By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.
The controversial new state law banning text messaging while driving and prohibiting drivers under 18 from using any type of cell phone or mobile electronic device went into effect a few days ago.
This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call reviews the votes of local senators and representatives on various versions of the bill and several amendments — some of which became part of the final version of the bill and some of which never made it.
The House and Senate had approved different versions of the measure. The major difference was that only the House version also banned drivers from using a hand-held cell phone and allowed those over 18 to use a hands-free one with voice-activated dialing. The Senate removed that provision.
Another difference was dueling versions of increased testing of drivers over 75. The Senate version would require older drivers to be screened and checked by their doctors at age 75, age 80, and then every three years to determine if they are physically and cognitively capable of operating a vehicle. The House version would instead require drivers 75 and older to take a vision test every five years when renewing their licenses.
A House-Senate conference committee hammered out a compromise version of the proposal that was eventually signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick. That version did not include the House provision that would ban all drivers from using a hand-held cell phone and allow only drivers over 18 to use a hands-free one. It did include the House provision that would require drivers 75 and older to take a vision test every five years when renewing their licenses.
Before passage of the new law, the state required all drivers, regardless of age, to renew their licenses in person every five years but only required an eye test at the Registry of Motor Vehicles every 10 years. That law still applies to all drivers under 75.
BAN TEXTING WHILE DRIVING (H 4795)
House 154-1, Senate 37-0, approved and Gov. Patrick signed into law the conference committee’s version of a bill banning text messaging while driving and imposing a $100 fine for a first offense, $250 for a second and $500 for a third. The measure also prohibits drivers under 18 from using any type of cell phone or mobile electronic device.
Another section requires drivers 75 and older to renew their licenses in person and take an eye test at the RMV every five years.
(A “Yes” vote is for the new law. A “No” vote is against the new law.)
Yes: Rep. Jennifer Benson; Rep. Robert Hargraves, Sen. James Eldridge, Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Sen. Steven Panagiotakos.
BAN HAND-HELD CELL PHONES (H 4466)
House 92-66 approved, Senate 16-18 rejected, an amendment that would ban the use of hand-held cell phones for all drivers but allow drivers over 18 to use a hands-free cell phone with voice-activated dialing. The Senate rejection prevailed, and the ban is not part of the current law.
(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment banning the use of hand-held cell phones for all drivers. A “No” vote is against the ban.)
Yes: Rep. Jennifer Benson, Rep. Robert Hargraves, Sen. James Eldridge.
No: Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Sen. Steven Panagiotakos.
SENIORS MUST BE TESTED BY DOCTORS (S 2290)
Senate 33-2, approved an amendment that would require older drivers to be screened and checked by their doctors at age 75, age 80, and then every three years to determine if they are physically and cognitively capable of operating a vehicle. The amendment replaces a provision in the bill that would have had the RMV conduct these tests and would have required seniors to pass the exam every three years beginning at age 75.
Seniors who do not pass the exam would be allowed to request the right to take a road test to qualify for their licenses.
This Senate provision did not prevail in conference committee. The House version won out, and the new law requires drivers 75 and older to take a vision test every five years when renewing their licenses.
(A “Yes” is for the amendment that would require drivers 75 and older to be screened and checked by their doctors. A “No” vote is against the amendment.)
Yes: Sen. James Eldridge, Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Sen. Steven Panagiotakos.
PRIMARY ENFORCEMENT OF TEXT MESSAGING BAN (S 2290)
Senate 24-10, approved an amendment that would make the proposal banning texting while driving a “primary enforcement” law. This means that police officers would be allowed to stop and issue tickets to a driver solely for texting.
This Senate provision did not prevail in conference committee. The House version won out, and the new law is a “secondary enforcement” one that prohibits drivers from being stopped solely for texting and allows an officer to issue a ticket only if the driver is stopped for another motor vehicle violation or some other offense.
(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment allowing police officers to stop and issue tickets solely for texting. A “No” vote is against the amendment.)
Yes: Sen. James Eldridge, Sen. Steven Panagiotakos.
No: Sen. Jennifer Flanagan.
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
$420 MILLION FOR BAY STATE IN FEDERAL STIMULUS MONEY (H 5208): The House and Senate have approved different versions of a $420 million supplemental budget funded entirely with onetime federal stimulus funds. The budget had been held up for several days by Republicans who wanted more budget details from the Patrick administration. The two branches hope to agree on a version soon.
Supporters said it is important to approve this package that funds collective bargaining agreements, jails, homeless shelters, health care for low-income residents, home care for the elderly and services for persons with disabilities. They argued that without passage of the budget, jails would close, homeless shelters would throw out residents and State Police officers would be laid off.
The next four bills were given initial approval several months ago by the House. They are currently stuck in the House Bills in Third Reading Committee, which corrects any grammatical errors, duplication and constitutionality problems with legislation prior to sending it back to the House for another vote.
Some argue the committee is often a burial ground for bills that will never again see the light of day.
Others say the committee has many bills to review and that it takes time to do the job properly. They noted every bill that is eventually signed into law has at some point been in the Third Reading Committee.
MISLEADING POLITICAL WEBSITES (H 557): The House on April 26 gave initial approval to a bill that would prohibit political candidates or their supporters from registering websites that “could be identified as the website of another person who is an elected official, or a candidate or potential candidate for elective office.” Violators would be hit with a fine of up to $1,000 or six months in prison. The measure is aimed at political operatives who register websites in the name of their client’s opponent and then say outrageous things on the website that the voters think is being said by the opponent.
LOSING A CELL PHONE (H 272): The House on May 26 gave initial approval to a bill that would prohibit cell-phone companies from changing the terms of a contract when replacing a cell phone for a customer who loses it.
NOTIFY SCHOOLS OF CRIME (H 2213): The House on May 19 gave initial approval to a bill that would require police departments to notify school superintendents when a felony complaint is brought against any student.
BAN SMOKING IN SENIOR HOUSING (H 1243): The House on March 18 gave initial approval to a bill that would designate at least one residential building within each regional and local housing authority as a smoke-free building. Any housing authority that oversees fewer than 100 units would be required to make at least 20 percent of its units smoke-free. The policies would be phased in and current tenants would be grandfathered in and exempt from the measure.
On Oct. 1, former GOP Rep. Paul Loscocco announced that he was leaving independent gubernatorial candidate Tim Cahill’s ticket. Loscocco had been Cahill’s running mate for lieutenant governor. He first supported Baker, then Cahill and now Baker again.
“I will be very happy to support Charlie any way I can.” Loscocco in July 2009 telling the State House News Service that he supports Charlie Baker’s campaign for the GOP nomination for governor.
“I felt that initially I went that direction. And when I stopped and took a look at it, it was like, ‘Wait a second, the best candidate is not that candidate (Charlie Baker). It’s Tim Cahill.'” Loscocco in January telling NECN’s Jim Braude why he accepted Cahill’s invitation to run as his lieutenant governor.
“I cannot sit idly by as my friends and supporters cast their votes for my ticket, knowing that the best chance to defeat Governor Patrick is with Charlie Baker. … I’m pleased to endorse him today.” Loscocco on Oct. 1 announcing he is leaving the Cahill ticket and endorsing Republican Baker for governor.
“Richard (Tisei) and I are both pleased to have earned Paul’s support for our campaign to bring real change to Massachusetts and to get our economy moving again.” GOP gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker
“Tacky.” Gov. Patrick describing Loscocco’s moves.
“If you (Charlie Baker) thought this backroom deal would be the one to push me out of the race and facilitate your coronation, then you are sadly mistaken.” Independent gubernatorial candidate Tim Cahill
“I am the true independent in this race. Mr. Cahill’s running mate defected back to his Republican roots. Cahill himself is a product of the Democratic Party, and his ties to the establishment are well-documented.” Green-Rainbow gubernatorial candidate Jill Stein.
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. During the week of Oct. 4-8, the House met for a total of five hours and 57 minutes, while the Senate met for a total of 11 hours and 37 minutes.
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.