By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll call votes in the House or Senate last week. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call reviews local representatives’ votes from the 2009-2010 session on six of the most unusual roll calls.
DIVEST STATE FUNDS FROM TERRORIST NATIONS AND TEXAS (H 4297)
House 0-152, rejected an amendment to a bill requiring the $50 billion state pension fund to divest its holdings in foreign companies doing business related to petroleum with Iran.
The amendment was proposed by Rep. Steve D’Amico (D-Seekonk), an opponent of the bill itself. The amendment would add to the list of nations all countries that are labeled “repressive” by the organization Freedom House. It also calls for the state to divest from companies doing business with Texas until it repeals its capital punishment law.
Supporters of the bill said Iran is one of the most evil and dangerous nations in the world and should not receive any support from Massachusetts’ pension fund.
Some opponents said the bill is weak and note that they support a broader proposal requiring the pension fund to divest from any foreign companies doing any kind of business with not only Iran but with many other terrorist nations including Sudan, North Korea and Syria. Other opponents say the Legislature should not be micromanaging the pension fund.
D’Amico told Beacon Hill Roll Call he offered the amendment tongue-in-cheek to make the point that the entire concept of listing nations is a slippery slope. He said he threw the Texas ban in the amendment to illustrate the absurdity of the entire proposal.
D’Amico’s plan was to make his point and then withdraw the amendment, which he does not really support. That plan went awry when a legislator objected to the withdrawal of the amendment. Under House rules, if one legislator objects to the withdrawal of an amendment, it remains on the floor for debate and a vote.
In the end, every legislator, including D’Amico, voted against the amendment.
(A “No” vote is against the amendment.)
Rep. Jennifer Benson, No; Rep. Robert Hargraves, No
CASINOS MUST HAVE CLOCKS AND NO EXTRA OXYGEN IN THE AIR (H 4591)
House 32-124, rejected an amendment that would require all casinos and racetrack slot venues to have clocks in prominent areas and prohibit them from pumping extra oxygen or synthetic pheromones into the air.
Amendment supporters said all these tricks encourage gamblers to stay longer and bet more money.
Amendment opponents said the House should not attempt to micromanage the operation of casinos and slot establishments.
(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment requiring clocks and prohibiting the pumping of extra oxygen or pheromones into the air. A “No” vote is against the amendment.)
Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Robert Hargraves, No
TAX ALL BRIBERY INCOME AND CORRUPT GIFTS (H 3853)
House 155-0, approved an amendment to tax all bribes, corrupt gifts and income gained through illegal activities.
Supporters said this would ensure that illegal income is taxed. They argued this “Al Capone” amendment would allow prosecutors to bring non-payment of income tax charges against people who claim they did not know the money they received was illegal. (A “Yes” vote is for taxing all bribes, corrupt gifts and income gained through illegal activities.)
Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Robert Hargraves, Yes
REQUIRE REPRESENTATIVES TO REPORT ILLEGAL VOTING (H 2009)
House 17-137, voted mostly along party lines and defeated a Republican-sponsored new rule requiring representatives to report any illegal practice of “phantom voting” in which a member votes for another member who is absent. Only one Democrat joined the GOP and voted in favor of the new rule.
Supporters of the rule said it is important that members who see an illegal practice on the House floor be required to report it. They argued that this is a “no brainer” moral rule that should receive unanimous support.
Opponents of the rule said it goes too far and argued that it is not the job of legislators to monitor each other’s behavior. They noted that the House rules package already discourages phantom voting in other ways.
(A “Yes” vote is for the rule requiring representatives to report phantom voting. A “No” vote is against requiring it.)
Rep. Jennifer Benson, No; Rep. Robert Hargraves, Yes
ALLOW SMOKING IN SENATE CHAMBER (S 2495)
Senate 0-39, rejected a motion to allow smoking on the Senate floor. Current Senate rules prohibit smoking in the Senate chamber unless two-thirds of the members vote to suspend the rule.
The ban was proposed in response to a provision in the proposed casino bill that would allow casinos to make 25 percent of the casino a designated smoking area.
The motion was made tongue-in-cheek to make a point that the state’s workplace smoking ban is apparently flexible when it comes to casinos that will generate revenue for the state. Some members complained that the motion was offered in jest. They argued that the issue of a smoking ban is not a joke and is about saving lives.
(A “No” vote is against lifting the Senate smoking ban and favors the ban.)
Sen. James Eldridge, No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, No; Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, No
BAN TRANS FATS IN CASINOS (S 2495)
Senate 4-34, rejected an amendment that would ban the use of artificial trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, in any Massachusetts casino.
The sponsor of the amendment proposed the ban tongue-in-cheek to make the point that some senators are attempting to micromanage the casinos by prohibiting free drinks for gamblers, ATMs and the serving of alcohol between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m.
Supporters pointed to studies linking trans fats to coronary heart disease and the premature death of more than 4,000 people annually in Massachusetts. They argued replacing trans fats with healthy alternatives would reduce the number of illnesses and save lives.
Opponents said this decision should be left up to the owners of each casino and noted that individuals can decide to which casino they go. They argued that is another example of unwarranted government intrusion and the “nanny state.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the ban. A “No” vote is against the ban.)
Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, No; Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, No
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
* Bay State Republicans last week lost their bid to win even a single congressional seat or a statewide office. They were outgunned by Democrats who used their superb Election Day ground operation to get their supporters to the polls.
The GOP also lost one seat in the State Senate, reducing their paltry five out of 40 seats to only four. The Democrats gained one seat and now total 36.
Republicans fared better in the Massachusetts House where they more than doubled their members from the current 15 to 32. Three of the races were very close and a recount has been requested in the Sixth Worcester District in which Republican Peter Durant beat incumbent Democrat Geraldo Alicea (D-Charlton) by a mere four votes. Ten GOP incumbents won re-election, six newcomers held down seats that incumbent Republicans are giving up, 13 challengers unseated incumbent Democrats, and three won open seats. The Democrats still hold a solid majority in the House with 128 members.
* Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) announced that he is a candidate for minority leader in the Senate. The position will be vacant in January 2011 because Sen. Richard Tisei (R-Wakefield) gave up the seat to run for lieutenant governor on Charlie Baker’s losing ticket.
Sen. Bob Hedlund (R-Weymouth) said he is considering seeking the post but has not yet made up his mind. The eventual winner will lead the small four-member GOP caucus in the Senate.
* The bill that would prohibit welfare recipients from buying alcohol and cigarettes with state-funded electronic benefits cards was again held up in the House last week. The bill’s profile has been raised following the Boston Herald report that welfare recipients were given access via ATMs to the more than $390 million in welfare funds they are able to spend without restrictions. Republicans are complaining that Democrats refuse to consider any GOP amendments. Democrats say the GOP is simply holding up the proposal.
* Meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate are holding up the measure that would change the process of siting wind energy facilities in cities and towns.
Republicans say the bill goes too far and would dilute the power of cities and towns to decide whether to grant a permit to a wind energy developer. They noted that voters should have the final say on whether to allow a wind energy project in their community.
Supporters of the measure say it would streamline the permitting process and still includes safeguards that would ensure cities and towns have the final say whether to allow a wind energy project. They note that current law is very complicated and has held up many wind energy projects. Some argue that more wind energy projects would create jobs and help Massachusetts wean itself off imported fossil fuels.
QUOTABLE QUOTES — Post-Election Day Edition
“Never underestimate the power of the grassroots.”
Gov. Deval Patrick, following his re-election.
“Winning statewide as a Republican in Massachusetts takes a combination of running a perfect race and an ideal political environment. A third party candidate (Tim Cahill) pulling eight percent made our already narrow window that much narrower.”
Charlie Baker, defeated Republican candidate for governor.
“This is a great state and it will do well over these next four years, and I believe that this state is better because of the fight that we’ve had.”
Tim Cahill, defeated Independent candidate for governor.
“We established alliances that are ready for change. These alliances included high school students from low-income areas, college students who hit rock bottom with loans and the abandoned immigrant community being blamed for joblessness.”
Jill Stein, defeated Green-Rainbow candidate for governor.
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 Nov. 1-5, the House met for a total of 14 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 21 minutes.
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.