By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. There were no roll call votes in the House or Senate last week.
Beacon Hill Roll Call reports local senators’ final roll call attendance records for the 2011 session. Additional roll calls will not take place until January 2012.
The Senate held 136 roll call votes in 2011. Beacon Hill Roll Call tabulates the number of roll calls on which each senator was present and voting and then calculates that number as a percentage of the total roll call votes held. That percentage is the number referred to as the roll call attendance record.
Only 16 of the Senate’s 40 members have 100 percent roll call attendance records.
The worst roll call attendance record belongs to Sen. Michael Rush (D-Boston), who missed 132 roll calls (2.9 percent roll call attendance record) while on active duty with the U.S. Navy in Iraq.
The second worst roll call attendance record belongs to Sen. Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst) who missed 40 roll calls (73.5 percent attendance) because of his treatment for skin cancer with which he was diagnosed in September.
Rounding out the top five worst are Sens. Frederick Berry (D-Peabody), who missed 27 roll calls (80.1 percent attendance); Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston), who missed 21 roll calls (84.5 percent attendance); and Thomas Kennedy (D-Brockton), who missed 14 roll calls (89.7 percent attendance).
LOCAL SENATORS’ FINAL 2011 ROLL CALL ATTENDANCE RECORDS
Here is the percentage of roll call votes for which the senator was present and voting. The number in parentheses represents the number of roll calls that the senator missed.
Sen. Eileen Donoghue 97.7 percent (3)
Sen. James Eldridge 100 percent (0)
Sen. Jennifer Flanagan 100 percent (0)
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
REPEAL CASINO BILL — A new group, Repeal the Casino Deal, filed the petition and 10 signatures necessary to begin the long referendum process to attempt to repeal the recent casino bill signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick, by putting it on the 2012 ballot for voters to decide. The measure allows three casinos and one slot parlor in the Bay State.
The petition now goes to Attorney General Martha Coakley to see if it qualifies for the 2012 ballot. The law includes appropriation of money, something the state constitution excludes from the referendum process to repeal a law. It is possible Coakley will not certify the petition. The repeal group accused the drafters of the law of inserting language making "incidental appropriations to the governor, the attorney general and the non-existent Gaming Commission to position the bill as an ‘appropriation’ that is excluded from the referendum process."
If it is certified, proponents then have roughly 80 days to collect 34,456 signatures in order to get the question on the ballot.
SEPTEMBER PRIMARY ELECTIONS — The date of the September state primary was changed three weeks ago by the Legislature and Gov. Patrick from Sept. 18 to Sept, 6 to avoid a conflict with the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah that falls on Sept. 16-18. The governor now wants to move the date again to avoid a conflict with the acceptance speech on Sept. 6 by President Barack Obama on the final evening of the Democratic National Nominating Convention in Charlotte. Patrick has not proposed a specific new date.
Meanwhile, Woburn City Clerk William Campbell, former president of the Massachusetts City Clerks Association, has proposed changing the date of both the state primary and the March 6 presidential preference primary to June 5. He says the move would save the state and local communities an estimated $8 million by not having to pay workers and other expenses for work on two different election days. He noted it would also ensure the state complies with the MOVE Act, which requires absentee ballots to be mailed to voters, including members of the military overseas, 45 days before a general election.
Opponents say the date is just too early and would result in legislative candidates for re-election beginning to collect signatures and campaigning in just a few weeks, less than a year into their term.
MOTORCYCLE HELMETS –The Transportation Committee held a hearing on a bill repealing the current state law requiring all motorcycle drivers and passengers to wear helmets. The proposal would require only drivers and passengers under 21 to wear them (S 1726).
Supporters said adults should have the power to make their own choices and that people ride more "aware" without helmets. They noted thousands of Massachusetts bikers choose to ride in neighboring New England states on weekends and spend million of dollars there that should be spent in the Bay State.
Opponents said motorcycle crashes cause deaths and some of the most serious and costly brain injuries in the Bay State. They noted wearing helmets reduces head injury by 70 percent.
A second proposal would require drivers and passengers under 21 to wear helmets but exempt passengers between 18 and 20 from the law if they have completed an approved motorcycle rider education course (H 2642).
OTHER MOTORCYCLE BILLS — The Transportation Committee’s agenda also included legislation that would limit the noise level of motorcycles and impose up to a six-month license suspension and/or $250 fine on violators (H 952); prohibit cities and towns from banning the use of motorcycles on any public street (H 895); prohibit a child younger than five or weighing 40 pounds or less years from riding as a passenger on a motorcycle doing more than 30 miles per hour (H 947); and making it illegal for a car driver to interfere with or disrupt a group of two or more motorcycles by passing through or interrupting the group (H 948).
APPROVE CHANGES IN PENSION SYSTEM (S 2018) — Gov. Patrick signed into law a bill making changes in the pension and retirement systems for employees of the state and cities and towns. The proposal reduces pensions by raising the minimum retirement age for most public employees from 55 to 60 and changing the formula on which they are based.
Other provisions include prorating the retirement allowance of future employees who serve in more than one group by taking into account the number of years of service in each group; allowing only employees who serve at least one year in a group by the end of their career to retire from that group; and establishing a minimum pension of $15,000 for workers who have spent 25 years in state government. Currently, many retirees are struggling with annual pensions of $12,000 to $13,000.
DIMASI OFF TO JAIL — Former House Speaker Sal DiMasi began serving his eight-year prison sentence at a Kentucky federal prison. DiMasi was convicted of receiving $57,000 in illegal payments from Cognos, a Canadian software company that he helped land nearly $20 million in state contracts.
"Disapproval of the Massachusetts Legislature is high, but not nearly as high as it is for Congress. A total of 28 percent approve of the job the Massachusetts Legislature is doing compared to 56 percent who disapprove. Meanwhile, just 12 percent of Massachusetts citizens approve of Congress while 79 percent disapprove."
— From a poll conducted by UMass Amherst. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.4 percent.
"This is one of the most significant laws passed in Massachusetts in over 100 years. Gambling interests have spent more than $20 million to have their way. Now it is time for citizens to get their say."
— John Ribeiro of Winthrop, head of the newly formed Repeal the Casino Deal that is attempting to allow voters to repeal the law on the 2012 ballot.
"I maintain my innocence. I have never, nor would I ever, violate the public’s trust . . . I remain outraged that my reputation, my integrity and my good name have been sullied by this process. I will do everything in my power to earn back those things in the coming years."
— Former House Speaker Sal DiMasi shortly before he reported to a federal prison in Kentucky to begin to serve his eight-year prison sentence for accepting $57,000 in illegal payments in exchange for helping a private company be awarded a state software contract.
"They were a beautiful couple and it’s very apropos that we name the bridge (after them)."
— Rep. George Ross (R-Attleboro) testifying before the Transportation Committee on legislation to name a bridge after Shawn Nassaney of Pawtucket and Lynn Goodchild of Attleboro, both 25, who died on 9/11 on United Flight 175 that crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. The couple was heading to Hawaii where Nassaney planned to propose to Goodchild.
"I will be running for re-election to the House of Representatives in 2012."
— U.S. Rep. Barney Frank on February 3, 2011.
"It is not a secret that holding elected office is not these days considered to be one of the great virtues. There is a cynical screen through which comments of elected officials are put."
— Frank last week at his press conference announcing he is retiring after 32 years in Congress.
"If the governor thinks I’m going to side with the Democratic National Convention as opposed to getting ballots out to our military voters he can go take a flying leap off of something."
— House Republican Leader Bradley Jones on Gov. Patrick’s attempt to move the Sept. 6 state primary to avoid a conflict with Obama’s acceptance speech on Sept. 6 at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Jones expressed concern that moving the primary to a later date could ultimately jeopardize the timely receipt of absentee ballots by men and women serving in U.S. armed forces overseas.
"Whatever happens, the governor won’t support any measure that makes it harder for troops serving overseas to vote."
— Brendan Ryan, Gov. Patrick’s communications director.
HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION? Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time the House and Senate were in session each week. Many legislators say 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 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.
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at email@example.com