Copyright © 2010 Beacon Hill Roll Call. All Rights Reserved.
By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives and senators on four roll calls from the week of July 12-16.

APPROVE MUNICIPAL MANAGEMENT BILL (H 4877)

House 137-15, Senate 32-6, approved legislation that would give cities and towns more management flexibility and options.

Provisions include extending the pension funding schedule for municipalities from 2030 to 2040; allowing cities and towns to lease public buildings for up to 30 years instead of up to 10 years; establishing a statewide mutual aid agreement to allow municipalities to share fire, police and other emergency services in the case of a public safety or public works incident; allowing cities and towns to reduce the current 8 percent interest rate that must be paid on any property tax deferrals based on financial hardships; creating an optional early retirement program for city and town workers and giving local communities the option to use electronic billing of taxpayers and to implement a tax amnesty program.

Supporters said that the measure will give cities and towns more flexibility to generate revenue and manage their finances in order to try to make up for local aid cuts and the struggling economy.

Opponents said that the bill does not go far enough and will do very little to help cities and towns that are being forced to make drastic budget cuts. They noted that one of the big flaws is that the measure fails to address the skyrocketing cost of municipal health care plans.

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

Rep. Denise Provost Yes

Rep. Carl Sciortino Yes

Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes

Sen. Sal DiDomenico Yes

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

EXPEDITE PERMITTING PROCESS FOR WIND ENERGY FACILITIES (H 4687)

House 101-52, approved a bill that would expedite the process of siting wind energy facilities in cities and towns. The measure allows the mayor, city manager or board of selectman to create and appoint a three-member wind energy permitting board comprised of one member each of the zoning board of appeals, the conservation commission and the planning board. The wind energy permitting board would make the decision whether a permit should be issued to a developer.

Supporters said that the bill streamlines the permitting process but still includes safeguards that would ensure cities and towns have the final say whether to allow a wind energy project. They noted that current law is very complicated and has held up many wind projects. Some noted that more wind energy projects would help Massachusetts wean itself off imported fossil fuels.

Opponents said that the bill goes too far and would dilute the power of cities and towns to decide whether to grant a permit to a developer. They noted that voters should have the final say on whether to allow a wind power energy project in that community.

The Senate has approved a different version of the bill. The Senate version now goes to the House for consideration.

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

Rep. Denise Provost Yes

Rep. Carl Sciortino Yes

Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes

WIND ENERGY PROJECT NEEDS VOTER APPROVAL (H 4687)

House 61-87, rejected an amendment that would prohibit the siting of a wind energy project unless the voters of the city or town approve it at a city or town election.

Amendment supporters said that the voters of a community should have the final say over whether these often controversial wind energy projects are located in their city or town.

Amendment opponents said that the bill provides for a local wind energy permitting board made up of local community members who will have the final say.

(A “Yes” vote is for giving voters the final say on the ballot. A “No” vote is against giving them final say on the ballot.)

Rep. Denise Provost Yes

Rep. Carl Sciortino No

Rep. Timothy Toomey No

GIVE COMMUNITIES MORE TIME TO REVIEW PLANS (H 4687)

House 50-98, rejected an amendment that would increase from 120 days to 180 days the amount of time that a city or town’s local wind energy permitting board has to decide whether to approve an application for the siting of a wind energy project.

Amendment supporters said that many small communities do not have the resources or full-time staff to review the application within 120 days. They argued that the extension to 180 days would give them more time.

Amendment opponents said that the 120 days is equal to a full four months and is sufficient.

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment increasing the number of days for review to 180. A “No” vote is against the increase and favors the 120 days.)

Rep. Denise Provost Yes

Rep. Carl Sciortino No

Rep. Timothy Toomey No

ELECT PRESIDENT BY POPULAR VOTE (H 4156)

Senate 28-10, approved legislation that would make Massachusetts a member of The Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote. The agreement would require states that join the pact to cast all of their electoral votes for the presidential candidate who wins a majority of the national popular vote in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The pact would become effective when states representing at least 270 electoral votes – a majority of the 538-vote Electoral College – join this compact. Each state has a number of electoral votes equal to the number of senators and representatives that the state has in Congress.

This endeavor is led by Fair Vote – a national group that says Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Washington and New Jersey, with a total of 61 electoral votes, have already penned the agreement. The proposal does not abolish the Electoral College – a feat that would require the even more difficult task of amending the Constitution. Its sponsors are attempting to do an end run around the Constitution by taking advantage of a part of the document that they say gives the states exclusive and complete power to determine how to allocate their electoral votes.

Supporters said that the Electoral College is an antiquated and unfair system that was designed by the framers because they did not trust the common citizen to vote correctly. They noted that it gives voters in states with a large number of electoral votes more power and influence than those in smaller states. They argued that presidential candidates concentrate on and campaign in a handful of swing states while ignoring most of the states that are already solidly Democratic or Republican. Some pointed to the 2000 election in which Al Gore received more popular votes than former President Bush but was not elected because Bush won the majority of the Electoral College.

Some opponents said that the Electoral College is a traditional and reliable system that has worked well and should not be changed. They argued that it actually gives voters in smaller states power that they would not have if the president was elected strictly by a popular vote system in which candidates would concentrate on states with larger populations. Some argued that electing the president by popular vote would give wealthy fringe candidates a chance at success by focusing their efforts in a few major urban centers.

Only final approval in each branch is needed prior to the measure going to the governor.

(A “Yes” vote is for Massachusetts joining the popular vote pact. A “No” vote is against joining it.)

Sen. Sal DiDomenico Yes

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

BALLOT QUESTION ON HOW TO ELECT THE PRESIDENT (H 4156)

Senate 17-21, rejected an amendment that would put on the 2010 state ballot a non-binding question asking voters whether they favor or oppose the proposal to elect the president by popular vote.

Amendment supporters said this would simply ask voters how they feel about the issue. Any future Legislature would have the opportunity to retain the law or repeal it based on the voters’ response.

Amendment opponents said that a non-binding ballot question is meaningless and is simply another attempt by opponents of the bill to delay and sabotage it. They said that legislators are sent to Beacon Hill to make decisions and not place every issue on the ballot.

(A “Yes” vote is for placing the question on the 2010 ballot. A “No” vote is against placing it on the ballot.)

Sen. Sal DiDomenico No

Sen. Patricia Jehlen No

CHANGE NAMES OF STATE COLLEGES TO UNIVERSITIES (H 4864)

Senate 34-2, approved a House-approved bill that would change the names of six state colleges to state universities, including Bridgewater, Fitchburg, Framingham, Salem, Westfield and Worcester.

Supporters said that 45 other states have done this and argued it would help Massachusetts schools compete with those institutions. They noted that some students go to out-of-state institutions because they are called universities rather than colleges. They argued that the name change would provide more opportunities for students.

Opponents said that the change would do nothing positive for students but would lead to requests by professors and other employees for pay raises and also result in tuition increases. They noted that New Hampshire in 2003 approved similar legislation and tuition and fees rose 50 percent for in-state students and 134 percent for out-of-state students.

The measure needs final approval in each branch prior to going to the governor.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill changing the names of six colleges to university. A “No” vote is against the changes.)

Sen. Sal DiDomenico Yes

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

REGULATE SHOCK THERAPY (S 2540) – The Senate approved and sent to the House a bill that spells out the conditions under which aversive shock therapy would be allowed to be used on patients. The measure only allows it to be used for short-term intervals and only if without it, there is a clear risk of injury or harm to the patient or others. The therapy could only be used if less intrusive measures had already failed and if accepted scientific research supports the use of the therapy for the particular problem.

Supporters said that the use of shock therapy in Massachusetts is excessive, outrageous, harmful and underregulated. They said that the bill is a reasonable compromise that will strictly regulate but not ban shock therapy. Some opponents said that the new regulations go too far and will basically prohibit this treatment which has helped many patients. Others said that they support a complete ban on this therapy and noted Massachusetts is the only state that still allows it.

SPECIAL MILITARY LICENSE PLATES (H 4588) – The House gave initial approval to a bill allowing special military license plates to be issued by the Registry of Motor Vehicles to all military personnel who have received the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Distinguished Flying Cross or Purple Heart. Under current law, only veterans who have been discharged from the military are eligible for the plates. Supporters said that active military personnel should be entitled to these plates.

BAN CHECK CASHING FEE (H 296) – The House gave initial approval to a proposal that would prohibit a bank from charging any fee to a consumer who cashes a check at the bank on which the check is drawn – even if the customer does not have an account at that bank. Banks that break this law would be subject to up to a $100 fine per violation.

ID FOR YOUNGER TEENS (H 4512) – The Senate approved a House-approved bill allowing 14- and 15-year-olds to obtain a Registry of Motor Vehicles identification card. Current law requires that the teen be 16. Supporters said that employers require these younger teens to show an ID when they apply for a job. They noted that while some of these youngsters show passports, it would be easier if they were all eligible for a Registry ID. Additional approval is needed in both branches prior to the measure going to Gov. Patrick.

NURSING HOME RESIDENTS (H 4637) – The Senate gave initial approval to House-approved legislation that would require each new nursing home resident or family member to be given an informational packet that would include the laws and regulations that govern nursing homes. The material would be written by the Department of Public Health in layperson’s language. Following initial approval, the Senate temporarily delayed further action on the measure.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“One thing is clear. That your words are like the beacon they have always been from the rostrum and they are supported by the strength of your fist around the gavel which we all have great respect for.”

Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) talking to Senate President Therese Murray.

“We would not be able to apply (the electronic shock therapy treatment device) to the most heinous criminal in the world, Osama bin Laden, who slaughtered thousands of Americans. We could not apply this device to him. It would be a violation of our United States Constitution.”

Sen. Brian Joyce (D-Milton) attacking the outrageous use of shock therapy on children in Massachusetts institutions.

“We should have conducted ourselves in the openness of daylight and not have to share the chamber with mice at this late hour. Mice that come out, nocturnal creatures, Madame President, that that come out under the cover of darkness.”

Sen. Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth) following a shriek by Sen. Marian Walsh (D-Boston) when a mouse crawled by her in the Senate chamber.

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 12-16, the House met for a total of 14 hours and 25 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 14 hours and 35 minutes.

Monday July 12 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:27 a.m.

Senate 11:02 a.m. to 12:43 p.m.

Tuesday July 13 House 11:01 a.m. to 6:12 p.m.

Senate 1:01 p.m. to 4:17 p.m.

Wednesday July 14 House 1:07 p.m. to 4:27 p.m.

No Senate session

Thursday July 15 House 11:10 a.m. to 2:38 p.m.

Senate 1:00 p.m. to 10:38 p.m.

Friday July 16 No House session

No Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

 

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