Volume 39-Report No. 30 •  July 21-15, 2014
Copyright © 2014 Beacon Hill Roll Call. All Rights Reserved. By Bob Katzen
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THE HOUSE AND SENATEBeacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives on three roll calls and local senators on four roll calls from the week of July 21-25.

Our Legislators in the House and Senate for Somerville:

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.

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CLINIC ACCESS (S 2283)
House 116-35, approved a bill filed in response to the recent U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that struck down a 2007 Massachusetts law that established a 35-foot protest-free buffer zone at reproductive health care centers. The measure authorizes law enforcement officials to issue a written order mandating immediate withdrawal of anyone who substantially “impedes” access to a facility entrance or driveway. The individuals must then remain at least 25 feet from the facility’s entrances and driveways for a maximum of eight hours. The measure defines “impede” as “to obstruct, block, detain or render passage impossible, unsafe or unreasonably difficult.”

Supporters said the bill balances public safety and access considerations with the right of free speech. They noted it regulates the conduct of individuals who are outside clinics, not their speech.

Opponents said proponents should abide by the Supreme Court ruling and not look for ways to rush through a bill that tries to get around the court’s decision. They argued the bill takes away the rights of protesters.

Only final House and Senate approval are needed prior to the measure going to the Gov. Deval Patrick.

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

Rep. Denise Provost       Yes
Rep. Timothy Toomey    Yes

PROTECT PROTESTERS (S 2283)
House 39-110, rejected an amendment that would provide the same protections to protesters as the measure provides to patients by applying the same rules and punishment to anyone who interferes with the rights of anyone to “peaceably assemble, peaceably protest, peaceably counsel, or peaceably pray at the location.”

Amendment supporters said this would treat both sides equally and argued one constitutional right should not supersede another.

Amendment opponents said the bill is a balanced one that already protects the rights of protestors to peaceably assemble and exercise free speech.

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

Rep. Denise Provost        No
Rep. Timothy Toomey    No

APPLY LAW TO ALL FACILITIES (S 2283)
House 31-119, rejected an amendment that would make the proposed access bill applicable to all business or public buildings.

Amendment supporters said this will ensure that people outside of all buildings, not just reproductive health care centers, will be protected from fear and intimidation.

Amendment opponents said this amendment is a solution in search of a problem. They argued that opponents have proposed this amendment and many others in an attempt to sidetrack the bill.

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

Rep. Denise Provost       No
Rep. Timothy Toomey    No

PRIVACY PROTECTION (S 2299)
Senate 38-0, approved and sent to the House a bill that would require law enforcement officials to obtain a warrant to access personal information held by Internet and cell phone companies. Under current law, the government can get these records simply by requesting them directly from the phone and Internet companies. The bill also establishes procedures for notifying a person when the government obtains his or her personal information via a warrant and provides for exceptions to the new law in emergency situations.

Amendment supporters said this will ensure current statutes governing privacy keep up with modern technology. They argued the measure will continue to protect the fundamental right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Sal DiDomenico    Yes
Sen. Patricia Jehlen       Yes

CAMPAIGN FINANCE LAWS (S 2264)
Senate 38-0, approved a bill raising from $500 to $1,000 the maximum individuals can contribute to any one candidate in a calendar year, beginning in January 2015. The measure also requires super Political Action Committees (PACs) to release to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance the names of their contributors within seven days of running an ad and within 24 hours starting 10 days before a primary or general election. Under current law, these PACs don’t have to reveal their donors until just a few days before the primary election and later shortly before the general election. Another provision requires the names of the PACs’ top five contributors who donate over $5,000 to be revealed in any ad aired by the PAC.

These PACs are created to help candidates and are often run by the candidate’s former staffers or associates who use the PAC to fund positive ads about the candidate and/or run negative ads against the candidate’s opponents. A candidate’s own committee’s contributions are limited by federal law but super PACs can legally accept unlimited donations.

The bill was filed in response to a Supreme Court decision ruling that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting corporations, unions and individuals from donating unlimited funds to PACs that do not donate directly to candidates or political parties. Critics say the decision has led to corporations, unions and wealthy individuals contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to PACs and having an undue influence on elections that is drowning out the voices of everyday Americans. Supporters of the ruling hail it as a victory for freedom of speech.

Supporters of the bill said that while the state cannot overrule the Supreme Court, it can ensure that voters are regularly informed who is funding these influential PACs.

The House has approved a different version of the bill. A House-Senate conference committee will try to craft a compromise measure.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Sal DiDomenico    Yes
Sen. Patricia Jehlen       Yes

PROHIBIT UNIONS FROM DONATING AN ADDITIONAL $15,000 (S 2264)
Senate 10-28, rejected an amendment that would eliminate a current law that allows trade associations, unions and other organizations that do not raise money for political purposes to contribute an annual aggregate total of $15,000 to candidates. For example, a union can give $15,000 to one candidate, $7,500 to two, $5,000 to three, etc. Once the union or other organization has spent $15,000 for political purposes, it is subject to the same campaign finance limits applicable to individuals. That limit is currently $500 per candidate and would jump to $1,000 if the bill is approved.

Amendment supporters said it is unfair for unions and these other groups to be allowed to contribute $15,000 more than individuals.

Amendment opponents said the amendment is aimed at unions that typically donate to Democrats and is and designed to hurt Democratic candidates.

(A “Yes” vote is for prohibiting the $15,000 contribution. A “No” vote is for allowing it.)

Sen. Sal DiDomenico    No
Sen. Patricia Jehlen       No

LOCAL HOUSING AUTHORITIES (S 2292)
Senate 38-0, approved a bill making changes in the regulation of local housing authorities. Provisions include requiring one of the five members of the housing authority in a town to be a public housing tenant; requiring training for board members and executive directors; requiring all housing authorities to participate in a performance-based monitoring program; requiring the state to provide uniform standards for evaluating housing authority operations; and requiring annual surveys asking public housing residents about the maintenance and repair of units and the services provided.

Supporters said the bill would increase transparency, accountability and efficiency and establish new roles for tenants in the governing of their local housing authority.

The House has approved a different version of the bill. A House-Senate conference committee will work to draft a compromise measure.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Sal DiDomenico    Yes
Sen. Patricia Jehlen       Yes

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ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
 
CAP OUT-OF-POCKET RX COSTS (S 2096) – The Senate approved and sent to the House a bill that would cap annual out-of-pocket prescription drug expenses for patients at $1,250 for an individual and $2,500 for families.

Supporters said the high cost of prescriptions makes it difficult if not impossible for some patients, especially ones with diseases like cancer or multiple sclerosis that require expensive specialty medication, to continue their treatment.

THREE FOUND GUILTY – A jury convicted Former Probation Commissioner John J. O’Brien and two of his deputies, William H. Burke III and Elizabeth V. Tavares, of racketeering conspiracy. O’Brien and Tavares were also found guilty of four counts of committing mail fraud.

Prosecutors from U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office argued that the trio was involved in a fixed hiring process that resulted in the hiring of politically connected unqualified candidates for Probation Department jobs in exchange for getting the department’s budget increased by the Legislature.

Sentencing is set for November 18 but the trio’s attorneys plan to appeal the verdict.
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RECYCLING IN STATE BUILDINGS (S 2308) – The Senate approved and sent to the House a bill requiring recycling in public buildings. The measure would require all state buildings and facilities to implement a uniform recycling program for many items including lead batteries, glass and metal containers, recyclable paper, tires, fluorescent lamps and construction material.

Supporters said the bill will help the environment and also set an example for businesses and individuals to follow.

ALLOW LIQUOR STORES TO OPEN EARLIER ON SUNDAYS (H 228) – Gov. Patrick signed into law a bill allowing liquor stores to open at 10 a.m. on Sundays. Current law prohibits stores from opening until noon. A total ban on Sunday sales of alcohol was state law until 2003 when the ban was repealed.

Supporters say the measure will allow Bay State stores to compete with stores in border states that open earlier on Sundays.

Opponents say studies have shown the earlier hours do not increase liquor sales but rather spread existing sales out over a longer period of time.

FLOOD INSURANCE (H 3783) – Gov. Patrick signed into law a bill that would prohibit creditors from requiring homeowners to purchase flood insurance in amounts that exceed the outstanding balance of their mortgage. Other provisions prohibit lenders from requiring coverage for the contents of a home or including a deductible of less than $5,000.

Supporters say this would help reduce premiums for homeowners affected by new federal regulations that threaten to drive up the cost of flood insurance.

Opponents expressed concern that the bill would leave some homeowners with insufficient insurance and said the bill protects banks at the risk of homeowners.

THEFT FROM RETAIL STORES (H 1474) – The House gave initial approval to a bill creating new crimes relating to theft from retail stores. The new crimes include using duct tape or other devices that block sensors designed to set off an alarm if not removed by the cashier; using an emergency exit to escape following the theft; and creating a bogus sales receipt or UPC code. The measure also creates a new crime of working in an organized retail theft ring.

Supporters said that these theft rings are estimated to cost Massachusetts retailers more than $160 million annually. They noted the rings are selling the stolen items at flea markets and on websites like eBay.

LICENSE NATUROPATHIC DOCTORS (H 4304) – The House gave initial approval to a bill creating a state board to license and regulate naturopathic doctors. The measure also requires that these doctors have extensive training in a naturopathic program at an approved naturopathic medical college. The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians defines naturopathic doctors as “primary care and specialty doctors who address the underlying cause of disease through effective, individualized natural therapies that integrate the healing powers of body, mind and spirit.”

Supporters said this increasingly popular practice should be regulated and licensed by the state in order to ensure that these professionals are qualified and to protect against fraud.
A similar bill, approved by both branches in 2012, was vetoed by Gov. Patrick.

SHARK FINS (H 4089)
Gov. Patrick signed into law a bill banning the possession and sale of shark fins in the Bay State. Shark finning is the practice of cutting off the fins of sharks and then throwing them back into the ocean to die a slow and painful death.

Supporters say it is outrageous that this is done merely to make shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy. The bill was spearheaded by Sean Lesniak, a nine-year-old boy from Lowell.

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QUOTABLE QUOTES

“I’d probably vote against it” — Gov. Patrick on a possible 2016 ballot question legalizing marijuana.

“I’m flattered to think that people would say that … I’ve got enough to keep me occupied right now than to think about 2016.” — House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) on rumors that he might want to change the House rules and remain speaker beyond 2016 when under the current House rule limiting speakers to eight years, he is no longer eligible.

“Hi, this is Don calling you from the crime investigation unit of the IRS, Internal Revenue Service. The reason of this call is to inform you that the IRS has issued a warrant against you, and your physical property is being monitored right now. So it is very important that we get a call back from you today.” — The attorney general’s office releasing a transcript of how a new scam works. Victims are told they must settle their tax debt over the phone by providing their debit or credit card numbers or immediately wiring funds to avoid being arrested.

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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 July 21-15, the House met for a total of 8 hours and 16 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 10 hours and 7 minutes.

Mon. July 21
House 11:01 a.m. to 12:50 p.m.
Senate 11:07 a.m. to 11:47 a.m.

Tues. July 22
House 11:01 a.m. to 11:31 a.m.
Senate 1:02 p.m. to 2:42 p.m.

Wed. July 23
House 1:07 p.m. to 6:44 p.m.
Senate 2:03 p.m. to 5:55 p.m.

Thurs. July 24
House 11:02 a.m. to 11:22 a.m.
Senate 1:00 p.m. to 4:55 p.m.

Fri. July 25
No House session
No Senate session

 

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Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com