By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives on three roll calls from the week of April 1-5. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.

APPROVE TRANSPORTATION PACKAGE INCLUDING TAX HIKES (H 3382): House 120-31, gave initial approval to the Democratic leadership-sponsored transportation package that includes $500 million in tax hikes. Provisions include a 3-cent-per-gallon hike in the state's current 21-cent-per-gallon gas tax, which, beginning in 2015, would also be indexed to inflation. Other provisions include a $1 hike in the current $2.51-per-package cigarette tax, an increase in the tax on cigars and smokeless tobacco, imposition of a 6.25 percent sales tax on computer system design services as well as modification of prewritten software, and a change in the way utilities are classified for tax purposes. All Republicans voted "no" while all but two Democrats voted "yes."

Beacon Hill Roll Call uses the words "gave initial approval to" above in describing last week's action. The technical language of the House is: "ordered the bill to a third reading." Generally there are three hurdles that bills have to overcome in both the House and the Senate before they go to the governor's desk -- ordering the bill to a third reading, engrossment and enactment.

There was no debate on the actual bill itself. Legislators offered different reasons for voting yes on this roll call.


Some say the bill is a reasonable package that will begin to solve many of the structural and financial problems that plague the state's transportation system. Others say they voted for initial approval only as a "procedural move" to bring the bill onto the House floor for debate and a vote and some of these legislators say that they plan to vote against it when it is up for debate and a subsequent vote in a few days. Others who say they voted for the bill as a procedural move note that they have not yet made up their minds whether to support the bill when it comes up again.

Opponents say the proposed tax hikes will hurt already overburdened taxpayers. They argue that the state can't tax its way out of this economic climate and urged the Commonwealth to live within its means. On the day after this action, GOP legislators proposed their own transportation plan that they say will accomplish some goals without raising taxes.

It is also fair to note that 31 legislators, including 29 Republicans and two Democrats, voted no. Most, if not all of those representatives say that they oppose the substance of the bill and would prefer to kill it at this early stage rather than go along with the "procedural move" argument.

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

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington; No

HOLD PUBLIC HEARING ON TAX HIKES (H 3382): House 30-123, rejected a GOP-sponsored motion to postpone action on the transportation bill and $500 million tax hike package until a public hearing is held. All Republicans supported postponement while every Democrat except one opposed it.

Supporters said it is undemocratic and irresponsible to debate and vote on this important bill without giving taxpayers a chance to express their opinions at a public hearing. They noted that there have been hearings on Gov. Deval Patrick's markedly different tax hike plan but not on this new one.

Opponents said the House held ten hearings on the governor's plan and noted that this new plan is the result of those hearings. They argued more hearings would be superfluous and never-ending if the House held one every time a new version of a bill is proposed.

(A "Yes" vote is for a public hearing. A "No" vote is against it.)

Rep. Jennifer Benson, No; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes

STUDY AND DELAY TAX HIKES (H 3382): House 30-123, rejected a Republican-sponsored amendment that would replace the tax hikes with a proposal to study them instead. The amendment would require the Patrick administration to study and report back to the Legislature on the impact the tax hikes would have on the state. All Republicans supported the study while every Democrat except one opposed it.

Supporters of the study acknowledged the amendment is just a way to delay or kill the hikes. They said they are simply borrowing a tactic often used by Democrats, who attach the same delaying amendment to Republican proposals to lower taxes.

Opponents of the study dismissed it as a delaying tactic by opponents of the hikes. They said the Legislature has a responsibility to address the transportation problems in the state and to vote on the tax hikes.

(A "Yes" vote is for studying and delaying the tax hikes. A "No" vote is against the study.)

Rep. Jennifer Benson, No; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes


Dozens of proposals were the subject of public hearings on Beacon Hill last week. Here are some of the more interesting ones:

INCREASE LEGISLATORS' TERMS (S 64): Increases the terms of legislators from two to four years. Supporters said that the increase would allow legislators to focus on their work and their constituents and not be tied up with campaigning and fundraising every two years. Opponents said that the increase would make legislators less accountable and give voters fewer opportunities to remove unpopular legislators.

LIMIT JUDGE'S TERMS (H 65): Limits the state's judges to serving seven years, at which time they would be eligible for reappointment.

LIMIT EMINENT DOMAIN (H 66): Prohibits private property from being taken for private commercial or economic development without the consent of the owner.

JUVENILES IN JAIL (H 3229): Provides that those in the state's criminal justice system should remain under juvenile jurisdiction until their 18th birthday. Current law puts them in the adult system after they turn 17.

MISSING PERSONS (S 1110): Requires all law enforcement agencies to accept without delay any report of a missing person even if the person is an adult and has been missing only for a short period of time.

PLANS FOR PETS DURING EMERGENCY (S 1173): Requires any state emergency disaster plan to include plans to support the needs of people with household pets and/or service animals.

MACE AND PEPPER SPRAY (S 1179): Allows the purchase of self-defense sprays like Mace and pepper spray without a license. Massachusetts is one of the few states that require a Firearms Identification Card to carry these sprays.

PUNISH SANCTUARY CITIES AND TOWNS (H 2162): Withholds local aid from any cities or towns that do not enforce federal immigration laws. Also applies to communities that have established themselves as "sanctuary cities or towns" offering protection in a variety of ways to illegal immigrants.

UNDERGROUND RAILROAD MUSEUM (H 3001): Provides $12 million for construction of a museum and cultural center in Springfield to teach people the important role that Western Massachusetts played in the Underground Railroad, Civil Rights Movement.


Special edition: Reaction to the Democratic leadership's proposal to raise taxes by $500 million.

"If this bill comes to my desk in this form, I'm going to have to veto it."

-- Gov. Patrick, who supports his own package, which hikes taxes by $1.9 billion.

"Our state doesn't have a revenue problem. We have a management problem."

-- Rep. Shaunna O'Connell (R-Taunton).

"What a surprise."

-- Senate President Therese Murray when told that Republicans have criticized the tax hikes.

"Tying the gas tax to inflation is a gimmick to avoid accountability on a higher tax burden. The taxpayers deserve better than allowing the gas tax to increase over and over again year after year."

-- Rep. Peter Durant (R-Spencer).

"I think the bill as it stands is inadequate. We clearly need to do more than that."

-- Rep. Carl Sciortino (D-Medford), who says the $500 million plan does not meet the needs of the transportation system.

"With the white smoke having risen from the transportation financing conclave, we reiterate our call for Speaker DeLeo to conduct a public hearing on his proposal. Any piece of legislation that seeks to raise $500 million in new revenue must be put through the rigors of public review."

-- Rep. Bradley Jones (R-North Reading) on the lack of a public hearing on the tax hike.

"We're still losing over 8,000 lives every year to tobacco-related disease. The price of tobacco has a big impact on smoking rates among adults and helps determine what percentage of kids will become addicted future smokers."

-- Dr. Alan Woodward, Chair of Tobacco Free Mass., on the $1 per pack cigarette tax hike.

HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK'S SESSION? During the week of April 1-5, the House met for a total of five hours and five minutes while the Senate met for a total of 24 minutes.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at Copyright © 2013 Beacon Hill Roll Call. All Rights Reserved.