Beacon Hill Roll Call, March 6-10

By Bob Katzen

Beacon Hill Roll Call

Published: 03-17-2023 10:50 AM

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

$368 MILLION SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET (S 23): Senate 40-0, approved a $368 million fiscal 2023 supplemental budget. The House has already approved its own version of a $363 million package. A House-Senate conference committee will work out a compromise package.

Provisions include $7 million for coordinated wraparound services for incoming immigrants and refugees; $2 million for the reimbursement of SNAP benefits for victims of benefit theft; $1.25 million for Family and Adolescent Health Services; $44.9 for million Emergency Assistance Family Shelters and Services; $65 million for the School Breakfast Program; $7 million to address the needs of newly arrived immigrants and refugees; and $1 million for a public awareness campaign to educate providers and the public about crisis pregnancy centers and pregnancy resource centers and the centers’ lack of medical services. A total of $250,000 of the $1 million would be earmarked for Reproductive Equity Now’s free abortion-related legal hotline.

The package also extends some pandemic-era programs, set to expire, including allowing public corporations and nonprofits to hold meetings by means of remote communication; extending the power of municipalities to allow outdoor dining services; and extending the ability of public bodies to allow remote participation by members in public meetings.

“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 this body has proven once again that it has the courage to chart a course that leaves no place or person in the commonwealth behind. As I have said since the start of the pandemic, we must go ‘back to better,’ not ‘back to normal.’”

“As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, the Legislature has taken the necessary steps to keep the economy of the commonwealth on a firm footing,” said Senate Ways and Means Committee chair Sen. Mike Rodrigues (D-Westport). “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.”

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(A “Yes” vote is for the budget.)

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

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

DIZOGLIO TO AUDIT THE LEGISLATURE — State Auditor Diana DiZoglio announced 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.”

“Taxpayers deserve more — they deserve the opportunity to weigh in on legislative, budgetary and regulatory matters that are important to them,” continued DiZoglio. “Everyone should have equitable and transparent access to and information about all state-funded agencies, including the Legislature. Unfortunately, the Legislature has not been audited [by the state auditor] since 1922, while Massachusetts ranks as one of the least transparent and least accessible state governments in the nation. It is my hope that the Legislature welcomes the opportunity for an audit to uncover where we can, and must, do better as a state government. Our office looks forward to working with them.”

“Under the Massachusetts Constitution, and as the separation of powers clause dictates, the Senate is required to manage its own business and set its own rules,” said a spokesperson for Senate President Karen Spilka. “Those rules require that the Senate undergoes an audit every fiscal year by a certified public accounting firm experienced in auditing governmental entities and provides that audit to the public. Further, Senate business is made public through journals, calendars and recordings of each session, while payroll and other financial information is publicly available on the comptroller’s website. If anyone wishes to view this information, it is available to the public.”

“Massachusetts is the only state in the country in which all three branches of our state government — the executive, the judiciary and the Legislature — exempt themselves from public records laws,” said Paul Craney, a spokesman for the Mass Fiscal Alliance. “By most accounts we have possibly the least transparent state government in the country and it’s a commonly held belief that the Legislature is where transparency and good governance principles go to die. If Auditor DiZoglio is actually able to make good on her promise to audit the Legislature, it will be a welcome check on the power of the most opaque state government in the country and a victory for the people of the commonwealth.”

Despite repeated requests from Beacon Hill Roll Call, the following Democratic and Republican legislative leaders did not respond to a question asking them whether they support an audit of the Legislature by DiZoglio: House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy), House GOP Minority Leader Brad Jones (R-North Reading) and GOP Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester).

AND THERE’S MORE — Here are some more of the bills filed for consideration in the 2023-2024 Legislature:

CHARGING ELECTRIC VEHICLE (SD 1165) — Would direct the Department of Public Utilities to offer a rebate for consumers who choose to charge electric vehicles at off-peak hours when fewer people are likely to do so.

“We need to do more than just provide people the option of switching to more environmentally[-friendly] energy alternatives,” said sponsor Sen. John Keenan (D-Quincy). “We need to make sure those alternatives have a direct, positive impact on people's lives. This rebate program will make sure we’re not just helping the planet. We’re also helping the consumer while relieving undue stresses on our electrical infrastructure.”

AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE (SD 2057) — Would require that American Sign Language (ASL) is taught in all Bay State public elementary and secondary schools to increase interactions between hearing persons and deaf and hard-of-hearing persons, as well as children with autism. Current law allows but does not require schools to teach ASL.

"I sponsored the legislation to promote greater equity and inclusion in our public school systems,” said Sen. Jake Oilveira, (D-Ludlow). “In recent years, it has become apparent that instruction in American Sign Language provides children with autism with increased opportunities for education and development. It is visually based, unaided and provides a mode of quick communication. American Sign Language is a language our students should get the opportunity to learn in our public school system, and it supports inclusion and involvement for all students.”

GRANTS TO SCHOOLS FOR ZERO-EMISSION SCHOOL BUSES (SD 2269) — Would set up a program for the Education Department to provide grants to schools to encourage and incentivize the schools to purchase zero-emission school buses. The program would pay for the difference between the cost of a zero-emissions vehicle and a diesel-powered one.

“If we’re serious about environmental justice and achieving our state’s climate action goals in 2030 and 2050, then we must pursue every possible avenue to reduce carbon emissions and air pollution in our communities,” said sponsor Sen. Becca Rausch (D-Needham). “Switching to zero-emission buses would cut those emissions by up to 35 percent annually, improving not only our environmental health but human health as well. Diesel fumes inhaled by our children are associated with asthma, heart disease and lung disease. This is a public health issue as much as it is a climate issue.”

REQUIRE ARMCHAIRS IN RESTAURANTS (SD 2037) — Would require all restaurants to have at least 5% of their seating options be armchairs. Or have armchairs on-site and available upon request.

“We must continue to make areas where members of the public frequent handicap accessible,” said sponsor Sen. Joan Lovely (D-Salem) who filed the bill at the request of a constituent. “Individuals with disabilities that hinder their mobility, muscle strength or coordination run the risk of slipping or falling off some types of chairs. Armchairs not only provide support for those who need assistance rising or sitting down, they also inhibit people from falling once seated. I am pleased to have filed [the bill] on behalf of my constituent to improve safety for our handicapped residents and ensure they can continue to enjoy social outings at food establishments.”

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“Everyone I talk to here in the Statehouse is really committed to continuing to address the trauma of gun violence to bring the numbers of deaths and injuries from gun violence down to zero. So I’m very optimistic.”

--- Ruth Zakarin, executive director of the MA Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.

“The latest comment from the T board chair that reduced ridership levels is the ‘new normal’ is disappointing and frustrating. A successful business or government agency culture is built on resilience, agility and optimism — not despair to current challenges.”

--- James Rooney, President and CEO, Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

“Connecting veterans to critical housing, employment and other supportive services is a central focus for our team at Massachusetts Executive Office of Veterans’ Services each and every day.”

--- Newly appointed Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jon Santiago on the Healey Administration’s proposed $3.5 million in funding the New England Center and Home for Veterans.

“Family caregivers play a vital role in Massachusetts health care system, whether they care for someone at home, coordinate home health care or help care for someone who lives in a nursing home. We want to make sure all family caregivers have the financial, emotional and social support they need, because the care they provide is invaluable both to those receiving it and to their community.”

--- Mike Festa, AARP Massachusetts State Director on his support for legislation that would create a refundable $1,500 tax credit to cover expenses incurred by a taxpayer for the care and support of a qualifying family member.

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