Beacon Hill Roll Call, Nov. 27, 2020

Published: 11/30/2020 4:05:27 PM

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ votes on roll calls from recent sessions on debate of the Senate version of the state’s $46 billion fiscal 2021 state budget. The House hand Senate have approved different versions of the budget and a conference committee is working out a compromise version that will eventually be sent to Gov. Charlie Baker for his signature and any vetoes.

SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (SNAP) BENEFITS (S 4) — Senate 39-0, approved an amendment that would allow low-income applicants and recipients of MassHealth and the Medicare Savings Program to initiate an application for federally-funded SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) benefits at the same time as their application or renewal for MassHealth or the Medicare Savings Program.

Amendment supporters said the goal is to close the “SNAP Gap” and help some 740,000 people on MassHealth who are likely eligible for SNAP but not taking advantage of it.

“Long before the pandemic, we were experiencing a crisis of food insecurity in the commonwealth, but today Massachusetts now has the highest percentage of people facing food insecurity in the country,” said the amendment’s sponsor Sen. Sal DiDomenico, D-Everett. “Creating a SNAP/MassHealth common application is a simple and effective way to connect thousands of eligible children, families and seniors with food assistance that they desperately need during these trying times. I am very proud to have bipartisan support from my colleagues on this amendment to help fight hunger here in Massachusetts.”

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.

Sen. Joanne Comerford: Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds: Yes

Sen. Eric Lesser: Yes

PROTECT TENANTS DURING COVID-19 (S 4) — Senate 39-0, approved an amendment designed to protect tenants during COVID-19. The amendment seals eviction records for defendants in eviction proceedings for non-payment of rent due to COVID-19 when the case does not result in a judgment against the defendant or a defendant has made a good faith effort to come to a reasonable agreement.

Other provisions protect tenants’ credit worthiness by prohibiting landlords from providing information related to nonpayment of rent due to COVID-19 to credit reporting agencies; minimize processing and waiting times for applicants for the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program, which provides short-term financial assistance to low-income families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless; and create a task force to monitor the implementation of the administration’s COVID-19 Eviction Diversion Initiative and to make policy recommendations whenever necessary.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated housing insecurity,” said Sen. Brendan Crighton, D-Lynn, the sponsor of the amendment. “We are in the middle of a public health and economic crisis that is impacting thousands across the commonwealth. This amendment further strengthens the comprehensive approach taken by the Senate to address housing-related challenges. Protecting vulnerable tenants’ eviction records and credit reports will help ensure that their prospects of obtaining future housing are not jeopardized by this pandemic.”

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.

Sen. Joanne Comerford: Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds: Yes

Sen. Eric Lesser: Yes

REQUIRE PARENTAL OR JUDICIAL CONSENT IF THE MOTHER IS UNDER THE AGE OF 18 (S 4) — Senate 5-35, rejected an amendment that would replace a provision, later approved, that would allow abortions after 24 weeks in the case of lethal fetal anomalies and would lower the age from 18 to 16 at which a minor can choose to have an abortion without parental or judicial consent. The amendment would still allow abortions after 24 weeks in the case of lethal fetal anomalies but would keep 18 as the age at which a minor can choose to have an abortion without parental or judicial consent.

“I filed this amendment to find common ground on an incredibly personal and emotional issue,” said the amendment’s sponsor Sen. Patrick O’Connor, R-Weymouth. “I knew trying to find compromise would be an uphill battle, but I wanted to make sure I was on record for the elements of the bill that I felt were appropriate and others, particularly the elimination of parental consent, that I did not support.”

“One of the key components of the (bill) is to remove obstacles for women to access reproductive health services, including abortion,” said Sen. Cindy Creem, D-Newton. “I voted against the amendment … because it placed an undue burden on young women, by requiring judicial consent for a decision that is properly made by the woman herself — in consultation with medical professionals, not lawyers or judges.”

A “Yes” vote favors 18 as the age of consent at which a minor can choose to have an abortion without parental or judicial consent. A “No” vote is for lowering the age to 16.

Sen. Joanne Comerford: No

Sen. Adam Hinds: No

Sen. Eric Lesser: No

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

MANY BILLS SHIPPED OFF TO STUDY COMMITTEES — Several tax-related bills were shipped off to a study committee where bills are never actually studied and are essentially defeated. It is another way to kill a bill instead of holding a vote on the bill itself. Here are some of the bills that will die in study:

INCREASE ALCOHOL TAX TO FUND SUBSTANCE ABUSE TREATMENT (H 2527) — Doubles the excise tax on beer, alcohol and wine and uses the revenue to create a comprehensive Substance Use Treatment Fund under the Department of Public Health.

“Massachusetts has one of the lowest alcohol taxes in the nation, and because excise taxes erode with inflation, their value is 40 percent less than in 1979, when they were last adjusted,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Kay Khan, D-Newton, who told Beacon Hill Roll Call she plans to refile the bill next year. “Through this legislation, the commonwealth would be able to provide significant assistance in paying for substance use treatment and prevention programs that we literally cannot afford to shortchange,” said Khan.

ALLOW STATE INCOME TAX DEDUCTION FOR SCHOOL AND MUNICIPAL FEES PAID BY RESIDENTS (H 2537) — Provides a tax deduction for the school fees that parents must often pay for their public school children and for trash pick-up and disposal fees.

Supporters said most public schools levy a variety of fees on their students including fees to park cars in school lots, to enroll in full-day kindergarten, to ride the school bus, to participate in after-school sports and to join clubs and other extracurricular activities.

“(The bill) was originally filed in response to a number of parents who approached me with their concerns about the high costs associated with having their children participate in certain after-school activities or to ride the school bus,” said the measure’s sponsor Rep. Dave Linsky, D-Natick. “This legislation will benefit those who need it most — the middle class. It is my belief that the burden of all of these fees defeats the purpose of a well-rounded public school education and widens the divide between affluent and less affluent parents. Particularly at a time when many of these fees escalate on a yearly basis, the relief that this bill would provide to families is increasingly pressing.”

STATE EXPENDITURE GROWTH LIMIT (H 2521) — Repeals a current state law that sets a tax revenue growth limit for each fiscal year that is calculated based on the growth in total wages and salaries of the state’s residents. Replaces that law with a new one that would establish a state expenditure growth limit for each fiscal year that would be calculated based on the growth in inflation under the Consumer Price Index and the percentage change in Massachusetts’ population.

If tax revenues exceed expenditures, the excess revenue would be put in a temporary holding fund and any balance remaining in the fund at the end of the fiscal year would be refunded to taxpayers. If expenditures exceed tax revenues, the excess expenditures would be reduced until they no longer exceed the revenue.

Republican Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading, told Beacon Hill Roll Call he intends to refile his bill in the 2021 session. “(This) is a taxpayer-friendly bill that would establish fiscally sound parameters for state expenditure growth to help ensure the commonwealth is spending tax dollars responsibly,” said Jones. “While I’m disappointed the bill was placed in a study order, I understand why the committee might be reluctant to move forward with the proposed changes at this time, given the continued fiscal uncertainty created by the COVID-19 global pandemic.”

EXEMPT FACE MASKS FROM THE SALES TAX (H 4760) — Exempts protective facial coverings, including face shields and masks, from the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax.

“This bill would exempt non-medical facial coverings from our state sales tax, as we already do for clothing, including scarfs and bandanas,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury. “In addition to reducing the cost to the consumer, this will encourage the growing cottage industry of non-medical mask makers. We don’t want local crafters to run afoul of the tax collector or be discouraged from making more masks.” Cutler told Beacon Hill Roll Call he intends to refile the bill next year.

TAX EXEMPTIONS AND CAP — These three bills were filed by Rep. Jack Lewis, D-Framingham. The first would exempt from the motor vehicle excise tax seniors over 65 (H 2534) who are at or below the federal poverty guideline income of $12,760. The second one would exempt any age veteran with an income of less than $12,760 from the same excise tax (H 2533). The third would allow cities and towns to create a property tax cap for seniors over 65 if their single income is $50,000 or less or their married income is $60,000 or less, and they have assets of $75,000 or less not including the primary residence and one motor vehicle registered to the applicant.

Rep. Lewis did not respond to repeated attempts by Beacon Hill Roll Call asking him to comment on each bill and tell us whether he plans to file them again next year.

QUOTABLE QUOTES — By the Numbers — The decrease in the number of public school students in Massachusetts.

A report presented to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education last week showed a sharp 37,396 decline in the current number of students in grades pre-kindergarten to grade 12 in Massachusetts public schools in school year 2020-2021 compared to 2019-2020.

The decline in the combined number of pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students was 17,202 which represents 46 percent of the total 37,396 decline.

“I think it’s fair to say that a large chunk of children, the loss here, is for the pre-K and kindergarten students, and we expect that many of those children will be back in our system next year,” Education Commissioner Jeff Riley said. “Parents have just opted to keep the kids home for the year, rather than start in the system.”

HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION? Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time that the House and Senate were in session each week. Many legislators say that legislative sessions are only one aspect of the Legislature’s job and that a lot of important work is done outside of the House and Senate chambers. They note that their jobs also involve committee work, research, constituent work and other matters that are important to their districts. Critics say that the Legislature does not meet regularly or long enough to debate and vote in public view on the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been filed. They note that the infrequency and brief length of sessions are misguided and lead to irresponsible late-night sessions and a mad rush to act on dozens of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of an annual session.

During the week of November 23-27, the House met for a total of 16 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 29 minutes.

Mon. Nov. 23 House 11:39 a.m. to 11:49 a.m.

Senate 11:49 a.m. to 12:10 p.m.

Tues. Nov. 24 No House session.

No Senate session

Wed. Nov. 25 House 11:00 a.m. to 11:06 a.m.

Senate 11:14 a.m. to 11:22 a.m.

Thurs. Nov. 26 No House session

No Senate session

Fri. Nov. 27 No House session

No Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com


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