Beacon Hill Roll Call, March 20-24

By Bob Katzen

Beacon Hill Roll Call

Published: 03-31-2023 11:46 AM

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of March 20-24.

$388.6 MILLION FISCAL 2023 SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET (H 3548)

House 153-0, Senate 39-0, approved and sent to Gov. Maura Healey a $388.6 million fiscal 2023 supplemental budget. The House and Senate approved different versions a few weeks ago, but last week they agreed on this new version.

Provisions include $65 million for free school meals; $130 million to keep expanded nutrition assistance in place for a few more months; $2 million for the reimbursement of SNAP benefits for victims of benefit theft; $250,000 for a free abortion-related legal hotline; $45 million for emergency shelter assistance; $40 million to support affordable housing for immigrants and refugees; and $2 million for the Boston branch of the NAACP for costs of some programs to be included in its 114th National NAACP Conference in 2023 in Boston.

Other provisions keep some pandemic-era programs, set to expire, in place including allowing restaurants to sell beer, wine and cocktails for take-out; expanding outdoor dining; and extending the authority, set to expire in a few weeks, for public bodies, agencies and commissions to hold their meetings remotely.

“This supplemental budget ensures that our commonwealth continues to support the most vulnerable among us while also building on the lessons we learned during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). “I’m proud to say that the Legislature has proven once again that it has the courage to chart a course that leaves no place or person in the commonwealth behind.”

“I’m proud that, among several critical investments, this supplemental budget provides support for many of the most vulnerable residents and communities in Massachusetts through funding for free school lunches, financial assistance to homeless shelters facing an increase in their migrant population and extended enhanced SNAP benefits,” said House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy).

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“In partnership with the House, the Legislature has taken the necessary steps to keep the economy of the commonwealth on a firm footing as we continue to emerge from the pandemic,” said Sen. Mike Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “The passage of this supplemental budget today utilizes robust tax revenues to its fullest effect, making substantial investments in economic development, housing, education and the social service safety net.”

“This relatively modest supplemental budget addresses some of the most pressing needs the commonwealth is facing,” said House Committee on Ways and Means Chair Rep. Aaron Michlewitz (D-Boston). “Whether it is ensuring that our school children have access to free meals, essential early childcare education grants or directing critical resources to deal with the influx of migrants coming into the commonwealth, these funds will have an immediate and positive effect for the residents of the state.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the $388.6 million supplemental budget.)

Rep. Natalie Blais, Yes; Rep. Daniel Carey, Yes; Rep. Mindy Domb, Yes; Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, Yes; Rep. Aaron Saunders, Yes; Sen. Joanne Comerford, Yes; Sen. Paul Mark, Yes; Sen. Jacob Oliveira, Yes; Sen. John Velis Yes

$350 MILLION FOR ROADS AND BRIDGES (H 3547)

House 153-0, approved and sent to the Senate 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 $350 million package, a bond bill under which the funding would be borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds, also includes $150 million to pay for bus lane improvements, improvement of public transit, electric vehicles and other state transportation projects.

Supporters said the funding will help cities and towns make their streets and bridges safer for all drivers and will improve the state’s public transportation system. They noted that this funding, known as Chapter 90, is relied on every year by local communities but noted that this is not the only source of local aid for cities and towns.

Rep. Bill Strauss (D-Mattapoisett), the House chair of the Transportation Committee and the sponsor of the bill, did not respond to repeated requests from Beacon Hill Roll Call for a comment on passage of the measure. Déjà vu? Strauss did not respond last year to the same request on the 2022 funding for roads and bridges.

Many local officials across the state continue to advocate for additional money to increase the funding and argue that the cost of repairing roads has increased by up to 40 percent but the state has kept this funding flat at $200 million for the past 11 years.

Geoff Beckwith, the executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, is one of the biggest advocates for more Chapter 90 funding above the $200 million. “With the construction season starting in a matter of days, local officials are asking lawmakers to enact the Chapter 90 bill as soon as possible so that these funds can go to work improving local roadways,” said Beckwith.

He also urged additional funding beyond the $200 million. “With these funds secured as a base, cities and towns hope to work with the state on a long-range plan to offset the corrosive impacts of inflation, which is making it impossible to bring all 30,000 miles of local roads into a state of good repair,” he said.

(A “Yes” vote is for the $350 million package.)

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

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

DIZOGLIO AND THE AUDIT OF THE LEGISLATURE — State Auditor Diana DiZoglio announced a few weeks ago that she has launched an audit of the Massachusetts Legislature — something she promised in her campaign last year.

“As I committed, my office has begun an audit of the state Legislature,” said DiZoglio. “We hope this will increase transparency, accountability and equity in an area of state government that has been completely ignored. Historically, the Legislature has been a closed-door operation, where committee votes have been hidden from the general public and legislation has been voted on in the dark of night.”

Last week House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy) finally responded to DiZoglio’s announcement. “That your office has the legal authority to conduct an audit of the General Court is a claim entirely without legal support or precedent, as it runs contrary to multiple, explicit provisions of the Massachusetts Constitution, and is wholly unnecessary as the public currently has full and ready access to the House’s financial information,” said Mariano in a letter to DiZoglio.

“All of the House’s accounts are available on the Commonwealth’s Financial Records Transparency Platform (“CTHRU”) webpage, which can be viewed at www.macomptroller.org/cthru,” continued the letter. “There are no expenditures of the House that are not posted on CTHRU and available for public inspection. Additionally, the House adopts rules for each legislative session, including a rule that requires all House accounts to be independently audited on an annual basis in accordance with auditing standards generally accepted in the United States of America and the standards applicable to financial audits contained in Government Auditing Standards, issued by the Comptroller General of the United States and that the audit report be filed with the House Clerk for public inspection.”

Following receipt of the letter, DiZoglio released a statement: “I find it disappointing that the speaker is fighting an audit of what is happening in the people’s house, where the people’s business is conducted, using the people’s money,” said DiZoglio. “We are not asking for permission and will continue conducting our audit as planned to help increase transparency, accountability and equity for everyday families,” said DiZoglio.

Stay tuned.

CHILD CARE TAX CREDIT (S 1814) — A measure before the Revenue Committee would allow up to a $3,000 annual tax credit for families that spend money on child care services. The child care servicer must be a provider licensed by the state in order to qualify for the tax credit and the child receiving childcare services must be a dependent of the taxpayer.

Sponsor Sen. Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton) did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call to comment on his proposal.

ALLOW NONCITIZENS TO MANAGE THE SALE OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES (S 206) — A bill before the Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee would allow noncitizens who are legally in the United States to be appointed manager on a license for the sale of alcoholic beverages. Under current law, these managers must be U.S. citizens and are also required to be on the premises at least 40 hours per week.

“This legislation was filed after a few restaurants … reached out and brought this issue to my attention,” said sponsor Sen. Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth). “Considering a significant portion of food industry employees are legal immigrants, it makes sense to allow them to be able to compete for these types of positions. Managerial positions are crucial to the success of any business, and this change would put Massachusetts in line with many other states and allow restaurants to expand their pool of qualified applicants.”

FIX-A-LEAK WEEK AND WATER DAY — Last week the Healey administration commemorated World Water Day and National Fix-A-Leak Week. Fix-A-Leak Week is led by the United Nations and is aimed at raising awareness about the importance of finding and repairing water leaks in homes and businesses. World Water Day’s theme is designed to accelerate change to solve the world’s water and sanitation crisis.

“Access to safe drinking water is a fundamental right,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rebecca Tepper. “We all have a role to play in protecting our water supply as the climate crisis worsens droughts and floods and alters our ecosystem. We encourage all residents and businesses to protect against unnecessary water waste.”

“While water safety and accessibility are global issues, individual actions are required to address them,” said Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bonnie Heiple. “Small changes in the ways in which we use and manage water in our daily lives cumulate into significant improvements to protect and conserve our precious water resources.”

MASSACHUSETTS CAUCUS OF WOMEN LEGISLATORS’ (MCWL) TOP FIVE — The MCWL announced its top five legislative priorities for the 2023-2024 legislative session.

SALARIES OF HUMAN SERVICE WORKERS (H 191 and S 84) — Would eliminate disparities between the rate of pay for human services workers employed directly by the state and those employed by private agencies and companies with state contracts.

SALARY TRANSPARENCY (H 1849 and S 1191) — Would require employers to disclose the salary range when advertising a job position.

INCREASE ACCESS TO MENSTRUAL PRODUCTS (H 534 and S 1381) — Would increase access to disposable menstrual products in prisons, homeless shelters and public schools.

POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION SCREENING (H 2163 and S 1375) — Would require MassHealth to provide coverage for postpartum depression screenings by pediatricians for 12 months.

ALLOW USE OF CAMPAIGN FUNDS FOR CHILD CARE FOR CANDIDATES FOR PUBLIC OFFICE (H 669 and S 422) — Would allow a candidate for public office to use campaign funds for childcare while the candidate is campaigning on his or her own behalf or attending events directly related to his or her campaign.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“Housing is a big issue. We know that people can’t thrive, they can’t raise their families, it’s just so much harder for children and families or individuals if they can’t afford to live in an area where they’re working.”

Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland)

“A lack of inventory, higher interest rates, and economic uncertainties continue to be the biggest barriers to entry for prospective homebuyers. Speaking of the economy, the most recent bank failures may shake consumer confidence in the coming months, which could yield even further declines in transactions not associated with a lack of inventory.”

Cassidy Norton, Media Relations Director of The Warren Group on the real estate market in the Bay State.

“Embodied carbon is the greenhouse gas emission associated with the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance and disposal of building and infrastructure materials. In spite of the staggering impact embodied carbon has on the climate crisis, local health and equity, embodied carbon is still rarely included in our local and statewide efforts to reduce emissions from buildings.”

Logan Malik, Interim Executive Director of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network on why Massachusetts must reduce embodied carbon emissions from buildings.

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