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By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives on three roll calls and local senators on six roll calls from the week of July 14-18.


House 131-18, Senate 35-4, approved the bill making juveniles convicted of first-degree felony murder between their 14th and 18th birthdays eligible for parole after serving 20 to 30 years in prison. Other eligibility criteria for first-degree murder established by the bill include 25-30 years for murder involving premeditation and 30 years for murder with extreme atrocity. The bill was filed in response to last year’s Supreme Judicial Court ruling that life sentences without the possibility for parole for juveniles were unconstitutional.

Supporters said this range of strict minimum sentences is a balanced approach that protects the public while recognizing the special circumstances that the court pointed out about the developmental differences between children and adults.

Opponents said the sentences are too harsh and noted that serving 15 years before being eligible for parole would be a fairer choice for these children whose brains are different than those of adults.

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

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes.


House 131-19, Senate 33-7, approved a $1 billion borrowing bill to fund a 1.3 million square-foot expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Funding is provided by existing fees and taxes including a tax on hotel rooms in Boston and Cambridge and a $10 fee on all car rentals in Boston. A controversial provision automatically raises the Boston hotel tax from 12 percent to 14 percent if the funding to pay off the debt fall short.

Supporters said Massachusetts is losing substantial business from events that the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center is too small to accommodate. They argued the project will create 4,000 construction jobs and 2,000 new permanent jobs and generate an estimated $15 million annually in taxes and $185 million in private sector business.

Opponents said the state was scheduled to pay off the existing loans that built the convention center by 2034 at which point that money would be available for the state’s General Fund to use on projects that will benefit residents across the state. They noted this new expansion will require the state to continue servicing the debt on the $1.1 billion project until 2050 at a loss of $5 billion of revenue that would have been available for the state.

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

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes.


House 145-4, approved and sent to the Senate a bill making changes in the regulation of local housing authorities. Provisions include establishing performance benchmarks, requiring training for board members and executive directors, requiring an annual report from each authority, mandating annual audits by independent auditors and allowing a tenant a seat on all local boards.

Supporters said the bill would increase transparency, accountability and efficiency and establish new roles for tenants in the governing of their local housing authority.

Some opponents said the bill is unclear and possibly takes away preference that gives local residents priority for placement in housing projects in their local city or town. Others said that the bill gives too much power to the Patrick administration’s Department of Housing and Communities Development and are afraid that the department will eventually give preference to some of the illegal Central American immigrants who have arrived here in the past few weeks.

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

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes.


Senate 39-0, approved and sent to the House a bill prohibiting employers and school administrators from asking for someone’s social media passwords as a condition of employment or acceptance to the school.

Supporters said this would stop the increasing number of incidents in which students, student applicants, employees and potential employees are asked for access to their Facebook and other accounts in order to do an informal “background” check on them.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes.


Senate 9-30, rejected a measure that would gradually lift the 120 limit cap on the number of charter schools allowed in the state. The legislation also requires troubled schools that are in danger of becoming “underperforming schools” to be designated as “challenge schools” and to develop turnaround plans.

Supporters said charter schools have been successful and should be allowed to expand. They noted the bill would also give a second chance to low-performing schools by allowing them to develop turnaround plans before being declared underperforming.

Opponents said these experimental schools have questionable performance records and are draining desperately needed funds and many of the best students from regular, noncharter public schools.

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

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, No; Sen. James Eldridge, No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, No.

MCAS (S 2262)

Senate 14-25, rejected an amendment that would require the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to inform the Legislature 60 days before implementing any alternative testing system to the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). The department would be required to issue a report evaluating alternative systems being considered and the costs and benefits associated with them.

This spring the state began trials of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC) test, a national exam designed to test the Common Core Standards adopted by the state in 2011.

Amendment supporters said the bill would ensure the Legislature has an opportunity to review this major proposed change in the state’s education system.

Amendment opponents said the amendment is flawed, duplicative and bureaucratically burdensome because it unnecessarily requires DESE to provide a cost benefit analysis for any other alternatives to MCAS that were considered even if PARCC was chosen.

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

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, No; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, No.

GUNS (S 2265)

Senate 28-10, approved an amendment to a bill making several changes in the state’s gun laws. The amendment eliminated a provision that would have given local police chiefs more discretion over issuing Firearm Identification (FID) cards to own rifles or shotguns.

Supporters of the discretion provision, including the Mass. Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, said it is the most important part of the proposed law. They said removing it would make it more difficult to keep rifles and shotguns out of the hands of people who pose a risk to the public.

Opponents of the discretion provision, including the pro-gun group GOAL, said its removal would protect the rights of gun owners and argued that it is unfair to give that much discretion to one individual.

A conference committee will attempt to hammer out a compromise version of the Senate and House bills.

(A “Yes” vote is for eliminating the discretion provision. A “No” vote is for keeping the provision.)

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes.


ABORTION PROTESTERS (S 2281) — The Senate approved, on a voice vote without a roll call, and sent to the House a bill filed in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that struck down a 2007 Massachusetts law that established a 35-foot protest-free buffer zone at reproductive health care centers. The measure authorizes law enforcement officials to issue a written order mandating immediate withdrawal of anyone who substantially impedes access to a facility entrance or driveway. The individuals must then remain at least 25 feet from the facility’s entrances and driveways for a maximum of eight hours.

Supporters said the bill balances public safety and access considerations with the right of free speech.

Opponents said proponents should abide by the Supreme Court ruling and not look for ways to rush through a bill that tries to get around the court’s decision.

$22,718 PAY RAISE FOR DISTRICT ATTORNEYS (H 4294) — The House and Senate approved and sent to the governor a bill that would increase the salaries of the state’s 11 district attorneys from $148,843 to $171,561.

OFFICIAL GROUNDHOG (H 2864) — The Senate approved a House-approved bill making Ms. G., the popular groundhog at the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Drumlin Farm, the official groundhog of Massachusetts. Ms. G. is the Bay State counterpart to Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil. The measure also requires that the popular groundhog be used as a mechanism to educate elementary school children on the importance of meteorology.

The bill was filed by Rep. Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley) on behalf of elementary school students at the Hunnewell School in Wellesley. Many of these types of bills are filed by legislators on behalf of classes of students as part of an exercise for youngsters to learn about the legislative process. Only final approval of the measure in each branch is needed prior to it going to the governor.

COACHES MUST LEARN CPR (S 1918) — The House gave initial approval to a Senate-approved bill that would require all school coaches to complete a course in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) from the American Heart Association, American Red Cross or other state-approved agency. The measure also prohibits local cities and towns from being responsible for the costs.

ALLOW LIQUOR STORES TO OPEN EARLIER ON SUNDAYS (H 228) — The Senate gave initial approval to a House-approved a bill that would allow liquor stores to open at 10 a.m. on Sundays. Current law prohibits stores from opening until noon. A total ban on Sunday sales of alcohol was state law until 2003 when the ban was repealed.

Supporters said the measure will allow Bay State stores to compete with stores in New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island, which are allowed to open earlier on Sundays.

Opponents said many liquor store owners oppose the bill because they would have to pay their employees time and a half. They also argued that studies have shown the earlier hours do not increase liquor sales but rather spread existing sales out over a longer period of time.

NO ROBOCALLS TO CELL PHONES (H 299) — The House gave initial approval to a measure that would prohibit robocalls to cell phones and other mobile electronic devices. The measure exempts messages from school districts to students, parents or employees; from companies advising employees of work schedules; from correctional facilities advising victims; and from municipalities and state government. It also would fine companies up to $10,000 if they make an illegal robocall and allow an individual who is called to sue a company for $10,000.

ENFORCEMENT OF MUNICIPAL ORDINANCES AND BY-LAWS (S 944) — The Senate approved and sent to the House a proposal to allow municipalities to seek civil penalties in court against an offender when a local law is violated. Under current law, the court is not allowed to assess a civil penalty.

Supporters said that cities and towns need the tools to enforce their laws and to show offenders that the community is serious about these violations.

HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION? During the week of July 14-18, the House met for a total of 12 hours and 37 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 13 hours and 17 minutes.