Beacon Hill Roll Call

  • The Massachusetts State House in Boston

Published: 2/28/2022 7:05:21 PM
Modified: 2/28/2022 7:04:55 PM

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: As is customary during the February school vacation week, the Legislature met in only brief informal sessions and there were no roll call votes in the House or Senate last week.

BILLS APPROVED BY SENATE AND STUCK IN THE HOUSE FOR SEVERAL MONTHS — Several bills have received unanimous or near-unanimous approval in the Senate as far back as September 2021 and are still stuck in the House Ways and Means Committee which has not acted on them and has not sent them to the full House for debate and a vote.

Beacon Hill Roll Call asked House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy) and House Ways and Means chair Aaron Michlewitz (D-Boston) for a comment on the four Senate-approved bills being stuck in the House and Means Committee.

“They’re under review,” was the brief 5-word response from Ana Vivas, Mariano’s spokesperson. Mariano’s office also cited five bills that have been approved by the House and are currently stuck in the Senate Ways Means Committee.

Despite repeated requests from Beacon Hill Roll Call, no one in House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz’s office responded to our request for a comment.

Here are the four bills and how local senators voted on them:

CHANGE GENDER ON BIRTH CERTIFICATES AND MORE (S 2533)

On September 23, the Senate 39-0, approved a bill that would allow people to change their gender on their birth certificate, driver’s license, learner’s permit, identification card or liquor purchase identification card, including to a non-binary option other than male or female. The possible designations include “female,” “male” or “X” which would indicate that the person is another gender or an undesignated gender. The gender can only be changed by an adult, an emancipated minor or the parent or guardian of a minor.

No documentation is required but the person changing the gender must submit an affidavit executed under the penalty of perjury attesting that the request is to conform to the person’s gender identity and is not made for any fraudulent purpose. The bill also directs the state to develop a plan for allowing a non-binary option on all state forms and instances where a gender choice is required.

“People know what gender they are,” said sponsor Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, at the time the measure was approved. “This bill simply allows for gender identification and IDs as diverse as our people. The Legislature must ensure that all of our constituents have access to IDs with nonbinary gender markers as beautifully diverse as they are.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Joanne Comerford, Yes; Sen. Adam Hinds, Yes; Sen. Eric Lesser, Yes

BENEFITS FOR MILITARY FAMILIES (S 2558)

On October 21, the Senate 39-0, approved legislation that would support military families who relocate to the Bay State by providing career stability for the spouses of service members and education for their children.

Provisions include making it easier for military personnel and their spouses who move to the Bay State to get a Massachusetts professional license, if their job requires one, so that they can continue their civilian careers and provide for their families without interruption; requiring the Commissioner of Education to issue a military spouse a valid certificate for teaching if he or she holds a valid teaching license from another state; allowing children of military members to register and enroll in a school district at the same time it is open to the general population by waiving the proof of residency requirement until the student actually begins school; creating a purple-star campus designation for certain schools that are military-kid friendly and show a major commitment to students and families connected to the nation’s military; and requiring that a child or spouse of an active-duty service member in Massachusetts continue to pay the in-state less expensive tuition rate at state universities even if the service member is assigned to move out of the state.

“Our commonwealth has always led from the front in terms of taking care of our active-duty service members and veterans, but I strongly believe that there is more we can do for the spouses and children of service-members who also call Massachusetts their home,” said sponsor Sen. John Velis (D-Westfield) at the time the proposal was approved. “Anyone who has worn the uniform or has a family member who has worn the uniform knows that the sacrifice of military service goes far beyond the individual service member. By passing this legislation, we are saying to these families that we understand their challenges, that we recognize the great sacrifices that they have made and that we are committed to doing everything we can to support them.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Joanne Comerford, Yes; Sen. Adam Hinds, Yes; Sen. Eric Lesser, Yes

INCREASE MENTAL HEALTH ACCESS (S 2572)

On November 17, the Senate 39-0, approved a measure known as the Mental Health Addressing Barriers to Care (ABC) Act that will make mental health care more accessible in the Bay State.

“Today, the Massachusetts Senate took vital strides toward transforming mental health care in Massachusetts,” said sponsor Sen. Julian Cyr (D-Truro) at the time the bill was approved. “By unanimously passing [this bill], we affirm that mental health is just as essential as physical health and take a leap forward to ensure that all people in Massachusetts can access the mental health care they need and deserve.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill).

Sen. Joanne Comerford, Yes; Sen. Adam Hinds, Yes; Sen. Eric Lesser, Yes

SEX EDUCATION (S 2541)

On September 23, the Senate 38-1, approved legislation that would require that all public schools offering a comprehensive sexual health education curriculum “provide medically accurate, age-appropriate sexual health education.”

Under current law, public schools are not required to teach sex education and the bill does not change that but rather mandates that any schools that choose to teach sex education are required to follow a curriculum, based on age, that includes human anatomy, reproduction and sexual development; the benefits of abstinence and delaying sexual activity; the importance of effectively using contraceptives to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS; ways to effectively discuss safe sexual activity; relationship and communication skills to form healthy, respectful relationships free of violence, coercion and intimidation; and information about gender identity and sexual orientation for all students, including recognition that people have different sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.

The measure also requires any school offering sex education to notify parents about the school’s sex education curriculum and gives parents the right to withdraw a student from the instruction. Another provision creates a process for parents to inspect the program instruction materials prior to the start of the course.

Supporters said that under the bill, local cities and towns still have the authority and power to decide whether sex education is taught in their schools. They said the measure will ensure that schools that choose to teach sex education will have a framework to follow. They noted the bill will prepare students to make healthy decisions and will reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

“I am very proud that the Massachusetts Senate has once again reaffirmed our commitment to this commonsense healthy policy that will ensure our youth have the tools needed to protect their health and form respectful relationships,” said sponsor Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) at the time the legislation was approved. “This legislation makes it clear that sex education in the commonwealth must be inclusive for all students and emphasize the importance and necessity of consent.

“This is a highly controversial bill, as demonstrated by the fact that it has failed to pass for multiple sessions,” said Sen. Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton) at the time the measure was approved. He was the only senator who voted against the bill. “If this legislation is to pass into law, it would be a direct usurpation of the local school district’s decision-making abilities. Each community has different needs based on their specific demographics, which is why they should have the ability to decide their curriculum. By mandating a statewide sex education curriculum, you directly take away the ability of a community to decide how sensitive topics like sex education are taught.”

“It is quite troubling that our elected officials think taking local control away from school districts and parents regarding sex ed curriculum is a good idea,” said Andrew Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Family Institute. “And even worse is the type of graphic content they want to push on students in the curriculum they are sanctioning. In what reality does normalizing high risk sexual activity like anal and oral sex for teens or teaching young vulnerable girls how to obtain abortions without their parents’ knowledge or consent result in healthy youth?”

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

Sen. Joanne Comerford, Yes; Sen. Adam Hinds, Yes; Sen. Eric Lesser, Yes

Also up on Beacon Hill

COVID TREATMENT — The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) reminds residents that free treatment options are available that can be used to prevent severe illness and hospitalization from COVID-19. Several treatments, including monoclonal antibody infusions and oral therapeutics, are widely available across the state. Treatment is available for people who are at increased risk of severe disease, test positive for COVID-19 and have any symptoms, even mild ones such as a runny nose or cough. Residents who think they may be eligible and have questions on if treatment is right for them should contact their medical provider or call the Gothams COVID-19 Self-Referral Treatment Line at (508) 213-1380. The line is a free resource that can help refer individuals to sites for monoclonal antibody treatments.

“These therapeutics, including COVID pills and infusions, are potentially lifesaving but for eligible individuals, they need to be administered quickly to be effective,” said Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner Margret Cooke. “They can help keep you from getting very sick and out of the hospital. If you test positive for COVID-19 and have any kind of risk factor such as diabetes or high blood pressure or asthma—we encourage you to call your provider or the Gothams phone number immediately to see if the treatment could be right for you. Do not wait to see if your symptoms worsen.”

$75 MILLION FOR SMALL BUSINESSES IMPACTED BY COVID-19 — The Baker administration announced the launch of a $75 million program, funded by money from the $4 billion American Rescue Plan, to provide grants to businesses impacted by COVID-19. The program provides $50 million toward businesses that employ between two and 50 people and which reach underserved markets and businesses owned by minorities, women, veterans, the disabled and people who identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

The other $25 million would go to small businesses that did not qualify for an earlier $700 million program under which some 15,000 businesses received grants. Under both categories, grants will range from $10,000 to $75,000, and funding can be used for employee and benefit costs, mortgage interest, rent, utilities and interest on debt.

“We have been proud to support small businesses in every corner of the commonwealth through the small business program during the pandemic, but we know that some challenges remain for many businesses,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “With the launch of this new effort, we can build on … successful work and direct important federal funding to those businesses with the greatest need quickly and effectively.”

“The challenges faced by Massachusetts’ small businesses during COVID have been enormous, but in my district and across the state, I have seen so many entrepreneurs and innovators respond with incredible perseverance and grace,” said Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). “Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and they deserve our support.”

More information is at www.empoweringSmallBusiness.org

PRIVACY OF AUDIO OF 911 CALLS (H 1513) — The House gave initial approval to legislation that would prohibit the release of the audio version of 911 calls to the public or media except when authorized by the caller; requested by law enforcement agencies for investigative purposes; or when a court order finds that the right of the public to the release of the recording outweighs the privacy interests of the individual who made the call. The measure does allow the release of a written transcript of the audio at any time.

“I am pleased that this proposal is moving forward. 911 calls are often among the most traumatic moments of an individual’s life and recordings of those calls shouldn’t be fodder for sensationalist journalism,” said sponsor Rep. Michael Day (D-Stoneham), House chair of the Committee on the Judiciary. “This bill would create a presumption of privacy of those recordings while still providing a public transcript of the calls and a process for releasing the recordings when the public interest outweighs individual privacy concerns.”

JFK HOLIDAY (H 1030) — The State Administration and Regulatory Oversight Committee has recommended passage of a bill that would establish an official holiday in Massachusetts to commemorate the life of President John F. Kennedy and promote civic engagement and voter participation. The holiday would be officially observed annually on Election Day—the last Sunday in November in all odd-numbered years and the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in all even-numbered years.

The bill would also create an 11-member commission on the celebration of JFK Day to recommend activities that promote civic engagement and voter participation including establishing an inclusive education curriculum, hosting special events, marketing, voter engagement activities and voter registration.

“I am proud to have filed this bill to honor the life and legacy of President John F. Kennedy and to encourage civic engagement in our commonwealth and voter participation in our elections,” said Sen. Paul Feeney (D-Foxborough). “As the first constituents served by John F. Kennedy on his path to the White House, we have the opportunity to rightfully honor a native son that rose to be one of the greatest presidents in our nation’s history.”

“NON-EMERGENCY” VS. “NON-ESSENTIAL” STATE WORKERS — “Due to the upcoming winter storm, the Baker administration has directed all non-emergency state employees working in Executive Branch agencies to telework [work from home] when possible, on Friday, February 25,” read the press release on the governor’s website.

Up until a few years ago, governors often used the term “non-essential” employees instead of “non-emergency.” Those governors were often criticized and asked why “non-essential” employees were hired in the first place. Somewhere along the line, someone figured it out and ever since that time governors have used term “non-emergency.”

BILLS SHIPPED OFF TO STUDY COMMITTEES — Several bills were shipped off to a study committee where bills are rarely actually studied and are essentially defeated. It is another way to kill a proposal instead of holding a vote on the bill itself. Here are three of the bills that the Judiciary Committee has recommended be shipped off to a study committee.

DIGITAL ASSETS OF THE DECEASED (S 973) — Establishes regulations over what happens to a decedent’s digital assets including social media, e-mail and online accounts.

“I filed this bill because people deserve to have control over who can access their online personal information,” said sponsor Sen. Cindy Creem (D-Newton). “That’s true both during life and after death. Right now, however, there’s no framework that enables Massachusetts residents to know what will happen to their digital data when they die, and there’s no guarantee that a family can obtain important information following an unexpected death. I’m disappointed the bill was sent to study, but I’ll keep working to bring clarity to this uncertain area of the law.”

ENCOURAGING SUICIDE (S 1032) — Imposes up to a 5-year prison sentence on a person who encourages another person to commit suicide.

The bill, called “Conrad’s Law,” is named after then- 18-year-old Conrad Roy III who, in 2014, killed himself after being pressured by then- 17-year-old Michelle Carter via a phone call following thousands of texts. Carter was convicted of manslaughter and served 12 months of a 15-month prison sentence.

Other actions that will result in a prison sentence include intentionally coercing or encouraging the person to commit or attempt to commit suicide; intentionally providing the physical means, or knowledge of such means, to the other person for the purpose of enabling that other person to commit or attempt to commit suicide and, as a result, the other person commits or attempts to commit suicide; participating in a physical act which causes, aids, encourages or assists the other person in committing or attempting to commit suicide.

“Right now, Massachusetts is one of only eight states without a law criminalizing coerced suicide,” said sponsor Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Andover). “That needs to change. Cyberbullying and teen suicide rates have spiked dramatically in the past decade, and the pandemic has made it all the more important to focus on youth suicide prevention. Medical experts are deeply concerned about the pandemic’s long-term effects on the mental health of young people.”

BAN PUBLIC FUNDS AND CAMPAIGN FUNDS FROM BEING USED TO PAY AWARDS IN SEXUAL HARASSMENT CASES (S 955) — Prohibits the use of public funds to pay awards, fines or settlements in cases where public officials are found responsible or guilty of sexual harassment or assault, be shipped off to a study committee.

“In my view, taxpayers should not foot the bill for public officials who commit sexual assault or harassment,” said sponsor Sen. Jo Comerford (D-Northampton). “Those who are found guilty of assault or harassment should not be bailed out by taxpayers. I am disappointed that the bill is not advancing this session and will continue to press for its passage in future legislative sessions.”

Quotable quotes

“Before deciding to impose new fees on riders, the MBTA should re-examine its fare collection contract, and adopt a Low-Income Fare that would save low-income people millions.”

— Collique Williams of the Public Transit Public Good Coalition on the failure by the MBTA board to create a Low-Income Fare for MBTA riders.

“PFAS is a toxic chemical already contaminating an alarming number of local water resources throughout the commonwealth—spewing it into the air and atmosphere would exacerbate the existing problem and pose a constant threat to the public health of those nearby. Until proper safety standards are put in place, we really ought to press ‘pause’ so that developers do not pollute the air and water we need to survive.”

— Sen. Mark Pacheco (D-Taunton) on the State Administration and Regulatory Oversight Committee recommending passage of his bill that would establish a moratorium on the procurement of PFAS-emitting structures and activities.

“Operation Money Wise empowers our veterans and their families to make informed financial decisions. With this funding, more service members will have access to resources and tools that will help them improve their economic well-being.”

— State Treasurer Deb Goldberg announcing the state is now accepting applications for grants that support veteran-serving non-profit organizations, public agencies and higher education institutions to improve pre-existing financial education programs or to create new ones aimed at increasing personal finance knowledge within the military, veteran, family and survivor community.

“Boston’s coastal waters are at risk of dangerous, toxic pollution, The public spent millions to clean up Boston Harbor decades ago, and sustaining that incredible progress requires the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) to get serious about doing its job properly.”

— Heather Govern, vice president of clean air and water at the Conservation Law Foundation on its intent to sue the MWRA for Clean Water Act violations.

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 Feb. 21-25, the House met for a total of 31 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 30 minutes.

Monday, Feb. 21, no House session; no Senate session

Tuesday, Feb. 22, House 11 to 11:13 a.m.; Senate 11:05 to 11:22 a.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 23, no House session; no Senate session

Thursday, Feb. 24, House 11:01 to 11:19 a.m.; Senate 11:11 to 11:24 a.m.

Friday, Feb. 25, no House session; no Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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