By Bob Katzen

There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

The 2017-2018 legislative session ended on Jan. 1. Thousands of bills that were not approved by that time by both branches and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker are now dead.

Beacon Hill Roll Call's research shows that there are at least 12 bills that were approved unanimously by the Senate but were stuck in a House committee ñ in most cases the House Ways and Means Committee -- for up to a year or more. With no opposition in the Senate, observers question why the bills were stalled and died in the House.

Under House rules, any individual representative can move to discharge most bills from the Ways and Means Committee. There is a 7-day waiting period prior to the House considering the motion to discharge. The discharge motion must receive a majority vote of the members present. If the measure is discharged from the committee, the committee has four days within which to report the measure for placement on the House's agenda for action.

A bill may also be discharged from the Ways and Means Committee by any representative by filing a petition signed by a majority of the House. The bill would then be discharged seven days later and go onto the House agenda for the next session.

A state legislator who spoke on the condition of anonymity told Beacon Hill Roll Call that some bills are likely held up in committee because someone in a high position either inside or outside the Statehouse is opposed to it.


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"If a powerful person wants the measure never to see the light of day, there is little that a rank and file representative can do," said the legislator.

The legislator added that it was common practice back in the 1970s and 1980s to make motions to discharge a bill from a committee and bring it to the full House for debate and a vote. "That rarely, if ever, happens anymore," said the legislator. "And if does, it is destined to fail."

Another state legislator who wished to remain anonymous said, "Under House rules, every representative has to power to attempt to discharge a bill but hardly any try out of fear of offending the powerful speaker, his leadership team and committee chairs."

Here are six of the important bills that were approved unanimously by the Senate and died in the House Ways and Means Committee:

PROPERTY TAX REDUCTIONS (S 2124): Senate 39-0, approved a bill providing a variety of property tax breaks for seniors, veterans and disabled persons.

Provisions include raising from $1,000 to $1,500 the amount of property tax reduction veterans can earn by doing volunteer work in their city or town; creating a new local option property tax exemption for deaf persons of $5,000 of taxable valuation or $437.50 of actual taxes due, whichever is greater; and allowing more homeowners over 65 to qualify for the state's $1,070 "senior circuit breaker" tax credit.

Supporters say it is up to cities and towns whether to offer these tax breaks because the breaks are not state-mandated. They note the reductions will be good for countless low-income seniors, military personnel and disabled persons and might even help some of them remain in their homes, rather than having to move because they can't afford to pay their property taxes.

(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)

YES: Sens. Michael Barrett, James Eldridge, Cindy Friedman, Anne Gobi and Bruce Tarr.

Sens. Barry Finegold, Edward Kennedy and Dean Tran were not yet senators.

COST OF COLLEGE (S 2247): Senate 39-0, approved legislation that would require all colleges in Massachusetts to give applicants who have been accepted to the college, a uniform financial aid information sheet, developed by the student's decision whether to enroll in that school. Currently, an estimated 3,300 U.S. institutions across the nation, including 66 in Massachusetts, already use the information sheet.

Supporters say requiring each college to present the costs of the school per semester on the same standard form will allow potential students and their families to make apples-to-apples comparisons of the benefits and costs of attending a school. They argue it is difficult to compare costs when they are presented in a different way by each school. 

(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)

YES: Sens. Michael Barrett, James Eldridge, Cindy Friedman, Anne Gobi, Bruce Tarr and Dean Tran.

Sens. Barry Finegold and Edward Kennedy were not yet senators.

SOCIAL MEDIA PRIVACY PROTECTION (S 2320): Senate 36-0, approved a proposal designed to protect students and employees from being forced or bullied into providing schools and companies with information about and access to their social media accounts.

Provisions prohibit any school from requiring a student or applicant and an employee or applicant to disclose photographs, videos, a user name, password or other means of access to a personal social media account; allow an aggrieved student or applicant to bring a civil suit against the school for violating these new laws; permits the attorney general to investigate any violations by employers; and permit schools to disclose lawfully obtained information from a student's personal social media account to law enforcement to protect against immediate danger of death or serious physical injury to a student or other individuals.

Supporters say that a growing number of employers and schools are demanding access to the social media account of students and employees and prospective students and employees. They argue this is an invasion of privacy that should not be allowed in the Bay State. They say demanding access to a social media account is the same as demanding offline access to a person's diary, regular mail, photo albums and conversations the person has with family and friends ñ offline things that which would never be demanded by a school or employer.

(A Yes" vote is for the bill.)

YES: Sens. James Eldridge, Cindy Friedman, Anne Gobi, Bruce Tarr and Dean Tran.

Sens. Barry Finegold and Edward Kennedy were not yet senators.

Sen. Michael Barrett didn't vote.

ACTION PLAN IN RESPONSE TO CLIMATE CHANGE (S 2196): Senate 38-0, approved and sent to the House a bill requiring the state, led by the secretaries of energy and environmental affairs and public safety, to study, create and implement a comprehensive adaption management plan to protect and ensure the preservation, protection and restoration of the state's "built and natural environment" from the risks of climate change. The plan would be updated every five years.

Supporters point to the flooding and massive damage caused by Hurricane Sandy and other disasters. They argue the state must prepare in advance and be proactive and not just reactive to similar threats and disasters.

YES: Sens. Michael Barrett, James Eldridge, Cindy Friedman, Anne Gobi and Bruce Tarr.

Sens. Barry Finegold, Edward Kennedy and Dean Tran were not yet senators.

PROTECT PUPPIES AND KITTENS (S 2331): Senate 36-0, approved a bill ensuring that puppies and kittens are bred and sold in a safe and healthy environment and strengthening the current "Puppy Lemon Law" to give pet owners additional options if they unknowingly purchase a sick pet.

Provisions prohibit the sale of puppies and kittens younger than eight weeks old; allow for inspection by the Commissioner of Agricultural Resources of kennels and catteries and persons keeping at least five non-spayed female dogs or cats; create a process by which a puppy or kitten suffering from a significant adverse health condition may be declared "unfit for purchase" by a veterinarian; and provide remedies to a buyer of a puppy or kitten declared unfit for purchase including exchange of the puppy or kitten or a refund and reimbursement for reasonable veterinary fees.

Supporters say this will reduce the number of animals that are born sick. They argue that pet owners deserve protection when they unknowingly purchase a sick animal that requires expensive veterinary care.

(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)

YES: Sens. James Eldridge, Cindy Friedman, Anne Gobi, Bruce Tarr and Dean Tran.

Sens. Barry Finegold and Edward Kennedy were not yet senators.

Sen. Michael Barrett didn't vote.

STUDENT LOAN BILL OF RIGHTS (S 2380): Senate 36-0, approved a bill giving greater protections to borrowers in disputes with companies servicing their student loans.

Provisions include requiring that all student loan servicers be licensed by the Division of Banks; creating the position of Student Loan Ombudsman in the attorney general's office; assisting in resolving complaints from students; allowing the Commissioner of Banks to revoke or refuse to renew a lender's license if the company is engaged in abusive practices such as overcharging students or steering them into costlier repayment plans to make higher profits; and permitting the Commissioner of Banks to take enforcement action against companies that are violating any of these laws or regulations.

Supporters say that because of the high cost of college, students are taking on substantial debt, and are being taken advantage of by loan servicers."

(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)

YES: Sens. Michael Barrett, James Eldridge, Cindy Friedman, Anne Gobi, Bruce Tarr and Dean Tran.

Sens. Barry Finegold and Edward Kennedy were not yet senators.