Beacon Hill Roll Call

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By: Press Release
Published: 06/01/12

By BOB KATZEN

Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives on two roll calls and local senators on seven roll calls from the week of May 21 through 25.


All Senate roll calls are on the Senate debate of the $32.3 billion Fiscal 2013 state budget. Most of the 694 amendments filed never came to a roll call vote and were simply approved or rejected on voice votes without debate and without a roll call.


The Senate also rejected 188 amendments on a single voice vote without a roll call. Those amendments were “bundled” together and rejected all at once. Senate President Therese Murray led the rejection of the 188 amendments with a simple: “All those in favor say ‘aye,’ (those) opposed (say) ‘no.’ The no’s have it and the amendments are not adopted.” Senators don’t actually vote yes or no and in fact don’t say a word. The outcome was determined earlier behind closed doors.


Economic Development Package (H 4110)—House 152-0, approved and sent to the Senate an economic development and jobs bill.


Provisions include a $50 million innovation investment fund to support research and development at universities and research centers; creation of the MassWorks Infrastructure Program, which will serve as a one-stop-shop for infrastructure funding; a manufacturing grant program to support small businesses; increased funding to advance large economic projects; and expansion of efforts to expedite permitting.


Supporters said the bill would foster job creation and make Massachusetts more competitive and business friendly.


(A Yes vote is for the bill.)


Rep. Demetrius Atsalis—Yes
Rep. Susan Gifford—Yes
Rep. Randy Hunt—Yes
Rep. Timothy Madden—Yes
Rep. David Vieira—Yes


Prohibit Amendment From Being Considered (H 4110)—House 118-33, upheld the decision of the chairman that a specific amendment is beyond the scope of the economic development bill and should not be considered. The amendment would create a program that would attempt to secure space for small business start-up entrepreneurs in unoccupied, state-owned buildings.


Supporters of the chairman’s ruling said the amendment clearly goes beyond the scope of the bill because it deals with a chapter of law not addressed by it.


Opponents said the amendment deals with the same kind of items that are already included in the bill and should be debated and voted upon.


(A Yes vote is for the ruling of the chair. A No vote is against it.)


Rep. Demetrius Atsalis—Yes
Rep. Susan Gifford—No
Rep. Randy Hunt—No
Rep. Timothy Madden—Yes
Rep. David Vieira—No


Senate Approves $32.3 Billion Fiscal 2013 State Budget (S 4)—Senate 36-0, following three days and two nights of debate, approved an estimated $32.3 billion Fiscal 2013 state budget.


Supporters said the budget is a fiscally responsible and balanced one that does not raise taxes, increases local aid, and funds important programs to the best of the state’s ability during this economic climate.


The House has approved a different version of the budget. A House-Senate conference committeewill work out a compromise version and send it to Governor Deval L. Patrick.


(A Yes vote is for the budget.)


Sen. Therese Murray—Yes
Sen. Daniel Wolf—Yes


Prohibit Tax Cut Amendments (S 4)—Senate 33-4, upheld Senate President Therese Murray’s ruling that 13 proposed amendments that reduce taxes are beyond the scope of the $32.3 billion state budget being considered and should not be allowed on the floor for debate and a vote.


The proposals include reducing the income tax rate from 5.3 percent to 5 percent over three years; reducing the sales tax from 6.25 to 5 percent over two years; exempting all meals at restaurants from the 6.25 meals tax for six days in October; and providing an exemption of $3,500 for taxpayers who provide more than one-half of the support for a relative over age 70.


Supporters of the ruling said the budget is an “appropriations” bill but not a “money” bill. They argued the proposed tax reductions would make the bill a money bill and violate the state constitution which requires all money bills to originate in the House.


Opponents of the ruling said it is ridiculous that a $32.3 billion budget is not considered a money bill. They also noted the budget already includes a provision that delays implementation of a tax deduction and results in a $46 million windfall for the state.


(A Yes vote supports the chair’s ruling. A No vote opposes it.)


Sen. Therese Murray—President rarely votes
Sen. Daniel Wolf—Yes


Cut State Spending By 5 Percent (S 4)—Senate 8-30, rejected an amendment requiring the Patrick administration within eight months to develop a three-year plan to reduce state spending by at least 5 percent.


Amendment supporters said it is time to get serious about reducing state spending. They noted under the current administration, total state spending has risen about 24 percent.


Amendment opponents said it is irresponsible to simply pick a random percentage by which to reduce spending. They argued the 5 percent cut would result in a $5 billion spending reduction which would require the cutting of many important programs.

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

Sen. Therese Murray—President rarely votes
Sen. Daniel Wolf—No


Study Bottle Bill Expansion (S 4)—Senate 22-15, approved an amendment providing that a special commission study the possible expansion of the bottle bill and report to the Legislature by January 1, 2013. The amendment would replace a proposal that would expand the bottle bill to include noncarbonated beverages like flavored and unflavored water, vitamin water, tea, and sports drinks.


Some supporters of the study said the expansion is nothing less than a new tax that will hurt in-state retailers and communities that border New Hampshire. Others said they are open to the idea but prefer to get more information on the proposal.


Opponents of the study generally support the expansion and said the study basically delays and kills the bill. They argued the expansion is long overdue and would help the environment.


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


Sen. Therese Murray—President rarely votes
Sen. Daniel Wolf—No


Close Loophole In Melanie’s Law (S 4)—Senate 37-0, approved an amendment that closes a loophole in Melanie’s Law, the landmark legislation aimed at cracking down on repeat drunk drivers. The state’s Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) recently ruled that cases “continued without a finding” could not be counted as a conviction when tabulating whether a person is a repeat offender.


Cases continued without a finding are an admission that “there are sufficient facts to find the defendant guilty” of the charges but the defendant will often be placed on probation for a certain period of time and never actually be declared guilty. The amendment would supersede the decision and count any cases continued without a finding as a prior conviction.


Amendment supporters said the loophole must be closed in order to continue to crack down on drunk drivers and protect the public.


(A Yes vote is for the amendment.)


Sen. Therese Murray—President rarely votes
Sen. Daniel Wolf—Yes


Limit EBT Card Holders To $20 Daily Cash Withdrawal From ATM Machines (S 4)—Senate 11-25, rejected an amendment that would limit welfare recipients from using their electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards to withdraw more than $20 per day from an ATM machine. The amendment also would implement a vendor payment system for the non-cash payment of rent and electric and gas utility bills for EBT card holders.


Current law prohibits use of the cards to purchase alcohol, tobacco, and lottery tickets. The House has already approved an expansion that would also ban use of the cards in nail salons, tattoo parlors, casinos, and strip clubs or on travel, cosmetics, pornography, jewelry, theater tickets, and bail.


Amendment supporters said all the restrictions are essentially meaningless and unenforceable because recipients can simply take as much cash for which they are eligible from an ATM machine and use it for the banned purposes.


Amendment opponents said the $20 limit goes too far. They argued the state should find who is abusing the system and act accordingly rather than punishing people across the board.


(A Yes vote is for the $20 limit. A “No vote is against it.)


Sen. Therese Murray—President rarely votes
Sen. Daniel Wolf—No


Approve Compromise Restrictions On Use Of EBT Cards (S 4)—Senate 38-0, approved an amendment prohibiting the use of EBT cards in liquor stores, casinos, and strip clubs. The measure also mandates that the state implement a vendor payment system for the non-cash payment of rent and electric and gas utility bills of EBT card holders who are misusing their cash funds.


Other provisions require the MBTA to accept EBT cards for the purchase of public transportation fares and mandate that the state conduct a data match survey to uncover any information that is inconsistent with the information provided by the welfare benefit.


Amendment supporters said this is a step forward in cracking down on the misuse of EBT cards.

Some supporters said they voted for this amendment but also favored harsher restrictions including prohibiting the withdrawal by welfare recipients of more than $20 cash per day from ATM machines.


(A Yes vote is for the amendment.)


Sen. Therese Murray—Yes
Sen. Daniel Wolf—Yes


Also Up On Beacon Hill


Help Veterans With “The Valor Act” (S 2241)—The House and Senate approved and Gov. Patrick signed into law a bill that would expand financial, housing, and education benefits and many other services for veterans, active-duty military personnel, and their families. The measure was approved just in time for Memorial Day.


Provisions include facilitating seed money for the start-up and expansion of veteran-owned businesses; expanding eligibility for the Massachusetts Military Family Relief Fund that provides help with the cost of food, housing, utilities, and medical services; requiring the Department of Veterans’ Services commissioner to be a veteran; and permitting cities and towns to provide a property tax exemption of up to $1,000 for veterans who do volunteer work in their community.


Made In USA (H 3684)—The House gave initial approval to a measure requiring the state purchasing agent to give preference to products or services manufactured or produced in the United States as long as there is “no sacrifice or loss in price or quality.” The proposal also requires first preference to be given to surplus products produced and manufactured by other state government departments, institutions, or agencies.


Training For Personal Care Attendants (H 4081)—The House gave initial approval to a bill that would require the state’s Personal Care Attendants Workforce Council to establish a personal care attendant orientation program for persons hired as personal care attendants after July 1, 2013. The up-to-four-hour program would have to be taken by new hires within four months of their hiring.


The orientation program could include training in independent living principles, identifying and reporting fraud and abuse, and workers’ rights and responsibilities.


Standards For Dementia Units (H 3947)—The House approved and sent to the Senate legislation requiring the state Department of Public Health to establish minimum standards for dementia special care units in long-term care facilities in order to ensure the safety and quality of services.


The regulations must include dementia training for all direct care workers and guidelines for the physical design of dementia units, including taking into consideration the best design that would help prevent dangerous wandering by patients.


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 May 21 through 25, the House met for a total of 12 hours and 27 minutes, while the Senate met for a total of 29 hours and 39 minutes.


Monday, May 21: House 11:04 AM to 11:19 AM; Senate 11:01 AM to 11:05 AM.
Tuesday, May 22: No House session; no Senate session.
Wednesday, May 23: House 11:05 AM to 6:18 PM; Senate 10:04 AM to 10:56 PM.
Thursday, May 24: House 11:07 AM to 4:06 PM; Senate 10 AM to 11:20 PM.
Friday, May 25: No House session; Senate 9 AM to 12:23 PM.


Quotable Quotes


“We already have a bottle bill, this just updates it and makes it more common sense. The idea that there would be opposition to returning $20 million to the Commonwealth, while also opposing an initiative that 70 percent of the general public supports is what makes this body so respected.”
—–Sen. Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), on the Senate amendment that defeated Sen. Hedlund’s proposal to expand the state’s bottle bill law to cover water and non-carbonated beverages by replacing it with a study of the possible expansion.
* * *
“Remember (the slogan for a cigarette named) Virginia Slims? A woman’s way to a nice svelte figure.”
—–Sen. Susan Fargo (D-Lincoln), mocking old cigarette ads while arguing in favor of a $1.6 million increase in tobacco cessation programs. Actually, the slogan was “You’ve come a long way, baby.” It was a feminist reference, not a weight loss one.
* * *

“I believe I’m speaking, Senator.”
—–Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth), when a senator interrupted her while she was speaking on the podium.
* * *
“I knew we had some extra means in the Senate Ways and Means mystery closet.”
—–Senate Republican Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, following Senate Ways and Means chairman Stephen Brewer’s (D-Barre) announcement that the Senate “found” $5 million to fund the state’s community preservation trust fund that helps cities and towns preserve open space. Mr. Tarr regularly teases Mr. Brewer about the closet, asking what legislative secrets it contains.
* * *
“The employers who can afford to offer this benefit are already doing it. To believe that it should be mandated is to believe that some employers are acting against their own financial interest because they don’t care about their workers. That’s a terribly unfair caricature of small business owners.
—–Bill Vernon, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, on a report saying the proposal to mandate paid leave for most workers in Massachusetts will save $74 million per year for businesses and taxpayers.


Copyright © 2012 Beacon Hill Roll Call. All Rights Reserved.
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com.

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