By Bob Katzen
Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on three roll calls from prior legislative sessions.
All of the roll calls are on proposed amendments to the bill that would authorize two resort casinos and up to 3,000 slot machines – 750 at each of the state’s two horse racing tracks and two former dog racing tracks.
There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week. Both branches met only in informal sessions as they do every year during April school vacation week.
BAN MARKETING TO ADDICTED GAMBLERS
House 80-76, approved an amendment to a section of the casino bill that allows problem gamblers to voluntarily request that their names be placed on a “self-exclusion” list. The amendment would prohibit casinos from marketing to anyone on the list.
Amendment supporters said that these addicted gamblers should have the right to opt out of direct marketing campaigns that entice them to gamble.
Amendment opponents said that the amendment goes too far and is another example of the Legislature trying to interfere with the free market system and micromanage the gaming industry.
A “Yes” vote is for the amendment that would prohibit casinos from marketing to anyone on the “self-exclusion” list. A “No” vote is against the prohibition.
Rep. Jennifer Benson Yes
Rep. Robert Hargraves No
SLOT MACHINES MUST POST ODDS
House 20-137, rejected an amendment that would require the odds of a player getting each winning combination at a slot machine to be posted in a conspicuous place in 18-point type at each machine.
Amendment supporters said that this would ensure that players are informed that the odds are overwhelmingly against winning on a slot machine.
Amendment opponents said that the amendment goes too far and would require the listing of so many odds that the sign would be up to three times larger than the machine itself.
A “Yes” vote is for the amendment that would require the posting of the odds. A “No” vote is against the requirement.
Rep. Jennifer Benson No
Rep. Robert Hargraves No
BACKGROUND CHECKS ON PROSPECTIVE EMPLOYEES
House 45-112, rejected an amendment that would require that the newly-created state gaming commission conduct a specific background check on all applicants for jobs with the commission, including a complete criminal history, convictions and current charges for all felonies and misdemeanors. The commission would also be required to conduct drug tests on applicants and obtain fingerprints and a photograph.
The amendment would replace a section of the legislation that allowed but did not require the commission to obtain all that information.
Amendment supporters said that it is essential to make every effort to ensure that potential employees have a clean background if they are to be hired to work in this “tempting” business.
Amendment opponents offered no arguments.
(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment requiring background checks and other information. A “No” vote is against the requirement.)
Rep. Jennifer Benson Yes
Rep. Robert Hargraves Yes
Also on Beacon Hill
PATRICK SIGNS BAN ON DEVOCALIZATION OF DOGS AND CATS
Gov. Patrick signed “Logan’s Law,” a bill that would ban devocalization, the practice of cutting vocal cords to stifle or remove an animal’s voice. The measure does allow vocal cord surgery on dogs and cats to treat disease, injury or birth defects. The law was named in memory of a show dog whose breeder had him devocalized and then didn’t want him when he stopped winning blue ribbons.
Supporters say this ban will protect countless animals from a cruel convenience surgery that commonly results in complications regardless of the veterinarian’s skill. They may range from difficulty breathing to chronic gagging and even death, according to Leslie Burg of the grassroots Coalition to Protect and Rescue Pets, the bill’s sponsor. She notes that devocalization appears to be most prevalent among breeders and others who keep many animals for profit or hobby. Gayle Fitzpatrick of the Friends of the Plymouth Pound, who rescued Logan, says hearing him cough and retch, wheeze and rasp every day as a result of this selfish and needless surgery was “heart-wrenching.” She notes, “Devocalized animals are abandoned like other dogs and cats. Convenience surgeries like devocalization and declawing don’t keep them in good homes. Owners who choose, care for and train animals responsibly and humanely do.”
PROPOSITION 2 1/2
A bill approved by the House Ways and Means Committee would allow cities and towns, without voter approval on a ballot, to increase property tax revenue to raise money for the communities’ overlay accounts. These overlay accounts contain funds that communities have set aside for property tax abatements for property owners whose properties have been overassessed. Estimates of the amount of money currently in these overlay accounts statewide range from $164 million to $500 million.
Proposition 2 1/2, a law approved some 30 years ago, currently limits annual local property tax increases to 2.5 percent of the prior year’s tax plus new growth unless voters override that limit on a ballot question. Communities currently put some of their total property tax revenue into an overlay account and at the end of the fiscal year, after abatements to taxpayers are made, they are allowed to transfer any leftover revenue to the community’s general operating fund and spend it on whatever they choose.
The House Ways and Means Committee proposal would allow the new revenue raised beyond the limits of Proposition 2 1/2 without voter approval, to be put in the overlay account and used only to pay for taxpayer abatements. All the proposed increases in the property tax to fund the overlay account would be subject to approval by the Department of Revenue and would be treated as an exclusion that will not permanently increase a town’s levy limit. Communities would be allowed to carryover any leftover overlay money from year to year but would be prohibited from using the money for general operating expenses.
Supporters, led by the bill’s author, House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Murphy (D-Burlington), say the measure does not violate Proposition 2 1/2 but simply gives struggling communities a new tool to manage their budgets. They argue that cities and towns will not have an incentive to raise tons of money through this new system because the money can only be used for property tax abatements. They acknowledged that in the first year only, many communities would probably use this new vehicle to ensure that there is sufficient money in their overlay accounts.
Opponents, led by Citizens for Limited Taxation’s Barbara Anderson, say that the amendment would cost taxpayers $500 million and violates Proposition 2 1/2 by allowing communities, without approval by the voters on a ballot question, to raise local property taxes above the limits currently imposed by Proposition 2 1/2. They note that communities already have the ability to override Prop 2 1/2 at an election and argue that if local officials want to allow money for overlay accounts to be raised outside the limits of Proposition 2 1/2, they should put that idea on the local ballot like any other override. Some acknowledge that the new revenue could only be used for tax abatements but point out that the Legislature cannot be trusted and could change this in the future to allow any leftover money to be used for general operating expenses.
Gov. Patrick announced that he would veto the bill if it reaches his desk. Even if the measure passes the House and Senate, it is unlikely that the Legislature would be able to muster the two-thirds vote necessary to override the veto.
POSSIBLE 2010 BALLOT QUESTIONS
The Revenue Committee held a hearing on a citizen initiative petition to repeal the new 6.25 percent tax on beer, wine and liquor sold at package stores and other retail outlets (H 4454). Also on the committee’s agenda was another petition to reduce the general sales tax from 6.25 to 3 percent (H 4456). The Legislature has until May to act on these measures. Any proposals that are not approved by the Legislature need another 11,099 signatures by July in order to appear on the 2010 ballot.
The Senate rejected a measure filed by private citizen Charles Antonelli of Quincy that would ban male circumcision of anyone under the age of 18 unless medically necessary. The proposal would impose a fine and/or up to 14 years in prison on anyone who violates this ban. Antonelli is the Massachusetts director of MGMbill.org — a group working to ban what it calls “male genital mutilation.”
Special edition on reaction to proposed changes in Proposition 2 1/2 that would allow communities, without voter approval on a ballot, to increase property tax revenue by an amount equal to the money in the community’s overlay account.
“There is nothing wrong with Massachusetts that a property tax increase will fix.”
Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation
“This is not an ‘assault’ on Proposition 2 1/2.”
House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Murphy (D-Burlington)
“I will not sign a bill that includes that language.”
Gov. Deval Patrick
“Make no mistake, this is nothing but a backdoor method to raise taxes.”
State Treasurer Timothy Cahill who is also an independent candidate for governor
“In a Baker Administration, this legislation would be dead on arrival.”
Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker
HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION?
Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time that the House and Senate were in session each week. Many legislators say that legislative sessions are only one aspect of the Legislature’s job and that a lot of important work is done outside of the House and Senate chambers. They note that their jobs also involve committee work, research, constituent work and other matters that are important to their districts. Critics say that the Legislature does not meet regularly or long enough to debate and vote in public view on the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been filed. They note that the infrequency and brief length of sessions are misguided and lead to irresponsible late-night sessions and a mad rush to act on dozens of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of an annual session.
During the week of April 19-23, the House met for a total of seven hours and 11 minutes while the Senate met for a total of seven hours and 21 minutes.
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at email@example.com