Beacon Hill Roll Call, Feb. 6-10

By Bob Katzen

Beacon Hill Roll Call

Published: 02-16-2023 12:46 PM

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of Feb. 6-10, 2023. There were no roll calls in the House last week.

ADOPT SENATE RULES (S 17): Senate 37-1, approved the set of rules by which the Senate will operate during the 2023-2024 session. Key rules include continuing the option, implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, which allows senators to participate, debate and vote remotely in Senate sessions, at their own discretion, from their homes or offices; allowing legislators and citizens to testify at hearings in person or from their home or other remote location; and requiring Senate committee votes to be posted on the Legislature’s website.

“The rules package released today takes the lessons learned during this unprecedented time and incorporates them into the Senate’s practices and procedures,” said Sen. Joan Lovely (D-Salem), chair of the Temporary Senate Committee on Rules. “By continuing remote participation options for hearings, publishing committee votes and allowing public access to testimony, we can create better pathways for people across our commonwealth to access and participate in state government.”

“I am proud of the Senate for its commitment to increased transparency, inclusivity and equity as reflected in this rules package,” said Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). “We have learned the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this rules package ensures that operations in the Senate continue to reflect the reality of work and civic engagement in the digital age.”

“The Massachusetts Senate must be a place of transparency and accountability,” said Sen. Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton), the lone opponent of the rules package. “The people we represent deserve that type of Senate and our reform amendments demand that type of Senate. Showing up to vote, in-person, doing the people’s business during the light of day, stopping lobbying by those who corrupted the public’s trust and providing transparency in how a senator votes are reforms that can restore good governance to the Massachusetts Senate.”

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

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

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REQUIRE A TWO-THIRDS VOTE TO GO BEYOND 10 P.M. (S 17): Senate 4-34, rejected an amendment that would require a two-thirds vote for the Senate to continue any session beyond 10 p.m. This would be in addition to a current Senate rule that requires a two-thirds vote to continue a session beyond 8 p.m. and a two-thirds vote to continue a session beyond midnight.

Amendment supporters said requiring the two-thirds vote will ensure that late-night sessions between 10 p.m. and midnight when legislators are tired and many citizens are already sleeping do not become the norm but are allowed only when a vast majority of senators favor it.

Amendment opponents said the current rules requiring a two-thirds vote to go beyond 8 p.m. and another two-thirds vote to go beyond midnight are sufficient and argued there is no need to add another layer.

(A “Yes” vote is for requiring a two-thirds vote to go beyond 10 p.m. A “No” vote is against it.)

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

REQUIRE UNANIMOUS VOTE TO GO BEYOND MIDNIGHT (S 17): Senate 4-34, rejected an amendment that would require a unanimous vote for the Senate to continue any session beyond midnight. Current Senate rules require a two-thirds vote to go beyond midnight.

Amendment supporters said sessions after midnight, when taxpayers are sleeping, and some members are barely awake, are irresponsible and should only be held if 100% of the senators agree there is a major emergency.

Amendment opponents said going beyond midnight currently is only done when there is an emergency. They said it is often impossible to get a unanimous vote on anything and argued it is not wise to give a single member the power to adjourn the Senate.

(A “Yes” vote is for requiring a unanimous vote to go beyond midnight. A “No” vote is against requiring it.)

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

REPEAL TERM LIMITS FOR THE SENATE PRESIDENT (S 17): Senate 32-6, approved an amendment that would repeal a current rule that limits the Senate president to eight years in that position.

Sponsor Sen. Mike Rodrigues (D-Westport) said there are negative restrictions the term limit provision places on the Senate. “The governor’s office has no such limitation, the House removed term limits for the speaker’s office almost 10 years ago and both minority leaders in the House and Senate are not subject to any limit on their term in office,” said Rodrigues. “You could say, in real terms, that we have de-facto term limits in place, as any candidate for Senate president must win re-election by their peers. With the commonwealth now finally emerging from three years of the COVID-19 pandemic, stability and continuity are paramount for the passage of pressing and long-overdue legislation stalled by three years of uncertainty.”

“I just think it’s good to have that opportunity for change,” said Sen. John Keenan (D-Quincy). “We have it every two years when we elect the Senate president, but to know that every eight years, there’ll be a change and people can move to different committees, develop different areas of expertise — I think that’s quite valuable.”

“The integrity of the Senate has always been my top priority as Senate president, and it is my honor to lead this body,” said Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). “The adoption of this amendment means that the Senate will be on equal footing with all the other branches of our government.”

“Each elected official should be equally empowered to ensure everyday citizens have a voice in their Republic,” said Sen. Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton). “Term limits for the Senate President was passed in 1993 as a reform to prevent the centralization and homogenization of power after one Senate president held his position over the course of three different decades. Reversing this rule isn’t a step towards progress, it’s an unfortunate step back in time.”

“By eliminating the term limit protection, the senate is allowing Sen. Karen Spilka to remain Senate President for life,” said Paul Craney, spokesman for the Mass Fiscal Alliance. “This type of absolute power will lead to corruption in the Massachusetts Legislature, it’s just a matter of time.”

(A “Yes” vote is for repealing the eight-year term limit. A “No” vote is for the keeping the eight-year term limit.)

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

LIMITED REMOTE VOTING (S 17): Senate 4-34, rejected an amendment that would allow a senator to participate in any Senate session remotely from their office, home or any other location only under certain circumstances. The amendment would replace a section that allows a senator to participate remotely without a specific reason.

The circumstances under which a senators could participate remotely would include disability, illness, the need for a member to provide care for an immediate family member, pregnancy or childbirth of a member or said member’s spouse, domestic partner or partner.

“The legislative process works best when members are present and interacting with one another during formal sessions,” said sponsor Sen. John Keenan (D-Quincy).

Amendment opponents said the unlimited remote voting during the pandemic shows that that system worked well. They noted that the amendment does not include several other legitimate reasons including bad weather. They noted that it is time for the Senate to get into modern times and make permanent the rule allowing remote voting at the discretion of each senator.

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment allowing remote voting only in certain circumstances. A “No” vote is against the amendment and favors remote voting at the discretion of each member.)

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

MORE TIME TO CONSIDER CONFERENCE COMMITTEE REPORTS (S 18): Senate 4-35, rejected an amendment that would change a current joint rule that requires any conference committee reports to be filed by 8 p.m. and not considered and debated until 17 hours later at 1 p.m. on the following day. The amendment would require the report to be filed by 5 p.m. and not considered and debate until 72 hours later.

A conference committee report is a compromise version of legislation, drafted by a six-member committee consisting of three House members and three senators, when the House and Senate approve different versions of a bill and each branch rejects the other’s version.

Amendment supporters said that conference committee legislation is often lengthy and complicated. They argued that legislators should be given more time to read and understand it. They noted that the current 17 hours is actually a lot less than that because it does not account for legislators having to go home and go to sleep.

Amendment opponents said that conference committee legislation is sometimes drafted near the end of a legislative year. They noted that the 72-hour rules might result in the legislation not being approved and sent to the governor.

(A “Yes” vote is for allowing 72 hours. A “No” vote is against allowing 72 hours.)

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

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

More bills that have been proposed for consideration in the 2023-2024 session include:

ALLOW LOW STAKES CARD GAMES AT SENIOR CENTERS (HD 171) — Would allow low stakes card games and other recreational games at senior centers. The bill would limit the amount of money contributed by a single player during the entire session to $5 and the winnings of a single player to $20. Games included are pitch, cribbage, mahjong, rummy, pinochle, canasta, dominoes, bridge and bingo.

Supporters said that some senior centers have banned these games because under current law they are technically illegal and the centers fear legal repercussions.

“It just makes sense to let these folks play card games,” said sponsor Rep. Angelo Puppolo (D-Springfield). “They aren’t high rollers who are looking to make money. They just want to play cards and recreational bingo with their friends and peers.”

MENTAL HEALTH OF STUDENTS (HD 2208) — Adds mental health of students to the current list of physical illnesses that qualify as a legitimate reason for a student’s absence from school. Under the bill, students who are absent due to mental or behavioral health will also be offered the opportunity to meet with a certified school counselor upon returning to school but will not be required to do so. Rep. Carol Doherty (D-Taunton) sponsored the legislation that was originally initiated and backed by the Class of 2021 at Oliver Ames High School in Easton.

“Mental health is just as important as physical health, and our students deserve the same level of understanding and accommodation for mental health symptoms,” said Doherty. “This bill will help ensure that students who are struggling with mental health symptoms are not penalized, and that they receive the support they need to succeed in school. State government must rise to meet the needs of our students, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the mental health crisis many face.”

ALLOW NONCITIZENS TO VOTE (HD 3946) — Would permit cities and towns to allow noncitizens over age 18 to vote in local municipal elections. The elections in which noncitizens could vote include an election for mayor, school committee, city council, town council, board of selectmen, select board elections, a school committee referendum and a local ballot referendum.

“Noncitizen residents of Massachusetts are already participating deeply in civic life by attending parent-teacher conferences, working toward college degrees, donating their time for community projects, running local businesses, and of course, paying their taxes,” said sponsor Rep. Mike Connolly (D-Cambridge). “That is why I am proud to refile this legislation to extend voting rights in municipal elections to noncitizen voters of the commonwealth.”

A similar bill filed by Connolly last year was shipped off to a study committee where bills are rarely actually studied and are essentially defeated. It is a way to kill a proposal without holding a vote on the bill itself.

CREATE COVID-19 REMEMBRANCE DAY (HD 3281) — Would designate the first Monday in March as COVID-19 Remembrance Day to honor and remember people who have died or suffered from COVID-19; the frontline and essential workers; and residents of the state who volunteered to support their neighbors and local communities.

Co-sponsors Reps. Mindy Domb (D-Amherst) and Natalie Blais (D-Sunderland) did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call asking them why they sponsored the bill.

A similar bill filed by the same duo died from inaction in the House last year after it had received a favorable report from the Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight which recommended its passage.

DECLARE RACISM AS A PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS (HD 3703) — Would declare racism as a public health crisis and direct the Office of Health Equity to develop policies to dismantle systemic racism impacting health and establish programs focused on the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases disproportionately impacting communities of color.

Sponsor Rep. Jon Santiago (D-Boston), did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call asking him why he filed the bill.

DIVEST FROM COMPANIES THAT SELL FIREARMS OR AMMUNITION (HD 3225) — Would require the state’s Pension Reserve Investment Management (PRIM) fund to divest state funds from companies that derive more than 15% of revenues from the sale or manufacturing of ammunition, firearms or firearm accessories used for civilian, non-military, non-police purposes. PRIM handles and pays retirement benefits to state employees and teachers.

“When the treasurer’s Office brought this bill to me for consideration, I thought it was important legislation for Massachusetts to reflect its values with its investments,” said sponsor Rep. Jay Livingston (D-Boston).

“Massachusetts has enacted some of the strictest gun laws in the United States and has one of the lowest rates of gun violence as a result. The divestment proposed in this legislation would generate awareness of the dangers of firearms and send a clear message to gun violence victims and survivors everywhere that we stand with them by divesting from these firearm companies that have failed to demonstrate a willingness to engage with shareholders and address the safety of their products.”

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“My office will always advocate for consumers, especially when they are preyed on by a company that engages in unfair and unlawful business practices. We were able to hold Safe Home Security and its sister companies accountable for their alleged deceptive tactics, securing millions in debt relief for consumers, and we will continue to hold bad actors accountable.”

Attorney General Andrea Campbell on her office’s $6.5 million settlement, including $4.7 million in debt relief, with a Connecticut-based home security services company to resolve allegations that the company violated state consumer protection laws by deceptively trapping Massachusetts consumers in long-term auto renewal contracts and engaging in illegal debt collection practices.

“Every day I hear from families in my district who are facing eviction, rent increases and housing instability. I am committed to using every tool available to address the housing crisis, deliver immediate relief to families in need and to work collaboratively to create a system that makes housing truly affordable for all.”

Sen. Lydia Edwards who, along with Rep. Mike Connolly (D-Cambridge), last week launched the Housing for All Caucus in the Massachusetts Legislature.

“MassDOT is pleased to work collaboratively with municipal leaders, Metropolitan Area Planning Councils and Regional Planning Agencies to further the goals of Safe Streets for All. We will continue to support the development of safety action plans and continue to work with our partners to improve transportation infrastructure to help make travel safer for the public whether people choose to walk, bike, take public transportation or drive.”

Transportation Secretary Gina Fiandaca announcing $30.6 million has been awarded to 17 municipalities and Regional Planning Agencies through the first round of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Safe Streets and Roads for All Grant Program.

“This is a hard conversation to have right now, because the consensus is, ‘hey, we have lots of money, let’s cut taxes.’ And then times get bad, and they’re coming real fast, when times get bad, we can’t raise taxes. So we cut services.”

Sen. Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville) cautioning about reducing state taxes.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com]]>