THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ votes on four roll calls and local representatives’ votes on two roll calls from the week of March 31 to April 4.
$3.5 billion transportation package (H 4637)
House 155-0, Senate 39-0, approved different versions of a $3.5 billion transportation package to improve state and local roads, bridges and public transportation. The measure includes $1.6 billion in state funds that would leverage another $1.9 billion in federal funds. Both versions include $2.6 billion for state, regional and local roads and bridges; $700 million for the MBTA and regional public transit and $150 million in Chapter 90 transportation funds for local cities and towns. The Senate version contains several major changes that are not in the House plan including requiring state officials to develop a plan and regulations to use civilian flag men instead of police officers to direct traffic on construction and repair projects on secondary roads while continuing to use police officers on major roads and highways; directing the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority to consider abolishing the use of human toll collectors and use only less-expensive automated systems and requiring MassHighway to expedite projects to clear its backlog. Supporters said that it is important to approve this package quickly in order for the state to meet federal deadlines that would ensure receipt of an estimated $1.9 billion in federal transportation dollars. They argued that the measure would help communities across the state, boost the economy and create jobs. The House and Senate will have to iron out their differences prior to the measure going to Gov. Deval Patrick. (A “yes” vote is for the $3.5 billion transportation package).
Rep. Eldridge, Yes; Rep. Hargraves, Yes; Sen. Antonioni, Yes; Sen. Panagiotakos, Yes; Sen. Resor, Yes.
Mental health of returning soldiers (H 4526)
House 155-0, approved a bill creating a 15-member special commission to study the mental health effects of war on Massachusetts citizens who return from active duty. The commission would look at many options including the establishment of a mandatory mental health treatment program for National Guard members who engage in combat and a state military family leave policy for caregivers. Supporters said that it is time to ensure that our veterans are treated for their post-war mental health problems. They noted that veterans risk their lives for freedom and should not be ignored when they return home. The Senate approved the measure on a voice vote, without a roll call and sent it to Gov. Patrick. (A “yes” vote is for the bill).
Rep. Eldridge, Yes; Rep. Hargraves, Yes.
Wage violations (S 1059)
Senate 34-5, voting strictly along party lines, approved and sent to Gov. Patrick a bill requiring employers who are convicted of not paying wages to an employee in a timely fashion to pay the employee triple the amount of money owed. Ironically, the Senate’s five Republican members sided with Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, who opposes the proposal. The legislation was filed in response to a 2005 court ruling that left the amount of the award to the discretion of the judge. Supporters argued that triple damages should automatically be awarded in order to discourage employers from holding back wages. Opponents said that the bill goes too far and takes away all discretion from judges despite the circumstances of the case. (A “yes” vote is for the bill mandating triple damages. A “no” vote is against mandating triple damages).
Sen. Antonioni, Yes; Sen. Panagiotakos, Yes; Sen. Resor, Yes.
Allow appeals by teachers who fail certification test (S 271)
Senate 34-5, voting strictly along party lines, approved and sent to the House a bill allowing appeals by candidates who are applying to be teachers but have failed one of the teacher certification tests. All five GOP senators voted against the measure that allows a candidate who has failed a test three times but came very close to passing, to appeal his or her case to the Education Commissioner. The bill is designed to allow these candidates to demonstrate sufficient knowledge and skills to compensate for failing a test. Supporters said that this would simply allow a candidate who meets a myriad of other qualifications to appeal a test score that is only a few points away from passing. They noted that the test scoring system is a complicated one that is based on a curve that is often unfair to some candidates. Some argued that this appeal process would increase the number of teachers who are certified. Opponents said that the bill is outrageous and gives candidates who have failed a test a backdoor route into the important teaching profession. They argued that the state should not waive requirements for potential teachers who are entrusted with the education of our children. Opponents also offered a series of amendments to set up the same appeal process for candidates taking tests to qualify to be licensed in a variety of professions including accountant, architect, dentist, nurse and psychologist. They noted that they were trying to make a point about the silliness of the teacher bill. All the amendments were defeated on voice votes without a roll call. (A “yes” vote is for the bill allowing the appeal process for teacher candidates. A “no” vote is against the appeal process).
Sen. Antonioni, Yes; Sen. Panagiotakos, Yes; Sen. Resor, Yes.
Booster seats for children (S 2018)
Senate 39-0, approved and sent to Gov. Patrick a measure that would require the use of booster seats for child passengers through age 7 or until they reach 4 feet 9 inches tall, whichever comes first. The proposal would replace the current law that requires the seats to be used by children who are under 6 years old, under 40 pounds or both. Supporters said that automobile accidents are the number one killer of children between ages 4 and 8 and noted that children in booster seats are nearly 60 percent less likely to die than if they were wearing seat belts. They argued that children who have outgrown child car seats are often too small to use regular seat belts. Some noted that 38 states already have this law and argued that its passage would generate close to $200,000 in federal funds for Massachusetts. The House approved the measure on a voice vote without a roll call. (A “yes” vote is for the bill).
Sen. Antonioni, Yes; Sen. Panagiotakos, Yes; Sen. Resor, Yes.
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
Twins in school (H 469) — The House gave initial approval to a proposal allowing a parent of twins, triplets, quadruplets or quintuplets to request that their children be placed either in the same classroom or in separate classrooms. The school administration would be allowed to advise the parents but would be required to abide by their request.
“18-65” bank accounts (H 1082) — The House gave initial approval to legislation amending the current law that requires banks to provide free checking and savings accounts to customers over age 65 and under 18. The current law prohibits the bank from requiring a minimum balance and charging for any check, deposit, withdrawal or basic check printing. The proposed legislation leaves that law intact but specifies that banks are allowed to charge these seniors and youngsters for stop payment orders, wire transfers, certified or bank checks, money orders, deposit items returned, ATM transactions and services not directly associated with the deposit, withdrawal or transfer of funds from the individual’s bank account. Another provision requires banks to post a notice informing consumers of the specifics of the law. Supporters said that current law was intended to provide free bank accounts but also allow banks to charge outside fees. They noted that current law is vague and said that many of these customers are under the false impression that they will receive all bank services at no charge.
Sign death certificates (H 2134) — The House gave initial approval to a bill allowing medical directors of nursing homes to issue death certificates for their residents.
Health insurance for children of police officers (H 4565) — The House gave initial approval to a measure providing continued health insurance coverage to the surviving children of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty, even if the surviving spouse dies or remarries. Supporters said that under current law, health insurance benefits for the surviving spouse and children cease if the spouse dies or remarries. They argued that it is cruel and unfair to take away the children’s insurance when their parent remarries or dies.
School bus drivers (H 4396) — The House approved and sent to the Senate legislation that would require school bus drivers to complete a basic course in first aid. Successful completion of the course would add these drivers to the list of school personnel currently exempt from civil liability arising from their rendering first aid in good faith to a sick or injured student.
Dangerous cosmetics (H 4347) — The House gave initial approval to a bill requiring manufacturers of cosmetic products to report to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) if any of their products are found by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to contain unsafe ingredients. The DPH would then review the cases and recommend to the Legislature any further legislation that it determines would help deal with this problem.
Local employees must go on Medicare (H 4516) — The House gave initial approval to a local option bill allowing cities and towns to require their retired employees to sign up for Medicare when they are eligible. The municipality would then drop the employee’s primary health insurance and be required to purchase less expensive secondary insurance for him or her. The law would not apply to local retirees who have spouses that are currently included on the retiree’s health plan until the spouse is also eligible for Medicare. Supporters said this would give struggling, cash-starved communities the option to save money while still protecting their local retirees. They noted that the city or town would no longer have to buy expensive primary coverage insurance but instead would buy less expensive secondary insurance to complement Medicare.
“There’s a lot of people who may be able to pass a test but that doesn’t mean that they’re going to be good teachers.”– Sen. Michael Morrissey, D-Quincy, speaking in favor of legislation allowing appeals by candidates who are applying to be teachers but have failed one of the teacher certification tests.
“There are people all over this state who are great people but can’t pass the medical exam. We’ll set up a path for them to become doctors without passing the exam and after failing it three or more times.” — Republican Minority Leader Richard Tisei, R-Wakefield, mocking senators who support the legislation allowing appeals by candidates who are applying to be teachers but have failed one of the teacher certification tests. Tisei sarcastically proposed the same appeal process be available for candidates taking tests to qualify to be licensed in a variety of professions including doctor, pharmacist, lawyer, barber and funeral director.
“The United States Mint and its friends in the mining industry and Congress have tried time and again to force the American people to use what is probably the most unpopular and inconvenient form of currency ever devised. The dollar coin is now and always has been wildly unpopular and unlike paper currency is not made from renewable materials, but is actually mined from the earth.” — Rep. Denis Guyer, D-Dalton, commenting on his newly-filed legislation that would require all state agencies and transit authorities to provide change to customers only in paper bill form when the change totals $5 or more. Crane Paper, the nation’s sole manufacturer of United States currency paper, is located in Dalton and employs an estimated 1,000 workers.
HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION? During the week of March 31 to April 4, the House met for four hours and 20 minutes while the Senate met for four hours and 43 minutes.
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