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THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on two roll calls and senators’ votes on four roll calls from the week of June 23-27.

Energy conservation legislation (H 4365)

House 154-0 and 154-0, Senate 36-0, approved and sent to Gov. Deval Patrick a 98-page comprehensive energy package aimed at expanding the use of cleaner, renewable energy in the state. The measure 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 percent by 2017. Other provisions include requiring that the state replace government vehicles with more fuel-efficient ones and creation of new programs to provide loans and grants to cities and towns to finance the cost of energy-efficient improvements. 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/Yes; Rep. Hargraves, Yes/Yes; Sen. Antonioni, Didn’t Vote; Sen. Panagiotakos, Yes; Sen. Resor, Didn’t Vote.

Limit mental health parity (H 4423)

The House, on a voice vote without a roll call, approved a bill that would require health insurance plans to provide mental health benefits for non-biologically based mental disorders at the same level that they currently provide benefits for biologically based mental disorders and other physical medical conditions. Current law requires less coverage for non-biologically based mental conditions including eating disorders, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress. Prior to approving the proposal, the House 40-110 rejected an amendment that would limit the number of non-biologically based disorders that would be required to be fully covered. The amendment would exclude several disorders including mental retardation, learning disorders, motor skills disorders, communication disorders, caffeine-related disorders and relationship problems. Amendment supporters said that including all non-biologically based disorders is fiscally irresponsible and would drive up the cost of health care premiums. They noted that they sympathized with amendment supporters but argued that the bill goes too far. Amendment opponents said that the amendment waters down the bill that is designed to ensure that all illnesses above the neck are treated the same as ones below the neck. They argued that the increased coverage would raise health insurance premiums by only between 0.1 percent and 0.3 percent. They said the human cost of not expanding coverage is not acceptable and noted that the productivity cost of not expanding coverage would be billions of dollars. (A “yes” vote is for the amendment that excludes several non-biological mental disorders from full coverage. A “no” vote is against the amendment and favors including all non-biologically mental disorders.)

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

One percent tax on real estate sales (S 2546 and S 2544)

Senate 23-10 and 24-10, approved and sent to the House a bill imposing a 1 percent tax, to be paid by the seller, on the sale of real estate on Martha’s Vineyard and a separate bill imposing the same tax on real estate sales in Nantucket. The measures exempt the first $750,000 of each sale on Martha’s Vineyard and the first $2 million of each sale on Nantucket. The Martha’s Vineyard tax would take effect only if approved by the local town meetings of the six towns on the Vineyard and the Nantucket one would be effective if approved by the Nantucket town meeting. The funds would go into housing banks that would distribute the money to provide affordable housing. Supporters said that the tax has wide local support and would help alleviate the affordable housing crisis on the two islands. They argued that many essential workers on the islands, including police officers, firefighters, teachers and health care workers, can no longer afford to live there. Opponents pointed to an 18 percent decline in housing sales in the state and said that this new tax is unfair because it targets a narrow group instead of requiring all home owners to share the burden. They argued that most of the state’s cities and towns have affordable housing crises and said that the Senate should reject this misguided approach and instead approve legislation to help all communities. Some noted that the tax sets a bad precedent that would invite many communities to petition the Legislature for the power to impose a similar tax. Similar proposals in 2006 were approved by the Senate but defeated by the House. Several senators have changed their votes since 2006. Sen. Robert Creedon, D-Brockton, voted for the 2006 proposals and against one of the bills last week. Sens. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre, and Michael Morrissey, D-Quincy, both voted against the 2006 proposals and for the bills last week. (Both roll call votes from last week are listed. The first one applies to Martha’s Vineyard while the second applies to Nantucket. A “yes” vote is for allowing the imposition of the one percent tax. A “no” vote is against allowing it.)

Sen. Antonioni, Didn’t Vote/Didn’t Vote; Sen. Panagiotakos, Yes/Yes; Sen. Resor, Didn’t Vote/Didn’t Vote.

Increase rates for human service providers (S 2764)

Senate 36-0, approved and sent to the House a bill requiring the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to set new rates to pay human service providers. The proposal requires the secretary to take into account a variety of factors including the rising expenses of these providers. Supporters said that this would ensure long-overdue pay increases for some 185,000 hard-working, underpaid human service workers who provide valuable services to thousands of vulnerable citizens including the homeless, elderly, abused children and individuals with mental and physical disabilities. They noted that the state has not increased rates since 1987 despite the increased operating costs of providing care, including massive hikes in the costs of gas and transportation, personnel, insurance and utilities. (A “yes” vote is for the bill).

Sen. Antonioni, Didn’t Vote; Sen. Panagiotakos, Yes; Sen. Resor, Didn’t Vote.

Allow older veterans to become police officers and firefighters (S 2560)

Senate 36-0, approved and sent to the House a bill changing the current law that allows communities the option to permit non-veterans up to age 32 and veterans up to age 36 to be certified to be police officers or firefighters. The proposal raises the maximum age for veterans to 42, the current maximum age at which recruits are allowed to enlist in the U.S. military. It also ties the future maximum age for police officers and firefighters to the maximum age for military enlistment. Supporters said that current law is unfair and prohibits many older veterans from becoming police officers and firefighters. They pointed to the case of a 40-year-old veteran who served two tours of duty in Iraq and was barred from becoming a police officer when he returned home. They argued that it is time to raise the age limit to show our veterans that we care about them when they return home. (A “yes” vote is for the bill raising the age limit for veterans).

Sen. Antonioni, Didn’t Vote; Sen. Panagiotakos, Yes; Sen. Resor, Didn’t Vote.

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

DiMasi fund-raiser — The House wrapped up last Thursday’s session at 5:18 p.m. so that representatives would be free to attend House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi’s fund-raiser scheduled for 5:30 p.m. The fund-raiser benefited DiMasi’s committee to elect Democrats to the House.

Breastfeeding (H 1568) — The House gave initial approval to a bill allowing breastfeeding in public. The measure specifically gives anyone who is breastfeeding a child “any and all accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of all public conveyances, public amusements and places of public accommodation, within the commonwealth, to which other persons are entitled.” Anyone who deprives another person’s right to breastfeed would be punished by up to a $300 fine and subject to civil damages. The measure also exempts breastfeeding from laws prohibiting indecent exposure and open and gross lewdness.

Protect animals (H 1527) — The House gave initial approval to a bill increasing the penalty for anyone arrested for being present at an animal fight from a fine of up to $250 and/or 30 days in jail to a fine of up to $1,000 and/or five years in jail. The measure also makes it a crime to possess or distribute videos or audio recordings that depict the torture of or cruelty to animals and imposes up to a two-year jail sentence and/or $1,000 fine on violators.

Blood donations (H 4547) — The House gave initial approval to a measure allowing 16-year-olds to donate blood with their parents’ permission. The measure leaves intact a current law that allows minors over 17 to donate blood without parental permission.

Give patient leftover medication following hospital stay (H 2262) — The House gave initial approval to legislation requiring hospitals to give discharged patients any bulk medications that were prescribed for him or her during his or her stay including aerosol inhalers, creams, powders, eye drops and insulin.

Sell alcohol on golf courses (H 227) — The Senate approved legislation that would allow city and town licensing authorities to license golf clubs to sell alcoholic beverages or wine at any location on the grounds of the golf course. The House has already approved the measure and final approval in each branch is necessary prior to the proposal going to Gov. Patrick.

Increase insurance coverage (H 925) — The House approved a bill increasing from $2,500 to $5,000 the annual amount of coverage health insurers are required to provide for non-prescription enteral formulas. These formulas are used to treat malabsorption caused by conditions including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, gastro reflux and inherited diseases of amino acids and organic acids.

Stop phone calls from creditors (S 184) — The Senate postponed action on a bill protecting consumers from harassing phone calls from creditors by allowing debtors to send a “cease and desist” letter to the creditors. The letter would prevent creditors from calling the consumer but creditors would still be allowed to send written letters to the debtor to offer a settlement or indicate the creditor intends to file suit.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“Support legislation to allow children of undocumented immigrants to attend a public college or university in the commonwealth at the in-state tuition rate if they have attended Massachusetts’ schools, passed the MCAS, received a high school diploma and are on a path toward citizenship.” — An excerpt from Gov. Patrick’s long-term plan for education reform that was released last week.

“Gov. Patrick’s education plan should be called ‘The Camouflage Project’ because the governor is simply trying to slip through unpopular ideas in a fancy new package. Governor Patrick should figure out how to provide his promised property tax relief instead of spending taxpayer dollars on illegal immigrants.” — Robert Willington, executive director of the Massachusetts Republican party, commenting on Patrick’s illegal immigrants proposal.

“As soon as the two oilmen vacate the White House, we may start having an energy policy in this country that makes sense for the future of America.” — Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-New Bedford, talking on the Senate floor about President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

“Give me a break. You can tell the air conditioning isn’t working any longer because of all the hot air in this chamber.” — Sen. Michael Knapik, D-Westfield, responding to Pacheco’s comments about Bush and Cheney.

“Governor, none of those toll-takers were my guys.” — Former Senate President Robert Travaglini referring to news reports that 10 current and former Mass Turnpike toll collectors who are accused of embezzling money would be indicted on charges of larceny and fraudulent record-keeping.

“Massachusetts State Police unveil new BAT mobile.” — From a press release by the Massachusetts state police announcing the unveiling of the state police’s new Breath Alcohol Testing (BAT) mobile vehicle that rapidly processes impaired drivers at the scene.

HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION? During the week of June 23-27, the House met for 13 hours and 39 minutes while the Senate met for 13 hours and 36 minutes.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com.

Copyright © 2008 Beacon Hill Roll Call. All rights reserved.

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