Beacon Hill Roll Call, June 19-23

By Bob Katzen

Beacon Hill Roll Call

Published: 06-30-2023 10:09 AM

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ votes on roll calls from the recent debate on the Senate’s version of a $55.9 billion fiscal 2024 state budget.

$750,000 FOR REGIONAL LIBRARIES (S 3): Senate 39-0, approved an amendment that would increase by $750,000 (from $15,967,600 to $16,717,600) funding for regional libraries.

“I’m proud to sponsor this amendment to increase support for our regional public libraries,” said sponsor Sen. Jake Oliveira (D-Ludlow). “By passing the amendment, the Senate has sent a clear message that it stands in solidarity to support free thought, diversity, inclusion and equity across the commonwealth through our public library system.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the $750,000.)

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

$600,000 FOR WALKABLE DOWNTOWNS (S 3): Senate 39-0, approved $600,000 for technical assistance to cities and towns to promote compact, walkable downtowns that have a “vibrant mix of commercial and residential uses, cultural and recreational amenities and access to public transportation.”

“I was honored to deliver my inaugural speech in support of … $600,000 toward the Massachusetts Downtown Initiative … in the Senate budget,” said sponsor Sen. Pavel Payano (D-Lawrence). “The program is administered by the Executive Office of Economic Development and provides technical assistance to municipalities hoping to revitalize their downtown areas. I filed this amendment so cities like my hometown of Lawrence can improve their downtowns so they can continue to thrive for years to come.”

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(A “Yes” vote is for the $600,000.)

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

$1 MILLION FOR BIRTH CENTERS (S 3): Senate 39-0, approved an amendment providing $1 million for the awarding of grants for the development and operation of freestanding birth centers. Priority for funding would be given to birth centers that serve communities historically impacted most by racial inequities in maternal health including high rates of maternal and infant mortality.

Birth centers facilities, usually staffed by nurse-midwives, provide a less institutionalized and less restricted setting than a hospital for women who wish to deliver by natural childbirth.

Amendment supporters said there is only one remaining birthing center in Massachusetts. They noted the amendment would lead to much needed additional birthing centers in the Bay State.

Amendment sponsor Sen. Liz Miranda (D-Boston) did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call to comment on the approval of her amendment.

(A “Yes” vote is for the $1 million.)

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


FUNDING FOR MASSACHUSETTS-BASED RESIDENTS’ STARTUP COMPANIES (S 237) — The Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee held a hearing on legislation that would create a $500,000 pilot program offering competitive grants to Massachusetts residents who are starting new businesses.

“I believe in the potential of our citizens to drive innovation and economic growth,” said sponsor Sen. Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth). “By providing support and resources to local startup companies, we can foster entrepreneurship, create job opportunities and contribute to the overall prosperity of our state.”

FOOD LABELS (H 2205/S 1390) — The Committee on Public Health held a hearing on proposals that would standardize the date labels on food products sold in the Bay State by establishing two kinds of date labels to mitigate widespread consumer confusion and reduce food waste.

The “Quality Date” label would indicate the date on which the quality of the food product may begin to deteriorate but it is still acceptable for consumption. The “Safety Date” label would apply to certain high-risk food products, signifying the point at which under any storage conditions, consumption of the food may pose a safety risk.

“Food waste is an enormous problem in the United States, with an estimated 30 to 40 percent of our food supply — about 400 pounds per year per American — trucked to landfills according to the USDA,” said sponsor of the Senate version of the bill Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Lowell). “This, despite the fact that many residents continue to struggle with hunger. The current voluntary labeling standard is confusing and bills at the federal level to create a standard labeling practice have stalled. This bill creates uniformity in labeling to make it less confusing, in an effort to reduce food waste. These changes to create a standardized food labeling system will eliminate consumer confusion and reduce food waste, which in part will help to reduce hunger as well as benefit retailers and the environment.”

“In my role as a co-founder and co-chair of the Food System Caucus, reducing food insecurity and food waste are two important priorities,” said Rep. Hannah Kane (R-Shrewsbury) who sponsored the House version. “This legislation addresses both by providing standardized language that differentiates clearly what food is still safe to eat and donate, versus what food is not.”

CHINESE-OWNED COMPANIES IN MASSACHUSETTS (H 413) — The Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee held a hearing on legislation that would establish a special commission to study the financial relationship between Massachusetts businesses and Chinese state-owned companies. The commission would identify Massachusetts-based assets held by Chinese state-owned companies, determine the extent to which business operations conducted by Chinese state-owned companies affect local industries and assess the corresponding dangers posed to the Bay State’s economic wellbeing and sovereignty.

“In recent years, the Chinese government has attempted to use its economic power to influence the policies of foreign governments by imprisoning visiting businesspeople on spurious charges, abruptly terminating contracts with foreign companies after upfront expenses have been paid and stealing intellectual property,” said sponsor Rep. Brad Jones (R-North Reading). “Massachusetts companies, specifically those in the biotech, software, manufacturing and finance sectors, are particularly vulnerable to pressure applied by the Chinese government. The proposed commission will provide vital information about the nature and size of Chinese investment in the commonwealth and will assist lawmakers in identifying the state’s economic vulnerabilities and devising a strategy to protect local industries.”

ALLOW 16- AND 17-YEAR-OLD YOUTHS TO VOTE IN LOCAL ELECTIONS (H 3576) — A bill heard by the Election Laws Committee would allow cities and towns to permit people aged 16- and 17-year to vote in their local city and town elections and presidential primaries. Current law requires that voters be 18.

“The benefits to lowering the municipal voting age to 16 or 17 are many and include increasing voter turnout, especially in local elections which are historically low, creating lifelong civic habits and strengthening our representative democracy,” said Geoff Foster, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts.

Supporters noted that studies have shown that 16- and 17-year-olds score evenly with 21-year-olds on questions about political knowledge, tolerance, political efficacy, perceived civic skills and community service.

Many cities and towns over the past few years have approved home rule petitions lowering the voting age to 16 for their municipal elections. But none of the proposals were approved by the Legislature and most were shipped off to a study committee where they died.

ALLOW NON-CITIZENS TO VOTE (H 671) — The Elections Laws Committee’s hearing also included a proposal that would permit cities and towns to allow non-citizens over age 18 to vote in local municipal elections. The elections in which non-citizens could vote include an election for mayor, school committee, city council, town council, select board, a school committee referendum and a local ballot referendum.

“Non-citizen 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.

SLAVERY REPARATIONS (H 3921) — Rep. Brandy Fluker Oakley (D-Boston) has proposed a late-filed bill that would create a commission to study and develop proposals for lineage-based reparations programs to redress the harm resulting from the institution of slavery in the state, systemic racism against enslaved people and their descendants; and the lasting effects of slavery and institutional and systemic racism in the Bay State.

“Celebrating Juneteenth is not only about joy and fellowship, but also about recognizing the work that needs to be done to make the commonwealth a more just place for all,” said Fluker Oakley. “This bill is an actionable step toward making reparations for Black Americans a reality not only in our state, but also to inspire our nation to do the same. It is not enough for us to just speak on these issues and acknowledge them, but we must also put these values into practice and support legislation that will make a real change.”

“With the median net worth of $8 for blacks and $247,500 for whites in the capital city of the commonwealth, the time is now to move towards reckoning with the systems that have continued to contribute to causing this divide,” said Repair America Collective spokesperson, Aziza Robinson-Goodnight. “We’d like to emphasize this is just the beginning, repair for Black Americans is long overdue. Since the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620, Massachusetts has claimed to be the enlightened moral center of the New World and forming a commission to study and develop proposals for lineage-based reparations programs is significant for Massachusetts. This is an historic step for us all and brings us closer towards holistic repair for racialized harm.”

QUOTABLE QUOTES — Special “Who’s Looking At What Edition.” According to the Legislature’s website, here are some of the top bills that visitors to the site are searching.

— Fiscal Year 2023 $55 billion plus state budget (H 57)

— Protecting the rights of older adults and people with disabilities by requiring all nursing homes to establish a human rights committee with the power to investigate the complaints of residents (S 399)

— Regulating dress codes in schools (S 290)

— Allowing a person to change their gender on their marriage certificate (S 975)

— Prohibiting any non-electric cars from being a self-driving car also known as autonomous vehicles (H 3298)

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at]]>