By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives and senators on five roll calls from the week of June 17-21.



House 48-102, rejected an amendment to a provision that reduces from the current six months to three months the amount of time any applicant can collect welfare benefits without a Social Security number. The amendment is stricter. It would deny benefits to applicants without a Social Security number except for those who fall into three categories: Children under 1 year old, pregnant women in the third trimester of pregnancy and individuals seeking political asylum, who would receive three months of benefits.

Supporters of providing three months of benefits to applicants in these categories said allowing a three-month waiver for all applicants without a Social Security number is too large a loophole. They noted that it provides three months of free benefits to many applicants who are gaming the system because they don't have and never will have a Social Security card.

Amendment opponents said the overall reduction from six months to three months for all applicants is sufficiently strict and leaves some room for flexibility since there are many different legitimate reasons for not having a Social Security number. They argued that limiting benefits to the three categories is far too restrictive and unfair.


(A "Yes" vote is for the three-month, three-category limit. A "No" vote is against it.)

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


House 44-104, rejected an amendment prohibiting "self-declaration of residency" from being accepted as a valid form of residency verification for people seeking taxpayer-funded benefits from the state.

Amendment supporters said self-declaration is a giant loophole that has allowed gaming of the welfare system. They noted that this has led to people even sending in self-declaration forms from prison.

Amendment opponents said the declaration is signed under the pains and penalties of perjury and is not allowed as the sole identification. They said eliminating self-declaration would also violate federal law.

(A "Yes" vote is for prohibiting self-declaration from being valid. A "No" vote is against prohibiting it.)

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


House 40-112, rejected an amendment creating a welfare fraud hotline for use by police officers and requiring a newly created fraud bureau to respond to the calls. The amendment also would allow the bureau to investigate program violations, conduct hearings, determine penalties and ensure penalties are enforced.

Amendment supporters said that some police officers have said they report welfare abuse but are often ignored. They said this amendment will enhance reporting and expand the power of the bureau to investigate and impose penalties.

Amendment opponents said the bureau's job is to ensure that administrators are doing their jobs. They said it is not intended as another avenue for reporting and overseeing violations.

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

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


House 46-107, rejected an amendment requiring the state auditor to audit the welfare department.

Amendment supporters said the system needs an outside independent audit that is not performed by welfare personnel.

Amendment opponents said a newly created fraud bureau will be conducting audits.

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

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


House 118-32, approved and sent to the Senate a bill making many changes to state health care laws in an effort to bring Massachusetts into compliance with the omnibus federal health care law, also known as Obamacare. 

Supporters said the changes are necessary to comply with federal law. They argued that these changes, combined with the state's own health care reform law, which was approved in 2006, will make Massachusetts a model among the states for expanding health care coverage and reducing costs.

Opponents took issue with many of the changes, but the most frequent objection expressed was that the federal government is usurping the state's power by forcing these changes on the Bay State.

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

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



Senate 37-1, approved a bill making many changes in the state's welfare system. The measure requires photos on Electronic Bank Transfer (EBT) cards, a victory for long-time advocates of this requirement. It also mandates that applicants search for a job prior to receiving cash assistance. Current law gives recipients a 60-day window after they start receiving benefits before they are required to look for employment.

Other provisions include reducing the amount of time any applicant can collect welfare benefits without a social security number from the current six months to three months; increased penalties for illegal trafficking in EBT cards; reducing from 30 to seven the number of days a welfare recipient is allowed to be out of state before he or she loses his or her benefits; and increasing from 60 to 66 the age at which recipients would be exempt from the work requirement.

Supporters said this long overdue overhaul of the welfare system is firm, fair and honest and will cra zxxz ck down on welfare abuse while offering many poor people a road to economic independence.

The lone opponent took issue with several of the changes, including the controversial photo ID requirement. She said the bill goes too far and will hurt many families and elderly and disabled persons.

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

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge , No (Paired/Present); Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes.


Senate 8-29, rejected an amendment to prohibit the top ten percent of abusers of the welfare system from receiving any cash benefits. All benefits would be provided in "safer" manners including a voucher system and direct payment by the state to vendors.

Amendment supporters said this will not stop benefits to these abusers but rather will ensure they are spending their money on necessities and not frills.

Amendment opponents said the amendment goes too far and is overburdensome. They noted the cashless system is very expensive to implement and questioned whether it would be cost effective.

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

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, No; Sen. James Eldridge, No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, No.


Senate 7-31, rejected an amendment that would reduce from 30 to seven the number of days a welfare recipient is allowed to be out of state before he or she loses his or her benefits. The amendment would allow a recipient to request a waiver if there is a legitimate reason for being gone more than seven days.

Amendment supporters said many people collecting out of state are gaming the system and noted a recent report showed 660,000 transactions totaling $26 million in out-of-state transactions, with Florida being the state with the most.

Amendment opponents said people are often out of state for longer periods because of domestic violence or a sick relative. They argued that seven days is too short for people to get a waiver.

(A "Yes" vote is for the reduction to seven days. A "No" vote is against it.)

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, No; Sen. James Eldridge, No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, No.


Senate 5-33, rejected an amendment what would prohibit any state agency except the secretary of state from sending voter registration forms to Massachusetts residents. The amendment was filed in response to a July 2012 state welfare department mailing to nearly 5,000 welfare recipients that included voter registration forms.

Supporters of the ban noted the mailing cost of $300,000 and was clearly done to register more Democrats in the state. They said the welfare department is doing a poor job of administering welfare programs and should not be wasting money and time on unrelated voter registration.

Opponents of the ban said this kind of outreach to potential voters is mandated by federal law and noted the state has no choice but to do it.

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

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, No; Sen. James Eldridge, No;Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, No.


Senate 10-28, rejected an amendment that would have delayed a proposed new policy requiring photos on Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards. The delay would be in effect until and unless the state auditor studies and issues a report confirming that this requirement will save taxpayers more money than it will cost to implement.

Amendment supporters said many states have abandoned this idea because it is not cost-effective. They note it will cost Massachusetts $5 million and result in questionable savings.

Amendment opponents said most people are already required to show photo IDs constantly when dealing with the government or private industry. They noted this is a reasonable requirement when it involves giving taxpayer money to welfare recipients.

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

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, No; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, No.


MAKE CHEERLEADING A SPORT (H 445) -- The Education Committee heard testimony from former and current cheerleaders on a bill that would encourage all school committees to recognize cheerleading as an interscholastic sport and to adopt policies that promote equal opportunities and funding.

Supporters testified that cheerleading should be taken seriously as a sport. They noted that recognition will lead to better training facilities, a higher standard for coaching staff and safer cheerleading equipment.

MOSQUITOES (H 757) -- The Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee has given a favorable report to a bill that would give municipal public works employees the authority to drop non-toxic pesticide pellets into storm drains which have been shown to be breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Officials are hoping this will help reduce the number of West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis cases which plagued the state last summer.

WILL MASSACHUSETTS HOST SUMMER OLYMPICS? (S 1623) -- The Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development gave a favorable report to bill creating a commission to study the feasibility of Massachusetts hosting a future Summer Olympic Games.

BALLOT LISTING (S 338) -- The Election Laws Committee held a hearing on a bill prohibiting the use of the word "incumbent" next to a candidate's name on local and state ballots and replacing the word "unenrolled" with "independent" when referring to a candidate without a party affiliation. The measure also would require that candidates be listed on the ballot in an order determined by a random lottery. Current law requires incumbents to be listed first, followed by an alphabetical listing of candidates of established political parties and then an alphabetical list of non-party candidates.

HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK'S SESSION? During the week of June 17-21, the House met for a total of 13 hours and 42 minutes while the Senate met for a total of nine hours and 54 minutes.


A "pairing" process, noted once above, used only in the Senate, is a procedure that allows an absent senator to express how he or she would have voted on a roll call. Under the arrangement, the absent senator contacts a senator who is present and plans to vote the opposite way. The present senator agrees to "pair" his or her vote with the vote of the absent senator. Neither vote is counted in the official total -- they cancel each other out. This process allows both senators to be unofficially recorded on the roll call.