THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on five roll calls from the week of October 8-12. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.
Suspend rules to immediately consider $278 million supplemental budget (H 4282)
House 130-18, approved a Democratic motion to suspend rules to allow immediate consideration of a $278 million fiscal 2007 supplemental budget. The rules that were suspended include the one requiring that copies of all bills be made available to all members of the House and the public at least 24 hours in advance of consideration. Supporters of rule suspension said that the House should act quickly and responsibly to approve this budget that funds many vital programs. Opponents of rule suspension said that this complicated 41-page budget was distributed to members less than two hours earlier. They argued that it is irresponsible and unfair to act on the budget when members have not had sufficient time to read it. (A “yes” vote is for rule suspension. A “no” vote is against rule suspension).
Rep. Eldridge, Yes; Rep. Hargraves, No.
$278 million supplemental budget (H 4282)
House 126-18, approved a $278 million fiscal 2007 supplemental budget proposed by the Democratic leadership. The Senate later approved it on a voice vote, without a roll call, and sent it to Gov. Deval Patrick. Provisions include $116.5 million to fund collective bargaining agreements; $20 million for public defenders; $8 million for Central Artery repairs; $200,000 for a special commission that will prepare a 10-year strategic plan for the systemic reform of public education; $200,000 for implementing a survey of all public schools teachers to solicit their views on the teaching and learning environment and $50 million for the state’s Rainy Day Fund that has a current balance of $2.2 billion. A controversial provision gives the governor and the state’s four other constitutional officers automatic biennial pay raises under the same system that that automatically increases legislators’ pay. The governor currently is required to raise the salaries of legislators under the terms of a constitutional amendment approved by the voters in 1998. The amendment requires legislative salaries to be increased or decreased biennially at the same rate as the state’s median household income for the preceding two-year period — as ascertained by the governor. Legislators received a 4.8 percent pay raise for 2007 and 2008. The $2,667.33 hike increased the annual salary of rank-and-file members from $55,569.41 to $58,236.74. If the automatic pay raises for the five constitutional officers is signed into law, they would receive the same 4.8 percent increase retroactive to July 1 and would automatically receive increases every two years. The initial increase would provide a $6,745 hike for the governor (from $140,535 to $147,281); a $5,996 raise for the lieutenant governor, secretary of state and treasurer (from $124,920 to 130,916) and a $6,121 hike for the attorney general (from $127,523 to $133,644). The measure also creates a new five-member advisory board, appointed by the governor on compensation of officials. The board would study the adequacy of compensation of officials and submit a report to the Legislature by December 5. Supporters said that the package is a fiscally responsible one that funds collective bargaining agreements, replenishes accounts that are running out of money and adds money to accounts that would be helped by increased funding. Some opponents said that there is still waste in the budget. Others argued that members received this 41-page document less than two hours ago and said that it is irresponsible and unfair to act on the budget when members have not had sufficient time to read it. (A “yes” vote is for the $278 million budget. A “no” vote is against the $278 million).
Rep. Eldridge, Yes; Rep. Hargraves, No.
$450 million in new lottery local aid for cities and towns (H 4282)
House 24-123, rejected a Republican amendment providing $450 million in additional Lottery Local Aid to cities and towns to be used at their discretion. Amendment supporters said that the Legislature cut Lottery Local Aid by $450 million over the past three years when the state’s financial situation was in question. They noted that eventually the state ended up with an estimated $1 billion surplus in each of those three years and diverted the money to the state’s Rainy Day Fund instead of giving it back to cities and towns. They argued that many communities have been forced to override Proposition Two and a Half, and increase taxes or cut funds for their school, police and firefighters because of this lost local aid. Amendment opponents said that sponsors of the amendment have not indicated where this $450 million would come from. They said that the amendment is fiscally irresponsible and would result in cuts in other important items in the supplemental budget. Some noted that the state substantially increased local aid this year to help make up for the $450 million loss over three prior years. (A “yes” vote is for $450 million in local aid. A “no” vote is against the $450 million).
Rep. Eldridge, No; Rep. Hargraves, Yes.
$450 million in new lottery local aid for property taxpayers (H 4282)
House 19-125, rejected a Republican amendment providing $450 million in Lottery Local Aid to cities and towns to distribute as a form of direct tax relief to all residential property taxpayers. Amendment supporters repeated their arguments that the state diverted $450 million in local aid over a three-year period. They noted that this amendment differs from the first one because it would require cities and towns to distribute the funds directly to property taxpayers. Amendment opponents again argued that the proposal is a fiscally irresponsible one that does not specify from where this $450 million would come. (A “yes” vote is for $450 million in local aid. A “no” vote is against the $450 million).
Rep. Eldridge, No; Rep. Hargraves, Yes.
Eliminate $453,292 for Gov. Patrick’s Washington D.C. office (H 4282)
House 19-128, rejected a Republican amendment to eliminate $453,292 in additional funding for the Patrick administration’s office in the nation’s capital. Supporters of the $453,292 said that the funding is necessary to strengthen this office that works to maximize the amount of federal funds that the state receives. They argued that the additional funding would help bring back millions more in federal dollars to the state. Opponents of the $453,292 said that this additional funding nearly doubles the current budget of this office and asked proponents to explain exactly how the additional money would be used. They noted that the office is currently funded out of the governor’s general budget and said that the Legislature this year increased that general budget by 9.5 percent. (The roll call was on elimination of the $453,292. A “yes” vote is for the amendment eliminating the $453,292. A “no” vote is against the amendment and supports the $453,292).
Rep. Eldridge, No; Rep. Hargraves, Yes.
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
Guv’s casino proposal — Gov. Patrick filed his long-awaited legislation legalizing casino gambling in Massachusetts. House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi announced that public hearings on the controversial bill won’t begin until next year.
Patient confidentiality (H 1315) — The Senate approved a House-approved measure extending current patient confidentiality laws to cover licensed mental health counselors. The proposal prohibits a court from requiring the disclosure of private conversations between a mental health counselor and his or her patient. The bill provides several exemptions including if the counselor determines that the patient is in need of treatment in a hospital for mental emotional illness or that there is a threat of dangerous activity by the patient against himself or another person. Current law covers psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers. Only final approval is necessary in each branch prior to the measure going to Gov. Patrick.
Elect U.S. president by popular vote (H 678) — The Election Laws Committee gave a favorable report to the National Popular Vote bill, legislation that would make Massachusetts a member of The Agreement among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote. The agreement would require member states to cast all of their electoral votes for the presidential candidate who wins a majority of the national popular vote in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The pact would become effective when states representing at least 270 electoral votes – a majority of the 538-vote Electoral College – join this interstate compact. This endeavor is led by Fair Vote – a national group that says it has found sponsors for the proposal in 45 of the nations 50 state legislatures. The proposal does not abolish the Electoral College – a feat that would require the difficult task of amending the U.S. Constitution. It does an end run around the Constitution by taking advantage of a part of the document that gives the states exclusive and complete power to determine how to allocate their electoral votes. The bill now heads to the Legislature for consideration. Sponsors note that the bill has already been signed into law in Maryland and is expected to become law in Illinois and New Jersey within weeks. They say that it was also approved by the California and Hawaii legislatures but vetoed by the governors of those states.
Other election laws legislation — The Election Laws Committee also heard testimony on a proposal prohibiting political parties, political committees or individuals from registering a Web site that could be identified as the Web site of another person who is an elected official or candidate for elective office (H 632). Violators would be subject to up to a $1,000 fine or six-month prison sentence. Supporters said that it is unfair for political opponents to create mischief by hijacking the potential names of Websites of elected officials and candidates. Opponents noted that the bill raises freedom of speech issues. Other measures considered by the committee include prohibiting political signs from being placed on tax-exempt local, state and federal property and property owned by a non-profit (H 641) and requiring a primary candidate for governor to run as a team with a candidate for lieutenant governor and be listed on the ballot together (H 673). Current law provides they be listed separately and allows voters to cast a vote for any candidate for governor and any candidate for lieutenant governor.
Ban alcohol ads on MBTA property (H 46) — A proposal heard by the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure would ban alcohol advertising on any bus, bus stop, kiosk, train station or train operated and owned by the MBTA.
Ban gender-based annuities — A bill prohibiting insurance companies from using gender as a factor in the sale and payout of an annuity policy was considered by the Financial Services Committee (H 901). Supporters of the bill say that it is unfair that men and women purchase annuities at the same price but women receive a lower monthly payout. Opponents say that this is not an equal rights issue but simply a consumer one based on the fact that women generally live longer than men. The House last year approved the bill but it died in the Senate. The committee is also considering a measure providing that the state’s insurance commissioner be elected rather than appointed (S 576).
HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION? During the week of Oct. 8-12, the House met for a total of 16 hours and 52 minutes while the Senate met for a total of nine hours and 11 minutes.
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