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THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on two roll calls and local senators’ votes on three roll calls from the week of July 16-20.

Allow cities and towns to join state health insurance plan (H 4110)

House 154-0, Senate 34-0, approved and sent to Gov. Deval Patrick a bill allowing cities and towns to enroll their local employees in the state-operated group health insurance plan. Supporters said that the bill would give local employees more plans and broader coverage from which to choose. They noted that the switch to the state plan would save money for many cities and towns through reduced administrative costs and lower cost plans negotiated by the state which has increased purchasing power. (A “yes” vote is for the bill allowing cities and towns to enroll their local employees in the state-operated group health insurance plan).

Rep. Eldridge, Yes; Rep. Hargraves, Yes; Sen. Antonioni, Yes; Sen. Panagiotakos, Yes; Sen. Resor, Yes

Fold local pension systems into state pension system (H 4125)

House 140-14, approved (Senate approved on a voice vote without a roll call) and sent to the governor legislation requiring the assets of 157 city and town pension systems to be folded into and managed by the state pension fund. The 157 systems include 19 individual cities or towns and 138 cities and towns that are currently part of six county systems. The systems do not meet the legislation’s requirements to continue to operate independently. The bill provides for state management of any system with earnings 2 percent or more lower than the state’s average percentage of return over the past 10 years and which are not meeting newly-established parameters to pay off their unfunded liabilities. Current law allows but does not require all local pension systems to join the state system. Supporters said that the legislation would easily increase investment returns for these underperforming local pension systems by an estimated $100 million and would lower property taxes in many of the communities. They noted that the $50 billion state pension fund is superbly managed and has more leverage in dealing with investment firms. They argued that these local systems would have generated an additional $700 million if they had been operated by the state over the past several years. Some opponents said that the legislation is another example of the state unnecessarily taking away power from local communities. Others noted that the proposal would not generate sufficient extra revenue to lower property taxes. (A “yes” vote is for the bill requiring the assets of 157 pension systems to be folded into and managed by the state pension fund. A “no” vote is against the bill).

Rep. Eldridge, No; Rep. Hargraves, Yes.

Jury duty (S 2261)

Senate 34-0, approved a bill changing the current law that exempts people who are called for jury duty from being called again during the three calendar years following the date of service. The bill would reduce the length of the exemption by allowing jurors to be called again three years from the date of their service. For example, under current law, a juror who served in May 2007 would be exempt until May 2011. Under the bill, the same juror would be exempt only until May 2010. Supporters said that Suffolk County has a severe juror shortage that is caused by a rise in violent crimes and the exemption from jury duty of the growing number of students and people who do not speak English. They argued that without the change, the county would run out of jurors in three months. They noted that this would lead to delayed trials and demands by defense attorneys to let accused rapists and murderers out on bail. The House has already approved the bill. Only final House and Senate approval are necessary prior to the measure going to Gov. Patrick. (A “yes” vote is for the bill).

Sen. Antonioni, Yes; Sen. Panagiotakos, Yes; Sen. Resor, Yes/

Identity theft (H 4144)

Senate 34-0, approved (House approved on a voice vote without a roll call) and sent to Gov. Patrick a bill aimed at stopping identity theft and preventing an impostor from opening a new credit account using stolen personal information. A key provision allows a consumer to temporarily “freeze” his or her credit report and prevent the three major credit bureaus from issuing the report without his or her consent. Consumers would be issued a PIN number to temporarily unfreeze their credit reports when they apply for credit. Most companies will not issue credit without a credit report and would deny an impostor’s application for credit when a credit report is frozen. The one-time cost to the consumer to freeze his or her credit report is $5. Consumers would also be required to pay $5 each time they unfreeze the account. Companies would be prohibited from charging a fee to victims of identity theft or their spouses. The measure also requires all businesses and state and local governments to notify consumers quickly when there has been a breach of security that might compromise a customer’s privacy. Supporters said that identity theft is now a major problem and has affected the lives of many people across the nation. They noted that Massachusetts is lagging behind more than 30 states that have laws dealing with this crime. (A “yes” vote is for the bill).

Sen. Antonioni, Yes; Sen. Panagiotakos, Yes; Sen. Resor, Yes

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

Form public employee unions without elections (H 2465) — The Senate approved a bill changing the way that public employee unions can be formed in Massachusetts. Under current law, if 30 percent of workers sign cards indicating their support for forming a union, a secret ballot election is held and a union is formed if workers approve the formation at the election. The bill would create another option that automatically creates a union without a secret ballot election if a majority of workers sign cards. The measure has already been approved by the House and only final House and Senate approval are necessary prior to the proposal going to the governor.

Ban Internet hunting (S 2273) — The House gave initial approval to a Senate-approved bill banning “Internet hunting” — the practice of using a mouse click on a home computer to kill confined animals on a distant game ranch. Trophy mounts of the animal are often prepared and shipped to the customer. The measure imposes up to a 2.5 year prison sentence and/or $2,500 fine on violators. The bill was filed at the request of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Some 22 states have already outlawed this controversial practice.

Cancel preliminary Boston election (H 4162) — The House gave final approval to a Senate-approved home rule bill eliminating Boston’s regularly-scheduled Sept. 25 preliminary election at which voters nominate eight candidates to appear on the Nov. 6 general election ballot to compete for the four at-large seats on the Boston City Council. There are currently nine candidates who qualify for the September ballot. Without this bill, the voters on Sept. 25 would choose eight of those nine candidates to move forward and appear on the November ballot. The bill eliminates the preliminary election and places the names of all nine candidates on the November ballot. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and the Boston City Council have already approved the measure but it must also be approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Patrick in order to become law. Supporters said that eliminating the election would save the city an estimated $500,000 that it costs for election day workers and other expenses. They noted that it is irresponsible to spend that kind of money on a preliminary election that would eliminate only one candidate out of nine. Opponents said that eliminating an election is a self-serving, outrageous and anti-democratic move that would set a dangerous precedent. The measure needs only final approval in the Senate prior to going to the governor.

Bring the troops home from Iraq — A resolution urging the U.S. Congress and President Bush to immediately end the war in Iraq and withdraw all U.S. troops was admitted by the House and sent to the Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee.

Junk mail and calls from telemarketers — The Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure held a hearing on legislation requiring all companies and businesses that mail unsolicited material to Massachusetts residents to provide information with each mailing explaining to residents how they can request to no longer receive future mailings (H 224). Companies would be required to remove these residents from their mailing lists and face fines of up to $500 per incident if they fail to do so. The committee is also considering a proposal to ban telemarketers from making unsolicited sales calls to cell phones (H 232).

2007 sales tax holiday (H 2876) — The Revenue Committee approved a bill allowing consumers to buy most products that cost under $2,500 on Saturday, Aug. 11 and Sunday, Aug. 12. The tax waiver does not apply to the sale of telecommunications, gas, steam, electricity, motor vehicles, motorboats, meals, tobacco or any single item that costs more than $2,500.

None of the above (H 706) — The Election Laws Committee heard testimony on a bill giving voters the option of voting for “none of the above, call for a new election” on all election ballots, except the presidential election. A new election would be held 60 to 80 days later if a plurality of voters selects “none of the above, call for new election” on their ballots. All candidates who ran in the original election would be prohibited from running in the new election. In presidential elections, voters would have the option to vote “prefer none of the above” but the Massachusetts presidential election would still be won by the candidate who receives the most votes.

Gov. Patrick signs bill to help companies making films in Massachusetts (S 2288) — Gov. Patrick signed into law a bill lifting until 2022 the $700 million per film cap on tax credits that the state gives movie production companies which make films on location in Massachusetts. A law approved in November 2005 provides tax credits and other incentives to these companies but also includes a $700 million cap on the credits. Supporters say that the $700 million cap should be lifted because neighboring states like Rhode Island and Connecticut now offer more tax credits and incentives than Massachusetts. They argue that unless the cap is lifted, Massachusetts will continue to lose millions of dollars in business, jobs and taxes to other states. Some opponents say that the state should not offer tax credits to a wealthy, private entertainment industry while education, human service programs and local aid are still severely underfunded. Others argue that the tax credits are simply another example of “corporate welfare” that helps a narrow business sector.

How long was last week’s session? During the week of July 16-20, the House met for a total of five hours and five minutes while the Senate met for a total of six hours and 45 minutes.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com.

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