is a proud, emotional, and hopeful moment, and I ask that all drivers in Massachusetts pause for a moment, too, and understand how distracted driving can impact so many precious lives on our roads.”

“WalkBoston is pleased that this legislation has been signed,” said Stacey Beuttell, executive director of WalkBoston. “This law will encourage people driving to focus solely on that task, making streets safer for people walking and running in communities across Massachusetts.

“The regional rise in bike ridership means there are more vulnerable road users than ever in Massachusetts, and this law will curb distracted driving and make streets safer for everyone,” said Becca Wolfson, executive director of Boston Cyclists Union.

Campaign Finance Laws (H 4087)—The governor signed into law 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 (OCPF) 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.

“It’s important that voters be able to quickly access information about who is donating to candidates and where candidates are spending their money,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Diane DiZoglio (D-Methuen). “This law takes a step in the right direction by moving legislators into the depository system and requiring that we file our reports more often. It’s essential that we move forward with improving good government practices and I’m grateful that this legislation has been enacted into law before the New Year.”

“The public will see the data more frequently, and candidates can feel comfortable that their reports are accurate,” said OCPF director Michael Sullivan. “Because reports are filed monthly by a third-party, OCPF’s auditors can quickly identify any issues and work with candidates to fix them.”

Children’s Health (H 4210)—Gov. Baker signed legislation designed to make it easier for children and their families to navigate the state’s complicated and often difficult to understand healthcare 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.

“As a parent who sought help for a child with mental and behavioral issues following a car accident, I saw first-hand how difficult it was to get services and its impact on the entire family,” said Rep. Mathew Muratore (R-Plymouth) who served on the conference committee that drafted the final version of the bill. “[This] is a great first step to address children’s health, but we can do better to increase access to beds, ensure pay parity coverage for mental health services, and help eliminate the stigma of mental illness. I am encouraged that there is a commitment to address these issues during the second half of this legislative session.”

“The dire state of mental health in Massachusetts has reached a crisis, and this legislation signed into law by the governor is a first step to address inadequate and fragmented mental health in the commonwealth,” said Sen. Julian Cyr (D-Truro), Senate chairman of the Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery. “Most importantly, the legislation reforms insurer provider networks, often referred to as ‘ghost networks.’ Under the new law, all residents in Massachusetts will have access to updated and accurate online directories when they are looking for a behavioral health provider.”

$1.5 Billion For Education (H 4157)—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 signing ceremony was held at Boston’s English High School, the nation’s first public high school, which was created in 1821.

The new law implements the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission which found the state was underfunding schools by more than $1 billion annually. It changes the formula used by the state to calculate the cost of educating students by updating costs related to health care and special education, as well as educating English Language Learners and low-income students.

“I am pleased to sign legislation aimed at providing students across the commonwealth with the opportunities and resources they need to succeed including accountability measures that are essential to supporting underperforming schools,” Gov. Baker said. “This funding builds on the over half a billion dollars in new Chapter 70 funding our administration has supported since taking office.”

“The Student Opportunity Act will lead to greater resources for public school students across the commonwealth,” said Rep. Alice Peisch (D- Wellesley), House chairwoman of the Education Committee. “The Legislature’s overwhelming support of this bill, along with today’s signing by Gov. Baker, is a clear indication of our commitment to ensuring that all students, and especially low-income students and English learners, have full access to the high-quality education that Massachusetts provides its children.”

“Low-income districts have been waiting a long time for additional money to help them offer all of the academics, support services and enrichment opportunities that prepare students for life after high school,” said Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley. “This legislation addresses those needs, acknowledges the value of accountability and dedicates a trust fund to close achievement gaps, an important goal that requires resources as well as our best thinking.”

Copyright 2019 Beacon Hill Roll Call. All Rights Reserved.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com.

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