Beacon Hill Roll Call, April 29-May 3

The Massachusetts State House in Boston

The Massachusetts State House in Boston

By Bob Katzen

Published: 05-10-2024 10:24 AM

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ and representatives’ votes on roll calls from recent sessions during the week of April 22-26. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

TAX CREDITS FOR CONSERVATION LAND (H 4600): House 154-0, approved a budget amendment that would expand the existing Conservation Land Tax Credit (CLTC) by raising the annual cap for this program from $2 million to $5 million over a three-year period, beginning on January 1, 2026. The increase would remain in place until December 31, 2034. This state tax credit provides an incentive for land with significant conservation value to be donated to public and private conservation agencies. The tax credit is equal to 50 percent of the fair market value of the donated property, up to a maximum credit of $75,000.

Supporters said that raising the cap will help the state address the growing demand for participating in the program, which currently has a waiting list of more than two years.

“The CLTC program plays a critical role in conserving land and creating more accessible and open public space,” said amendment sponsor House Republican Minority Leader Rep. Brad Jones (R-North Reading). “To date, the program has helped Massachusetts conserve 15,505 acres of land across 154 municipalities, and in 2023 alone helped protect 558 acres of land. Raising the annual cap will allow for increased participation in the program and promote the conservation of critical natural resources in the state.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)

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Rep. Natalie Blais, Yes; Rep. Daniel Carey, Yes; Rep. Mindy Domb, Yes; Rep. Kelly Pease, Yes; Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, Yes; Rep. Aaron Saunders, Yes

PRIORITIZE 12-MONTH RESIDENTS (H 4600): House 27-131, rejected an amendment that would give priority consideration for inclusion in the emergency housing assistance program, when space becomes available, to residents who have resided in the state for a minimum of 12 consecutive months and are on the waitlist for the program.

“With a growing number of people on the waitlist for emergency housing assistance, we need to set clear priorities to better manage the demand and eliminate the waitlist,” said House GOP Minority leader Rep. Brad Jones (R-North Reading). “When doing so, it’s only fair that longtime residents of the commonwealth in need of services should take precedence over someone who has just arrived here from out of state.”

Amendment opponents said the amendment might be unconstitutional. They also noted that people from around the world who are the victims of rape, violence and oppression are coming to Massachusetts and the state should not impose residency requirements on these suffering migrants.

“I would also just like to underscore … that no families — whether they are longtime Massachusetts residents or families that are new to the state — are being put out on the street,” said Rep. Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley) who opposed the amendment. “We do have these overflow shelters. I don’t want anyone to be operating under the assumption that we have Massachusetts residents who are being left out on the street, so once again, I ask you please … to reject the residency requirement.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment giving priority to 12-month residents. A “No” vote is against the amendment.)

Rep. Natalie Blais, No; Rep. Daniel Carey, No; Rep. Mindy Domb, No; Rep. Kelly Pease, Yes; Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, No; Rep. Aaron Saunders, No

ELECTRIC SUPPLIERS (S 2738): Senate 34-4, approved and sent to the House a bill that would bar electric suppliers from enrolling new individual residential customers in contracts, beginning on January 1, 2025.

Supporters said the measure would protect residents from unfair and deceptive practices in the competitive electric supply market. They noted that according to the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Public Utilities, data analysis shows that consumers lost more than $577 million to competitive electric suppliers between July 2015 and June 2023. They added that low-income residents and residents of color are disproportionately affected by the industry by being more likely to sign up, and subsequently being charged higher rates.

“Each year, the broken and predatory residential competitive electric supply industry harms consumers across Massachusetts — particularly in low-income communities and communities of color and fails in its promise to consistently provide consumer savings,” said Attorney General Andrea Campbell a sponsor of the original version of the bill. “I now urge the House to take up and pass this legislation so that Massachusetts residents are protected from this deceptive and harmful industry.”

“The market would benefit from total reform, not elimination of newer energy suppliers/brokers,” said Sen. Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth) who opposed the bill. “A competitive market is healthy for the economy and by implementing strategy that would hold these energy suppliers accountable, it would be beneficial to all parties involved.”

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

Sen. Joanne Comerford, Yes; Sen. Paul Mark, Yes; Sen. Jacob Oliveira, Yes; Sen. John Velis, Yes

IMPOSE REGULATIONS INSTEAD OF BANNING (S 2738): Senate 5-33, rejected an amendment that would replace the bill barring electric suppliers from enrolling new individual residential customers in contracts, with a different bill that would have allowed the practice to continue and would instead impose more barriers for competitive suppliers to enter the market and provided the attorney general with more oversight authority. Under this alternate version, energy brokers, marketers and suppliers would be required to obtain licenses from the Department of Public Utilities, pay fees and maintain bonds. It imposes regulations on in-person or door-to-door marketing practices and requires third-party verification and identification badges for agents. It also imposes conditions on suppliers’ licensure renewals, including notification requirements and restrictions on termination fees.

Sen. Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth) said the amendment is aimed at reforming the industry by holding accountable those acting inappropriately in the marketplace, increasing public awareness on best practices to save money and ensuring greater transparency in energy pricing. “There is value in competition to lower consumer rates however I believe to effectively address this issue is by market reform instead of total eradication,” said O’Connor. “The amendment … holds suppliers accountable by identifying bad actors and preventing misleading market practices through new regulations.”

Sen. Mike Barrett (D-Lexington), Senate chair of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, said the amendment used “lousy language.” Barrett signaled competitive suppliers have not added value to their product, despite having 25 years to prove themselves in the marketplace.

“There’s nothing redeemable about this particular option,” said Barrett. It’s too bad. I think a lot of us were very optimistic in the late 90s – this should have worked,” Barrett said. “Turns out that the product was absolutely fungible. These middlemen don’t have lower costs, they have higher costs.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment that replaces the ban with a new bill imposing regulations. A “No” vote is against the amendment.)

Sen. Joanne Comerford, No; Sen. Paul Mark, No; Sen. Jacob Oliveira, No; Sen. John Velis, No

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

GOV. HEALEY SIGNS SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET INCLUDING $251 MILLION FUNDING FOR SHELTERS (H 4582): Gov. Healey signed into law a supplemental budget that includes an additional $251 million in funding for the Emergency Assistance Program that funds the emergency family shelter system which houses migrants. The measure imposes a new nine-month limit on how long families can stay in the state’s emergency shelters, with up to two 90-day extensions available to some and a new hardship waiver process.

Provisions include $10 million for approved workforce training programs; $10 million for a tax credit for companies that provide job training to Emergency Assistance participants; $3 million for family welcome centers; $1 million for supplemental staffing at emergency housing assistance program shelters; and $7 million for resettlement agencies and shelter providers to assist families with rehousing, work authorization and English language learning.

Other provisions keep in place some pandemic-era programs, set to expire, including allowing restaurants to sell beer, wine and cocktails for take-out; expanding outdoor dining; and allowing graduates and students in their last semester of nursing education programs to practice nursing.

“This supplemental budget dedicates resources to balance the budget and maintain critical services and programs,” said Gov. Healey. “It also implements a length of stay policy for Emergency Assistance shelter, which is a responsible step to address our capacity and fiscal constraints as Congress has continued to fail to act on immigration reform. We will be finalizing details of this policy in the coming weeks and ensuring that families and providers are informed of the requirements and the services that we have available to help them secure work and stable housing.”

“Gov. Maura Healey, Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka are only focused on spending as much taxpayer money to deal with the migrant crisis,” said Paul Craney, spokesperson for the Mass Fiscal Alliance. “They refused to address the root cause or how the state spends the money. This has resulted in the state spending nearly a billion dollars or about $3 million a day, just on the housing for the migrants. Their attitude toward the problem is reckless and short-sighted. Massachusetts taxpayers cannot continue to afford this crisis and our state leaders are doing nothing to fix it.”

$375 MILLION FOR ROADS AND BRIDGES SIGNED BY GOVERNOR (H 4529): Gov. Healey signed into law a bill that includes authorizing $200 million in one-time funding for the maintenance and repair of local roads and bridges in cities and towns across the state. The $375 million package, a bond bill under which the funding would be borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds, also includes $175 million for several transportation-related grant programs.

The programs funded by the $175 million include the municipal small bridge program; the complete streets program; a bus transit infrastructure program; and grants for municipalities to purchase electric vehicles and the infrastructure needed to support them.

“We know that residents’ quality of life and our state’s economic strength depends on people being able to get where they need to go safely and on time,” said Gov. Healey. “These Chapter 90 funds and millions more for six grant programs will help us deliver on critical road, bridge and infrastructure projects that communities and the traveling public need.”

“As a former mayor, I know how much this money means to our cities and towns,” said Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll. “In particular, Chapter 90 apportionments go a long way in making sure our transportation system is safe and reliable for people who live, work and visit our communities.”

HOME OIL LEAKS (S 2737): The House gave initial approval to a bill that would mandate that insurance companies in the Bay State automatically provide residential owners with insurance for damage to home and property caused by a leak in a residential liquid fuel tank or home fuel supply lines. Each policy would provide this coverage and homeowners can either keep the coverage or opt out.

Current law requires that companies make coverage available for owners but supporters say that while coverage is available, there are many documented cases of companies not making owners aware that the coverage is available. They said this often results in homeowners being unaware they do not have insurance coverage until after they experience a liquid fuel tank leak.

Supporters said that some 100 homeowners experience an oil leak in Massachusetts every year. They noted that leaks can incur costly damage to the residence itself, but under Massachusetts law owners are responsible for environmental cleanup, which can rise to $100,000 or more, to dispose of contaminated soil and mitigate the spread in surrounding areas.

“A constituent who had a leaking oil tank, unaware of available leak insurance, had to deplete their savings for a leaking basement oil tank cleanup,” said sponsor Rep. Steve Howitt (R-Seekonk). Howitt explained that the opt out option, as opposed to the current opt in option, would protect more consumers.”

The Senate has already approved a different version of the bill.

DRIVING WITH AN EXPIRED LICENSE (H 3376): The House gave initial approval to a bill making driving with an expired license a civil infraction. Current law classifies it as criminal and carries with it a fine up to $500.

The bill would reduce the fine to $50 if the license has been expired for less than 90 days and $100 if the license is expired for 90 days or more. The legislation distinguishes an expired license from a revoked license or a driver who never possessed a license.

“This legislation makes sense because sometimes people merely forget to renew their license,” said sponsor Rep. Chris Markey (D-Dartmouth). “People should not be arrested for being forgetful as opposed to someone who is knowingly endangering others on the road.”

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“This new program is paramount for nurturing a thriving creative ecosystem across the commonwealth. This funding is a catalyst for innovation, offering the recipients the freedom to explore new ideas, take risks, and push the boundaries of their craft.”

— Michael Bobbitt, Executive Director of Mass Cultural Council, announcing $1.9 million in $5,000 grants to 385 Massachusetts artists, culture bearers and creative practitioners from the fiscal year 2024 Grants for Creative Individuals.

“These predatory for-profit schools harmed vulnerable students for their own financial gain, leaving student borrowers burdened with debt and without viable job or financial prospects. Thanks in part to the diligent work of my office, I, alongside the Department of Education, am tremendously proud to announce meaningful debt relief for former students of The Art Institutes and help advance consumer and economic justice for these struggling borrowers.”

— Attorney General Andrea Campbell announcing $80 million in federal student loan debt will be discharged for over 3,500 former Massachusetts borrowers who attended the Art Institutes, including the New England Institute of Art, a Brookline-based predatory for-profit school that made false promises and misleading enrollment claims.

“It is welcome news for small businesses and residents alike that Gov. Healey is not pursuing any tax increases for the foreseeable future. The more money we keep in the pockets of employers and consumers the better as the effects of prolonged inflation persist.”

—Christopher Carlozzi, State Director for the Nation Federation of Independent Business in Massachusetts.

“Massachusetts consumers, restaurants and bars can all toast to the fact that cocktails to-go are here to stay. During the pandemic, cocktails to-go were a critical source of revenue for many businesses, and now, the increased convenience and stability they offer is permanent.”

— Andy Deloney, senior vice president at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States on Gov. Healey signing a supplemental budget that keeps in place some pandemic-era programs, set to expire, including allowing restaurants to sell beer, wine and cocktails for take-out.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com