Volume 41-Report No. 3 • January 18-22, 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’ votes on roll calls from the week of January 18-22. There were no roll calls in the House last week.

The Senate, on a voice vote without a roll call, approved a bill banning the use of hand-held cell phones and other mobile devices while driving. The measure allows only the use of hands-free phones and devices. First time violators would be fined $100, a second time offense is $250 and any subsequent offense is a $500 fine and would be considered a moving violation for insurance purposes.

Supporters said figures show that distracted driving accounted for 26 percent of the 30,000 lives lost in motor vehicle accidents in 2013. They said the bill will save many lives and prevent many serious injuries.

Opponents said the ban goes too far and is another example of a nanny state. Some said similar laws are often unevenly enforced and disproportionately target black men. They argued the fines are too high and would hurt working class and poor residents.

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

The first five roll calls are on proposed amendments to the bill.

EXEMPT EMERGENCY PERSONNEL (S 2093)
Senate 33-3, approved an amendment allowing public safety personnel or emergency first responders to use a hand-held mobile electronic device while driving in the course of their official duty.

Amendment supporters said these essential first responders should have more flexibility because using a hand-held device might help them get more information or get to the scene faster.

Amendment opponents asked why this group should get an exemption while individual drivers would not.

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

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    Yes

EMERGENCY CALLS FOR INDIVIDUALS (S 2093)
Senate 12-24, rejected an amendment that would amend a section of the bill that allows individuals to use a hand-held mobile electronic device if he or she is making the call for emergency purposes including medical assistance, car problems and the need for a police officer or firefighter. The amendment would expand the amendment and also exempt drivers who receive an emergency call.

Amendment supporters said drivers who receive emergency medical or other calls from family members and friends should be able to talk with a hand-held device.

Amendment opponents said these exemptions water down the bill and allow more use of hand-held devices.

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

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    No

GO EASY ON FIRST-TIME VIOLATORS (S 2093)
Senate 12-24, rejected an amendment that would allow people using a handheld device while driving to be exempt from the $100 fine for a first violation if they prove with a receipt they bought a hands-free device shortly after the violation.

Amendment supporters said it is better to have someone purchase a hands-free device as “punishment” rather than pay a $100 fine and still not get a hands-free phone.

Amendment opponents said this begins to water down the bill and said the amendment is unworkable. They noted that a person could buy a hands-free device, produce the receipt, and then return the product or never use it.

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

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    No

PROHIBIT SEIZURE OF CELL PHONE (S 2093)
Senate 25-11, approved an amendment that would prohibit authorities from seizing a hand-held electronic device.

Amendment supporters said that police officers should not be allowed to take away the device of someone who violates this law. They acknowledged there were court decisions prohibiting the seizure but argued the Legislature should make it an undisputable law.

Amendment opponents said the amendment is unnecessary because the courts have already ruled that these devices cannot be confiscated without a warrant.

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

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    No

ALLOW HAND-HELD PHONES IF CAR IS AT A RED LIGHT (S 2093)
Senate 5-31, rejected an amendment that would allow drivers to use a hand-held phone when stopped at a red light or in a traffic jam.

Amendment supporters said this would not be a danger as long as the car is not moving.

Amendment opponents said the amendment waters down the bill and noted it can be dangerous even when a driver is in a traffic jam or stuck at a red light.

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

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    No

RECYCLE PAINT (S 2052)
Senate 25-11, approved and sent to the House a bill that would create the Massachusetts Paint Stewardship Program, run by paint manufacturers to coordinate the collection, recycling, reuse and environmentally sound disposal of used leftover house paint purchased by consumers. The program would be funded by adding a fee to paint sold in the Bay State.

Supporters said this program would be a great convenience for consumers, who would be able to responsibly recycle all their latex and oil-based paint. They argued it would create many green jobs and is an environmentally and fiscally responsible program that will result in more recycling of paint while saving millions of dollars in paint disposal costs for cities and towns.

Some opponents said the fee is essentially an unwarranted tax on consumers, who already pay too much in taxes. Others noted that they support the recycling aspect of the bill but without a tax involved. Some said this bill would pave the way for the state to develop a similar tax-based system for recycling an endless number of other items like spray cans, pillows, mattresses and tires.

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

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    Yes

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ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

MUST SHOW ID TO VOTE (S 378) – The Elections Laws Committee held a hearing on several bills including one requiring all voters to show identification at their polling places in order to be allowed to vote. Acceptable forms of ID would include a Massachusetts state driver’s license or photo identification card, a United States passport or a Social Security card.

Supporters said it is illogical that all voters are not required to show identification prior to voting and noted that many other states have laws requiring IDs. They argued that people cannot cash a check, rent a car or even enter some government buildings without showing an ID.

Opponents said the amendment would disenfranchise thousands of voters including people who do not have a current address because they are in a homeless shelter or domestic violence facility. Others said that there have been no widespread reports of voter fraud in Massachusetts.

ALLOW NON-CITIZENS TO VOTE (H 596) – The Elections Laws Committee’s agenda also included a proposal that would allow cities and towns to permit non-citizens over age 18 to vote in local municipal elections. These non-citizens would be eligible only if they certify in writing that they live in the city or town and “intend in good faith to become a U.S. citizen and intend to begin that process, if eligible.” The law would take effect in a municipality only if approved by the local governing body and by the voters on a local ballot question.

UNSUBSCRIBE FROM DIRECT MAIL (H 3216) – The Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee held a hearing on legislation that would allow consumers to opt out of receiving direct mail and direct door-to-door flyers. The measure allows consumers to notify the company to take them off the list and fines companies that don’t comply up to $1,500.

Supporters said consumers should have the right to opt out if they are tired of receiving junk mail. They noted that junk mail creates an unwanted solid waste management burden for individual households and for cities and towns and that it costs money to dispose of piles of unwanted paper and plastic wrap.

ALLOW BUSINESSES TO OPT INTO “DO NOT CALL” LIST (H 159) – Also on the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure’s agenda was a bill restricting telemarketing companies doing business in the state by allowing businesses to sign up for a “do not call” list and fining companies up to $5000 if they call a business on the list.  Current law only allows individual consumers to sign up for the list.
Under the bill, all current laws that now apply to individuals would also apply to businesses including allowing an individual on the list to sue a company for up to $5000 if the company violates the list and calls the individual more than once a year; preventing companies from blocking their number from appearing on any consumer’s Caller ID box; prohibiting companies from using recorded message devices to make these calls; and restricting these calls to between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Supporters said this long overdue bill will finally allow businesses to put a stop to these annoying invasions. They argued the system has worked well for consumers and will be a success for businesses.

MILLIONAIRE TAX (H 3933) – The Revenue Committee held a hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow a graduated income tax and impose an additional 4 percent income tax, in addition to the current 5.10 percent tax, on taxpayers’ earnings of more than $1 million. The proposal goes before the Legislature and on the 2018 ballot only if approved by 25 percent (50 members) of the 2015-2016 Legislature and the 2017-2018 Legislature. The amendment is being proposed by the group Raise Up Massachusetts, which recently gathered the necessary signatures to bring the measure to the Legislature. Language in the amendment requires that the revenue go to fund quality public education, affordable public colleges and universities, and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges and public transportation.

Supporters said the amendment is a reasonable one that will affect only 14,000 very wealthy individuals and will generate between $1.3 billion and $1.4 billion in additional revenue. They said the requirement to use the revenue for public education, public colleges and universities, and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges and public transportation will benefit millions of Bay State taxpayers.

Opponents said the state will soon regain its dreaded title of “Taxachusetts.” They argued the new tax will result in the loss of 9,500 private sector jobs and $405 million annually in personal disposable income. They argued that the earmarking of the funds for specific projects is illegal and said all the funds will go into the General Fund and be up for grabs for anything.

ABSENTEE BALLOTS FOR PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY ARE NOW AVAILABLE – Secretary of State Bill Galvin announced that absentee ballots for the March 1 presidential primary are now available in every Massachusetts city and town hall, the earliest absentee ballots have been available before a presidential primary. “If you expect to be absent from your community on Election Day, you can apply in person at your local election office beforehand and cast your absentee ballot there in one visit, but be sure to call the election office beforehand,” Galvin said. Voters can also ask for an absentee ballot to be mailed to them. The deadline for persons to register to vote in the presidential primary is February 10.

ABATEMENTS – Secretary of State Galvin also reminded property owners in two-thirds of the state’s communities that the deadline to apply for a property tax abatement is Monday, February 1. He said, “If you believe your assessment is too high, you might want to explore the abatement process. You can challenge a tax bill if you believe that the assessed value is too high in relation to similar properties in the neighborhood, or that the classification is improper.” Further information can be obtained by phone at 1-800-392-6090 and online at http://www.sec.state.ma.us/cis/cisptax/cisptax.htm.

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QUOTABLE QUOTESExcerpts from Gov. Baker’s annual State of the Commonwealth Address, the state version of the U.S. president’s State of the Union Address.

“I still believe that the 40,000 voters who put [Lt. Gov.] Karyn [Polito] and me over the top in 2014 were actually people who voted for [my wife] Lauren.”

“If I had to sum up the past year in office in one phrase, it would be the following: Don’t be surprised when you get surprised. Stuff just happens. Some good. Some bad.”

“It started to snow. And nine feet of Snowmaggedon later we had a transit system in serious trouble and a new term I’d never heard before: Snow Farm.”

“Working together, we’ve made investments in school aid and local aid. No longer will Beacon Hill balance its budget on the backs of local communities.”

“We will no longer send women who were involuntarily committed because of a substance abuse disorder, to MCI Framingham. Instead, they will access medical care at Shattuck and Taunton State Hospitals.”

“As the administration ends its first year in office, some have lamented how boring we are. I’ll admit: that makes me smile. No fights. No yelling. No partisan scrums.”

“But we have work to do. We always will. As my dad always says: ‘Success is never final.’”

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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 January 18-22, the House met for a total of 11 hours and 23 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 12 hours and four minutes.

Mon. January 18
No House session
No Senate session

Tues. January 19
House 11:00 a.m. to 1:12 p.m.
Senate 11:10 a.m. to 1:55 p.m.

Wed. January 20
No House session
No Senate session

Thurs. January 21
House 11:01 a.m. to 8:22 p.m.
Senate 11:03 a.m. to 8:22 p.m.

Fri. January 22
No House session
No Senate session

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Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com