Beacon Hill Roll Call, Nov. 13-17

By Bob Katzen

Beacon Hill Roll Call

Published: 11-24-2023 9:18 AM

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ and senators’ votes from the week of Nov. 13-17.

LONG TERM CARE CHANGES (H 4178): House 158-0, approved and sent to the Senate legislation that supporters say will “take a comprehensive approach towards reforming the long-term care industry by supporting and expanding the workforce, enhancing oversight of facilities and ensuring greater access, all while prioritizing quality of care.”

Rep. Tom Stanley (D-Waltham), House chair of the Committee on Elder Affairs, said “the comprehensive measure is a major step toward enhancing the standards and care within the long-term care industry.”

“Building upon past successes and allocations, including significant funding for caregiver shortages and nursing home rate increases, this bill marks a pivotal step in the ongoing enhancement of long-term care in the commonwealth,” continued Stanley. “It is our collective effort to ensure the highest standards of care and access for all individuals in need of long-term care services.”

“The nursing home sector has long faced workforce and financial challenges that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy). “Addressing persistent challenges within this important sector will not only improve the quality of care that residents receive, it will increase capacity and help acute care hospitals more efficiently discharge patients to the appropriate post-acute care setting.”

Mariano continued, “Building off of key investments in the industry in recent budgets, this comprehensive legislation takes the necessary steps to ensure that the commonwealth’s nursing homes, and the patients that they care for, are supported.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Next 5-story building cleared to rise in downtown Amherst
‘Our hearts were shattered’: Moved by their work in Mexico soup kitchen, Northampton couple takes action
Hampshire County youth tapped to advise governor’s team
Amherst-Pelham schools look to address school absences with new plan
Northampton School Committee takes stand for budget increase during emotional meeting
Amherst regional superintendent candidate stresses inclusion, broad expertise

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

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

$2.81 BILLION FISCAL 2023 SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET (S 2502): Senate 36-3, approved a $2.81 billion supplemental budget to close out the books for fiscal year 2023. Provisions include $2.1 billion for MassHealth to cover end of year deficiencies; $250 million for emergency housing; $75 million for school districts impacted by special education tuition rate increases; $15 million for disaster relief for municipalities impacted by storms and naturals disasters that occurred in 2023; funding to support collective bargaining agreements; and $500,000 for the Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning Youth.

According to Senate President Karen Spilka’s office, “The Senate budget stipulates that a portion of the $250 million for emergency housing be spent on community-based, broad, and individualized support services and resources so that individuals and families can address the complex issues and challenges they face, as well as reimbursements to school districts for increased enrollment costs associated with an influx of migrant students. It also authorizes a portion of the $250 million to be spent to address costs associated with sheltering eligible families, as well as creating temporary emergency shelter sites.”

“Today the Senate took a bold step forward, and passed a supplemental budget that not only closes the books on fiscal year 2023, but also acts swiftly to meet the challenges of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis that deserves our full attention, care and assistance,” said Sen. Mike Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “In addition, we allocated $378 million to fully fund all ratified Collective Bargaining Agreements, dedicated $15 million for climate change disaster relief and deposited $100 million to fully pay down the pension liability from the 2015 Early Retirement Incentive Program.”

“I voted ‘no’ on the $250 million that the Healey Administration requested for the migrant crisis,” said Sen. Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton). “If we continue on this path, it will cost taxpayers $1.2 billion this year alone with no end in sight. This will place substantial stress on other social safety net programs intended for Massachusetts residents.”

The House has already approved a different version of the budget and a conference committee will eventually hammer out a compromise version.

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

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

RESIDENCY REQUIREMENT (S 2502): Senate 3-36, rejected an amendment that would amend the state’s Right to Shelter Law which requires the state to provide shelter and other necessities to homeless parents with young children, pregnant women and recently the many migrant families arriving in the Bay State. Homeless individuals are not covered by the Right to Shelter law.

The amendment would require that people provide proof that they have lived in the state for at least one year to qualify for the program. It also exempts from the requirement a victim of domestic violence or a person whose living situation has been affected by a fire or other natural disaster that occurred in Massachusetts.

Amendment supporters said the current interpretation of residency in Massachusetts by the Healey administration is that the person can be in the state for a matter of minutes to qualify to get services.

“During today’s Senate session I proposed an amendment that would restore the residency requirement for the emergency shelter program here in Massachusetts,” said amendment sponsor Sen. Ryan Fattman. “Unfortunately, the amendment was not adopted in the Senate. If we continue on this path and do not modify the state’s Right-to-Shelter Law, it will cost taxpayers $1.2 billion this year alone with no end in sight, placing substantial stress on other social safety net programs intended for Massachusetts residents.”

“While apparently intended to address the migrant issue, the amendment, in my view, called for broader changes to a program that has been in place helping people for decades,” said opponent Sen. John Keenan (D-Quincy). “Such changes to a statute I believe need greater review than what the amendment process provided. Further, an amendment filed by Sen. Velis, which was adopted unanimously, provides an opportunity for that review.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the 1-year requirement. A “No” vote is against it.)

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

PHARMACEUTICAL ACCESS, COSTS AND TRANSPARENCY (S 2499): Senate 39-0, approved and sent to the House a bill that supporters say would make major changes and reforms to the state’s pharmaceutical system by “lowering the cost of drugs at the pharmacy counter and improving oversight of the pharmaceutical industry.”

“The Senate has made pharmaceutical cost containment and oversight a priority for a long time, and I’m proud that we’ve had the opportunity to pass this bill in three consecutive sessions, improving it as we learn more and more about the industry,” said Sen. Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington), Senate chair of the Committee on Health Care Financing. “While we are supportive of the work of the pharmaceutical industry, we also know that far too many Massachusetts residents are struggling to access life saving, essential medication due to outrageous and skyrocketing costs. [This legislation] will provide necessary transparency and oversight measures, so that consumers can trust that this system is putting patients and their health before profits.”

“I am pleased the Senate has passed this crucial prescription drug legislation,” said Sen. Mike Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “Healthcare is all about accessibility and affordability, and this reform-minded consumer focused bill will allow increased access to prescription drugs while also considerably driving down the cost of everyday medications.”

“Relief from prescription drug costs can’t wait when lives are at stake,” said Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). “I look forward to this bill getting signed into law so that residents and seniors who go to the pharmacy counter will finally pay less for the medications they use to stay alive and maintain their quality of life. This reform is in line with the Senate’s commitment to addressing affordability, equity and transparency and maintaining the commonwealth’s competitiveness as a place to live and work.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

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

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

4-DAY WORK WEEK PILOT PROGRAM (H 3849): The Labor and Workforce Development Committee held a hearing on legislation that would create a voluntary four-day work week pilot program in the Bay State. Participating employers would transition employees to a four-day work week without any reduction in pay in return for a tax credit administered by the Department of Revenue.

“Americans are overstressed and overworked,” said Rep. Dylan Fernandes (D-Falmouth). The data shows that a four-day work week creates a happier workforce, fuels company productivity and helps businesses attract top talent,” said co-sponsor Rep. Dylan Fernandes (D-Falmouth). “This pilot program studies its efficacy in Massachusetts to determine whether the four-day work week could benefit commonwealth employees and businesses.”

“In this era of tight labor markets, we need to get creative to keep our economy growing,” said co-sponsor Rep. Josh Cutler (D-Duxbury), House Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “This bill creates new incentives for Massachusetts businesses to explore shifting to a four-day work week which can offer a myriad of benefits, including boosting worker satisfaction and productivity, and reducing absenteeism and commuting time.”

“Our research with hundreds of companies and thousands of workers shows that a four-day, 32-hour week with no reduction in pay not only yields tremendous well-being improvements for workers, but is highly beneficial for companies,” said Professor Juliet Schor, a leading supporter of the measure. “After trialing this model, a mere 6 percent are returning to the five-day week. [This bill] will put Massachusetts on the map once again leading the nation, as we have done on same-sex marriage and climate.”

PROHIBIT USE OF NATIVE AMERICAN MASCOTS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS (H 477, S 245): A bill heard by the Education Committee 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.

“In the past few years, the nation has seemed to finally come awake and recognize the hurt caused by racist mascots and imagery,” 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.”

“I sponsored [the bill] because of the numerous conversations I’ve had with community leaders that have been doing the work to protect students in the commonwealth from the negative impacts of Native American mascots,” said House sponsor Rep. Brandy Fluker Oakley (D-Mattapan). “We know based on years of research, that these mascots lead to the perpetuation of negative stereotypes and psychological ramifications like lower self-esteem and diminished perceptions of community worth. This bill will prevent students from further psychosocial harm.”

RENT CONTROL QUESTION WILL NOT APPEAR ON THE 2024 BALLOT: It’s the end of this year’s campaign to put on the November 2024 ballot a question that would allow cities and towns the right to impose rent control, a practice which voters banned nearly 30 years ago on a 1994 ballot question.

Organizers announced that they will fall far short of the 74,574 signatures needed by Nov. 22 to qualify for the ballot.

“While this isn’t the outcome we hoped for with our petition, I am more confident than ever that if given the opportunity to do so, Massachusetts voters will elect to lift the ban on rent control,” said long time rent control advocate Rep. Michael Connolly (D-Cambridge). “At this point, however, it makes sense to focus on Tuesday’s Statehouse hearing on rent control bills and other landlord-tenant matters.”

“Massachusetts property owners and renters should wake up this morning knowing that their futures are better off,” said Paul Craney, spokesman for the Mass Fiscal Alliance which opposes rent control. “Rep. Connolly’s potential ballot question would have done nothing but make life more expensive and miserable for property owners and renters alike. Rent control does not work, it would only stop new housing development, particularly new affordable multi-family housing and put a complete halt in maintenance and upkeep.”

In the meantime, the focus now turns to Beacon Hill where the Housing Committee held a hearing last week on several pieces of rent control legislation.

“This is not an issue about the market,” testified Rep. Sam Montano (D-Jamaica Plain), a sponsor of one of several bills debated at the hearing. “This is not an issue about how we use capitalism. This is an issue about morals. Morally, we need to house people. That’s it. Doesn’t matter. People need homes, they need a warm place to sleep, they need a place to shower, they need a place to feel safe. And we are failing at providing that for people by allowing landlords to try to charge huge increases year to year and constantly displacing people.”

“Rent control reduces the supply of housing which drives rents up,” said Amir Shahsavari, vice president of the Small Property Owners Association. “It makes it more difficult for owners to keep up with rising operating costs, it leads to disrepair, and it makes it nearly impossible to remove non-complying tenants, not only to the detriment of owners and their properties, but also to the detriment of the other tenants who depend on us to provide them with safe, maintained living spaces.”

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“The MBTA is one of the oldest transit agencies in the country, and while there are a number of contributing factors, it’s clear that years of underinvestment have added to the cost of bringing our system back to a state of good repair.”

— MBTA General Manager Phil Eng following the release of the T’s report noting that it would take $24.5 billion to fix nearly two-thirds of all MBTA that assets are not in a state of good repair.

“This program invests federal funds to make Massachusetts communities safer and stronger. [It] allows towns and cities to identify their most pressing needs and direct funding to address those challenges. The ability of local public safety leaders to guide funds toward priority safety initiatives encourages a holistic approach to improving safety in communities with diverse needs.”

— Gov. Maura Healey announcing nearly $5 million in federal funds awarded to 130 police departments across the state to address their communities’ unmet public safety priorities.

“It’s chilling to learn what some of these toys can do. Smart toys can be useful, fun or educational, but Interacting with some of them can create frightening situations for too many families.”

— R.J. Cross, one of the authors of MASSPIRG Education Fund’s report which warns about the dangers of the smart devices surrounding kids including microphones, cameras, connectivity, location trackers, poor security as well as several low-tech threats, including water beads, button batteries and recalled and counterfeit toys for sale.

“With over 130,000 signatures, the public’s voice is loud and clear: They stand with educators against high-stakes testing. Our stance against an accountability system solely based on high-stakes testing resonates with the community, highlighting the need for change in how we evaluate student achievement. It’s time to move past a 30-year-old system that narrows learning and fails to address diverse student needs.”

— Massachusetts Teachers Association President Max Page on the collection of more than 130,000 signatures which, if certified, will place a question on the 2024 ballot ending the controversial graduation requirement tied to the MCAS exam.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com