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THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives and senators’ votes on four roll calls from the week of Nov. 12-16.

Speaker DiMasi’s energy conservation legislation (H 4365)

House 151-0, approved and sent to the Senate a comprehensive energy package aimed at expanding the use of cleaner, renewable energy in the state. Only a handful of controversial amendments were debated on the House floor. Many representatives who filed amendments pitched their proposals in a room near the House chamber to Democratic leaders who drafted “consolidated amendments” that were then brought to the House floor for consideration. All of these consolidated amendments were easily approved. The House also disposed of several amendments on the House floor without a roll call vote and without debate. Provisions include establishment of a new Department of Clean Energy; a $2,000 income tax deduction for consumers who purchase hybrid or alternative fuel vehicles; extension of a 15 percent or $300 tax credit to businesses that purchase a solar water-heating system; requiring that the state replace government vehicles with more fuel-efficient ones and new programs to provide loans and grants to cities and towns to finance the cost of energy efficiency improvements. The measure also establishes specific energy goals including meeting at least 20 percent of the state’s electric load by the year 2020 through new, renewable generation; reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels by the year 2020; and reducing total energy consumption by at least 10 per cent by 2017. Supporters said that this landmark pro-environmental legislation, supported by businesses, the energy industry and environmentalists, would increase the state’s use of cleaner, renewable energy and reduce its dependence on foreign oil. (A “yes” vote is for the bill).

Rep. Eldridge, Yes; Rep. Hargraves, Yes.

Sliding scale for auto sales tax based on fuel efficiency (H 4365)

House 33-119, rejected an amendment replacing the state’s flat 5 percent sales tax on passenger cars with a sliding sales tax scale ranging from 0 percent to 5 percent. Buyers would pay a lower tax on vehicles with greater fuel efficiency. Vehicles would be divided into categories based on the vehicle’s seating capacity in order to determine the sales tax. An owner of an SUV would not be penalized for simply owning an SUV. Owners of hybrid SUVs with greater fuel efficiency would pay less than an owner of a less-efficient SUV. Amendment supporters said that these tax incentives would encourage and reward consumers who buy fuel efficient vehicles and discourage and penalize those who choose to pollute the environment. They noted that the amendment would help clean up the environment and lower the state’s dependence on foreign oil. Opponents said that the amendment is well-intentioned but goes too far and would jeopardize the delicate balance of business and environmental groups that support the legislation. They noted that amendment proponents have not offered an estimate of how much the sliding-scale sales tax would cost the state. (A “yes” vote is for the amendment replacing the state’s flat 5 percent sales tax on passenger cars with a sliding scale sales tax. A “no” vote is against the amendment).

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

Exempt some of the sales tax on hybrid autos (H 4365)

House 152-0, approved an amendment giving a sales tax break to car buyers who purchase hybrid vehicles. The amendment would exempt from the state’s 5 percent sales tax the dollar difference between the cost of the hybrid and the cost of the same non-hybrid vehicle. Amendment supporters said that this would mean that a consumer who buys a hybrid for $35,000 instead of the same non-hybrid car for $30,000 would not have to pay the sales tax on the $5,000 difference. They argued that this would encourage the purchase of hybrids and would cost the state very little in lost revenue. (A “yes” vote is for the sales tax break).

Rep. Eldridge, Yes; Rep. Hargraves, Yes.

Delay green building tax credit (H 4365)

House 150-2, approved an amendment creating a “green building tax credit” that includes financial incentives to encourage developers to build energy efficient buildings but preventing the tax credits from taking effect until the Department of Revenue issues a report on their economic impact. The portion of the amendment delaying the amendment was added on a voice vote, without a roll call, to the original proposal that simply provided the tax credits. Amendment supporters said that the proposal is well-intentioned but the cost of the tax credits is unknown and should be determined prior to actually offering them. Opponents offered no arguments. (A “yes” vote is for the amendment that provides and delays the tax credits. A “no” vote is against the amendment).

Rep. Eldridge, Yes; Rep. Hargraves, Yes.

Allow Governor’s Councilors to practice law in courts (S 2332)

Senate 27-5, approved a bill allowing members of the Governor’s Council who are lawyers to represent clients before courts, state boards and agencies. Current law prohibits all state employees, except legislators, from representing clients in these capacities. The council is an elected eight-member body that screens and votes on the confirmation of the governor’s judicial appointments and on requests for pardons and commutations of sentences. Supporters of the bill said that it is unfair to prohibit councilors who are lawyers from practicing before the courts, state boards and agencies. They noted that councilors earn only $25,000 per year and in most cases depend on outside income to support their families. Opponents said that the bill is special interest legislation filed on behalf on former judge and current 8th District Governor’s Councilor Thomas Merrigan, who said that he was not aware of the law when he was elected. They argued that the proposal creates a conflict of interest because it would allow councilors to practice before judges whose appointments were or might in the future be acted upon by the same councilor. The House approved the measure on a voice vote without a roll call or debate. Only final approval is needed in both branches prior to the measure going to Gov. Patrick. (A “yes” vote is for the bill allowing members of the Governor’s Council to represent clients before courts, state boards and agencies. A “no” vote is against the bill).

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

Ban lawyer-legislators from practicing before state boards and agencies (S 2332)

Senate 5-25, rejected an amendment to prohibit legislators who are lawyers from representing clients in front of state boards and agencies. Amendment supporters said that current law bans all state employees, except legislators from this practice. They argued that it is a conflict of interest for representatives and senators to represent clients before boards and agencies when these same legislators are voting on the funding of these entities. Amendment opponents said that legislators are technically not public employees. They argued that the ban is unnecessary and would discourage potential candidates from running for election to the Legislature. (A “yes” vote is for the amendment prohibiting legislators who are lawyers from representing clients in front of state boards and agencies. A “no” vote is against the amendment).

Sen. Antonioni, Present; Sen. Panagiotakos, Present; Sen. Resor, No.

$15 million for fuel assistance (H 4332)

Senate 37-0, approved and sent to Gov. Patrick a measure providing $15 million for low-income residents to purchase heating oil, propane and natural gas and electricity. Supporters said that rising energy costs and the forecast of a very cold winter make this funding necessary. They noted that the funds would supplement the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. (A “yes” vote is for the bill).

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

Change date of presidential primary (S 2414)

Senate 33-5, approved a bill changing the date of the state’s presidential primary from March 4 to Feb. 5. The measure would also allow several special elections for vacant state representative and Senate seats to be held on the same day. The move would mean that the state’s primary would be on “Super Tuesday,” along with more than 20 other states. Supporters said that a nominee might already be chosen if the state waits until March and argued that the move to February would make the state’s primary relevant. They noted that allowing special legislative elections on the same day would save the state an estimated $100,000 in election day costs including the printing of ballots. Some opponents said that this bill appeared out of nowhere and is being rushed through the Legislature while important legislation is stalled in committees. They argued that they suspect that the proposal is somehow designed to benefit Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and hurt former governor Mitt Romney’s campaign by making him spend time in Massachusetts to avoid an embarrassing loss here. Others noted that the change would increase election costs for many cities and towns that have already scheduled local elections for March 4, the day on which they expected that the presidential primary would be held. (A “yes” vote is for the change to Feb. 5. A “no” vote is against the change).

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

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

Increase buffer zones at abortion clinics (S 1353) — Gov. Patrick signed into law a bill that increasing the current buffer zone around abortion clinics from a “floating” 6 feet to a permanent 35 feet. Approaching people in these zones for the purpose of passing out leaflets or engaging in oral protest is punishable by up to a $500 fine and/or three-month prison sentence for a first offense and stiffer penalties for subsequent violations.

Tidelands (H 4324) — Gov. Patrick signed into law legislation giving the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) the statutory authority to exempt development and construction on “landlocked filled tidelands” from the strict licensing requirements of the state’s colonial-era law that guaranteed public access to ocean and ponds. Many of these waterways were eventually filled in and developed as populations grew. DEP in 1990 began exercising the regulatory authority to exempt these landlocked tidelands from the licensing requirements. The Supreme Judicial Court in February 2007 issued a decision stating that DEP did not have this power and had exceeded its authority. Supporters said that the legislation would ensure that DEP is granted the authority to exempt these landlocked tidelands that no longer have any meaningful connection or access to the waterfront.

Buy only U.S. flags made in America (H 4273) — The Committee on State Regulatory Oversight heard testimony on legislation requiring that all U.S. flags purchased by state agencies be manufactured in the United States. The proposal describes these flags as those for which “a substantial majority of the principal components are assembled into the final product in an assembly plant in the United States.” The measure also requires that contract documents for the purchase of flags by government agencies be manufactured and printed in the United States.

Special license plate number 1620 (H 221) — The House gave initial approval to a bill requiring the Registry of Motor Vehicles to issue Dexter Olsson of Plymouth the Massachusetts license plate 1620 for his automobile. The measure also allows Olsson in his will to transfer the plate to another family member or other person. The number 1620 represents the year that the pilgrims, including members of Olsson’s family tree, landed at Plymouth Rock. The plate has been owned by three generations of Olssons until it was stolen several years ago. Local and state authorities will not allow Olsson to have the plate because it is still on record as stolen. The proposal would supersede the decision of authorities and require the registry to issue the plate to Olsson. The Senate has already approved the bill. Further approval is needed in both branches prior to the measure going to Gov. Patrick.

Strike references to mental retardation (H 1899) — The House gave initial approval to legislation that would strike out the words “mental retardation” each time they appear in the state’s law books and replace them with the words “developmental disabilities.”

Contaminated band instruments (H 413) — The House approved and sent to the Senate legislation requiring the Department of Education to establish a task force to examine hygienic procedures relating to the use of band instruments in schools by students and teachers. The task force would examine policies to prevent the spread of contagious diseases such as tuberculosis.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“They are from the University of Massachusetts and studying political science and I understand one is a researcher in the study of the linguistics of politics. We could use that around here.” — House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, taking time out from the House session to introduce students who were guests of Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst).

“Because they could.” — Sen. Stephen Brewer (D-Barre) on the Senate floor explaining why the Legislature in the 1960s exempted legislators from a state law prohibiting all state employees who are lawyers from representing clients before courts, state boards and agencies.

“We’re dealing with a very difficult chamber across the hall.” — Senate Republican Minority Leader Richard Tisei noting that the House has been slow to act on many bills this year.

“The amendment is wholly unrelated.” — Democratic Senate President Therese Murray in her ruling that prohibited consideration of an amendment to place on the 2008 presidential primary ballot a non-binding referendum asking voters if they support legalizing casino gambling and building casinos in the state. Murray ruled that the amendment was out of order.

“This doesn’t pass the smell test. It is one of the reasons people don’t trust the Legislature.” — Sen. Scott Brown (R-Wrentham) criticizing the Senate’s approval of legislation changing the date of the state’s presidential primary from March 4 to Feb. 5. Some opponents said that the bill came out of nowhere, is designed to help Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton and would increase election costs for many cities and towns that have already scheduled local elections to coincide with the original March 4 date.

“I look forward to his ‘grassy knoll’ theories.” — Sen. Edward Augustus (D-Worcester) responding to Sen. Tisei’s assertions that legislation changing the date of the state’s presidential primary came out of nowhere and is designed to benefit Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton. Augustus was referring to the conspiracy theory that a gunshot from an unknown second gunman on the so-called “grassy knoll” helped kill the late President John F. Kennedy.

“The Red Sox.” — Republican House Minority Leader Bradley Jones shouting from the House floor during debate on Speaker DiMasi’s energy conservation legislation. Jones was responding to a rhetorical question posed by Rep. Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill) asking members when the last time was that the environmental, business and utility communities, the House speaker, the Senate president and the governor agreed on something significant.

HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION? During the week of Nov. 12-16, the House met for a total of 16 hours and 33 minutes while the Senate met for a total of eight hours and 59 minutes.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com.

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