Beacon Hill Roll Call, Nov. 20-24

By Bob Katzen

Beacon Hill Roll Call

Published: 12-01-2023 10:35 AM

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ votes from recent sessions. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

CREATE COMMISSION TO EXAMINE CURRENT EMERGENCY SHELTER SYSTEM (S 5250): Senate 39-0, approved an amendment creating a bipartisan commission to study and make recommendations by March 1, 2024 on the financial impact and sustainability of the state’s current emergency shelter system and the various supports that are currently offered to individuals and families.

“Our state’s emergency shelter program was simply never meant to handle the number of individuals that it is housing today and we need to take a hard look at the financial stability of our emergency housing assistance program, and the impact it is having on our municipalities and commonwealth as a whole,” said amendment sponsor Sen. John Velis (D-Westfield). “Otherwise, we will soon be faced with some very difficult decisions on other funding priorities that we value so much. In the absence of federal action, we need to have an honest conversation about these growing costs and what our off-ramp, if any, is going to be.

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)

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

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REQUIRE PRICING DATA (S 2499): Senate 38-0, approved an amendment to a section of a drug price reform bill.

A section of the bill gives the state’s Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA’s) the option to fine pharmaceutical companies up to $2,000 per week if they do not submit drug pricing data by a certain deadline. The amendment would require CHIA to fine the companies.

“For far too long, the pharmaceutical industry has exploited taxpayers, patients and the government through insidious lobbying tactics that have prevented any meaningful price control for decades,” said amendment sponsor Sen. Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford). “The industry has fought every common-sense cost-saving policy I have sponsored for over 20 years, ranging from bulk purchasing to simple price transparency.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)

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

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

2024 BALLOT QUESTION: Campaigns to put questions on the November 2024 ballot had until Nov. 22 to collect and file with local city and towns clerks the 74,574 signatures necessary to take the next step toward getting their proposals on the November 2024 ballot.

The next step is for supporters to file the signatures, following certification by local officials, with the secretary of state’s office by Dec. 6. The proposal would then be sent to the Legislature and if not approved by the Legislature by May 1, 2024, proponents must gather another 12,429 signatures and file them with local officials by June 19, 2024, and then the secretary of state’s office by July 3, 2024, in order for the question to appear on the November 2024 ballot.

Several proposals seem poised to get the 74,574 signatures although nothing is official yet. The proposed laws include ones to change the rights and benefits for on-demand drivers like Uber and Lyft; permit the state auditor’s office to audit the Legislature; increase over five years the minimum wage for tipped workers to the same as the general minimum wage; legalize some psychedelic substances including psilocybin and psilocyn found in mushrooms to treat mental health disorders including major depressive disorder and substance abuse; remove the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) exam as a high school graduation requirement and instead require students to complete coursework certified by the student’s district as demonstrating mastery of the competencies contained in the state academic standards in math, science and technology and English.

FREE PHONE CALLS FOR PRISONERS (S 4502): Gov. Maura Healey signed into law a bill that beginning on Dec. 1, 2023, will provide free phone calls and video calls for all prisoners in Massachusetts.

Currently there is no legal requirement for free phone calls in correctional facilities. Each facility contracts separately for telephone service.

“Ensuring that individuals in state and county prisons can keep in contact with their loved ones is key to enhancing rehabilitation, reducing recidivism and improving community safety,” Healey said. “I’m proud to sign this important legislation.”

“Providing free phone calls in Massachusetts prisons and jails has been a longstanding priority of mine and I am thrilled to see the commonwealth recognize the importance of keeping families connected by codifying this reform into law,” said Sen. Cindy Creem (D-Newton). “By eliminating these excessive fees, we are helping families during an already traumatizing period of separation, improving public safety outcomes by reducing recidivism, and ultimately ending a regressive and outdated policy.”

At the time the Legislature approved the bill on Nov. 8, Rep. Nick Boldyga (R-Southwick) who opposed the measure said, “Every law abiding citizen that has a job and works 40 plus hours a week has to pay for phone calls. Why are criminals entitled to free phone calls? It’s completely ridiculous and absurd that Democrats are giving free anything to criminals. Criminals and their families should be paying for their phone calls, not taxpayers.”

DWARFISM AWARENESS DAY (H 3044): On Nov. 20, the House gave initial approval to a bill that would make Oct. 25th Dwarfism Awareness Day in the Bay State. The legislation would not apply until Oct. 25, 2024 since Oct. 25, 2023 has already come and gone.

Despite repeated requests from Beacon Hill Roll Call, sponsor Rep. Jim Hawkins (D-Attleboro) failed to respond to requests asking him to comment on his proposal.

In the 2021-2022 session, the bill was approved by the House but died in the Senate. At that time, Hawkins, a retired teacher from Attleboro High School, said he filed the measure after a request by former student Vicki Ziniti who has dwarfism.

“She has organized an advocacy group of people with dwarfism and asked me about the possibility for ‘National Dwarfism Day’ in the commonwealth,” said Hawkins. Since graduating, Vicki has gotten her teaching certification and is a classroom teacher so you know we were excited to file this legislation and advocate for its passage.”

Supporters say that around the world people with dwarfism face social and physical barriers. They note that Oct. 25 was chosen as the day for Dwarfism Awareness Day because it was the birthday of Billy Barty who was an American actor who had dwarfism, and in 1957 set up Little People of America — an organization that supports people with dwarfism as well as raising awareness about the issue.

DOXING (S 1116, H 1707 and S 971): The Judiciary Committee held a hearing on several bills that would make doxing illegal in Massachusetts. One of the measures defines doxing as “the knowing disclosure of personal identifying information of a person without that person’s consent that is intended to cause stalking, physical harm to person, or serious property damage, or to cause the person about whom the information pertains to reasonably fear for the physical safety of themselves or a close relation.”

“We are living in a time when a truly alarming amount of hate is being directed at individuals and marginalized groups of people, including identity-based bigotry,” said the sponsor of S 1116 Sen. Becca Rausch (D-Needham). “That hatred can manifest as dangerous doxing, publishing someone’s personally identifying information without their consent and with malicious intent. [The bill] establishing a right to freedom from doxing, would explicitly declare doxing to be unlawful and provide recourse for doxing through either a private cause of action or civil suit filed by the attorney general.”

“My commitment to the well-being and safety of the commonwealth is one of my top priorities,” said Rep. Tram Nguyen (D-Andover), the sponsor of H 1707. “In an era where technology connects us, it’s important to provide protections against doxing so that no one lives in fear of harassment, stalking, or harm. This bill will advance our shared responsibility to establish a safer and more respectful digital community for all.”

“I believe that everyone has a fundamental right to privacy online, which is why I filed legislation to protect individuals against incidents of doxing,” said Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Andover), the sponsor of S 971. “Ensuring privacy for all residents within the commonwealth, especially those most vulnerable to this malicious action, continues to be one of my legislative priorities.”

BAN PHISHING AND TRACKING (H 1573): The Judiciary Committee hearing also included legislation that would outlaw the practice of phishing, which involves using fraudulent e-mail solicitations in an attempt to obtain an individual’s personal information, including computer passwords, bank account and credit card numbers. The bill would establish the punishment for phishing as a fine of up to $5,000 and/or up to a 2.5-year jail sentence.

“Phishing scams are evolving daily, morphing into more complex schemes intended to defraud a wide range of targets, from individual residents of the commonwealth to large financial service institutions,” said sponsor Rep. Brad Jones (R-North Reading). “As these phishing attempts become more sophisticated, it is imperative that we continue to modernize our laws to combat and prevent these types of scams to protect the public.”

The committee’s agenda also included a bill filed by Jones that would prohibit the use of motor vehicle tracking devices without the consent of the vehicle’s owner. The provisions of this bill would not apply to systems installed by the manufacturer of a motor vehicle, car rental businesses or insurance companies with the vehicle owner’s consent.

“Motor vehicle tracking devices provide a useful tool for law enforcement, parents and legal guardians of children who are minors, and business owners tracking company vehicles, and those uses would continue to be allowed under this bill,” said Jones. “The real purpose of this bill is to promote public safety by preventing individuals from using these devices to engage in predatory activities such as stalking.”

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“Through the creation of readiness plans on college campuses, we are ensuring that more people will have safe and effective options for reproductive health care. Schools can and should use this toolkit to evaluate and improve their capacity to provide sexual and reproductive health services. Every student in Massachusetts deserves thoughtful and comprehensive support when making decisions about their own health.”

— Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll announcing the launch of the Medication Abortion Toolkit for Public Colleges and Universities. The toolkit is designed to assist Massachusetts’ public colleges and universities in preparing medication abortion readiness plans to provide, or make referrals for, medication abortion on college campuses in accordance with new Massachusetts law.

“Work authorization is key to helping new arrivals get jobs that will help them support their families, move out of emergency shelter into more stable housing options, and fill critical workforce needs across our economy. We’re proud that the first week of this clinic has proven to be such a success, with more than 1,000 people served.”

— Gov. Maura Healey announcing that her administration assisted some 1,200 work-eligible migrants staying in emergency family shelters with obtaining work authorizations in the first week of its Work Authorization Legal Clinic in partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“Quick Temp repeatedly denied their employees a prevailing wage and other benefits guaranteed to them by law. As we approach the holiday season, these issues of wage theft become even more pressing to resolve. My office will continue to hold accountable those who violate our wage and hour laws and do so in partnership with our unions and trades.”

— Attorney General Andrea Campbell announcing a series of citations against Quick Temp., Inc., totaling $1,392,665, in restitution and civil fines for violations including failure to pay a prevailing wage, failure to pay minimum wage, failure to pay overtime, non-payment of wages and failure to accrue earned sick leave.

“Gov. Healey and Statehouse politicians need to realize they cannot tax their way out of their spending problem. These high tax policies do nothing but make Massachusetts an unaffordable place to live, retire and do business in.”

— Paul Craney, spokesman for the Mass Fiscal Alliance commenting on the Tax Foundation’s new report that ranks Massachusetts as in fifth in the most state and local tax collections per capita in each state as of fiscal year fiscal year 2021, the most recent year for which full state-by-state data are available.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com