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By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives on four roll calls and the votes of local senators on one roll call from the week of July 5-9.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT REORGANIZATION (H 4820)

House 145-4, approved a bill that would reorganize the state’s economic development agencies. Provisions consolidate agencies that play a role in attracting business to the state into the Massachusetts Marketing Partnership, which would act as the central marketing organization of Massachusetts; create a state sales tax-free holiday on August 14 and 15; reduce from 5.3 percent to 3 percent the capital gains tax rate on investments made by individual investors in Massachusetts-based start-up companies that are held for more than three years and repeal the 2008 law that prohibits drug firms from giving gifts and meals to doctors and other health care professionals.

Supporters said that the bill would streamline the state’s economic development system and ensure accountability and efficiency from all agencies. They noted that all the important changes would make the state more business-friendly.

Opponents offered no arguments.

The Senate has already approved its own version of the measure. A House-Senate conference committee will attempt to hammer out a compromise version.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against the bill.)

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Robert Hargraves, Yes.

SALES TAX-FREE HOLIDAY ON AUGUST 14 AND 15 (H 4820)

House 136-13, approved an amendment that would allow consumers to buy most products that cost under $2,500 on Saturday, August 14 and Sunday, August 15 without paying the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax.

Supporters of the bill said that the holiday would boost retail sales and noted that consumers in recent years have saved millions of dollars during similar tax-free holidays. They argued that the state’s sales tax revenue loss would be offset by increased revenue from the meals and gas tax revenue generated by shoppers on those two days.

Some opponents of the bill said that the holiday actually generates little additional revenue for stores because consumers would buy the products even without the tax-free days. They said that the Legislature should be looking at broader, deeper tax relief for individuals and businesses and not a tiny tax-free holiday. Others said that legislators should not vote for this tax holiday when they have not yet restored all the local aid, education and other program cuts made over the past few years.

(A “Yes” vote is for the tax-free holiday. A “No” vote is against the tax-free holiday.)

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Robert Hargraves, Yes.

PROHIBIT DRUG COMPANIES FROM GIVING GIFTS TO MASSACHUSETTS DOCTORS (H 4820)

House 40-108, rejected an amendment to the portion of the economic development bill that repeals the 2009 law that prohibits drug firms from giving gifts and meals to doctors and other health care professionals. The amendment strikes the repeal and keeps intact the 2009 law that bans these gifts and meals.

Supporters of the ban said that it has not been in effect that long and is just beginning to show signs of having the desired result of reducing health care costs. They argued that the ban was designed to stop drug companies from wining and dining doctors with billions of dollars in order to influence their decisions when prescribing medication for their patients. They noted that repeal of the law would be a step backwards in reforming the health care system and trying to contain costs.

Opponents of the ban said that it is very complicated and has not worked well. They said that restaurants near hospitals have lost up to 25 percent of their business as a result of the ban, which also affects the income of restaurant staff. They noted that border states do not have similar laws and many companies are simply holding the dinners out of state.

(A “Yes” vote is for banning meals and gifts. A “No” vote is against the ban and favors allowing the giving of meals and gifts.)

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Robert Hargraves, No.

MUST SHOW ID TO VOTE (H 4156)

Senate 7-29, rejected an amendment requiring all voters to show identification at their polling places in order to be allowed to vote. Acceptable forms of ID would include a Social Security card and documents with a full name and address issued by federal, state or local governments.

Amendment supporters said that it is illogical that all voters are not required to show identification prior to voting and noted that 24 other states have laws requiring IDs. They argued that people cannot cash a check, rent a car, rent a DVD or even enter some government buildings without showing an ID.

Amendment opponents said that the amendment would disenfranchise thousands of voters, including senior citizens, people of color and those who do not have a current address because they are in a homeless shelter or domestic violence facility. Others said that there have been no widespread reports of voter fraud in Massachusetts.

Sen. James Eldridge, No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, No; Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, Didn’t Vote.

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

“RIGHT TO REPAIR” BILL (S 2517) – The Senate, without debate, approved and sent to the House the controversial bill that would require auto manufacturers to sell to non-dealer repair shops the complete repair information and diagnostic tools currently only provided to franchised dealer service centers.

Supporters say that the auto companies currently refuse to give the information to independent repair shops and consumers are forced to have repairs done at the more expensive dealer service centers. They argue that this pro-consumer bill would lower the cost of repairs for consumers by fostering competition and allowing them to go to independent repair shops.

Opponents say that the proposal would force auto manufacturers to disclose trade secrets and other proprietary information to their competition. They argued that the measure is a sneaky way for Pep Boys and other generic auto part manufacturers to obtain information that will allow them to manufacture cheap generic versions of auto parts.

CASINOS (H 4591 and S 2495) – The House and Senate have appointed a six-member conference committee to hammer out a compromise version of a bill allowing casinos in Massachusetts. Among many other differences, the Senate version provides for three casinos while the House draft authorizes only two. The House version is also the only one that calls for 3,000 slots machines – 750 at each of the state’s two horse racing tracks and two former dog racing tracks.

Legislators on the committee include Reps. Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill), Kathi-Anne Reinstein (D-Revere), Paul Frost (R-Auburn), Sens. Steven Panagiotakos (D-Lowell), Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst) and Richard Ross (R-Wrentham).

REQUIRE SCHOOL BUS DRIVERS TO TAKE FIRST AID COURSE (S 2849) – The House approved a bill naming a 2008 law that requires all school bus drivers to complete a basic course in first aid “Darnell’s Law,” in memory of Darnell Cobb, the Marlborough 5-year-old who choked to death on a city school bus. The measure also prohibits convicted sex offenders from driving a school bus and broadens the current law that prohibits anyone convicted of committing an unnatural act, rape or sodomy from driving a school bus.

MOTORCYCLE PERMITS FOR UNDER 18 (S 2344) – The House approved a Senate-approved bill that would require applicants under 18 to successfully complete a motorcycle basic rider course approved by the registrar in order to receive a motorcycle driver’s learning permit. This new requirement would be in addition to current law that requires applicants under 18 to have parental consent and pass a written test and eye exam.

Supporters said that the majority of motorcycle deaths involve inexperienced riders under 18 who have a motorcycle permit and do not yet have a motorcycle license. Only final approval is needed in each branch prior to the measure going to Gov. Deval Patrick.

FUNERAL PROCESSIONS (S 1884) – The House gave near approval to a Senate-approved bill establishing regulations that cars in and out of a funeral procession must follow. The measure would require all vehicles in the procession to have their headlights and tail lights on and prohibit them from driving more than 55 miles per hour on highways or faster than five miles per hour below the posted speed limit on all other roads.

The bill would require pedestrians and operators of non-funeral related vehicles to yield the right-of-way to any vehicle that is part of a funeral procession. Other provisions prohibit non-funeral vehicles from joining a funeral procession in order to get the same rights as the vehicles in the procession.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“It’s not nothing.”

Gov. Patrick defending the new law requiring senior drivers 75 and older to renew their driver’s licenses in person and take an eye test at the Registry of Motor Vehicles every five years instead of every ten years. The governor admitted that he would have preferred a tougher law but that this one was a step forward.

“$5,500.”

The fine imposed by the Office of Campaign and Political Finance upon indicted former House Speaker Sal DiMasi’s campaign committee for several campaign finance violations, including non-disclosure of $18,850 in receipts, $500 in excess contributions from lobbyists and $175 in prohibited corporate contributions.

“You can’t go with a budget without any overrides. Come on, that’s not fun, that’s not Massachusetts.”

House Speaker Robert DeLeo upon being asked if the House will attempt to override any of Gov. Patrick’s nearly half a billion dollars in budget vetoes.

“I’m so proud of being a son of this commonwealth, an adopted son of this commonwealth.”

Newly elected Rep. Marcos Devers (D-Lawrence) addressing his colleagues after his swearing-in ceremony.

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 July 5-9, the House met for a total of 13 hours and 33 minutes while the Senate met for a total of three hours and 23 minutes.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com.

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