Beacon Hill Roll Call, Feb. 26-March 1

  Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston.

Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston. AP

By Bob Katzen

Beacon Hill Roll Call 

Published: 03-13-2024 8:19 AM

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on one roll call from the week of Feb. 26-March 1. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.

USE INTEREST FROM STATE’S “RAIN DAY FUND” TO LEVERAGE FEDERAL FUNDS (H 4446): House 154-0, approved a bill that would leverage the interest from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to better compete for federal dollars, to ensure the state receives the maximum possible share of federal funds and to pay down the state’s long term debt liabilities. The Rainy Day Fund currently has a historic balance of $8.2 billion.

The Senate already approved a different version of the bill in January. A House-Senate conference committee will likely hammer out a compromise version.

“This legislation expands our commonwealth’s competitive edge as we compete for federal funds and pay down our debt obligations,” said Rep. Jack Lewis (D-Framingham), chair of the House Committee on Federal Stimulus and Census Oversight Committee. “The Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, CHIPS Act and Inflation Reduction Act, all contain time-sensitive opportunities for our commonwealth and our local communities – opportunities that require us to have matching resources available. The passage of this bill today ensures that we can properly compete for all available federal funds.

“Ensuring that the commonwealth is able to aggressively compete for the federal funding being made available to states is critical, especially given the challenging revenue conditions that we are facing here in Massachusetts this fiscal year,” said House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy). “It’s vital that Massachusetts does everything that it can to share in that prosperity.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Donald Berthiaume, Yes; Rep. Natalie Blais, Yes; Rep. Daniel Carey, Yes; Rep. Mindy Domb, Yes; Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, Yes; Rep. Aaron Saunders, Yes


SEX EDUCATION (S 2686): Senate approved, on a voice vote without a roll call, and sent to the House legislation that would require that all public schools offering a comprehensive sexual health education curriculum “provide medically accurate, age-appropriate sexual health education.” The Senate has approved the bill four times in the past including a 38-1 vote by which it passed in 2023. Each time the measure died from inaction by the House.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) in September adopted updated revisions to local sex education rules that are in line with the changes sought under the Senate bill.

Sen. Sal DiDomenico, the sponsor of the bill, said he supports the revisions adopted by the board, with the backing of Gov. Maura Healey, but noted they are “guidelines and suggestions only.”

“The [bill] turns them into a minimum standard,” said DiDomenico. “It gives teeth to frameworks, and ensures kids aren’t receiving inaccurate and harmful information. This prevents bad stuff from being taught in our schools.”

The bill’s prospects for passage in the House do not look promising this year, given the remarks by House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy) last week. “Given that it has been less than a year since BESE adopted the new guidelines, it is important that we give school districts adequate time to implement them, rather than rush to potentially amend or codify them into law,” said Mariano.

Under current law, public schools are not required to teach sex education and the bill does not change that but rather mandates that any schools that choose to teach sex education are required to follow a curriculum, based on age, that includes human anatomy, reproduction and sexual development; the benefits of abstinence and delaying sexual activity; the importance of effectively using contraceptives to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS; ways to effectively discuss safe sexual activity; relationship and communication skills to form healthy, respectful relationships free of violence, coercion and intimidation; and information about gender identity and sexual orientation for all students, including recognition that people have different sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.

The measure also requires any school offering sex education to notify parents about the school’s sex education curriculum and gives parents the right to withdraw a student from the instruction. Another provision creates a process for parents to inspect the program instruction materials before the start of the course.

Supporters said that under the bill, local cities and towns still have the authority and power to decide whether sex education is taught in their schools. They said the measure will ensure that schools that choose to teach sex education will have a framework to follow. They noted the bill will prepare students to make healthy decisions and will reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

“The [bill] will finally make it clear that sex and relationship education in Massachusetts must be inclusive of all students and emphasize the importance and necessity of consent in relationships,” said DiDomenico. “I am proud we passed this commonsense health policy through the Senate and now we must get it over the finish line to ensure our children have the information they need to protect their health, form respectful relationships and build the bright futures they deserve.”

“Today’s vote affirms what we already know – a strong majority of people in Massachusetts, including most parents, want young people to receive sex and relationship education at school,” said Jamie Klufts, co-chair of the Healthy Youth Coalition. “We look forward to working with the House to pass the [bill] this session so that the state’s exciting new Health and Physical Education Framework can reach its full potential and do the most to support our students and teachers.”

“Providing comprehensive, age-appropriate, and medically accurate sex and relationship education to our youth is the best way to prepare them to make safe and healthy choices,” said Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), Senate Chair of the Committee on Education. “I’m pleased that the Senate is continuing to advance this legislation that ensures that Massachusetts public schools use research-informed curricula that prioritize inclusivity and the health and well-being of students.”

No one spoke against the bill during Senate debate on the proposal but there was opposition from outside the Legislature.

“The bill is government mandated ideological instruction under the guise of health education,” Catholic Action League Executive Director C. J. Doyle told Beacon Hill Roll Call. “It will use the authority of the law and the money of the taxpayers to impose the value system of the secular left onto the public schoolchildren of the state. This legislation requires sex-ed courses in public schools to include ‘affirmative education that people have different sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.’ That affirmative approach extends, explicitly, to the practice of contraception, and implicitly, to abortion.

Doyle continued, “According to the proposed law, all public school sex education must be consistent with the Massachusetts Comprehensive Health Curriculum Framework, recently revised by the Healey Administration. That document is filled with references to acknowledging diversity, showing respect for different kinds of families and overcoming stereotypes, prejudices, bias, sexism and cultural stigmasthinly disguised code language for traditional moral beliefs.

“If enacted, this legislation will effectively preclude any public school teacher, administrator, nurse or staff member from raising a moral objection or voicing an ethical dissent to any of the sexual behaviors celebrated and affirmed under this curriculum. Should this measure ever become law, one can only hope that the recent experience in the City of Worcesterwhere significant numbers of parents exercised their right to a sex-ed opt-out for their children will be emulated throughout the commonwealth.”

Sam Whiting, an attorney for the Massachusetts Family Institute told Beacon Hill Roll Call that this bill isn’t about sex education, it’s about sexual indoctrination. “Parents and school committees don’t want a radically progressive, one-size-fits-all sex education curriculum crammed down on them from Beacon Hill. We are optimistic that even though the bill has passed in the Senate, it will again die in the House, as it has the last four legislative sessions.”

BIRTH CERTIFICATES (H 4292): The House gave initial approval to a bill that would change some of the language in the current law governing the content of birth certificates. Changes include replacing “both parents” to “parent or parents” and changing “the child’s mother” to “the person who gave birth to the child.”

Current law allows each party to a marriage to adopt any surname, including the present or birth-given surname of either party; retain or resume use of a present or birth-given surname; or adopt any hyphenated combination of names. The bill broadens the options and also allows each party to adopt “any first name, middle name or any other name.”

“Our current birth certificate statute uses outdated language and categories that do not represent the full variety of family structures in the commonwealth,” said Senate sponsor Sen. Becca Rausch (D-Needham). “No child should start out with a government-issued document that fails them. This bill ensures that our birth certificates reflect reality for all Bay Staters, accurately and inclusively.”

“A birth certificate is the first document our government sends us in our lifetimes,” said House sponsor Rep. Dwane Shand (D-Newburyport). “That document should accurately reflect the makeup of our commonwealth’s families and their complexities.”

ROSA PARKS DAY (H 3075): The House gave initial approval to legislation designating Feb. 4 as Rosa Parks Day, “in lasting recognition of a historic civil rights leader.”

“Rosa Parks was a hero of the civil rights movement whose courageous act to challenge segregation kindled and continues to inspire the fight for justice and equality of all peoples,” said co-sponsor Rep. Kip Diggs (D-Barnstable). “Celebrating Ms. Parks on her birthday will make a great addition to Black History Month in the commonwealth.”

Rep. Mike Kushmerek (D-Fitchburg) said he co-sponsored the measure “in order to bring awareness and representation to the heroic actions of Rosa Parks during the Civil Rights Movement.” Kushmerek noted, “February 4th is the birthday of Rosa Parks, so it will be a strong and persevering reminder to all those within the commonwealth to reflect on the role she played in raising international awareness of the struggles for civil rights.”

PROHIBIT USE OF NATIVE AMERICAN MASCOTS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS (S 245): The Education Committee has given a favorable report to and recommended that the Legislature approve a proposal would prohibit public schools from using an athletic team name, logo or mascot which is associated with Native Americans, or which denigrates any racial, ethnic, gender or religious group.

“I am pleased the bill was approved by the Education Committee,” said Senate sponsor Sen. Jo Comerford (D-Northampton). “This bill acknowledges the common humanity of all, corrects historical wrongs and addresses the profound psychological harm caused by perpetuating racist stereotypes — harm caused to both people who are of Native American heritage and those who are not.”

ADDRESS FOOD ALLERGIES IN SCHOOLS (S 150): The Education Committee has also given a favorable report to and recommended passage of legislation that would require every school district, approved private day or residential school and education collaborative that enrolls a student with a life-threatening food allergy to develop and implement a Food Allergy Management and Prevention Plan.

The plan would include identifying students with known food allergies, strategies for reducing exposure to allergens and treating allergic reactions. Another provision would require professional development related to food allergies for all school staff, including training on epinephrine administration for appropriate staff members.

Supporters said that currently, school districts are not required to have food allergy plans but it is recommended that they do so.

“I’m thrilled that the bill received a favorable report from the Joint Committee on Education and will continue forward in the legislative process,” said sponsor Sen. Cindy Creem (D-Newton). “This bill would help ensure that Massachusetts children with food allergies have safe learning environments, both in the classroom and in the cafeteria.”

CHANGES IN GUN LAWS(H 4139, S 2584): The House and Senate each appointed their members of a conference committee which will attempt to hammer out a compromise version of dueling bills that would change some of the state’s gun laws.

The House on Oct. 18 of last year and the Senate on Feb. 1 of this year approved different versions of the measure, leading to appointment of the conference committee.

Sens. Cindy (D-Newton), Joan Lovely (D-Salem) and Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) will represent the Senate while the House members will be Reps. Michael Day (D-Stoneham), Carlos Gonzalez (D-Springfield) and Joseph McKenna (R-Webster).

WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH BEGINS: The Senate kicked off Women’s History Month on March 1 with the unveiling of a portrait of former First Lady and Massachusetts native Abigail Adams, the wife of President John Adams and an early advocate for women’s rights and women’s education who also opposed slavery. Adams was an advocate for women’s rights at a time in history when women were barred from voting or holding elected office. Adams famously told her husband, a delegate in the First Continental Congress, to “remember the ladies.”

The portrait, unveiled by Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland), will hang permanently in the Senate lobby.

“Centuries after Abigail Adams told the founders to ‘remember the ladies,’ we still have a long way to go to reach full equality when it comes to women’s representation on Beacon Hill,” said Spilka. “Either by accident or design, the many contributions of women who have shaped our commonwealth and our nation have been left out of the art here in the Statehouse. As we celebrate their achievements — and those of the strong women who lead our government today — I am committed to ensuring that the halls of power change to reflect these women. As we unveil Adams, we are taking a meaningful step towards ‘remembering the ladies’ and making it clear that women belong here.”

Spilka also announced the revival of the Senate Art Committee which was established in 1972, but has been dormant for many years, and the appointment of Sen. Julian Cyr (R-Truro) to head the committee. One of the committee’s first order of business is to solicit nominations from residents for a woman to be honored with a bust in the Senate Chamber. The committee is seeking nominees who are influential woman, with some ties to the Massachusetts, who have made historic contributions to the Bay State.

“The art that adorns the halls of the Statehouse should embody the values of Massachusetts and reflect who we are as a commonwealth,” said Cyr. “Yet, as I come and go from my office, I often remark that the portraits, murals, and sculptures in our capital do not encompass the richness of our history and the diversity of our communities. I am thrilled and honored to lead a renewed Senate Arts Committee, one that will work to expand inclusivity and representation in the art that beautifies the Statehouse. As an LGBTQ+ person, I understand how integral it is to see people like yourself represented in spaces of power. As we solicit submissions for a sculpture of a trailblazing woman to join the all-male busts in the Senate chamber, I am excited to see the remarkable names that will be put forward.”

A website will soon go online to accept nominations.


“Retail giants have a responsibility to provide customers with the facts about the products they sell, including the health dangers associated with gas stove pollution and steps they can take to protect themselves and their loved ones. Our surveys have repeatedly shown that’s not happening. Without guidance at the point of sale, customers are too often unaware of the risks and preventative steps they can take.”

-- Deirdre Cummings, Consumer Program Director, MASSPIRG Education Fund, on the group’s report that some 76 percent of surveyed sales associates at the nation’s top appliance stores (Lowe’s, Home Depot and Best Buy) flatly denied or expressed ignorance about the health risks of gas stoves.

“Logan Airport should be a secure location for people to travel, not a place for the Healey administration to use as temporary migrant housing. The governor may be holding on to the wishful thinking that the migrant situation is under control, but it’s not. Legislative leaders and our governor refuse to reform the policies that make Massachusetts a migrant magnet and instead throw taxpayer money at the problem.”

-- Paul Craney, spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance.

“Medical debt can be both a barrier to receiving necessary future care and a source of stress, both of which contribute to higher rates of disease and death. We know that the burden of medical debt falls heavily on communities of color. More than 20 percent of those with medical debt are black, compared to 13 percent who are white.”

-- Ann Hwang, President of the Atrius Health Equity Foundation, on its launching of an initiative to wipe out an estimated $500 million in medical debt in Eastern Massachusetts.

“This milestone highlights the success of an extremely effective local and state partnership that has benefitted communities across the state by promoting responsible pet ownership and improving animal welfare. Thank you to the 305 cities and towns and the 74 veterinary providers and municipal partners all over Massachusetts that have worked with us to get these important resources out to our animals in need.”

-- Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner Ashley Randle announcing it has reached a milestone of helping more than 20,000 animals through its Spay/Neuter Voucher Program.

“MassDOT is proud to announce our partnership with the BU AdLab for the mass Do Not Disturb campaign. MassDOT is committed to a future without roadway deaths and raising awareness about the dangers of distracted driving is an important step towards that goal.”

-- MassDOT Secretary and CEO Monica Tibbits-Nutt announcing a campaign urging drivers to put phones away and activate the “do not disturb” feature when driving.

“I have heard from every part of the commonwealth that people want true opportunity and choice to define and reach their own potential and promise, so that economics and life circumstance don’t determine the trajectory of a person’s life. By focusing on creating economic opportunity, strengthening public health and safety and prioritizing those who are too often left out and left behind, our plan not only lays out my vision and priorities, but uplifts the very real impact and hard work of the attorney general’s office.”

-- Attorney General Andrea Campbell announcing a plan to prioritize values such as equity, accountability and dignity to advance justice and expand opportunity for all across the state.

“A lot of signage lights up, there’s bright lights that will come at you if you’re a driver at night, and there’s flashing signs – a lot of stuff to try to identify to the driver that they are going the wrong way. And then again, those signs for the people that are going the right way that they really, really need to use caution.”

-- Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver announcing that MassDOT has finished implementing a pilot wrong-way driver deterrence program including 16 highway on/off ramps outfitted to detect when a driver gets on a ramp heading in the wrong direction, alert that driver that they are going the wrong way, notify a state command center of the potential for a dangerous situation and caution drivers going the correct way on the highway.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at