THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of Jan. 30-Feb. 3, 2023. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.
HOUSE ADOPTS RULES FOR 2023-2024 SESSION
House 153-0, approved a package of rules under which the House will operate during the new 2023-2024 session. A key section would eliminate a COVID-19-era policy that allowed representatives to debate, offer amendments and vote remotely from their Statehouse offices or home. Another change would institute a new hybrid committee hearing structure that will allow for both in-person and remote participation from legislators and the public. Before the pandemic, hearings were conducted only in person while after the pandemic they were held remotely.
“We’re gonna keep a segmented remote voting on the committee hearings, which allows greater participation from our constituents and the members,” said House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy). “But we will not have an in-session remote component any longer.” He noted that it is time to revive the in-person session in which members are in the chamber to debate, vote and have face-to-face contact with their colleagues.
A key and controversial amendment proposed by Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven (D-Somerville) was rejected on a voice vote without debate and without a roll call vote. Her amendment would require that committees make public how each legislator on a House committee voted on bills including whether or not to recommend a favorable report, adverse report or send the bill to a study committee. This would replace an existing rule that requires the committee to only post the names of legislators who voted against the bill and list the aggregate vote tally without names of members voting in the affirmative or not voting.
ALLOW ONE HOUR TO READ CONSOLIDATED BUDGET AMENDMENTS (H 2023)
House 23-130, rejected a Republican proposal that would increase from 30 minutes to one hour the period given to legislators to read any proposed consolidated amendment to the House budget prior to debate and a vote on it.
The consolidated amendment system works as follows: Individual representatives file dozens of amendments on the same general subject matters including local aid, social services and public safety. They are then invited to “subject meetings” in Room 348 where they pitch their amendments to Democratic leaders who then draft lengthy, consolidated amendments that include some of the individual representatives’ amendments while excluding others. The House then considers and votes on each consolidated amendment.
“This proposed rule change was filed to provide members with more time to read through what are often very lengthy and sometimes complicated amendments,” said sponsor GOP House Minority Leader Rep. Brad Jones (R-North Reading). “Allowing for additional time to review consolidated amendments would help members gain a better understanding of what is actually included in the amendment so they can make a more informed decision when casting their vote.”
Opponents of the one-hour rule said the current 30-minute rule has worked well and argued that adding additional time will simply drag out what are already long, often late-at-night budget sessions. They also noted that technology has made it easy for each member to discern whether their individual amendment is included in the consolidated amendment.
Rep. Sarah Peake (D-Provincetown) argued against the new rule during debate but did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call to comment on her opposition to the proposal.
(A “Yes” vote is for allowing one hour. A “No” vote is against allowing it.)
NO: Rep. James Arciero; Rep. Rodney Elliott; Rep. Colleen Garry; Rep. Meghan Kilcoyne; Rep. Michael Kushmerek; Rep. Rady Mom; Rep. Tram Nguyen; Rep. David Robertson; Rep. Margaret Scarsdale; Rep. Dan Sena; Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik. YES: Rep. Natalie Higgins; Rep. Vanna Howard; Rep. Marc Lombardo. Reps. Kimberly Ferguson and Kenneth Gordon didn’t vote.
ADOPT LOCAL AID RESOLUTIONS BY MARCH 31 (H 2025)
House 23-130, rejected a GOP proposal that would require the House and Senate to annually adopt by March 31 resolutions stating the minimum amount of local aid the state will give each city and town for that fiscal year.
Opponents of the new rule said the Legislature should inform cities and towns as soon as possible but should not have its hands tied by some arbitrary date. They noted things often change in a matter of days and argued that the Legislature does not know in March what the state’s financial situation will be when a budget is finally approved in May or June.
Rep. Bill Straus (D-Mattapoisett) argued against the new rule during debate but did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call to comment on his opposition to the proposal.
(A “Yes” vote is for the March deadline. A “No” vote is against it.)
NO: Rep. James Arciero; Rep. Rodney Elliott; Rep. Colleen Garry; Rep. Natalie Higgins; Rep. Vanna Howard; Rep. Meghan Kilcoyne; Rep. Michael Kushmerek; Rep. Rady Mom; Rep. Tram Nguyen; Rep. David Robertson; Rep. Margaret Scarsdale; Rep. Dan Sena; Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik. YES: Rep. Marc Lombardo. Reps. Kimberly Ferguson and Kenneth Gordon didn’t vote.
HOUSE VOTES TO SEAT DEMOCRAT KRISTIN KASSNER IN 2ND ESSEX DISTRICT
House 129-22, voted to seat Democrat Kristin Kassner as the state representative from the 2nd Essex District which covers the North Shore towns of Georgetown, Hamilton, Ipswich, Newbury and Rowley, and one precincts in Topsfield. In a contested recount, she beat incumbent Republican Rep. Lenny Mirra by a single vote.
The Democratic-led special committee looking at the matter chose not to review any of the ballots Mirra contested, and its two Democrat members argued that Mirra ceded his ability to subject individual votes to scrutiny by waiting until after the Governor’s Council certified the recount results to file his lawsuit.
“When, as is true in this matter, a candidate is provided the prescribed time and process to object to ballots prior to certification, the House of Representatives is not a proper forum for calling balls and strikes on challenges to the determination of the intent of individual voters,” wrote the panel’s chairman Rep. Michael Day (D-Stoneham) and Rep. Dan Ryan (D-Charlestown), the other Democratic member, in the majority report. “Allowing such redress runs contrary to our system of government and its attendant commitment to timely election results.”
“The 2nd Essex District race was decided by the slimmest possible margin of just one vote separating the two candidates following a recount,” said Rep. Brad Jones, the only Republican on the panel. “Given the number of contested ballots and the margin for human error, I thought it was important for the special committee to review the individual ballots in question to determine whether Ms. Kassner or Mr. Mirra had been properly elected to fill the seat, and filed an order to that effect, which was rejected.”
(A “Yes” vote is for seating Krassner. A “No” vote is against seating her.)
YES: Rep. James Arciero; Rep. Rodney Elliott; Rep. Colleen Garry; Rep. Natalie Higgins; Rep. Vanna Howard; Rep. Meghan Kilcoyne; Rep. Michael Kushmerek; Rep. Rady Mom; Rep. Tram Nguyen; Rep. David Robertson; Rep. Margaret Scarsdale; Rep. Dan Sena; Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik. NO: Rep. Marc Lombardo. Reps. Kimberly Ferguson and Kenneth Gordon didn’t vote.
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
More freshly filed bills that have been proposed for consideration in the 2023-2024 session include:
MARIJUANA AND FIRST RESPONDERS (SD 2230) – Would require the Cannabis Control Commission and the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security to study and report to the Legislature on the barriers that first responders face about their legal right to use cannabis.
“As we move away from cannabis prohibition, we should ensure we do not hold on to pre-existing, bias-driven bans,” said sponsor Sen. Julian Cyr (D-Truro). “I filed [the bill] to investigate the existing barriers to first responders’ legal right to use cannabis … The bill would also explore the effectiveness of cannabis in treating anxiety, depression, stress, PTSD and other traumas.”
AIR CONDITIONER USE (SD 2214) – Would prevent a landlord from restricting a tenant’s right to install or use a portable air conditioner so long as the unit is properly installed and does not violate building codes or state or federal law; violate the device manufacturer’s written safety guideline; damage the premises; and does not require amperage to power the device that cannot be accommodated by the power service to the building. The bill also directs the Department of Housing and Community Development to analyze whether the state could apply for federal funding to provide cooling assistance for low-income households vulnerable to heat-related illness.
“Climate change is altering seasonal temperatures to a point where last summer we experienced one of the worst heat waves in recent memory,” said sponsor Sen. Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford). “At that time, too many residents struggling to keep up with basic cost of living expenses lacked access to proper cooling services, thereby threatening the wellbeing of senior citizens, residents with chronic health conditions, and many others. This bill would diminish barriers currently preventing access to cooling services and hopefully reduce preventable heat-related illnesses.”
MUSLIM COMMISSION (S 2376) – Would create an 11-member permanent Commission on the Status of People who Practice Islam to serve as a resource on issues affecting American Muslim communities in the Bay State.
The duties of the commission include informing the public and leaders of business, education, human services, health care, state and local governments and the communications media of the unique cultural, social, ethnic, economic and educational issues affecting American Muslims; fostering unity among the American Muslim community and organizations by promoting cooperation and sharing of information and encouraging collaboration and joint activities; identifying and recommending qualified American Muslims for appointive positions at all levels of government; and assessing programs and practices in all state agencies as they affect American Muslims.
“Massachusetts is home to many Muslim Americans, and it is long overdue that we look at our inclusion practices and take a step further,” said Senate sponsor Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Marlborough). “This bill promotes the civil rights and inclusion of American Muslims in the commonwealth, and I am confident that the commission will do an excellent job researching and identifying existing issues, and seeking new opportunities as they safeguard the civil rights of American Muslims.”
FREE COLLEGE EDUCATION (SD 1946) – Would guarantee free public higher education as a right for all students who have attended a high school in Massachusetts for three or more years and graduated from a Bay State high school.
The measure creates a grant program to cover tuition and mandatory fees for Massachusetts residents attending a state public university. For students who meet certain low-income eligibility, the legislation gives additional aid in grants to cover the additional costs of attending the school including room and board, books and supplies, transportation and personal expenses.
“This bill matters because state funding for public higher education in Massachusetts has been cut drastically in the past 20 years resulting in significant tuition and fee increases and one of the fastest-growing student debt burdens in the nation,” said sponsor Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Marlborough).
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. 30-Feb. 3, the House met for a total of six hours and 55 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 34 minutes.
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at email@example.com. Bob founded Beacon Hill Roll Call in 1975 and was inducted into the New England Newspaper and Press Association (NENPA) Hall of Fame in 2019