The Recorder – Beacon Hill Roll Call: Feb. 1 to Feb. 5, 2021 – The Recorder

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There were no roll call votes in the House or Senate last week. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call reports local senators’ roll call attendance records for the entire 2020 session.

The Senate held 330 roll calls in 2020. Beacon Hill Roll Call tabulates the number of roll calls on which each senator was present and voting and then calculates that number as a percentage of the total roll call votes held. That percentage is the number referred to as the roll call attendance record.

In the Senate, 84.6 percent (33 senators) have 100 percent roll call attendance records. Only six senators have missed any roll calls. Beacon Hill Roll Call contacted these senators who missed roll calls and asked them for a statement.

More senators have 100 percent roll call attendance records than in recent memory. This can be attributed to the fact that most senators were not at the State House and participated in these Senate sessions remotely from their homes because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of senators who had 100 percent roll call attendance records in the prior four years was 28 in 2019, 20 in 2018, 24 in 2017 and 17 in 2016.

The senator who missed the most roll calls is Sen. Nick Collins, D-Boston, who missed 12 roll calls (96.3 percent attendance record).

“My wife and I were overjoyed to welcome our second daughter into the world last June,” Collins said. “As a result, I was unable to cast votes in person for several days. Eleven of the 12 votes I missed were while I was on paternity leave. It was incredibly important to be with my wife and daughters in those precious moments. The final missed roll call was for a land conveyance in the town of Dunstable, taken at 4 a.m. at the very end of the session as I was caring for my newborn.”

Sens. Pat Jehlen, D-Somerville, and Mike Rush, D-West Roxbury, each missed five roll calls (98.4 percent attendance record).

“On Jan. 16, (2020) I was home with the flu,” Jehlen responded. “There were five roll calls that I missed (that day). It’s the only session I missed.”

“I was out of state on official orders, training with the U.S. Navy from Jan. 10, 2020 to Jan. 19, 2020,” Rush wrote.

Former Sen. James Welch missed two roll calls. He could not be reached for comment.

Sens. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, and Barry Finegold, D-Andover, each missed one roll call.

“I was in session participating in the debate on the climate change bill and I don’t remember missing a roll call,” Rodrigues responded.

Finegold did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call for a comment.

The percentage listed next to the senator’s name is the percentage of roll call votes for which the senator was present and voting. The number in parentheses represents the number of roll calls that he or she missed.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — 100 percent (0)

Sen. Anne Gobi — 100 percent (0)

Sen. Adam Hinds — 100 percent (0)

Also up on Beacon Hill $137,544 to fund chairs, vice chairs of three legislative committees

House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka announced they plan to create three new standing joint committees in the 2021 to 2022 session aimed at specific areas that they feel require “sustained attention and policy expertise.” Those committees will focus on COVID-19 oversight and emergency management, racial equity and cybersecurity. The new committees will be in addition to the 29 existing joint committees, which include committees on revenue, elder affairs, housing, election laws, transportation and veterans affairs. The creation of the three new committees must be approved by the House and Senate before they go into effect.

“Government must be responsive to the issues of our time, and the state Legislature is uniquely equipped to do so,” Mariano and Spilka said in a joint statement. “Over the past year, the commonwealth has confronted extraordinary challenges. Throughout, the members of the state Legislature have used emergency measures to act decisively to be responsive and assist residents. Because of this effort, we have identified additional areas that require our sustained attention and policy expertise.”

The joint standing Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management will serve as an oversight and advisory committee to monitor and investigate issues related to COVID-19 emergency response and recovery; pandemic and disaster preparedness; and emergency management and communication.

The joint standing Committee on Racial Equity, Civil Rights and Inclusion will advise the Legislature, review existing laws and policy proposals, make policy recommendations, and conduct impact assessments so that the Legislature can craft policy to begin to dismantle systemic racism and promote equitable opportunities and outcomes for all residents.

The joint standing Committee on Advanced Information Technology, the Internet and Cybersecurity will consider matters relating to advanced information technology, cybersecurity and cyber threats, advanced public telecommunications networks, the internet, broadband access and fifth-generation telecommunications.

These additions will increase the number of joint committees from 29 to 32. The House and Senate chairs of each of these three committees, as is the case with other joint committees, will receive a stipend of at least $17,039 in addition to their base salary of $70,537 — boosting their pay to $87,576. The vice chairs will receive a stipend of at least $5,885 — boosting their salaries to $76,422.

The total cost of the additional stipends for the chairs and vice chairs of these three new committees is $137,544 per year.

Grants to preserve veterans’ history

Secretary of State William Galvin announced that new funding is available for matching grants to preserve objects, sites and document collections that are significant to the history and experiences of military veterans. The program is open to municipalities and non-profit organizations, including libraries, historical societies and commissions, museums, schools and universities. Grants provide matching funds of up to 50 percent of a project’s total cost up to a maximum of $20,000 per project.

Eligible projects must be related to veterans and their military encounters and include preservation or digitization of historic documents and photographs; increased access to archival collections; oral history projects; renovation, rehabilitation, restoration or enhancement of existing monuments or memorials; and proposals to construct new markers for historically significant sites.

The deadline to apply is April 9. Additional information and grant applications are available at www.sec.state.ma.us/arc.

Health Connector extends open enrollment

The Massachusetts Health Connector announced a further extension of its open enrollment from March 23 to May 23, which gives residents impacted by COVID-19 another two months to get access to affordable health insurance. The Massachusetts Health Connector is the state’s health insurance exchange and currently serves more than 300,000 individuals and small-employer members. It is available to income-qualifying residents who do not have health insurance from an employer or other entity.

For more information, go to MAhealthconnector.org.

Bills that died in 2020

Thousands of bills were defeated in the 2020 session that ended just a few weeks ago. They are likely to be refiled for consideration in 2021. Here are some of them:

Raise allowance for nursing home residents (S 357): This proposal would have raised the personal needs allowance (PNA) for nursing home residents from the current $72.80 monthly to $100 monthly. It also includes a provision that gives the residents an annual cost-of-living increase. The PNA pays for expenses not covered by Medicaid.

Supporters say that the money, half of which is reimbursed with federal dollars, would help residents pay for clothing, shoes, phone calls, medicine, transportation, haircuts and other personal needs that help them maintain their dignity and well-being. They noted the $72.80 monthly allowance has not been raised in 20 years.

“It is heartbreaking to hear from people living in rest homes who can’t afford a phone, a used winter coat or birthday cards to their grandchildren,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Pat Jehlen, D-Somerville.

Kosher food (H 196): This legislation would have required any food establishments that have had their kosher certification revoked to post a sign on the front door or window stating, “Kosher Certification Revoked.”

Sponsor Rep. Ruth Balser, D-Newton, said she filed the bill because it was brought to her attention that a kosher grocery store in her district had lost its kosher certification but did not remove the kosher sign from its storefront.

“This bill is a consumer protection bill,” Balser said. “A consumer purchasing from a store labeled kosher should be able to be confident that kosher status is current.”

Debt-free public colleges (H 1221): This bill would have given free college tuition, including mandatory fees, to Massachusetts residents who have a high school diploma or equivalent; have been admitted or are already enrolled in a public college or university or at certificate, vocational or training programs at a public institution; and maintain a cumulative grade point average of at least 2.0.

Tax sugary drinks (S 1709): This proposal would have instituted a tax on sugary soft drinks, which are currently exempt from the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax.

Supporters say the tax would raise an estimated $368 million that the state would put to good use. They note the tax would discourage people from buying these drinks, help fight the obesity epidemic and stem the rising tide of obesity-related health issues including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Opponents say families are struggling financially and it is not the time for another tax increase promoted by the “food police.” Some noted that many other things contribute to obesity including a sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercise and fast food consumption.

Default on student loans (S 737): This bill would have repealed a current law passed in 1990, which created professional licensure consequences for anyone who defaults on their student loan. Under existing law, the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority and American Student Assistance can request that a borrower’s state-issued professional or occupational certificate, registration or license be suspended, revoked or canceled for default on educational loans made or administered by either group.

“Taking away a borrower’s ability to engage in their profession does not put them in a better position to be able to repay the loan,” said Sen. Will Brownsberger, D-Belmont, lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate.

Prohibit publishing names of veterans who owe taxes (H 3224): This proposal would have prohibited cities and towns from publishing the name of a veteran who owes the municipality taxes. Instead, the veterans’ service officer of the city or town would contact the veteran privately and provide him or her with information regarding their overdue tax situation. Many cities and towns publish the names of their taxpayers who owe the municipality back taxes.

New exemptions from sales tax: Several bills were proposed to exempt some purchases from the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax, including gun safes and trigger locks (S 1680); residential security systems (S 1658); all Energy Star products and hybrid and electric motor vehicles purchased on Earth Day (H 2571); and artisan products sold in a cultural district (H 2460).

Most popular bills

According to the Legislature’s website, these are the bills that viewers are looking up most often.

Climate change (S 9)

This 57-page climate change bill includes a key section that would make the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal net-zero by 2050.

Sunscreen (H 545)

This bill allows any person, including students, parents and school personnel to possess and use a topical sunscreen product without a physician’s note or prescription while on school property or at a school-related event or activity to avoid overexposure to the sun if the product is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for over-the-counter use.

Baseline concussion test (H 3503)

This legislation creates and maintains a mandatory baseline concussion test for all high school-aged athletes enrolled in a public or private school that is subject to the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association rules.

No tackle football for seventh-graders and under (H 2007)

This legislation prohibits any child in grade seven or under from playing or practicing in organized tackle football. Any school or league that violates this law would be fined $2,000 for a first offense; $5,000 for a second offense that takes place within 12 months of the first one; and $10,000 if the violation directly results in serious physical harm.

No artificial turf (H 2430)

This bill repeals a current law that prohibits cities and towns from using Community Preservation Act funding for the acquisition of artificial turf for athletic fields. Through the Community Preservation Act, cities and towns can raise money by imposing up to a 3 percent surcharge on a property owner’s property tax. Currently, 186 Massachusetts cities and towns have imposed the tax. The money can only be used to preserve open space and historic sites, create affordable housing and develop outdoor recreation facilities.


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