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THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on three roll calls and local senators’ votes on nine roll calls from the week of May 19-23. Most of the Senate roll calls are from debate on the Senate version of the $28 billion-plus fiscal 2009 budget.

Ocean management plan (S 2699)

House 154-1, Senate 38-0, approved and sent to Gov. Deval Patrick a conference committee version of a bill requiring the state to develop and implement an ocean management plan. The compromise was reached after the House and Senate passed different versions of the bill. The new measure does not include a section from the original House version that critics said would destroy the state’s ocean sanctuaries law and allow Jay Cashman, a friend of House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, to build up to 120 wind turbines in Buzzards Bay. Supporters of the bill said that this landmark legislation would ensure that the state has a statewide and comprehensive plan to balance the commercial and recreational uses of oceans and the protection of their environmental value. They noted that it is long past time to eliminate the current system that spreads out this important responsibility among several government agencies in a piecemeal, confusing and inconsistent manner. The lone opponent said that he agrees with 95 percent of the bill but objects to the manner in which the provision allowing Cashman to build wind turbines in Buzzards Bay was tucked into the original House bill without the knowledge of most representatives. He also said that the conference committee version of the bill cedes some legislative decision-making power to the governor’s administration and would likely result in the wind turbines being built. (A “yes” vote is for the bill. A “no” vote is against it).

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

$1.275 billion for affordable public housing (H 4594)

House 153-0, Senate 37-0, approved and sent to Gov. Patrick a $1.275 billion housing bond package for the production, protection and rehabilitation of affordable housing across the state. Provisions include $500 million for local housing authorities to produce and rehabilitate public housing units; $50 million for community-based housing for the mentally ill and mentally retarded and $50 million for development of community-based housing for persons with disabilities who are institutionalized or at risk of being institutionalized. Supporters said that Massachusetts home prices are among the highest in the nation and argued that the state faces a lack of affordable housing units and opportunities for home ownership. They said that the package would help thousands of people live in safe and affordable housing and would also be a boon to the economy. (A “yes” vote is for the $1.275 billion package).

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

Nurse staffing levels (H 4714)

House 119-35, approved and sent to the Senate a bill giving the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH) the authority to regulate and limit the number of patients assigned to each registered nurse in the state’s acute care hospitals. The measure directs DPH to conduct a study of patient safety and then to establish optimal standards for nurse staffing and defined limits for the maximum number of patients for which a nurse can safely care. Hospitals would have flexibility to staff within the limits determined to be safe by DPH. The measure also prohibits hospitals from forcing nurses to work overtime except to protect patient safety during a national or state emergency. Other provisions establish programs and initiatives, including nursing scholarships, designed to increase the number of nurses in the state. Supporters said that this landmark bill would make Massachusetts the second state in the nation to impose these important patient-to-nurse ratio restrictions that would improve hospital care and save lives. They said that many nurses are currently assigned to far too many patients and cannot provide quality care. Opponents said that the bill allows the state to micromanage hospitals and noted that a “one-size fits all” approach is a simplistic and misguided effort that would cost hospitals millions of dollars and drive up the already skyrocketing cost of health care. They argued that the ratios would lead to hospitals turning away patients and noted that in some rural areas the next closest comparable hospital is more than 50 miles away. The House approved a similar bill in 2005 but it died in the Senate. (A “yes” vote is for the bill allowing DPH to establish patient-to-nurse ratio restrictions. A “no” vote is against the bill).

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

$28 billion-plus fiscal 2009 state budget (S 2600)

Senate 39-0, approved a $28 billion-plus fiscal 2009 state budget. Senators added an estimated $8 million during two days of debate. Most of the nearly 900 proposed amendments to the budget were approved or rejected without debate and without a roll call vote. At one point, dozens of amendments were split between a “yes” pile and a “no” pile. The Senate, again without debate or roll calls, quickly approved the “yes” pile and rejected the “no” pile. Supporters said that the budget is a fiscally responsible one that funds necessary programs, increases local aid and does not raise taxes. The House has already approved a different version of the budget and a conference committee will eventually craft a compromise version. (A “yes” vote is for the budget).

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

Study casinos instead of voting on allowing casinos (S 2600)

Senate 29-9, approved an amendment creating a 13-member special commission to study the impact that casinos and slot machines would have on the state’s economy, tax revenue, state Lottery, public infrastructure and public health and report back to the Senate by Feb. 15. The study was proposed in place of Gov. Patrick’s bill legalizing casino gambling in the Bay State and licensing three resort casinos. Under Senate rules, approval of the study precluded a vote on Patrick’s casino proposal itself. Most supporters of the study are opposed to casino gambling and acknowledged that setting up this study would essentially kill the proposal without having a direct roll call on the casino bill itself. Most opponents of the study favor casino gambling and said that the study would kill the bill. They noted that the impact of casinos has already been studied to death and argued that the study proposal was an anti-democratic way to avoid a roll call on the casino bill itself. (A “yes” vote is for the study and precludes a vote on the casino proposal itself. A “no” vote is against the study).

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

Eliminate $453,292 for Gov. Patrick’s Washington, D.C., office (S 2600)

Senate 5-33, voted strictly along party lines and rejected a Republican-sponsored amendment to eliminate $453,292 in funding for the Patrick administration’s office in the nation’s capital. Supporters of the $453,292 said that 40 states have offices in Washington and noted that the money is necessary to fund this office that works to maximize the amount of federal funds that the state receives. Opponents of the $453,292 said that this office should be funded out of the regular $9 million budget for the governor’s office and noted that the $9 million is almost twice as much as the budget for each the state’s prior four governors. They noted that the money could be used to increase funding for worthwhile programs that are underfunded in the state budget. (The roll call was on elimination of the $453,292. A “yes” vote is for elimination and therefore against the $453,292. A “no” vote is against elimination and supports the $453,292).

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

Eliminate $10 million for lottery advertising budget (S 2600)

Senate 12-26, rejected an amendment to eliminate $10 million in funding for the advertising of Lottery games. Supporters of the $10 million said that it has been used annually for 10 years to increase Lottery sales and raise additional Lottery revenue that is distributed to cities and towns as local aid. They noted that the Lottery is a success and argued that the Legislature should not micromanage it and change its successful formula. Opponents of the $10 million said that the Lottery is a very regressive mechanism of raising revenue. They argued that the ad campaign entices low-income workers and seniors to spend their scarce, hard-earned money on gambling. (The roll call vote was on elimination of the $10 million. A “yes” vote is for elimination and therefore against the $10 million. A “no” vote is against elimination and supports the $10 million).

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

Eliminate $3 million for Commonwealth Corps (S 2600)

Senate 6-32, voted mostly along party lines and rejected a Republican-sponsored amendment to eliminate the $3 million in funding for the Commonwealth Corps — a volunteer program created last November in which volunteers dedicate at least one year of service to a nonprofit organization, civic initiative or public entity. One Democrat voted with GOP legislators to eliminate the $3 million. Supporters of the $3 million said that this program is an innovative one that is designed to renew the spirit of volunteerism and help thousands of people and projects across the state. Opponents of the $3 million said that the program was created last year and has not yet been able to get off the ground. They argued that the state already has several similar programs and argued that volunteers who want to help their communities can join these existing programs. (The roll call was on elimination of the $3 million. A “yes” vote is for elimination and therefore against the $3 million. A “no” vote is against elimination and supports the $3 million).

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

Divest from Iran (S 2255)

Senate 33-5, voted strictly along party lines and approved an amendment that would delay and essentially kill a Republican-sponsored proposal requiring the state’s pension fund to divest its holdings in companies doing business related to petroleum with Iran. The amendment would replace the mandated divestiture with a requirement that the Pension Reserves Investment Management Board (PRIM) study the fiscal impact of divesting the funds and report to the Legislature by March 1. Supporters of divestiture said that Iran is one of the most evil and dangerous nations in the world and should not receive any support from Massachusetts’ pension fund. They noted that Iran is working toward developing a nuclear bomb and has threatened to destroy Israel. They noted that the delay would basically kill the proposal because the PRIM board has always been against restrictions on where it can invest its funds. Opponents of divestiture said that no research has been done to determine how much money the Iran divestiture would cost the pension fund. They argued that it is important to know the financial consequences prior to voting to divest. (A “yes” vote is for the delay and the study. A “no” vote is against the delay and the study).

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

Deduct local user fees (S 2600)

Senate 8-30, rejected an amendment allowing taxpayers an annual tax credit of up to $500 for fees paid to a city or town for their child’s participation in sports, academic or other student activities. Amendment supporters said many communities have imposed these user fees that are hurting middle- and low-income families. They argued that allowing the credit could save many families up to $500 per year and noted that in 2005, an estimated 66 percent of communities charged a fee for activities that were previously free. Amendment opponents said that the amendment is fiscally irresponsible because no one has recent and accurate figures on how many families are paying these fees and how much revenue the state would lose. Some argued that any loss in state revenue would mean further cuts in important programs. (A “yes” vote is for allowing the credit. A “no” vote is against allowing it).

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

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

Other proposed amendments to the Senate budget (S 2600) — Hundreds of amendments were proposed to the Senate’s $28 billion-plus state budget. Many of them were defeated on voice votes without a roll call. Amendments that were rejected include requiring the state to implement zero-based budgeting every four years. This type of budgeting means that all state departments would start with zero dollars and prepare and justify their budget regardless of what it was in prior years. Other defeated proposals include reducing the state income tax rate from 5.3 percent to 5 percent; exempting cities and towns’ vehicle fuel purchases from the 21 cent per gallon gas tax; giving up to a $400 tax credit for the purchase of hearing aids; and eliminating a $145 million annual assessment on nursing homes in the state. The assessment, signed into law in 2002, is funded by nursing homes paying the state a fee on each non-Medicare, private-paid bed in their facilities.

ID for liquor (H 3555) — The House gave initial approval to a bill allowing establishments that sell liquor to accept an out-of-state driver’s license with a photo as a form of identification. The measure exempts from criminal liability and liquor license suspension any business or employee who “reasonably relies” on this type of ID. Current law provides this protection only if the employee or business accepts a Massachusetts driver’s license, liquor purchase identification card, U.S. military ID card or passport issued by the U.S. government or by a nation recognized by the United States.

Volunteer dentists (H 2268) — The House gave initial approval to a bill allowing retired dentists to obtain a dental license without paying the biennial $240 fee. The license would allow these retirees to volunteer at free health care clinics that serve low-income individuals. Supporters said that dentists should not be penalized financially for providing free care to those in need.

Liability insurance (H 1007) — The House gave initial approval to legislation requiring insurance companies that sell umbrella policies to also offer protection of public officials from liability arising from their actions as public officials. An umbrella policy kicks in when the insured reaches the limit on his or her coverage in a homeowner’s, renter’s, condo or auto policy. It also covers the insured for things such as libel and slander.

New head of RMV — Rep. Rachel Kaprielian, D-Watertown, was appointed the state’s new Registrar of Motor Vehicles by Gov. Patrick. The seven-term Watertown Democrat replaces Anne Collins, who took a senior position in the governor’s Executive Office of Transportation.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“This bill sends a strong message that we are serious about better protecting the children of Massachusetts by giving prosecutors the real tools they need to help prevent crimes against children and better punish child predators.” — House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi in a written statement unveiling a new proposal to protect children from sexual predators. The measure is sponsored by DiMasi and Attorney General Martha Coakley.

“The children of Massachusetts have waited 17 months for Jessica’s Law, legislation that would truly protect them from violent sex offenders. The legislation Speaker DiMasi and Attorney General Coakley announced earlier today is a poor substitute for the bill we’ve all been waiting for. It simply does not go far enough.” — Sen. Karyn E. Polito, D-Shrewsbury, sponsor of Jessica’s Law that would crack down on child sexual predators, commenting on DiMasi and Coakley’s proposal.

“Rachel Kaprielian is a skilled and committed public servant who will bring new energy to the RMV.” — Gov. Patrick commenting on his appointment of Democratic Rep. Kaprielian as the new Registrar of Motor Vehicles.

“I don’t understand how being a state representative for 14 years qualifies one to run a multimillion dollar state agency.” — Massachusetts Republican party spokesman Barney Keller commenting on Kaprielian’s appointment.

“Stockpiling money in a campaign war chest and outspending an opponent is usually a good strategy for a candidate who wants to win an election, but the results of last year’s mayoral races show it is no guarantee. Among the state’s 28 contested mayoral contests last year, 36 percent of the winners spent less money than their opponents.” — From a press release on a study by the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION? During the week of May 19-23, the House met for eight hours and four minutes while the Senate met for 21 hours and 13 minutes.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com.

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