Beacon Hill Roll Call Volume 40 -Report No. 31 August 7, 2015

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Copyright © 2015 Beacon Hill Roll Call. All Rights Reserved.
By Bob Katzen 

   THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives and senators on roll calls from prior legislative sessions before the summer recess. All roll calls are on Gov. Charlie Baker’s vetoes of funding in the $38.1 billion fiscal 2016 budget.

$1 MILLION FOR ZOOS (H 3650)

   House 124-32, Senate 35-3, overrode Gov. Baker’s $1 million veto reduction (from $4.9 million to $3.9) in funding for the nonprofit Commonwealth Zoological Corporation that runs the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston and the Stone Zoo in Stoneham. 
   Supporters of keeping the $1 million said that these zoos depend on this state money. They noted that the zoos are a valuable resource for children and adults across the state. 
  In his veto message, Baker said that he reduced the funding to an amount consistent with his original budget recommendation. Some opponents of keeping the $1 million said that the state cannot afford the additional $1 million for zoos during these difficult economic times when other more important programs are still underfunded. 
   (A “Yes” vote is for the $1 million. A “No” vote is against the $1 million.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
$300,000 FOR “REACH OUT AND READ” PROGRAM (H 3650)

   House 146-10, Senate 38-0, overrode Gov. Baker’s $300,000 veto reduction (from $1 million to $700,000) in funding for the Reach Out and Read (ROR) program. ROR is a national nonprofit group that began in 1989 at Boston Medical Center to address the problem that most pediatricians’ waiting rooms did not have books available to read. The Massachusetts ROR program trains pediatricians and nurses to advise parents about the importance of reading aloud to their children in order to prepare them for school. The program also funds the purchase of books to give to children who are 6 months to 5 years old during their visits to their doctors.  
   Supporters of keeping the $300,000 said that this program establishes a unique relationship between doctors, parents and their children and helps encourage early literacy skills. They noted that there are 254 hospitals and clinics in Massachusetts that participate in the program, serving 186,000 children and families.
  In his veto message, Baker said that he reduced the funding to an amount consistent with his original budget recommendation.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the $300,000. A “No” vote is against the $300,000.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
$1 MILLION FOR TUFTS VETERINARY SCHOOL (H 3650)

   House 144-10, Senate 38-0, overrode Gov. Baker’s $1 million veto reduction (from $5 million to $4 million) in funding for Tufts Veterinary School in North Grafton. 
   Supporters of keeping the $1 million said that the funding is important to this college that welcomes 300 new students annually to its four-year academic programs which offer a degree in veterinary medicine. They noted that the school also has three hospitals that treat an estimated 28,000 animals annually and conducts groundbreaking research that benefits animals and people. 
   In his veto message, Baker said that he reduced the funding to an amount projected to be necessary. Some opponents questioned whether the state should be providing millions of dollars to a private university.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the $1 million. A “No” vote is against the $1 million.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost No Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     
$250,000 FOR PROSTATE CANCER (H 3650)

   House 156-0, Senate 37-1, overrode the governor’s $250,000 veto reduction (from $500,000 to $250,000) in funding for a prostate cancer awareness and education program focusing in particular on men with African-American heritage, family history of the disease and other men at high risk.
   Override supporters said one out of every five men will get prostate cancer and argued the $250,000 will help save lives. 
   In his veto message, Baker said that he reduced the funding to an amount projected to be necessary.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the 250,000. A “No” vote is against the $250,000.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
   INCREASING THE EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT (H 3671) – Gov. Baker signed into law legislation increasing the earned income tax credit for low-income working families with children living at home from 15 percent to 23 percent of the federal credit and extending the maximum state credit from $951 to $1,459. The credit is applied toward the taxpayer’s liability, and if it exceeds the liability, the taxpayer receives the excess credit as a refund.
   Supporters of the law said this increased earned income tax credit will help some 400,000 low-income working individuals and families who are struggling to make ends meet and will result in many of them paying little or no state income tax. They noted the hike also begins to address the growing problem of income inequality in the Bay State.
   2015 SALES TAX HOLIDAY (H 3659) – Consumers will be able to buy most products that cost under $2,500 on Saturday, August 15, and Sunday, August 16, without paying the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax. Gov. Baker signed the measure into law last week.
   Supporters of the law said the holiday would boost retail sales and noted that consumers last year saved more than $24 million. They argued that increased revenue from the meals and gas tax revenue generated by shoppers on those two days would help offset the state’s sales tax revenue loss.
   Opponents of the law said the state cannot afford the up to $30 million estimated revenue loss and argued the holiday actually generates little additional revenue for stores because consumers typically buy the products even without the tax-free days. 
   A COLLEGE SAVINGS ACCOUNT FOR ALL KIDS (H 1067) – The Higher Education Committee will hold a hearing on September 16 at 10:30 a.m. in Room A-2 of the Statehouse on a bill requiring the state to open a college savings account for each new baby born in Massachusetts. Families would be allowed to opt out of the program. The state would also be mandated to deposit $250 in the account of each child and annually would match donations of up to $250 made by the family of qualified children from low income families. 
   Supporters say that these savings accounts will encourage parents to plan for and contribute their own money to college savings plans. They point to a study that found that low- and middle-income students who had saved even a small amount of money for college were more than three times more likely to go to college than students with no savings. 
   FREE COMMUNITY COLLEGE (H 1070) – Also on the Higher Education Committee’s agenda at the September 16 hearing is a bill to provide free tuition at community colleges for every Massachusetts resident.
   Supporters say that this would vastly increase the number of Bay State kids who go to college. They noted that the state, not the community college itself, would be required to pay for the free education.
   POSSIBLE 2016 BALLOT QUESTIONS – Sponsors of possible ballot questions for the November 2016 election faced their first deadline in the long process to get their proposed law or constitutional amendment on the ballot. Sponsors had until August 4 to submit the proposal and the signatures of ten citizens. 
   There were 35 initiative petitions for proposed laws or constitutional amendments filed with Attorney General Maura Healey’s Office, including 26 proposed laws and nine proposed constitutional amendments. Healey will decide by September 2 if the proposals pass muster and meet constitutional requirements. 
   If a proposal for a law is certified by Healey, the next step is for supporters to gather 64,750 voter signatures by December 2, 2015. The proposal would then be sent to the Legislature and if not approved by May 3, 2016, proponents must gather another 10,792 signatures by July 6, 2016, in order for the question to appear on the 2016 ballot.
  Proposals for laws filed last week include legalizing, licensing, regulating and taxing marijuana and allowing adults over 21 to grow it for their personal use and the use by others over 21; requiring companies to give female employees eight weeks of maternal leave, including two of those weeks with pay; prohibiting any state, local or government entities from working with any Jewish, Armenian or Ukrainian Holocaust Denial Groups; allowing the state to open up to 12 new Charter Schools annually and legalizing the use of fireworks.
   Several proposals to amend the state’s constitution were also filed. The procedure for getting proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot is different than the one for getting a proposed law on the ballot. Sponsors must still gather 64,750 voter signatures by December 2, 2015. The proposal then goes before the Legislature and goes on the 2018 ballot only if approved by 25 percent (50 members) of the 2015-2016 Legislature and the 2017-2018 Legislature. 
   One proposed constitutional amendment declares that corporations are not people and do not have the same rights as individuals and that money is not free speech and may be regulated. That amendment is in response to the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission, which allows corporations to donate an unlimited amount of money to Super PACs that are formed to support or oppose candidates. The PAC is not allowed to communicate directly with the candidate or his or her campaign.
   Other proposed constitutional amendments would prohibit the public funding of abortions and impose an additional 4 percent income tax, in addition to the current 5.15 percent tax, on earnings of more than $1 million.
   In the 2014 election, 33 proposals were submitted, with only four ultimately collecting sufficient signatures to make it to the ballot. Only two of those were approved by voters and are law today.
   A complete list and summary of each of the petitions can be found online at http://www.mass.gov/ago/government-resources/initiatives-and-other-ballot-questions/current-petitions-filed.html 
QUOTABLE QUOTES
   “Massachusetts has one of the largest income inequality problems in the country, and it’s getting worse. Yet our highest-income residents, who have been the biggest winners in the economy, pay the smallest share of their income in state and local taxes.” 
   Arthur MacEwan, professor of Economic Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Boston, on the proposed constitutional amendment allowing a graduated income tax and imposing an additional 4 percent income tax, in addition to the current 5.15 percent tax, on taxpayers earnings more than $1 million.
   

   “If the graduated income tax passes, it will virtually drive the most productive citizens out of Massachusetts. Once the takers have accomplished that, they will find ways to go after more revenue (higher taxes) from the vast middle class of taxpayers.”
   Chip Faulkner, Associate Director, Citizens for Limited Taxation, on the increased tax.

   “I don’t have a flat screen TV. The Baker family is thinking real hard about what’ll happen the weekend of August 15 and 16 at our house.”
   Gov. Charlie Baker thinking about buying a flat screen television during the sales tax holiday on August 15 and 16.

   “As Republicans in Congress and in state legislatures across this country work to roll back the voting rights of the elderly, the impoverished, people of color and others, we here at the Massachusetts Democratic Party are proud to say we are working to expand voting access.”
   Massachusetts Democratic Party Chair Tom McGee on the 50th anniversary of Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

   “From Republican U.S. Sen. Edward Brooke’s strong defense of the Voting Rights Act in 1975, to Gov. Baker’s unprecedented effort to expand two-party politics in urban areas in 2014, the Massachusetts GOP has a long history of working toward a more inclusive political system.”
   Kirsten Hughes, chair of the state Republican Party.
   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 August 3-7, the House met for a total of 43 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 45 minutes.
Mon. August 3 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:36 a.m.

                   Senate 11:02 a.m. to 11:40 a.m.
Tues. August 4 No House session

                   No Senate session
Wed. August 5 No House session

                   No Senate session
Thurs. August 6 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:13 a.m

                   Senate 11:06 a.m. to 11:13 a.m.
Fri. August 7 No House session

                   No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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