Volume 41-Report No. 19 • May 9-13, 2016
Copyright © 2016 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: Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ and representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of May 9-13.

SUPPORT FOR VETERANS (H 4278)
House 154-0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would help veterans by improving veterans’ access to housing and education and protecting them from discrimination. Provisions include establishing the new Office of State Veterans’ Homes and Housing; giving veterans preference in public housing; and making all children of prisoners of war eligible for the Public Service Scholarship. Currently, the scholarship is limited to children of the Vietnam War POWs. This legislation would extend eligibility to all children of POWs.

Supporters said the state should provide these additional benefits and opportunities to the thousands of Bay State veterans who have served and are still serving our nation. They noted that one in three homeless people in the nation are veterans. They pointed out that one in five Massachusetts veterans suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and 11 percent suffer traumatic brain injuries.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Christine Barber      Yes
Rep. Denise Provost        Yes
Rep. Timothy Toomey    Yes

EXEMPT VETERANS FROM AUTO EXCISE TAX (H 4278)
House 154-0, approved an amendment that would exempt all active-duty military members serving outside Massachusetts from paying the excise tax on automobiles. Current law allows but does not require cities and towns to exempt those active duty veterans.

Amendment supporters said it is unfair and unreasonable to charge an auto excise tax to soldiers defending the nation. They noted the tax bill is sent to the home of the deployed soldier and is often unopened and becomes delinquent until the soldier returns and is faced with penalties, late fees and others costs.

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)

Rep. Christine Barber     Yes
Rep. Denise Provost        Yes
Rep. Timothy Toomey    Yes

DONATE MONEY TO HELP LOCAL VETERANS (H 4278)
House 152-0, approved an amendment that would allow cities and towns to designate a checkoff box on local property tax bills or auto excise tax bills where taxpayers can voluntarily donate to help local veterans. The donation would be above what they taxpayer owes in taxes. The funds would be used to provide support for veterans and their dependents with food, transportation, heat and oil expenses.

Amendment supporters said this would help thousands of struggling veterans and their families. They noted 100 percent of the money would go to help veterans and all the money would be used only for local veterans who live in the city or town.

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)

Rep. Christine Barber     Yes
Rep. Denise Provost        Yes
Rep. Timothy Toomey    Yes

PROHIBIT DISCRIMINATION AGAINST TRANSGENDER PEOPLE (S 735)
Senate 33-4, approved and sent to the House the bill that would expand current law prohibiting discrimination against transgender people by adding “gender identity” to existing Massachusetts civil rights laws that already prohibit discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, sex, religion and marital status. Public accommodations is defined as “a place, whether licensed or unlicensed, which is open to and accepts or solicits the patronage of the general public.” This includes hotels, restaurants, retail stores, malls, theaters, parks, medical offices, libraries and public transportation. The debate centered around the fact that proposal would also allow access to legally gender-segregated public facilities, including restrooms and locker rooms, based on a person’s gender identity rather than on their sex.

In 2011, the Legislature approved and former Gov. Deval Patrick signed a law that added “gender identity” to the state’s non-discrimination laws, to prohibit discrimination in employment, education, housing and credit against transgender persons. That law, however, does not prohibit discrimination in public accommodations.

Supporters said transgender individuals still face the threat of discrimination in many public accommodations. They argued that under current Massachusetts law, there is no protection ensuring that transgender people cannot be turned away from a restroom, locker room, hotel, restaurant, retail stores and many other places simply because they are transgender. They said it is time to have Massachusetts join the other 17 states that offer these protections.

Opponents said the privacy rights of children matter and asked how youngsters might react to a transgender classmate using the same bathroom. They argued that bathroom and locker room use should be based on the gender on one’s birth certificate, not on an inner sense of feeling or expression. They said that male predators could use this law as cover to excuse their presence in women-only spaces.

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

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    Yes

IMPROPER USE PENALTY (S 735)
Senate 11-26, rejected an amendment that would impose specific penalties on any person who improperly asserts gender identity to gain access to a sex-segregated facility like a bathroom.

Amendment supporters said the bill is lacking in this area and does not include specific penalties for this improper assertion.

Amendment opponents said current criminal laws already cover this offense under laws prohibiting trespassing, accosting a member of the opposite sex or public indecency.

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

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    No

MUST HAVE PARTITIONED SHOWERS (S 735)
Senate 6-31, rejected an amendment that would exempt from the transgender bill any gender-based locker rooms and showering facilities that do not provide for separation between the users.

Amendment supporters said this would prevent a transgender woman (a person who was assigned male at birth but whose gender identity is that of a woman) from taking showers alongside women unless there are individual shower stalls. They said one of the main concerns of opponents of the bill is having a person with the male anatomy in an open shower with women.

Amendment opponents said the amendment waters down the bill. They said transgender women are not trying to shower with women but are just trying to get through the day without being harassed or accosted.

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

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    No

REGIONAL ADVISORY BOARDS ON DISCRIMINATION (S 2283)
Senate 36-0, approved a bill that would require that individuals who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, questioning or transgender be placed on any local or regional advisory boards created by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). Current law requires several groups to be represented on these boards including lending institutions, private employers, labor organizations, minority, racial and ethnic groups, women, welfare recipients, seniors and handicapped persons.

Supporters said it simply makes sense to add members of the  Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community to these anti-discrimination boards.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    Yes

PROPERTY TAX EXEMPTION FOR VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS (S 1537)
Senate 36-0, approved a bill allowing local cities and towns to give a property tax exemption to volunteer, call or auxiliary firefighters or emergency medical technicians.

Supporters said these people work hard without pay and local communities should have the right to offer them property tax relief.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    Yes

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ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

BABY SAFE HAVEN LAW (H 114) – The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would allow parents who want to surrender their baby seven days old or younger to arrange a meeting to give the baby to an emergency responder at any agreed upon location without facing criminal prosecution. Current law allows parents to leave these babies at a police or fire station or hospital emergency room.

Supporters said the bill will save more lives and give additional young, scared mothers one more option to put their babies in safe hands. They noted that 25 babies have been surrendered in Massachusetts since the safe-haven law went into effect several years ago.

ENCOURAGE MIDDLE INCOME HOUSING (H 4211) – The House gave initial approval to a bill that would create a new local option property tax exemption for a property owner who develops middle-income housing. If adopted by a city or town, this would exempt the property owner from up to 100 percent of the property tax for the first two years during construction. Following construction, a municipality would be allowed to exempt the taxpayer for three additional years at 75 percent in the first year, 50 percent in the second year and 25 percent in the third year.

CAP SALARY OF CHARITY EXECUTIVES (S 875) – The Judiciary Committee has recommended that a proposal that would cap at $500,000 the compensation of any executives working for a public charity that takes in $1 million or more in annual gross revenue be sent to a study committee. Most measures that are shipped off to a study committee are never actually studied and are essentially defeated. The bill also prohibits any members of a public charity board of directors from being paid. It allows charities to seek a waiver on the compensation question “only if deemed in the public interest of the commonwealth.”

EXTENDED UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS FOR LOCKED OUT WORKERS’ BILL (S 2172) – The Committee on Labor and Workforce Development has recommended that legislation that would extend unemployment benefits for 26 weeks to workers whose employers have locked them out of their workplace, be shipped off to a study committee. The proposal was filed in response to Allegheny Technologies’ decision to lock its workers out of some of its nationwide facilities including a six-month lockout for 120 workers at its New Bedford plant.

Supporters say that without this law, employees are at a disadvantage because the company just drags on with the lockout, knowing that eventually the workers will run out of money and perhaps concede.

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QUOTABLE QUOTES

“There’s something about water that brings people together and this is just an effort to bring back that notion that water is a public good.” — Rep. Carolyn Dykema (D-Holliston) at the official opening of a public water station in the Statehouse at which people can fill their own water bottle or cup with water.
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“Today the Senate stood up for the transgender people in our state who have suffered discrimination and harassment for far too long without these critical legal protections in place.” — Attorney General Maura Healey on passage of the bill prohibiting discrimination against transgender people.

“The Bathroom Bill will force women to undress or shower in the presence of men. This violates a fundamental right to personal privacy.” — Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute on the same bill.

“There is no question that Massachusetts is number one in terms of providing services to our veterans. Although we do so much for our veterans, it is important that we continue to improve the lives of those who have so gallantly served their country.” — Rep. Jerry Parisella (D-Beverly), Chair of the Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs on House passage of a bill providing benefits to veterans.

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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 9-13, the House met for a total of four hours and 51 minutes and the Senate met for a total of four hours and 47 minutes.

Mon. May 9
House 11:03 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.
Senate 11:13 a.m. to 11:27 a.m.

Tues. May 10
No House session
No Senate session

Wed. May 11
House 11:00 a.m. to 3:33 p.m.
No Senate session

Thurs. May 12
House 11:06 a.m. to 11:17 a.m.
Senate 11:07 a.m. to 3:40 p.m.

Fri. May 13
No House session
No Senate session

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Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com