THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

This week Beacon Hill Roll Call reports on how local legislators voted on some of the bills that were approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker in the 2020 session.

Of the more than 6,000 bills that have been filed for consideration, only 178 have been approved and signed by the governor. And only 28 of those were bills that affect the entire state while the vast majority were either sick leave banks, local land taking measures or other local-related measures applying to just one city or town. Of those 28 bills, 13 were related directly to the COVID-19 virus and 15 were on other matters.

Sick leave banks allow public employees to voluntarily donate sick, personal or vacation days to a sick leave bank for use by a fellow worker so he or she can get paid while on medical leave. Land takings are local land measures that usually only affect one city or town.

Here are five of the statewide bills signed into law:

$122 MILLION SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET
The House, 154-0, and Senate, 37-0, approved a $122 million fiscal 2020 supplemental budget. Key provisions provide $15 million for heating energy assistance to help low-income seniors, working families and other households pay winter heating bills. Another item ensures that the Healthy Incentives Program that provides fruit and vegetables to recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is available year-round.

Other provisions include $2 million for smoking prevention and cessation programs; $300,000 for the Cannabis Control Commission; and $2.8 million for the Early Intervention Program for families of children up to three years of age who have developmental difficulties because of health or environmental conditions.

Supporters said the budget is necessary to cover expenses and to fund various state programs and agencies that are running out of money. They argued the funding reflects immediate deficiencies to crucial programs that their constituents rely on every day.

(A “Yes” vote is for the budget.)

Rep. James Arciero, Yes; Rep. Kimberly Ferguson, Yes; Rep. Colleen Garry, Yes; Rep. Thomas Golden, Yes; Rep. Kenneth Gordon, Didn’t Vote; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Rep. Stephan Hay, Yes; Rep. Natalie Higgins, Yes; Rep. Marc Lombardo, Yes; Rep. Rady Mom, Yes; Rep. David Nangle, Yes; Rep. Harold Naughton, Yes; Rep. Tram Nguyen, Yes; Rep. David Robertson, Yes; Rep. Dan Sena, Was not yet elected; Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik, Yes; Sen. Michael Barrett, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Barry Finegold, Yes; Sen. Cindy Friedman, Yes; Sen. Anne Gobi, Yes; Sen. Edward Kennedy, Yes; Sen. Bruce Tarr, Yes; Sen. Dean Tran, Yes

ALLOW THE STATE TO BORROW BILLIONS OF DOLLARS
The House, 157-0, and Senate, 38-0, approved a bill that would authorize the state treasurer to borrow billions of dollars needed to keep the state running through the end of June. The funding is needed as a result of diminishing income tax revenues during COVID-19 when the Bay State moved the tax return filing deadline from April 15 to July 15 in addition to the loss of sales tax and other revenue as a result of business shutdowns. State tax collections dropped in April by more than $2.3 billion compared to April 2019.

The Legislature and the administration accomplished this by agreeing to engage in RANs — Revenue Anticipation Notes. This means that the state will borrow in fiscal 2020 the amount of money that was deferred or estimated to have been deferred by the movement of the tax filing date. Then the state would use fiscal 2021 revenues to pay back the loan.

Supporters said they anticipate the borrowing could reach up to $3 billion in order to keep the state financially afloat. They said the state is obligated to pay its bills and has no other choice.

“The legislation that advanced today will help the commonwealth responsibly meet near-term budget challenges as we continue to address the impacts of COVID-19,” said Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland).

“In order to protect the commonwealth’s taxpayers and maintain fiscal discipline during this public health crisis, the bi-partisan legislation passed by the Senate today authorizes the commonwealth to finance the recent extension of the 2019 state individual income tax filing deadline and provides a necessary bridge to help us get through the next few months until the next fiscal year,” said Sen. Mike Rodrigues (D-Westport), chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “The passage of this bill will allow the commonwealth to meet its fiscal obligations and pay its bills without negatively affecting our residents in the midst of this pandemic.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the borrowing).

Rep. James Arciero, Yes; Rep. Kimberly Ferguson, Yes; Rep. Colleen Garry, Yes; Rep. Thomas Golden, Yes; Rep. Kenneth Gordon, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Rep. Stephan Hay, Yes; Rep. Natalie Higgins, Yes; Rep. Marc Lombardo, Yes; Rep. Rady Mom, Yes; Rep. David Nangle, Yes; Rep. Harold Naughton, Didn’t Vote; Rep. Tram Nguyen, Yes; Rep. David Robertson, Yes; Rep. Dan Sena, Was not yet elected; Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik, Yes; Sen. Michael Barrett, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Barry Finegold, Yes; Sen. Cindy Friedman, Yes; Sen. Anne Gobi, Yes; Sen. Edward Kennedy, Yes; Sen. Bruce Tarr, Yes; Sen. Dean Tran, Yes

$200 MILLION FOR LOCAL ROADS AND BRIDGES
The House, 159-0, and Senate, 39-0, reduced from $300 million to $200 million Chapter 90 funding for cities and towns for the maintenance, repair and improvement of local roads and bridges. The House in March and the Senate in early June, on a voice vote without a roll call, approved proposals that included $300 million in Chapter 90 funding for cities and towns’ local roads and bridges. That $300 million was a $100 million increase over last year.

The Senate version of the legislation also established a new seven-member MBTA Board of Directors to succeed the current Fiscal Management and Control Board. The MBTA Board of Directors would be responsible for governing and exercising the corporate powers of the MBTA. The Senate version differed from the House version, which does not create a brand-new MBTA board but instead extends and expands the existing Fiscal and Management Control Board. The House and Senate changed their minds and reached an agreement to reduce the road and bridge funding to $200 million and to keep the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board in place for another year.

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Supporters of the reduction say that, in retrospect, the state cannot afford the extra $100 million while state revenues are down by billions of dollars.

Despite repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call, House Transportation Committee chair Rep. Bill Strauss (D-Mattapoisett) and Senate chair Joseph Boncore (D-Winthrop) did not respond when asked to explain why they both championed the original $300 million and then supported the reduction to $200 million.

The Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) expressed mixed feelings. “On behalf of cities and towns, we are glad that the Chapter 90 bond bill has been enacted, so that communities can access desperately needed funds to repair and rebuild local roadways,” said MMA Executive Director and CEO Geoff Beckwith. “However, our members are understandably disappointed that the funding level remains flat at $200 million, rather than the $300 million amount that representatives and senators voted to support earlier in the process. MMA will continue to advocate for an increase in Chapter 90 road funds, so that communities can adequately maintain 30,000 miles of local roads.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the $200 million).

Rep. James Arciero, Yes; Rep. Kimberly Ferguson, Yes; Rep. Colleen Garry, Yes; Rep. Thomas Golden, Yes; Rep. Kenneth Gordon, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Rep. Stephan Hay, Yes; Rep. Natalie Higgins, Yes; Rep. Marc Lombardo, Yes; Rep. Rady Mom, Yes; Rep. David Nangle, Yes; Rep. Harold Naughton, Yes; Rep. Tram Nguyen, Yes; Rep. David Robertson, Yes; Rep. Dan Sena, Yes; Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik, Yes; Sen. Michael Barrett, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Barry Finegold, Yes; Sen. Cindy Friedman, Yes; Sen. Anne Gobi, Yes; Sen. Edward Kennedy, Yes; Sen. Bruce Tarr, Yes; Sen. Dean Tran, Yes

MAKE IT EASIER TO VOTE BY MAIL
The House, 155-1, and Senate, 39-0, approved a bill that would direct Secretary of State Bill Galvin to send applications for a mail-in ballot to every registered voter by July 15 for the Sept. 1 primary and by Sept. 14 for the Nov. 3 general election.

The bill also includes expanded in-person early voting options prior to the elections. Voters who wish to vote in person are given seven days (from Aug. 22 to Aug. 28) to vote early in the primary and 14 days (from Oct. 17 to Oct. 30) to vote early in the general election. Voters can also choose to vote on Election Day.

Other provisions provide pre-paid return postage for ballots and applications for ballots; set Aug. 26 as the deadline to apply to early vote by mail in the Sept. 1 primary and Oct. 28 as the deadline to apply to early vote by mail in the Nov. 3 general election; provide for absentee voting by any person taking precaution related to COVID-19; require Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, in conjunction with the commissioner of the Department of Public Health, to establish emergency regulations requiring public health safeguards for in-person voting, including social distancing of voters and election officers, face coverings, personal protective equipment and frequent use of sanitizers.

“This bill is essential to the operation and integrity of democracy in the commonwealth during this public health crisis,” said Election Laws Committee House Chair John Lawn (D-Watertown). “I am truly proud of the team effort that led us to the finish line to complete comprehensive legislation that will safeguard elections this fall and provide many options for voters to ensure that all voices are heard. In a time where we are witnessing state election actions that are resulting in a disproportionate burden on the voter, Massachusetts must take the lead in providing safe and equitable access to the polls for its citizens. This legislation does just that.”

“The Massachusetts Legislature just adopted a critical election reform package that will help ensure that no citizen has to choose between their health and their right to vote,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause, which has fought hard for the bill. “The bill embodies best practices from across the country and will help our election system cope with the unprecedented threat of COVID-19.”

“We started this process with the goal to make voting easier during COVID-19 and this bill does just that by providing voters with options,” said Election Laws Committee Senate Chair Sen. Barry Finegold (D-North Andover). “For the first time ever in Massachusetts, voters can vote by mail and vote early in both the 2020 primary and general elections. In-person voting on election day remains an option and is made safer in this legislation. The bill equips clerks with the tools they need to count ballots expeditiously and adapt to these election advancements.”

“We applaud the House, Senate and governor for firmly moving to brace our elections for COVID-19,” said Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, executive director at MassVOTE. “Now we need to prepare. This means partnering with local election officials to ensure that they have the tools they need to run our elections this fall and educating voters so they may confidently cast their ballots in September and November.”

Rep. Colleen Garry (D-Dracut), the lone opponent of the bill, did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call to explain why she voted against the measure.

Back on June 3, Garry did offer the reason she voted against an earlier version of the bill: “I was very concerned about the manpower needed in the clerk’s offices especially in the smaller communities like I represent,” she said. “The expense of the expansion of the mailings and the need for more election personnel on longer early voting days and the possibility of fraud (is why I voted against the bill.) I heard loudly from my constituents that they did not agree with this proposal.”

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

Rep. James Arciero, Yes; Rep. Kimberly Ferguson, Yes; Rep. Colleen Garry, No; Rep. Thomas Golden, Yes; Rep. Kenneth Gordon, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Rep. Stephan Hay, Yes; Rep. Natalie Higgins, Yes; Rep. Marc Lombardo, Yes; Rep. Rady Mom, Yes; Rep. David Nangle, Yes; Rep. Harold Naughton, Yes; Rep. Tram Nguyen, Yes; Rep. David Robertson, Yes; Rep. Dan Sena, Yes; Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik, Yes; Sen. Michael Barrett, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Barry Finegold, Yes; Sen. Cindy Friedman, Yes; Sen. Anne Gobi, Yes; Sen. Edward Kennedy, Yes; Sen. Bruce Tarr, Yes; Sen. Dean Tran, Yes

FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION
The House, 159-0, and Senate, 39-0, approved a bill making it a crime to perform female genital mutilation on anyone under the age of 18. Offenders would be subject to up to five years in state prison; or a fine of up to $10,000 and up to 2 1/2 years in a house of correction.

Supporters say that it is estimated that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have been the victims of this barbaric act. They note that the procedure has no health benefits for women and girls and, in fact, can cause all kinds of health problems including bleeding, urinary problems and complications in childbirth sometimes leading to the death of the child.

“Today, the Senate has stood up to clearly denounce gender-based violence and affirm our commitment to the health and safety of women and girls across the commonwealth,” said Sen. Joe Boncore (D-Winthrop). “The advocacy and testimonies of survivors, including Mariya Taher, was critical in moving this bill forward. Their resilience and commitment to ensuring that not one more girl suffers is admirable and appreciated. Medical experts have agreed that female genital mutilation has no basis in medical purposes or benefits: it is a method used to control women’s anatomy. By criminalizing female genital mutilation, we tell survivors that they are heard, and we tell girls and women that they are protected from this abuse.”

“We need to tear down societal controls of women’s bodies and this bill is one step towards that goal,” said co-sponsor Rep. Jay Livingstone (D-Boston). “The bipartisan bill would ban genital mutilation, a brutal practice of permanently injuring the sex organs of young girls to physically limit their ability to have sex. It is time for Massachusetts to join the other 38 states that have adopted such a ban.”

“It is imperative that Massachusetts steps up and adopts this bipartisan legislation to make it clear that female genital mutilation/cutting will not be tolerated in the commonwealth,” said co-sponsor Rep. Natalie Higgins (D-Leominster).

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Rep. James Arciero, Yes; Rep. Kimberly Ferguson, Yes; Rep. Colleen Garry, Yes; Rep. Thomas Golden, Yes; Rep. Kenneth Gordon, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Rep. Stephan Hay, Yes; Rep. Natalie Higgins, Yes; Rep. Marc Lombardo, Yes; Rep. Rady Mom, Yes; Rep. David Nangle, Yes; Rep. Harold Naughton, Yes; Rep. Tram Nguyen, Yes; Rep. David Robertson, Yes; Rep. Dan Sena, Yes; Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik, Yes; Sen. Michael Barrett, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Barry Finegold, Yes; Sen. Cindy Friedman, Yes; Sen. Anne Gobi, Yes; Sen. Edward Kennedy, Yes; Sen. Bruce Tarr, Yes; Sen. Dean Tran, Yes

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

BAKER ACTIVATES NATIONAL GUARD — Baker signed an order activating members of the Massachusetts National Guard.

“Gov. Baker today signed an order activating up to 1,000 members of the Massachusetts National Guard in the event that municipal leaders require assistance to protect opportunities to exercise First Amendment rights and to maintain public safety during large scale events,” said Jake Wark, director of communications Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. “National Guard personnel are deployed only at the request of, and in coordination with, the communities seeking support.”

HIGH SCHOOL VIDEO CONTEST ON HANDS-FREE DRIVING — The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) announced its seventh annual high school video contest. This year, high school students are invited to write and produce a 30-60 second video that focuses on the hands-free driving law that prohibits drivers, except on-duty public safety personnel, from using a hand-held cellphone or other electronic device to make a call or access social media. The law allows drivers to use only a hands-free phone but allows him or her to perform a single tap or swipe to activate or deactivate the hands-free mode feature. Public safety personnel are exempt from the ban.

Grand prize and runner-up videos winners will be chosen by a MassDOT panel and will be screened during MassDOT’s annual active transportation conference, Moving Together, which is scheduled to take place virtually Nov. 17-19.

The deadline for entries is 5 p.m. Nov. 4. Students are required to strictly follow COVID-19 social distancing guidelines and health/safety precautions while making contest videos. For more information go to: Mass.gov/roadway-safety-video or call 877-623-6846.

MASSACHUSETTS STEM WEEK 2020 IS OCT. 19-23 — The Executive Office of Education and the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Advisory Council announced its third annual STEM week designed to boost the interest, awareness and ability for all learners to envision themselves in STEM education and employment opportunities.

“The theme for the third annual event on October 19-23 is ‘See Yourself in STEM,’ with a particular focus on the power of mentoring,” the announcement said. “Women, people of color, first-generation students, low-income individuals, English language learners, and people with disabilities are underrepresented in STEM industries and make up an increasing portion of the overall workforce. But the demographics of STEM fields have remained largely the same. We need more young people to see themselves in STEM. The theme is aimed at encouraging and supporting underrepresented youth, especially Black and brown students, in STEM fields to pursue STEM careers as well as bolster their persistence through STEM education with a mentor that is engaged, supportive, and shares in the many unique parts of their identity.

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“This year made it abundantly clear how important STEM professions are to all our lives, and we hope that more young people will explore the opportunities that exist in STEM fields and pursue those careers that benefit us all,” Baker said.

“Since the Baker-Polito Administration launched STEM Week two years ago, tens of thousands of students of all ages in every region of the Commonwealth have participated in engaging, challenging, and fun learning experiences to help get them hooked on STEM,” said Secretary of Education James Peyser. “Notwithstanding this year’s unique circumstances, the STEM Council and STEM educators are committed to sustaining the momentum with exciting activities, both online and in-person.”

Last year’s second annual statewide STEM Week saw schools, nonprofit organizations, colleges, museums and business partners all participate in hosting and organizing more than 1,000 events for 100,000 students across the nation ranging from preschool to college to adult.

EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT FINANCING A COLLEGE EDUCATION — The Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA) announced a six-week blitz of online webinars to answer questions and provide guidance about paying for higher education. An on-demand webinar will also be available on MEFA’s website for anyone unable to attend a live event. The webinars are currently underway and will go through Nov. 5.

“As the world around us continues to change, MEFA remains focused on helping families navigate the college financing process by expanding our virtual resources,” said MEFA’s Executive Director Tom Graf. “Hundreds of families have joined us online in recent weeks attending our free and easy-to-view webinars, and as the financial aid cycle for the 2021-22 school year begins, MEFA’s experts are committed to helping families across the commonwealth access and afford a higher education by offering comprehensive guidance on paying for college.”

For more information, go to mefa.org/events or call 800-449-6332.

FREE COVID-19 TESTING EXTENDED — Baker administration officials announced that the state’s “Stop the Spread” initiative has extended free COVID-19 testing through Oct. 31 in 18 high-priority communities across the state including Brockton, Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Framingham, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lynn, Marlboro, Methuen, New Bedford, Randolph, Revere, Salem, Saugus, Springfield, Winthrop and Worcester.

This specific data-driven effort is targeted to reduce the prevalence of COVID-19 in communities that are above the state average in total cases and positive test rates. All residents of these 18 communities, including asymptomatic individuals, are urged to get tested at one of these locations. These free tests are open to all residents of the Commonwealth regardless of whether they live in one of these communities. Also, any individual who needs a safe place to isolate can call 617-367-5150 to access an isolation and recovery site at no cost.

REGISTERED VOTERS CAN APPLY FOR A MAIL-IN BALLOT ONLINE — Galvin announced that for the first time in Massachusetts history, registered voters can apply for a mail ballot online through the secretary of state’s website at MailMyBallotMA.com.

Voters who have not already applied for a November ballot may use the portal to request a ballot from their local election office. Before requesting the ballot, each voter will need to verify their voter registration information.

“This new portal is just one more way for voters to request their ballots by mail this year,” Galvin said. “This online system will be helpful for those voters who are away from home right now and did not receive the Vote by Mail applications that were mailed to them recently. My hope is that this new online portal will cut down on the time it takes for voters to apply for their ballots, by eliminating the need for a local election official to wait for the application to arrive in the mail. This will allow voters to get their ballots sooner and return them in plenty of time for them to be counted.”

“Sending ballot applications directly to registered voters led to record participation this September — with nearly half the votes being cast via mail balloting,” said Rahsaan Hall of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “But we know those applications did not reach all voters, we are particularly concerned about low-income voters, the young and the elderly and voters of color in the commonwealth. The portal will help empower these voters to register, request a ballot and make sure the system works.

“In 2020, we keep saying, that in crisis there is danger and there is opportunity. With the launch of this portal through which people can easily apply for a ballot with a few clicks online, we seize the opportunity to make voting more accessible for all—a cause for celebration if ever there was one,” said Director Janet Domenitz of MASSPIRG.

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 Sept. 21-25, the House met for a total of one hour and 22 minutes while the Senate met for a total of one hour and 24 minutes.

Monday: House 11:02 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., Senate 11:13 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Tuesday: No House session, no Senate session

Wednesday: No House session, no Senate session

Thursday: House 11:01 a.m. to 11:10 a.m., Senate 11:16 a.m. to 11:38 a.m.

Friday: No House session, no Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com



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