By Bob Katzen
There were no roll call votes in the House or Senate last week. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call reports local senators' roll call attendance records for the 2018 session through August 31.
The Senate has held 261 roll call votes in 2018. We tabulate the number of roll calls on which each senator was present and voting and then calculate that number as a percentage of the total roll call votes held. That percentage is the number referred to as the roll call attendance record. In the 38-member Senate, 20 senators (52.6 percent) have 100 percent roll call attendance records.
The three senators who missed the most roll calls are:
* Sen. Kathleen O'Connor Ives, D-Newburyport, who missed 74 roll calls (71.6 percent attendance record).
* Sen. Mike Barrett, D-Lexington, who missed 42 roll calls, (83.9 percent attendance record).
* Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, who missed 23 roll calls, (91.1 percent attendance record).
Beacon Hill Roll Call requested a statement from these three senators. Here are their responses.
O'Connor Ives: "I had to leave the Senate early on July 30th and was unable to attend formal session on July 31st on account of a family emergency and because the Senate took up overriding the governor's budget vetoes on those two days, I was not available for the 68 roll calls that took place over that day and a half.
Barrett: "Almost overnight, or so it seemed, I became gravely ill this past February, was diagnosed with leukemia, and spent 43 days at MGH as an inpatient until my compromised immune system recovered. After that, I missed occasional additional roll calls in order to make outpatient medical appointments."
The response for Chang-Diaz is from her communications director Joshua Wolfsun: "Thanks for reaching out about this! Unfortunately, I don't think we'll be able to get you a comment before your deadline."
2018 senators' roll call attendance record through Sept. 1. The percentage listed next to the senator's name is the percentage of roll call votes for which the senator was present and voting. The number in parentheses represents the number of roll calls that he or she missed.
Sen. James Eldridge, 100 percent (0); Sen. Dean Tran 99.6 percent (1).
Also up on Beacon Hill
* Benefits and services for veterans (S 2632) - Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill that would expand benefits and increase access to a range of services for veterans, active-duty military personnel and their families. The ceremonial signing took place at the Soldiers' Home in Chelsea.
Provisions include reducing from five years to two years the residency period required for some veterans' property tax exemptions; increasing coverage for funeral expenses for indigent veterans from $2,000 to $4,000; allowing parents or surviving guardians of veterans who died in service to receive a real estate credit on property beginning January 1, 2019; allowing cities and towns to designate a reserved parking space for veterans at city and town halls; establishing a Massachusetts Veterans and Warriors Agriculture Program to enhance education, training, employment, income, productivity and retention of veterans working in or aspiring to work in the field of agriculture;
Other provisions increase veterans' local property tax work-off program from $1,000 to $1,500; require the Department of Veterans' Services to maintain and publish a list of law firms and organizations that provide free legal representation for veterans; establish a special commission to study the cost and feasibility of exempting all costs to veterans of attending public universities in Massachusetts; and establish a study about veterans and military members suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues related to their military service and their needs in the criminal justice system.
Supporters say the state should provide these additional benefits and opportunities to the thousands of Bay State veterans who have served or are still serving our nation. They note that one in three homeless people in the nation are veterans. They point out that one in five Massachusetts veterans suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and 11 percent suffer traumatic brain injuries.
* Short-term rentals (H 4841) - Airbnb, a popular short-term rental company, announced that residents of Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket Counties earned $40 million in extra income this summer -- an increase of 38 percent compared to the same time in 2017 -- by sharing their home via Airbnb. The state received no tax revenue from this because a bill that extends the state's current 5.7 percent hotel and motel tax to short-term rentals offered by Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO is still stuck in the Legislature.
If the 5.7 percent tax was applied to the $40 million, the state would have received $2.28 million in increased tax revenue. And that's just from one company's rentals in one specific geographic location.
Cities and towns also potentially lost money because the bill allows them to impose up to a 6 percent local option room occupancy tax and a local impact fee of up to 3 percent on operators who rent out two or more professionally-managed short-term rental units within a municipality.
The House and Senate approved the bill on July 3 and sent it to Gov. Baker who amended it and sent it back to the Legislature which has yet to act on it.
The measure also leaves the regulation of these rentals including registration, licensing and inspections up to local cities and towns. Other provisions create a central state registry of short-term rentals and require that a city or town dedicate no less than 35 percent of revenue generated from the new local option fee to either affordable housing or local infrastructure needs.
Baker's amendments include exempting operators who rent out their properties for 14 days or less annually from the 5.7 percent room occupancy tax. He said that without that exception, the bill will require many homeowners who rent out their homes for one or two weeks a year to register as an operator with the Department of Revenue and to collect and remit the room occupancy tax.
Baker also had doubts about the proposed central registry. "I am concerned that the bill threatens the privacy of thousands of Massachusetts residents by requiring the publication of personally identifiable information in a short-term rental registry," said the governor. "Therefore I propose that we publish only the street name and the city or town where the property is located, and not include the street number of the property."
Supporters say the bill strikes a balance and levels the playing field of taxes and regulation of these untaxed and unregulated short-term rentals and hotels and motels that are currently regulated and taxed.Opponents say the bill is simply another example of an anti-business, unwarranted tax and overregulation by the state.
Estimates are that if the bill is ever signed into law, the state will reap $34.5 million annually from the new taxes and local communities which impose the optional local tax will receive some $25.5 million.
* Restrict idling cars and buses (S 1950) - Stuck in the Senate Ways and Means Committee since May 3, 2017 is a bill, given a favorable report by the Transportation Committee, that reduces from five minutes to three minutes the time drivers are allowed to idle their engines. Violators would be punished by a fine of up to $100 for the first offense and $500 for each additional offense.
Supporters say that idling an engine for only fifteen seconds uses more fuel than turning the engine off and restarting it. They argue that idling also increases maintenance costs because it leaves fuel residue that clogs fuel injectors. They note that the proposal would save millions of dollars in fuel costs for individuals and cities and town and would help protect the environment.
Opponents say that the bill goes too far. They argue that the current five-minute ban on idling all vehicles is sufficient and questioned the need to approve a new law and to set up another layer of bureaucracy.
* Business telephone listing (H 184) - A bill that has been stuck in the House Bills in Third Reading Committee would prohibit a business from listing a local telephone number in a phone directory if calls are routinely forwarded to a non-local number and the listing does not give the true physical address of the business. The measure was given initial approval by the House on July 20, 2017.
Supporters say this would prohibit businesses from misrepresenting their location and fooling people into thinking an out-of-town company is located in their town.
* Home loans for first responders (S 733) - A bill that would create a special home loan program for first responders, including police officers, firefighters and EMTs, who are working for a city or town that requires them to live within a short distance of the city or town was sent to a study committee. Most measures that are shipped off to a study committee are never actually studied and are essentially defeated
Supporters say the already difficult problem of home buying in this market is compounded by the residency requirement and limits where the first responders can work.
* $2,500 for first-time homebuyers (S 751) - Also sent off to a study committee was legislation that would create a program that would help first-time homebuyers by providing up to $2,500 to pay closing costs.
The measure also allows consumers to contribute up to $4,000 to a first-time home-buying account. The money would be tax-free when deposited and when taken out of the account as long as it goes toward the purchase of a home.
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at email@example.com