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Senator Jamie Eldridge sporting a face mask.
Senator Jamie Eldridge sporting a face mask.
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Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of Jan. 17-21. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.

$55 MILLION FOR COVID-19

The House, 159-0, approved and sent to the Senate a $55 million COVID-19 response bill. A key provision provides $30 million to increase the number of COVID-19 testing sites and purchase COVID-19 tests — with $5 million of that earmarked to expanding vaccination rates among kids ages 5 to 11 in communities disproportionately affected by the virus.

Another $25 million would be used for the acquisition and distribution of high-quality personal protective masks, including N95s and KN95s, to be distributed by Feb. 28 to children and faculty in elementary and secondary public school districts. The measure also mandates that the Baker administration pursue the highest allowable rate of federal reimbursement for the $55 million package.

“In the last couple of years we have learned a lot about how to treat, prevent and reduce the risks associated with the virus,” said Rep. Bill Driscoll, D-Milton, the House chair of the Committee on Covid-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management. “We held additional oversight hearings in December and January because we wanted to understand the administration’s current and evolving plans to address omicron and what might be around the corner in the weeks and months ahead. The funding included in this legislation aims to close several gaps regarding accessibility to testing and high filtration masks, particularly in schools. By providing the funding resources and several other extensions, like remote participation in public meetings, the commonwealth can take stronger and focused measures toward driving infection rates down and hopefully keep them down in the months ahead.”

CONSOLIDATED AMENDMENT TO COVID PACKAGE

The House, 158-1, approved a package of several amendments to the COVID-19 package. The amendments were based on 23 individual amendments filed by individual representatives.

Supporters said the amendments would enhance the bill and help in the fight against COVID-19.

Rep. Jeff Turco, D-Winthrop, the only representative to vote against the package of amendments, said he voted against them because they included substantive changes to the tort laws of the commonwealth.

“Specifically, the amendment included language that granted hospitals and medical providers immunity from liability for acts of negligence related to care and treatment involving COVID-19. I do not support such a change without a full vetting and hearing process,” he said.

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

DEFAULT ON STUDENT LOANS — The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would repeal a current law, passed in 1990, which created professional licensure consequences for anyone who defaults on their student loan. Under existing law, the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority and the American Student Assistance can request that a borrower’s state-issued professional or occupational certificate, registration or license be suspended, revoked or canceled for default on educational loans made or administered by either group.

Supporters said that Massachusetts is one of only a handful of states in which a person can lose their professional license if he or she defaults on his or her student loans. They argued the law is unfair and counterproductive because it makes it harder for people to repay their loans by revoking their licenses and depriving them of the opportunity to earn income and make a living in their chosen field.

ALLOW CITIES AND TOWNS TO PROHIBIT FOSSIL FUEL INFRASTRUCTURE — The Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee held a virtual hearing on a measure that would allow cities and towns to require all new buildings, building construction projects or major renovation projects to be all-electric. The bill bans on-site fossil fuel infrastructure but does allow for natural gas and propane service if they are integral to the building’s function.

Sponsor Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, said the bill will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This bill is in response to the attorney general’s ruling that municipalities did not have the legal authority to prohibit new fossil fuel infrastructure,” Eldridge said. “The gas and oil infrastructure that is installed today will keep us locked in for decades to come, so it’s critical that we take action now. If we are to reach the net-zero emissions target set in The Next Generation Roadmap Act, we must pass forward-thinking legislation that empowers municipalities to combat climate change.”

TRANSPORTATION BILLS — The Transportation Committee held a virtual hearing on several bills including:

CHARGING STATIONS IN CONDO BUILDINGS — Prohibits condominium associations, historic district commissions and neighborhood conservation districts from banning or unreasonably restricting an owner from installing an electric vehicle charging station to charge their electric vehicle. While the bill preserves the right of these local and private decision-making entities to regulate siting decisions, it does reduce their authority from being able to outright ban new installations of charging stations.

“As the commonwealth moves away from gas-powered vehicles, we are going to need increased access to charging stations,” said sponsor Michelle Ciccolo, D-Lexington. “With 40% of emissions coming out of transportation systems in the state, it is essential that we do everything we can to make owning and operating an electric vehicle as seamless as owning a gas vehicle. For that reason, we can’t have local siting boards prioritize aesthetics over access to charging.”

ALLOW SOME AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES ON BAY STATE ROADWAYS — Permits electric-powered autonomous vehicles to be operated on Bay State roadways. Current law does not allow any autonomous vehicles on these roads.

“We have a unique opportunity to ensure that the emerging technologies behind automated vehicles contribute to our efforts to reduce carbon emissions,” said sponsor Rep. Michael Day, D-Stoneham. “We know that personal cars, trucks and commercial vehicles are some of the biggest drivers of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts, and this bill, if passed, would allow us to ensure that these new vehicles help us, and don’t hurt us, in our battle against climate change.”

INCREASE FINES FOR HANDICAPPED PARKING VIOLATIONS — Allows cities and towns to increase the current fines of $100 to $300 for drivers who violate handicapped parking violations. The bill would allow communities to assess an additional separate fine of up to $450 in addition to the $100 to $300 one. The up to $450 fine would be placed in a separate city or town account that would be used solely for funding and implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act on public property and in public buildings within the city or town where the violation took place.

“In my district and across the state, cities and towns through commissions on disabilities have plans to make their communities more accessible,” said Rep. Bruce Ayers, D-Quincy. “However, oftentimes a lack of funding prevents them from enacting their plans. This bill allows them to place some of the financial burden on the backs of those who violate the laws that exist to protect the rights of people with disabilities.”

QUOTABLE QUOTES — Farewell Edition: Four state representatives are exiting the House to take on new jobs in the federal or state government. Rep. Sheila Harrington, R-Groton, did not respond to several emails from Beacon Hill Roll Call asking her to comment on her appointment by Gov. Charlie Baker as clerk magistrate of the Gardner District Court.

Here are the other quotes and appointments:

“I could not be more thrilled to get started on Jan. 31, when FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell administers the oath. I am honored to accept this appointment from President Biden, a man I have profound respect for, and greatly look forward to assisting with the emergency management needs of the six states and tribal lands of New England.” — Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, on her appointment by President Biden as Region 1 administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency

“Through the years (and with many hairstyles!) we directed our passion and hard work to create thoughtful policy in the proud spirit of the commonwealth.” — Ehrlich on her farewell post, which included many pictures of her through her tenure in the House

“To sum up my nine years in the House: I love the House. And I love the institution. I have great respect for this institution. It has been the honor of my lifetime to serve with all of you. So today, I’m leaving a place I love and a job I love for a chance to serve our country as the United States ambassador to Ireland.” — Rep. Claire Cronin, D-Brockton, on her appointment by President Biden as ambassador to Ireland. She was sworn in last week.

“For those of you who are interested, my hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is planned for Feb. 3. I believe it will be webcast live and recorded for later viewing.” — Rep. Maria Robinson, D-Framingham, on her appointment by President Biden as assistant secretary of energy in the Office of Electricity.

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 Jan. 17-21, the House met for a total of six hours and 50 minutes and the Senate met for a total of one hour and two minutes.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com.

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