Beacon Hill Roll Call

Published: 5/24/2021 8:58:43 PM

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of May 17-21.

$400 million for new Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke (H 3770)

House 160-0, Senate 40-0, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a bill authorizing $400 million to fund the construction of a new Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke. The push to construct the new home follows the deaths of 77 veteran residents last year as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak at the current facility. A House-Senate confrence committee hammered out this compromise version after the House and Senate approved different versions of the measure.

The bill also provides $200 million to increase geographic equity and accessibility of long-term care services for Bay State veterans with a focus on areas that are not primarily served by the soldiers’ homes in Chelsea or Holyoke. The Baker administration and House and Senate leaders have urged speedy passage of the proposal in order to meet deadlines to apply for as much as $260 million in funding from the federal government, which would leave state taxpayers with a $140 million bill.

“Rebuilding the soldiers’ home in Holyoke and increasing access to services for our veterans is necessary and long overdue, especially after tragically losing many residents of the soldiers’ home to a COVID-19 outbreak last year,” said Sen. Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington) who served as the lead Senate negotiator of the conference committee. “This funding will ensure that the commonwealth’s veterans are met with the services that they deserve and that address their unique and changing needs.”

“Our veterans throughout the commonwealth deserve the very best in care and treatment as they age,” said Sen. Paul Feeney (D-Foxborough) another member of the conference committee. The bill that we enacted today will ensure that their needs are met for generations to come in a safe, comfortable and welcoming soldiers’ home. Additionally, it is critical that this vital taxpayer-funded facility be built efficiently by a local, well-trained, safe and diverse workforce that provides a career pipeline for skilled craftspeople in Western Massachusetts. The bipartisan and collaborative bond authorization bill we sent to the governor is reflective of our values and consistent with our focus on providing equitable and top-notch care to every veteran in the commonwealth.”

“As the senator for the city of Holyoke and the Soldiers’ Home, I know what this new home means to so many in our community,” said Sen. John Velis (D-Westfield), Senate chair of the Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. “This has truly been a long and emotional process that started well before this legislation was first filed. From the very start, families and veterans gave me a very clear message: ‘Get this done.’ We could not let them down and I am proud to say that we have not let them down … The funding authorized in this bill will ensure that the future residents of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and veterans across our commonwealth receive the care with honor and dignity that they have earned in service to our nation. Today’s vote brings us one step closer towards fulfilling that mission.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Donald Berthiaume Yes Rep. Natalie Blais Yes Rep. Daniel Carey Yes Rep. Mindy Domb Yes Rep. Jacob Oliveira Yes Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa Yes Rep. Todd Smola Yes Rep. Susannah Whipps Yes Sen. Joanne Comerford Yes Sen. Adam Hinds Yes Sen. Eric Lesser Yes

COVID-19 Emergency Sick Leave and Unemployment Insurance Changes (H 3771)

House 157-0, Senate 40-0, approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill that would provide qualified workers with up to five days of paid leave for COVID-related emergencies including workers who are sick with the virus, under a quarantine order, recovering from receiving a vaccine or caring for a family member ill with the virus.

The measure is also designed to relieve employers this spring from expensive unexpected unemployment system costs. Many businesses were shocked when they saw their first-quarter unemployment contribution bills and found the solvency assessment rate had jumped from 0.58 percent in 2020 to 9.23 percent in 2021, raising costs in many cases by hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Under the proposal, the state would shift all COVID-related unemployment claims from the solvency fund into a new COVID claims fund and the solvency fund would revert to its original function. Employers, who fund the state's jobless aid system, will still be on the hook in the long term, and a COVID-related assessment on businesses will kick into effect for 2021 and 2022.

“In order for us to fully recover from the pandemic, all Massachusetts workers need access to emergency paid sick time if they are sick with COVID-19, quarantined or need to care for a sick family member,” said Deb Fastino, Executive Director of the Coalition for Social Justice and a member of the Raise Up Massachusetts Steering Committee. “Many essential frontline workers need paid sick time so they can recover from the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

“Massachusetts workers and businesses share the same goal of restoring jobs lost during the COVID pandemic and getting back to work,” said Steve Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. “By spreading this year’s solvency assessment over the next two decades using already authorized borrowing, the House took the necessary step at this time to enable that continued economic recovery. Moving forward, it is critical that we take a hard look at the way we fund our Unemployment Insurance system to ensure that costs are fairly spread out across businesses; that we build substantial reserves during good economic times in order to weather the bad without relying on costly borrowing; and that workers can continue to count on UI benefits as an economic lifeline to provide for their families and boost the Massachusetts economy.”

“The unemployment benefits crisis was directly caused by Gov. Baker’s shutdown of the state’s economy and the Legislature’s failure to act,” said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “The federal government provided relief with its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)

, but the House chose not to use those funds to mitigate the burden the state imposed on employers. It is unconscionable for the state to further abuse devastated businesses when federal funds have been made available to alleviate that pain.”

“This proposal is a good step to help provide employers immediate unemployment insurance tax relief, but it is not a long-term solution,” said National Federation of Independent Business's (NFIB) Massachusetts State Director Christopher Carlozzi. “The state forced businesses to close their doors and rollback operations resulting in widespread layoffs. Because of this, employers alone should not be left to shoulder the entire UI tax burden and policymakers must use some of the billions of dollars in federal aid to help replenish the UI trust fund like so many other states have done.”

“This legislation is an important stopgap step to prevent up to 1,600 percent immediate tax increases for Massachusetts employers,” said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. “It will amortize the multi-billion-dollar COVID-related claims over 20 years, spreading out, but not eliminating the pain. Still there needs to be a shared responsibility with government to cover some of the UI Trust Fund debt. The orders, restrictions, messaging, emergency benefits and fraudulent claims were related to government actions, not that of employers. So there still needs to be a determination on how much of the federal relief dollars under either the CARES Act or ARPA will be the government’s responsibility for the debt of approximately $4 billion. Massachusetts will be receiving $4.5 billion under the ARPA. Most other states have used federal COVID relief dollars to reduce the overall UI tax hit for their employers, and Massachusetts must support their small businesses and employers in a similar way.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Donald Berthiaume Yes Rep. Natalie Blais Yes Rep. Daniel Carey Yes Rep. Mindy Domb Yes Rep. Jacob Oliveira Yes Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa Yes Rep. Todd Smola Yes Rep. Susannah Whipps Present Sen. Joanne Comerford Yes Sen. Adam Hinds Yes Sen. Eric Lesser Yes

Exclude Municipal Workers (H 3771)

House 0-158 (Senate on a voice vote without a roll call) rejected Gov. Baker’s amendment that would exclude municipal employees from the emergency COVID-19 paid leave program.

The Baker administration has defended the exclusion of municipal workers arguing that they already have strong leave protections in place and that many municipalities can access federal funds to implement their own leave programs that could align with state and federal leave guarantees.

Rep. Josh Cutler, (D-Pembroke), House chair of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development disagreed with Baker. “As the speaker has made clear, the House stands firm in supporting COVID emergency paid leave for all Massachusetts workers,” said Cutler. “That includes our municipal employees, the teachers, police officers, firefighters, health agents, janitors, veterans’ agents and many others who have been essential to our state’s COVID-19 response. Further, our actions today to address unemployment solvency account rates will help stem rising costs for employers and small businesses.”

House GOP Minority Leader Brad Jones (R-North Reading) also disagreed with Baker, a fellow Republican. “Having access to emergency paid sick leave is essential to workers who are recovering from the coronavirus, caring for a family member or trying to schedule their vaccination,” Jones said. “Municipal employees—including essential frontline workers like police and firefighters—have also faced numerous challenges created by the COVID-19 global pandemic, and the House’s vote will ensure that they are also entitled to the same paid sick leave benefits as other non-municipal workers.”

(A “No” vote is against the amendment and favors including municipal employees.)

Rep. Donald Berthiaume No Rep. Natalie Blais No Rep. Daniel Carey No Rep. Mindy Domb No Rep. Jacob Oliveira No Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa No Rep. Todd Smola No Rep. Susannah Whipps Present

Also up on Beacon Hill:

Unemployed claimants must look for work — Gov. Baker announced that effective June 15, 2021, the work search requirements will be reinstated for all regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) claimants. Massachusetts temporarily suspended these requirements in March 2020 when the pandemic began.

Under the reinstated regulations, claimants must attest each week that they are making at least three work-search activities and provide proof of that activity to the Department of Unemployment Assistance, if requested, in order to maintain eligibility for UI benefits. Examples of valid work-search activities include completing a job application in person or online with employers who reasonably may be expected to have an opening for suitable work; registering for work and reemployment services with a local Mass Hire Career Center; and using other job search activities, such as reviewing job listings on the internet, newspapers or professional journals, contacting professional associations and networking with colleagues or friends.

“This is very good news for everyone,” said Paul Craney executive director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “Businesses, workers and customers all need to get back to normal and this is a good first step toward that. Businesses are having a hard time hiring workers because the unemployment benefits are so generous. Customers cannot enjoy their favorite businesses because these businesses are dealing with a shortage of workers.”

“I am completely opposed to Gov. Baker’s move to reinstate work search requirements for UI claimants starting June 15th,” said Rep. Mike Connolly (D-Cambridge). “This adds an additional layer of complexity to a UI system that has greatly struggled to deliver benefits in a timely fashion for many residents. Moreover, we’ve just experienced one of the biggest disruptions to the labor market in history, so imposing these requirements right now will tend to perpetuate systemic racism and other inequities by pushing some of our most vulnerable residents into accepting underpaid work or work in unsafe conditions.”

Social Emotional Learning (H 543) — Rep. Ruth Balser (D-Newton) sponsored this bill heard by the Education Committee that would require, as a provision of initial certification and recertification, that all educators and administrators must have training in “strategies to develop students’ social-emotional learning competencies, including self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.”

Quotable quotes: By the numbers edition

The Warren Group, a Massachusetts-based source for real estate and financial data, analytics and market insights released figures showing that the median sale price for a single-family home in the Bay State has sailed past the $500,000 mark for the first time. And the median price of a condominium is not far behind. Here are some of the record-breaking numbers:

$508,000 — median sale price for a single-family home.

$3,200 — estimated monthly mortgage payment for a 30-year mortgage at today’s rates if a buyer put 10 percent ($50,000) down on a $500,000 home.

15,262 — number of single-family home sales recorded year-to-date in Massachusetts—an 11.5 percent increase from the first four months of 2020.

$475,000 — median sale price for a condominium.

27 percent — increase in April 2021 condo sales compared to April 2019.

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.

During the week of May 17-21, the House met for a total of ten hours and eight minutes while the Senate met for a total of six hours and 22 minutes.

Monday, May 17, House 11 a.m. to 1:04 p.m., Senate 11:11 a.m. to 1:08 p.m

Tuesday, May 18, House 11:01 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., no Senate session

Wednesday, May 19, no House session, no Senate session

Thursday, May 20, House 11:02 a.m. to 3:37 p.m.; Senate 11:15 a.m. to 3:40 p.m.

Friday, May 21, no House session, no Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com


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