Massachusetts State House

The Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill in Boston.

Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local senators and representatives from the week of November 11-15.

Ban Flavored Tobacco Products (H 4183)—House 126-31, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would ban the sale of flavored vaping and tobacco products—including mint and menthol cigarettes—and impose a 75 percent excise tax on e-cigarettes. Thirty percent of this estimated $10 million to $15 million tax revenue would go into a trust fund that cities and towns could use for substance abuse prevention. Businesses that don’t comply with the bill’s provisions could have their Lottery licenses temporarily suspended.

The bill also requires commercial health insurers and MassHealth to cover smoking cessation programs and nicotine replacement therapy. Another provision raises the penalties for illegal tobacco sales.

“This legislation is a critical step to help end the worsening youth e-cigarette epidemic and stop tobacco companies from using appealing flavors to lure kids into a lifetime of addiction,” said Matthew Myers the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “We urge swift action by the state Senate to approve the same legislation.”

“The House vote to include menthol and mint tobacco in legislation brought about by a youth vaping epidemic demonstrates how little they understand and appreciate the dangerous consequences associated with their vote,” said bill opponent Jon Shaer, executive director of the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketer Association. “We’re supportive of aggressive action aimed at vaping; however, a menthol tobacco ban will disproportionately impact communities of color with increased illicit tobacco-related crime, store closures and job losses. Not to mention it strips adults of their right to buy legal products of their choice. The House could have avoided this if it had kept the focus where it belongs— on vape.”

“Today the Massachusetts House voted to disarm one of Big Tobacco’s most dangerous weapons: flavored tobacco products,” said Marc Hymovitz, Massachusetts director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “While Massachusetts has long been at the forefront in this area, we are poised to lead the nation by passing legislation that would prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products, keeping these deadly products out of the hands of our kids.”

“The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network said the bill would make Massachusetts the first state to restrict the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes,” said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation and an opponent of the measure. House Speaker Robert DeLeo described Wednesday’s vote as ‘a nation-leading step…to modernize our laws that regulate tobacco.’ But opponent Rep. Sheila Harrington (R-Groton) summed it up best: "We have just given a financial gift to the state of New Hampshire, because people are going in droves.”

“Will the Massachusetts Legislature ever get over its nanny state obsession and leave its citizens alone to think for themselves?” Ford added. “Why must everything in the commonwealth be either mandatory or forbidden by law?”

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

Rep. Dylan Fernandes—Yes

Rep. Randy Hunt—No

Rep. David Vieira—No

Fine For Underage Use of Marijuana and Tobacco (H 4183)—House 36-123, rejected an amendment imposing up to a $100 fine on anyone under 21 years old who is in possession of marijuana, marijuana products or marijuana accessories. The amendment also requires the offender to complete a drug awareness program. Anyone under 21 who possesses any tobacco products would be subject only to the up to $100 fine.

“The amendment I proposed was aimed to set a standard of safety for our youth,” said amendment sponsor Rep. Jay Barrows (R-Mansfield). “It is easy to penalize convenient stores/gas stations for the sale of tobacco to minors and that is the first step in the right direction. However, there needs to be a share of responsibility towards minors trying to access tobacco. So I suggested a minor penalty to deter minors from using tobacco, similar to that of underage drinking, which could be a small fine, or community service engagement.”

The House Ways and Means chair Rep. Aaron Michlewitz (D-Boston) who drafted the final copy of the bill and Rep. Danielle Gregoire (D-Marlborough), who authored the original bill, did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call to comment on why they voted against this amendment.

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

Rep. Dylan Fernandes—No

Rep. Randy Hunt—Yes

Rep. David Vieira—Yes

Pharmaceutical Access, Costs and Transparency (PACT) Act (S 2391)—Senate 40-0 approved and sent to the House the PACT Act aimed at addressing the high and rapidly increasing costs of prescription drugs in the Bay State. A key provision provides immediate price relief for insulin used by one in 10 people living with diabetes who must take it daily or risk major health problems. The measure limits out-of-pocket spending for insulin by eliminating deductibles and coinsurance and capping co-pays at $25 per month. Rising insulin prices have resulted in some people paying out-of-pocket costs of $1,000 or more per year, leading to some patients decreasing their insulin dose or not taking it at all.

Other provisions include requiring pharmaceutical companies to notify the state in advance of new drugs coming to market, and of significant price increases for existing drugs; disclosing the proposed value of certain drugs if manufacturers don’t take meaningful steps to lower costs; and several transparency and accountability mandates.

“This bill will bring us one step closer toward addressing rising costs within our healthcare system that continually impact patients’ ability to access the care they need,” said Sen. Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington), Senate chairwoman of the Committee on Health Care Financing. “By reining in prescription drug costs and increasing transparency and oversight within the pharmaceutical industry, we can drive down costs and improve patient outcomes.”

“Today the Senate stood unified in our mission to tackle the pressing issue of healthcare access and affordability,” said Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). “I am excited to see the PACT Act advance, as we have heard for far too long that the rapidly rising cost of prescription drugs is the greatest issue facing individuals and families today.”

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

Sen. Julian Cyr—Yes

Sen. Vinny deMacedo—Yes

Allow Consumers to Continue to Use Coupons to Purchase Prescriptions (S 2397)—Senate 38-1, approved an amendment extending until January 2021 the 2012 law that allows consumers to use coupons and rebate offers when purchasing prescriptions. The law was set to expire in January 2020.

Amendment supporters said that this law has been successful in helping to lower the cost of prescription drugs for seniors and others who otherwise might not be able to afford them.

“This was an amendment to a bill intended to contain the costs of pharmaceutical drugs,” said Sen. Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville), the lone opponents of the extension. “The Health Policy Commission received testimony that, although some patients can benefit from coupons, those coupons can encourage patients to buy more expensive drugs, even when less expensive and equally effective alternatives exist. We should wait for the commission’s overdue report on how drug coupons affect health care costs before once again extending or altering this program.”

(A “Yes” vote is for allowing consumers to use coupon or rebate offers until 2021 when purchasing prescriptions. A “No” vote is against allowing it.)

Sen. Julian Cyr—Yes

Sen. Vinny deMacedo—Yes

EpiPens for All Minors (S 2397)—Senate 39-0, approved an amendment that requires that The Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA) perform an impact analysis regarding the cost of providing EpiPens to all minors and issue a report to the Senate by April 2020.

Amendment supporters said a recent report found the price of an EpiPen two-pack increased from $106 in 2004 to $608 in 2016 while the active ingredient in it costs about one dollar. They said no child should have to die because his or her family can’t afford life-saving medication due to the despicable price-gouging of pharmaceutical companies.

“This important amendment to the PACT Act, which marks a momentous leap in the right direction for prescription drug cost containment and consumer protection, brings us one step closer to realizing the dream of providing epinephrine injector coverage for all children of the commonwealth,” said Sen. Diane DiZoglio (D-Methuen), the sponsor of the amendment. “No child should have to suffer because a caregiver cannot afford this life-saving medication.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)

Sen. Julian Cyr—Yes

Sen. Vinny deMacedo—Yes

Also Up On Beacon Hill

College Closures (H 4099)—Gov. Charles D. Baker Jr. signed into law the 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.

The bill was filed in response to Mount Ida College which, in April 2018, caught everyone by surprise with the unexpected announcement that it would shut down at the end of that academic year.

Under the bill, 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.” The measure also requires board members at every college and university to undergo regular fiduciary and accreditation training.

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 $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 college or revoke degree-granting authority.

“Massachusetts is home to some of the world’s most impressive public and private colleges and universities that also serve as major employers and drivers of business across the commonwealth,” said Gov. Baker. “We are very pleased to have worked alongside the Legislature to sign this important bill into law that will protect students and families from sudden college closures, while also guaranteeing those institutions’ confidentiality as the Department of Higher Education works with them to understand their financial status.”

“Today is a good day for students, faculty, staff, and the commonwealth,” said Sen. Anne M. Gobi (D-Spencer), Senate chairwoman of the Committee on Higher Education. “We have shown, in a bipartisan manner, that our institutions of higher learning are important, and their stability is necessary. Through these efforts, if problems arise, they can be detected early with a set, transparent process in place that will safeguard our students and offer them a path to continue their higher education.”

“This legislation will provide transparency and restore confidence in our higher education institutions,” said Rep. Jeffrey Roy (D-Franklin), House chairman of the Committee on Higher Education. “When students and their families invest in their future, they deserve to know that their institution stands on a solid foundation. Through this legislation, the state will be a partner in providing transparency and accountability to promote resiliency and financial stability, and to ensure that our students have access to the opportunities that they need, that they can count on, and that deliver for the long-term strength of our state.”

Increase Fines for Jaywalking (H 4181)—The House gave initial approval to a bill that would increase the current fine for jaywalking which is $1 for the first three offenses and $2 for the fourth and subsequent offenses. The bill would increase the fine to $25 for the first offense, $50 for the second one and $100 for the third and subsequent.

Supporters say the current fine is minuscule and does nothing to decrease jaywalking which can result in accidents, injuries and even death.

“I was approached by a constituent who noticed increasing jaywalking by the University of Mass at Lowell,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Colleen Garry (D-Dracut). “People think that pedestrians always have the right of way, but they need to cross in the crosswalks as well.”

Double Speeding Fines (H 3068)—The House gave initial approval to legislation that would double fines for motor vehicles speeding in the far right “breakdown” where travel is permitted during peak commuting hours.

Supporters say allowing travel in the breakdown lane is essential on some highways in order to temporarily provide traffic relief during peak hours. However, many motorists use this lane as a high-speed passing lane, risking their own safety and the safety of people in disabled motor vehicles and emergency personnel.

“Numerous accidents and fatalities have occurred due to excessive speed in the breakdown lanes,” said sponsor Rep. Dave Linsky (D-Natick). “This bill mirrors the already successful [mandate] of double fines for speeding in construction zones. If enacted, this legislation would not only further protect those who dedicate their lives to our safety but would protect motorist safety as well.”

"Move Over Law" (H 3584)—The House gave initial approval to a proposal that would expand the current “Move Over Law” that requires drivers to reduce their speed to that of a “reasonable and safe speed for road conditions” when they spot an emergency vehicle with flashing lights on the side of the highway. Failure to comply could result in a fine of up to $100.

The current law applies only to fire trucks, police vehicles, ambulances, disaster vehicles and highway maintenance vehicles. The bill would apply the law to include utility vehicles used to install, maintain, repair, operate, or restore communications service, electric or gas distribution or transmission service in an emergency.

“This bill will extend the protections already provided to emergency and maintenance personnel under the current law to communications road workers, who face many if not all of the same dangers,” said Rep. Hal Naughton (D-Clinton), the sponsor of the bill

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 November 11 to 15, the House met for a total of seven hours and 5 minutes and the Senate met for a total of nine hours and 43 minutes.

Monday, November 11: No House session; No Senate session

Tuesday, November 12: House 11:01 AM to 11:18 AM; Senate 11:05 AM to 11:58 AM

Wednesday, November 13: House 10:04 AM to 4:47 PM; No Senate session

Thursday, November 14: House 11:05 AM to 11:10 AM; Senate 11:10 AM to 8 PM

Friday, November 15:, 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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