Volume 41-Report No. 24 • June 13-17, 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 June 13-17.

MODERNIZING LOCAL GOVERNMENTS (H 4397)
House 153-0, approved and sent to the Senate a 109-page bill aimed at modernizing municipal finance and government. Provisions include increasing from 3 percent to 5 percent the percentage of the tax levy for the preceding fiscal year from that can be used for a reserve fund for extraordinary or unforeseen expenses; allowing a municipality to combine its treasurer and tax collector into one appointed position without first obtaining a special act; and permitting municipalities to immediately deny local licenses and permits to any taxpayer who has neglected or refused to pay local taxes. Current law permits this collection method, but only if the taxpayer has been delinquent for at least one year.

Many provisions in the bill are technical and the measure has been called “the most boring weed-whacking stuff you ever saw in your life,” by Gov. Charlie Baker.

Supporters said the bill removes obsolete state laws and updates other laws to help government be more efficient at the local level by enhancing the delivery of services and promoting regional cooperation among neighboring communities. They noted the measure is supported by the Massachusetts Municipal Association, an entity that lobbies for the state’s cities and towns.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

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

ANALYZE INVENTORY TAX (H 4397)
House 38-115, rejected an amendment creating an 11-member special commission to investigate and analyze the benefits and costs of eliminating the inventory tax paid by businesses based on the value of its inventory at the end of each year.

Amendment supporters said studies show that this tax has cost the Bay State more than 56,000 jobs because if companies move their inventory out of state, they also move the jobs that work on the inventory. They argued the tax is a disincentive for business owners and leads to the tax being passed onto the consumer, a reduction in the number of new employee hires, layoffs during the slow season and/or the company moving its inventory to one of the many states without an inventory tax including Connecticut, New Hampshire or Rhode Island.

Amendment opponents said the amendment is unrelated to the bill and should be considered at a more appropriate time in the future.

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

Rep. Christine Barber      Yes
Rep. Denise Provost        No
Rep. Timothy Toomey    No

PROPERTY TAX EXEMPTION FOR SENIORS (S 1494)
Senate 35-0, approved and sent to the House a bill that would raise from $55,000 to $80,000 the maximum annual income a senior over 65 can earn and still be eligible for a property tax deferral. The local community decides whether to allow a tax deferral in the first place. Communities can charge up to 8 percent interest on the amount deferred. The amount of the deferral plus interest must be paid when the senior moves or dies.
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Amendment supporters said this will reduce expenses for seniors and allow more of them to remain in their homes.

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    Yes

INCREASE VOLUNTEER HOURS FOR EXEMPTION (S 1494)
Senate 35-0, approved an amendment that would raise from $1,000 to $1,500 the amount of property tax credit seniors can earn by doing volunteer work for their city or town. It also hikes from 125 to 175 the number of hours a senior can work to earn that $1,500.

Amendment supporters said the increase will give some seniors an additional $500 reduction in their property taxes. They noted this is another change that will allow more seniors to remain in their homes.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    Yes

SUPPORT FOR VETERANS (H 4278)
Senate 37-0, approved a bill that would help veterans by improving benefits in several areas including employment, housing, property tax relief and education.

Provisions include excluding a disabled veteran’s federal disability compensation from counting toward the income level used to calculate his or her rent for public housing; giving eligible veterans a preference in public housing in all communities, not just the one in which the veteran resides;  providing property tax exemptions for veterans rated 100 percent disabled from service-connected blindness; adding veterans status as a protected class under the current law prohibiting discrimination in employment; allowing cities and towns to appoint a veterans agent for three-year terms instead of the current one year; 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 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.

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

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    Yes

PUBLIC EMPLOYEES KILLED IN THE LINE OF DUTY (H 4278)
Senate 37-0, approved an amendment that would make the surviving children of all public employees killed in the line of duty eligible for higher education scholarships. Current law makes the children of veterans, police officers, firefighters and correction officers eligible for the scholarships.

Amendment supporters said eligibility should be extended to all public employees who make the ultimate sacrifice.

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    Yes

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ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

LIMIT FEES FOR CASHING CHECKS (S 2323) –  The Senate approved and sent to the House legislation that would set a cap on the fee that check-cashing stores are allowed to charge. The measure would place a 3 percent of face value cap on payroll checks of $100 or less; 2.25 percent cap on payroll checks over $100; 5 per cent cap on personal checks or $5, whichever is greater; 2.5 percent cap on social security and public assistance programs checks; and a flat $5 fee for money orders. In addition, the stores can also charge a $1 flat fee on all checks cashed.

Supporters said that 26 other states already cap these fees and estimated that close to 5 percent of all Bay State households do not have a checking or savings account because they are unable to maintain a minimum balance or pay the monthly fee. They noted these check-cashing stores are often located in low-income neighborhoods and take advantage of vulnerable residents. They argued the bill would ensure that lower-income consumers retain a greater portion of their hard-earned money.

Some opponents say that allowing games to be played online will result in many people buying many more tickets than they can afford. Retailers who currently sell lottery tickets at their venue said that online sales would unfairly harm thousands of retailers who have been loyal participants for many years.

TAX INCENTIVES FOR COLLEGE (H 3983) – The Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee has recommended passage of a new version of Gov. Baker’s economic development bill. A major change from Baker’s version is the addition of a provision that would allow a tax deduction on the popular 529 college savings plans. The deduction would be $1,000 for single filers and $2,000 for married couples. These plans allow the investor to put aside both federal and tax-free money for college tuition.

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QUOTABLE QUOTES

“We’re looking internally to see what accounts have not fully been expended and where we can look to that will have the least amount of impact and pain … Certainly our priority remains to our cities and towns relative to unrestricted aid and school aid and to the most vulnerable in our community.” — Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito on the projected $750 million budget shortfall.

“The use of tobacco products remains the nation’s number one cause of preventable death, with tobacco use responsible for nearly one in five deaths nationwide. Prevention is critical, and we must do more to ensure that Massachusetts youth are protected from potentially deadly tobacco addiction.” — Dr. Lynda Young, chair of Tobacco Free Mass. On pending legislation raising the age for the purchasing of tobacco products to 21.

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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 June 13-17, the House met for a total of eight hours and 30 minutes and the Senate met for a total of two hours and 51 minutes.

Mon. June 13
House 11:07 a.m. to 11:24 a.m.
Senate 11:12 a.m. to 11:35 a.m.

Tues. June 14
No House session
No Senate session

Wed. June 15
House 11:03 a.m. to 5:13 p.m.
No Senate session

Thurs. June 16
House 11:05 a.m. to 1:08 p.m.
Senate 11:11 a.m. to 1:39 p.m.

Fri. June 17
No House session
No Senate session

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Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com