Volume 40-Report No. 19 • May 15, 2015
Copyright © 2015 Beacon Hill Roll Call. All Rights Reserved. By Bob Katzen
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Our Legislators in the House and Senate for Somerville:

barber_webRep. Christine Barber
DISTRICT REPRESENTED: Thirty-fourth Middlesex. – Consisting of all precincts in wards 4 and 5, precinct 1 of ward 7, and precinct 2 of ward 8, of the city of Medford, precincts 1 and 2 of ward 4, and all precincts of ward 7, of the city of Somerville, both in the county of Middlesex.

Rep. Denise Provost
DISTRICT REPRESENTED: Twenty-seventh Middlesex. – Consisting of precinct 3 of ward 2, all precincts of ward 3, precinct 3 of ward 4, and all precincts of wards 5 and 6, of the city of Somerville, in the county of Middlesex.

Rep. Timothy Toomey
DISTRICT REPRESENTED: Twenty-sixth Middlesex. – Consisting of all precincts of ward 1, precinct 1 of ward 2, precincts 1 and 2 of ward 3, and precinct 1 of ward 6, of the city of Cambridge, and all precincts of ward 1 and precincts 1 and 2 of ward 2, of the city of Somerville, both in the county of Middlesex.

Sen. Patricia Jehlen
DISTRICT REPRESENTED: Second Middlesex. – Consisting of the cities of Cambridge, wards 9 to 11, inclusive, Medford and Somerville, and the town of Winchester, precincts 4 to 7, inclusive, in the county of Middlesex.

*THE HOUSE AND SENATE. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION
The two chambers met briefly in a constitutional convention, a joint meeting of the two branches convened to consider changes to the state’s constitution. The convention took no action and recessed until October 21. Any proposed constitutional amendment needs the votes of only 50 out of 200 legislators in the 2015-2016 session and the same in the 2017-2018 session in order to appear on the November 2018 ballot.

Here are some of the proposed amendments on the agenda:

CORPORATIONS (S 53, H 933) – Declares that corporations are not people and do not have the same rights as individuals. Also declares that money is not free speech and may be regulated. These amendments are in response to the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission which allows corporations to donate an unlimited amount of money to Super PACs that are formed to support or oppose candidates. The PAC is not allowed to communicate directly with the candidate or his or her campaign.

SPENDING MONEY FROM RAINY DAY FUND (S 61) – Requires a two-thirds instead of a majority vote of the Legislature in order to spend money from the state’s Rainy Day Fund. The fund is a stabilization fund established by the Legislature to ensure that money is put aside in case of an economic downturn. The money can only be spent to make up for revenue shortfalls or federal funding reductions and when events threaten the health, safety or welfare of citizens.

Amendment supporters say that the two-thirds requirement would ensure that the money is used only when absolutely necessary. They noted that the higher hurdle would make it difficult to raid the fund unless there is a real emergency and overwhelming legislative support.

Opponents say that a two-thirds requirement is too strict and nearly impossible to obtain. They noted that it only takes a majority vote to place money into the fund and argued that it should take the same vote to spend it.

REDISTRICTING COMMISSION (H 567) – Requires that the Legislature establish a seven-member redistricting commission to draw Massachusetts legislative and congressional districts every ten years. Commission members would include a college dean or professor of law, political science or government appointed by the governor; a retired judge appointed by the attorney general; and an expert in civil rights law appointed by the secretary of state. The other four members would be chosen by the original three members from a list of candidates nominated by the House speaker, House minority leader, Senate president and Senate minority leader. Currently, a commission is appointed by the House speaker and Senate president and is controlled by the majority party.

The commission would submit the plan to the Legislature for an up or down vote. The proposal requires the commission to follow specific rules including ensuring that districts are compact and contiguous and are not drawn for the purpose of diluting the voting strength of a racial minority, political party or any individual candidate. The commission would also be required to follow other guidelines including preventing a city or town from being divided into more than one district.

Amendment supporters say that the majority party in the Legislature is not impartial and often gerrymanders districts to protect incumbents. They note that this antiquated, partisan system allows the majority party to control the entire process and permits “legislators to choose their voters.”

Amendment opponents say the commission would be composed of unaccountable, unelected and unknown members who are not responsible to voters. They argued that elected, accountable members of the Legislature should be responsible for this important and tricky job of redistricting.

LIMIT JUDGE’S TERMS (H 1343) – Limits the state’s judges to serving seven years on the bench, at which time they would be eligible for reappointment by the Governor’s Council. Under current law, judges are appointed “for life” until they turn 70.

Amendment supporters say it is nearly impossible to remove judges from the bench today.

Amendment opponents say allowing judges to serve uninterrupted “for life” keeps them above politics.

RAISE RETIREMENT AGE FOR JUDGES (H 1609) – Raises from 70 to 77 the mandatory retirement ages for judges.

Amendment supporters say that requiring retirement at 70 was instituted many years ago when people’s life expectancy was lower than it is today.

Opponents say the age 70 cutoff has worked well and should not be changed.

LIMIT EMINENT DOMAIN (H 1400) – Prohibits private property from being taken by the government for private commercial enterprise, economic development or any other private use without the consent of the owner.

A similar measure was originally filed in 2008 as a response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows communities to seize private homes and businesses solely for commercial purposes. The ruling also allows states to establish laws prohibiting the practice.

Amendment supporters say it is important to protect landowners from these land grabs by the government.

Amendment opponents say the proposal is too strict and ties the hands of government in an emergency.

ALLOW SOME FELONS TO VOTE (H 3350) – Allows jailed felons to vote in elections unless they were convicted of indecent assault and battery on a child; attempt to commit murder by poison, drowning or strangulation; murder, manslaughter or assault with intent to commit rape; or any other crime for which the person may be punished by imprisonment in a state prison for life. Currently, the state’s constitution prohibits all convicted felons currently in prison from voting.

Amendment supporters say the current law goes too far and should only apply to the worst of felons.

Amendment opponents say the current law was approved by voters in Massachusetts in 2000 and has worked well.

LIMIT CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDENTS (H 1570) – Prohibits initiative petitions from proposing a constitutional amendment that would restrict the constitutional right to freedom and equality, or the right of each individual to be protected by society in the enjoyment of life, liberty and property.

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

$38 BILLION FISCAL 2016 STATE BUDGET – The Senate Ways and Means Committee approved its version of a $38 billion fiscal 2016 budget bill. It is a 3.1 percent increase above last year’s budget. The Senate begins debate on the proposal on Tuesday, May 19.

EDUCATION LEGISLATION – The Education Committee held a hearing on several proposals including raising from 16 to 18 the age at which a student may choose to drop out of school (H 313); prohibiting teachers, guidance counselors and other school personnel from referring students under 18 to any outside counselor  who does not work directly for the school without parental permission unless the parents are suspected of abuse or neglect of the child (H 408);  and establishing the State Seal of Biliteracy to be awarded to high school graduates who have mastered speaking, reading and writing in a foreign language in addition to English (H 422).

TAX PROPOSALS – The Revenue Committee held a hearing on several bills including legislation allowing cities and towns to create a municipal income tax by replacing a portion of its property tax with a surcharge on the taxable personal income of residents of the municipality (S 1447);  providing up to a $500 property tax exemption for deaf homeowners (S 1533);  providing up to a $2,500 property tax exemption for volunteer, call or auxiliary firefighters and emergency medical technicians in exchange for their volunteer service (S1537);  allowing owners of property valued at less than $500,000 to be eligible for tax incentives if they improve their property including paying no taxes on the improvement for the first year and then one-half  the second year

The proposal also allows cities and towns to designate a place on their municipal real estate tax bills permitting taxpayers to voluntarily check a box that would allow them to donate $1 or more to establish a city or town economic aid fund for the purpose of maintaining municipal services in periods of instability (S 1547). The donation would be above and beyond the regular property tax.

PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS (S 896) – The Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a proposal that would prohibit state and local communities from adopting or implementing environmental and development policies that deliberately or inadvertently infringe or restrict private property rights without due process.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“I sure wish that the NFL would spend about a tenth of the time that’s it’s spending on this on issues of domestic violence and sexual assault. I’m just struck by the fact that somebody like Ray Rice gets a two-game suspension and Tom Brady, over deflated balls, is facing a four-game suspension. It doesn’t add up for me.” — Attorney General Maura Healey on the suspension of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for four games.

“This is a tremendous recognition of our collective efforts and the many initiatives in place throughout the commonwealth which have contributed to our current status as the fourth friendliest bicycle state.” — Stephanie Pollack, Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary and CEO, on a report that ranked the Bay State as the fourth friendliest bicycle state.
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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 May 11-15, the House met for a total of one hour and 57 minutes and the Senate met for a total of one hour and 10 minutes.

Mon. May 11
House 11:03 a.m. to 12:29 p.m.
Senate 11:04 a.m. to 11:48 a.m.

Tues. May 12
House 11:03 a.m. to 11:14 a.m.
Senate 11:06 a.m. to 11:24 a.m.

Wed. May 13
House 12:47 p.m. to 1:01 p.m.
Senate 12:57 p.m. to 12:59 p.m.

Thurs. May 14
House 11:04 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.
Senate 11:02 a.m. to 11:08 a.m.

Fri. May 15
No House session
No Senate session

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Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com