Volume 41-Report No. 48 • November 28-December 2, 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: There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

This week, with the end of the 2016 session only weeks away, Beacon Hill Roll Call, in the first of a series of special reports, looks at some of the bills that were approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker in the 2016 session.

OPIOID ABUSE PREVENTION (H 4088)
House 155-0, Senate 37-0, approved a new law aimed at reducing the opioid abuse crisis in the Bay State. It is designed to reduce the number of opioid pills in circulation by working with many parties involved in the process including schools, doctors, insurance companies and pharmacists. Key provisions require all public schools to have a policy regarding substance abuse prevention; to advise students about the dangers of substance abuse, and to perform an annual verbal screening of pupils for substance use disorders. Parents can opt their children out of the screening requirement.

Other provisions include limiting initial opioid prescriptions by doctors to a seven-day supply except for chronic pain management, cancer and palliative care; requiring drug manufacturers to create a program to secure, transport and safely dispose of unwanted drugs; establishing a rehabilitation program for registered pharmacists, pharmacy interns and pharmacy technicians who have a substance abuse issue and allowing them to volunteer for the program instead of being subject to disciplinary action; and requiring patients admitted to the emergency room for an overdose to be subject to a detailed substance abuse evaluation within 24 hours before discharge.

Supporters, noting there were 1,256 accidental drug-related deaths in 2015, said this new law is a balanced and practical approach that will improve schools’ approach to teaching kids about drug prevention and increase access to treatment for those who are addicted. They argued it will save lives and spare the heartache of many families by helping to stem the rising tide of drug addiction and drug-related deaths across the state.

(A “Yes” vote is for the new law.)

Rep. Christine Barber      Yes
Rep. Denise Provost        Didn’t Vote
Rep. Timothy Toomey    Yes
Sen. Patricia Jehlen        Yes

DRUG OFFENSES AND DRIVER’S LICENSES (S 1812)
House 157-0, Senate 38-0, approved a new law that repeals a 1989 law that required anyone convicted of a non-violent drug crime to have his or her license suspended, regardless of whether the crime itself involved driving a vehicle. The new law does allow automatic license suspension for anyone convicted of trafficking in illegal drugs, except for marijuana. The new law is retroactive and applies to all people who are without a license because of the 1989 law.

Supporters said 1989 law is outdated, illogical and counterproductive because it prevents many offenders from driving to work, getting ta new job, driving their children to school, traveling to a doctor and using their car for the things necessary in day-to-day life.

(A “Yes” vote is for the new law.)

Rep. Christine Barber     Yes
Rep. Denise Provost        Yes
Rep. Timothy Toomey    Yes
Sen. Patricia Jehlen        Yes

$200 MILLION FOR ROADS AND BRIDGES (H 4133)
House 151-0, Senate 35-0, approved authorizing the state to borrow $200 million in one-time funding for the maintenance and repair of local roads and bridges in cities and towns across the state.

Supporters said this helps cities and towns improve their roads and bridges and keep them safe.

(A “Yes” vote is for the $200 million.)

Rep. Christine Barber     Yes
Rep. Denise Provost        Yes
Rep. Timothy Toomey    Yes
Sen. Patricia Jehlen        Yes

PUBLIC RECORDS (H 4333)
House 154-0, Senate 40-0, approved a new law designed to ensure that the state and local municipalities comply in a timely way with requests for public records. It also reduces costs to people making the requests.

This new law requires each state agency and municipality to appoint at least one public records access officer to serve as the point of contact for all public records requests; limits to $25 per hour the fees municipalities and state agencies can charge for time spent responding to requests; allows municipalities to request additional time for compliance and the right to charge higher fees to cover reasonable costs; enables courts to award attorneys’ fees when government agencies wrongly deny access to public records; and requires agencies and municipalities to make documents available in electronic form.

Supporters said this is the first update to the state’s public records laws in 40 years and noted that it makes state and local government more transparent. They argued it is not acceptable for members of the news media or for ordinary citizens to face unreasonable delays and high costs to gain access to information that is supposed to be public. They argued that the new law balances access to public records with protection for local municipalities from unreasonable procedures and unfunded mandates.

(A “Yes” vote is for the new law.)

Rep. Christine Barber     Yes
Rep. Denise Provost        Yes
Rep. Timothy Toomey    Yes
Sen. Patricia Jehlen        Yes

$39.15 BILLION FISCAL 2017 STATE BUDGET (H 4450)
House 150-3, Senate 38-1, approved a conference committee’s compromise version of a $39.15 billion fiscal 2017 state budget. The conference committee reduced expected revenues by $750 million and cut $413 million in proposed spending. Those actions were in response to warnings about unexpected ever-decreasing revenue projections.

Supporters of the budget said it is a balanced one that makes vital investments in the state while continuing fiscal responsibility.

Some opponents said that the budget does not make sufficient cuts and argued that state spending has grown too much over the past few years. Others noted they opposed spending taxpayer money on government services given to illegal immigrants.

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

Rep. Christine Barber     Yes
Rep. Denise Provost        Yes
Rep. Timothy Toomey    Yes
Sen. Patricia Jehlen         Yes

PROHIBIT DISCRIMINATION AGAINST TRANSGENDER PEOPLE (S 2407)
House 118-36, Senate 33-4, approved a new law that expands prior law prohibiting discrimination against transgender people by adding “gender identity” to existing Massachusetts civil rights laws that already prohibit discrimination in public accommodations based on age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, sex, religion and marital status. Public accommodations are 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 major controversy centered around the fact that the new law also allows 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, did not prohibit discrimination in public accommodations.

Supporters, noting 17 other states have approved similar laws protecting transgender people, said this is a new civil rights law that helps many transgender people lead safe and more productive lives. They argued that transgender individuals still face the threat of discrimination in many public accommodations. They noted that under prior Massachusetts law, there was no protection ensuring that transgender people cannot be turned away from a restroom, locker room, hotel, restaurant, retail store and many other places simply because they are transgender.

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.

Opponents have gathered the necessary signatures to put the law on the 2018 ballot and let voters decide whether to repeal it or not.

The Senate did not have a roll call on the final version of the law. The Senate roll call listed is on an earlier version.

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

Rep. Christine Barber     Yes
Rep. Denise Provost        Yes
Rep. Timothy Toomey    Yes
Sen. Patricia Jehlen        Yes

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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 November 28-December 2, the House met for a total of one hour and 30 minutes while the Senate met for a total of four hours and 57 minutes.

Mon. November 28
House  10:59 a.m. to  11:45 a.m.
Senate 11:08 a.m. to   3:23 p.m.

Tues. November 29
No House session
No Senate session

Wed. November 30
No House session
No Senate session

Thurs. December 1
House  11:01 a.m. to  11:45 a.m.
Senate 11:07 a.m. to  11:49 a.m.

Fri. December 2
No House session
No Senate session

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Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com