Volume 39-Report No. 50 •  December 12, 2014
Copyright © 2014 Beacon Hill Roll Call. All Rights Reserved. By Bob Katzen
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THE HOUSE AND SENATE.  There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

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.

*This week, with the end of the 2013-2014 session only weeks away, Beacon Hill Roll Call, in the first of a series of special reports, takes a look at some of the bills that were approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick in the 2013-2014 session.

CHANGES IN ELECTION LAWS (H 4072)
House 147-4, Senate 38-0, approved a law making changes in the state’s election laws. Key provisions allow online voter registration; 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote and automatically be qualified to vote upon turning 18; and early voting beginning 10 business days before any primary or general election and ending two days before the election.

Supporters said it was time for Massachusetts to join the 19 states that allow online registration and the 32 that permit early voting. They argued both changes will increase voter turnout.

Some opponents said the pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds is an unnecessary and unworkable idea that is opposed by many understaffed city and town clerks. They said many teenagers who pre-register will go away to college and find out they can’t vote in their college town because they are already registered in their hometown. Others argued the proposal does not include a key safeguard requiring voters to show a picture ID in order to vote.

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

Rep. Denise Provost        Yes
Rep. Timothy Toomey    Yes
Sen. Sal DiDomenico      Yes
Sen. Patricia Jehlen    Yes

$177 MILLION FOR MILITARY INSTALLATIONS (H 3930)
House 151-0, Senate 35-2, approved a law to provide $177 million over the next five years to make improvements at and expand the state’s six military installations.

Supporters said this ensures that Massachusetts provides funding for all its major federal military bases and may help persuade the federal government not to close the state’s military bases if and when another round of closings occurs. They argued these military installations contribute more than $14.2 billion to the state’s economy and support more than 46,000 jobs.

Opponents said it is questionable whether state dollars should be used for a national purpose. They argued the money would be better spent on state problems like education, construction, health care and clean energy, all of which will also help create jobs.

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

Rep. Denise Provost        Yes
Rep. Timothy Toomey    Yes
Sen. Sal DiDomenico      Yes
Sen. Patricia Jehlen        No

GAS LEAKS (H 4164)
House 147-0, Senate 38-0, approved a law to require gas leaks to be repaired by the gas company in a time frame based on a three-tier classification system of dangerousness. Grade One leaks are most likely to cause an explosion and would have to be repaired immediately. Grade Two leaks are expected to create a hazard in the future and would have to be fixed within 15 months, while Grade Three leaks are non-hazardous and would have to be reevaluated every six months. Other provisions align civil penalties for pipeline facility and gas transportation safety violations with federal law and require gas leaks that are identified within a school zone to be prioritized.

Supporters said the state’s gas delivery system is the second oldest in the nation and has 5,700 miles of leak-prone distribution pipe and 20,000 known leaks. They noted the bill will help prevent gas leak tragedies, save lives and have a positive impact on the environment by reducing methane gas.

(A “Yes” vote is for the law.)

Rep. Denise Provost        Yes
Rep. Timothy Toomey    Yes
Sen. Sal DiDomenico      Yes
Sen. Patricia Jehlen        Yes

ANTI-BULLYING (H 3909)
House 145-4, Senate 37-1, approved a law adding some provisions to the 2010 anti-bullying law that requires all public and private schools to develop and implement a plan to prevent bullying from occurring and to discipline bullies. The new law requires that each plan recognize that some students may be more vulnerable to become targets of bullying based on “race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, socioeconomic status, homelessness, academic status, gender identity or expression, physical appearance, pregnant or parenting status, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, developmental or sensory disability.”

Other provisions include requiring schools to annually report bullying data to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the attorney general and the Legislature and inform the parents of the victim about the department’s problem resolution system and the process for seeking assistance or filing a claim.

Supporters said these changes will enhance the law and save countless children from a lifetime of physical and emotional scars and worse.

Opponents agree that bullying must be stopped but said the bill is another unfunded state mandate that stretches administrative staff with additional unnecessary paperwork. Some said it is divisive to enumerate categories of students and said all students deserve a safe learning environment.

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

Rep. Denise Provost        Yes
Rep. Timothy Toomey    Yes
Sen. Sal DiDomenico      Yes
Sen. Patricia Jehlen        Yes

BABY HEART SCREENINGS (S 1919)
House 147-0, Senate 37-0, approved a law to require all newborns to have a test that will determine whether he or she has a congenital heart defect. The test would be required to be performed prior to the infant being discharged from the hospital.

Supporters said 27 other states have this mandate and noted the requirement will save lives.

(A “Yes” vote is for the law.)

Rep. Denise Provost        Yes
Rep. Timothy Toomey    Yes
Sen. Sal DiDomenico      Yes
Sen. Patricia Jehlen        Yes

WATER INFRASTRUCTURE (S 2021)
House 152-0, Senate 40-0, approved a law to address the water and wastewater infrastructure challenges facing the state. The measure expands the spending capacity of the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust from $88 million to $138 million; creates and allocates $3 million for a technical assistance program to be used for the development of asset management plans and to identify green infrastructure opportunities; simplifies the regulatory burden of complying with Title 5; and encourages regional projects by allowing public entities to jointly apply for planning grants to develop water pollution abatement plans.

Supporters said the law would help keep the state’s waters clean in a responsible, efficient manner. They noted it creates jobs, puts resources into water technology innovation and will put Massachusetts at the cutting edge of this technology.

(A “Yes” vote is for the law.)

Rep. Denise Provost        Yes
Rep. Timothy Toomey    Yes
Sen. Sal DiDomenico      Yes
Sen. Patricia Jehlen        Yes

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ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

FRESHMEN HOUSE MEMBERS’ BOOT CAMP – More than 20 freshman representatives who will take the oath of office in January spent three days last week at the Academy for New Legislators’ “boot camp” orientation event hosted by House Speaker Robert DeLeo at the Amherst campus of UMass. The bipartisan semi-annual event offers advice and training on many subjects for this group of newly elected legislators including the rules of the House, how a bill becomes law, how the House works, ethics and campaign finance.

SIX-YEAR CAREER PLANNING FOR SIXTH GRADERS YEARS (H 4527) – The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would create a committee to investigate and study the possible development and implementation of a six-year career planning project for each sixth grader. The implementation would begin in the 2016-2017 school year for all sixth graders and would be coordinated by licensed school guidance counselors. The committee would present the report to the Legislature with recommendations for any action it feels should be taken.

Supporters said the bill will help students receive the necessary education and develop the skills required to succeed in a career. They argued that it is important to  empower students early in their academic careers so they can set clear goals.

TASK FORCE ON CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE PREVENTION (H 4305) – The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill creating a task force on child sexual abuse prevention. The task force would develop strategies for incentivizing organizations serving children to develop and implement sexual abuse prevention and intervention plans. It would also develop a five-year plan for using community education and other strategies to increase public awareness about child sexual abuse including how to recognize signs, minimize risk and act on suspicions or disclosures. The task force would make recommendations to the Legislature.

DECAL FOR DRIVERS ON LEARNER’S PERMIT (H 3681) – The House gave initial approval to a bill that would require a learner’s permit decal to be clearly visible to law enforcement officers on the window of any vehicle being driven by a driver with a learner’s permit. The size, cost and other details would be determined by the Registry of Motor Vehicles, and a violation of the requirement would result in a $50 fine.
Supporters said this would warn other drivers that the novice driver is inexperienced and encourage them to take extra caution. They said the requirement would reduce the frustration of and honking by other motorists.

Opponents said the bill is a solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist. They noted that families with more than one car would have to get one decal for each car. They argued that experienced drivers would often be driving the car with the decal and mistaken for a novice.

HOMELESS YOUTH UNDER AGE 24 (H 4517) – The House approved and sent to the Senate legislation creating a commission to study and make recommendations to provide adequate resources for unaccompanied homeless youth under the age of 24. The state would then enter into contracts with organizations and agencies to provide housing and support services to these youths.

Supporters said there are thousands of youths who are living on their own without adequate food and shelter. They argued there is desperate need for increased housing and shelter options and noted homelessness often leads to poor health, exposure to violence, susceptibility to exploitation, high-risk behaviors and a dependence on public systems and benefits.

SELL LIQUOR AT CONTINUING CARE COMMUNITIES (S 2407) – The Senate approved a bill allowing the sale of alcohol at continuing care communities, retirement communities and assisted living facilities.

Supporters said many of these communities already offer top notch in-house restaurants but noted that the facility is not allowed to serve liquor. They argued that allowing alcohol is simply an extension that will benefit residents and make profits for the homes.

HAZARDOUS WASTE (S 2105) – The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Patrick legislation that amends the current law that requires companies responsible for hazardous materials spills to reimburse the city or town for the cost of its emergency response. The measure would expand current law and require reimbursement even for the “threat” of release of the materials. Another provision releases private homeowners and renters from reimbursing the community for the cost of any cleanup of oil or hazardous material on their property if they notify the local fire department of the incident immediately, the home was only used as a residence, and the owner or renter was not grossly negligent and did not illegally possess oil or hazardous materials.

Supporters said currently communities use lots of resources and dollars to respond to these calls but are not reimbursed unless there is an actual spill. They noted that non-commercial private homeowners and tenants should not be liable for cleanup costs if they meet certain conditions.

ENERGY EFFICIENT TRAINING FOR BUILDING MANAGERS (H 4020) – The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill requiring the Energy Efficiency Advisory Council and the Greater Boston Real Estate Board to develop recommendations for in-depth energy efficiency education and training programs to be offered to commercial building managers and operators.

Supporters said these programs would be invaluable to these managers and would result in more energy efficiency and a cleaner environment.
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QUOTABLE QUOTES“By the Numbers” Edition”

“1795” — The year a time capsule, removed last week, was placed in the granite cornerstone of the Massachusetts Statehouse.

“$475” — The estimated cost for each incoming freshman legislator to attend last week’s semi-annual orientation class held by House Speaker Robert DeLeo at UMass Amherst’s Marriott Center.

“$35 million” — The amount of money that MassHealth paid in “questionable and unallowable medical claims” according to an audit by Auditor Suzanne Bump. MassHealth provides access to healthcare services for an estimated 1.4 million eligible low- and moderate-income individuals.

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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 December 8-12, the House met for a total of 52 minutes while the Senate met for a total of three hours and eight minutes.

Mon. December 8
House 11:02 a.m. to 11:28 a.m.
Senate 11:03 a.m. to 11:26 a.m.

Tues. December 9
No House session
No Senate session

Wed. December 10
No House session
No Senate session

Thurs. December 11
House 11:04 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Senate 2:16 p.m. to 5:01 p.m.

Fri. December 12
No House session
No Senate session

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Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com