Beacon Hill Roll Call: Mass. Legislature fails to act on tax rebate

Beacon Hill Roll Call records representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from the seven-day period from July 25 -31. The House and Senate held lengthy sessions. Beacon Hill Roll Call will continue to report on the dozens of roll calls over the next few reports.

While the House and Senate approved many bills, one measure that stood out was a bill that didn’t get approved. The House and Senate had previously approved different versions of a $4.57 billion economic development package which included some $1 billion in tax relief — $500 million in one-time tax rebates and $500 million for several permanent tax cuts. A conference committee was working on hammering out a compromise version but talks stalled because of the recent “discovery” of 62F, a 1986 law approved by the voters. That law requires that tax revenue above a certain amount collected by the state go back to the taxpayers. It is estimated that the 1986 law would return $2.5 billion in fiscal year 2022 revenue to Massachusetts taxpayers.

The conference committee did not act on the economic development bill so the $1 billion in tax relief is still bottled up in the conference committee. In the meantime, legislators are discussing the $3 billion windfall. Some legislators favor repealing the law which has only been used once since 1986. Others say the law should not be repealed and the $2.5 billion should go back to taxpayers.

House Speaker Ron Mariano, D-Quincy, said last Friday that he would consider all courses of action, up to and including altogether scrapping the $2.5 billion in tax relief. “Sure, it’s an option,” Mariano told reporters when asked if lawmakers would consider undoing the trigger enshrined 62F. “Everything’s on the table. We could undo the law, we could change it, we could postpone.”

But three days later on Monday, Mariano said that 62F is the law of the land and it’s going to happen. “The governor has said it’s the law of the land and that’s worth, he thinks, $2.5 billion but he’s not even sure, and he thinks he can get it out this year. So I think that’s an important return to the taxpayers.”

Gov. Charlie Baker said that he thinks that both the $1 billion and the $2.5 billion are affordable in tandem.

“CLT’s tax cap law (Chapter 62F) is still working exactly as designed and intended,” said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, which put the tax cap proposal on the 1986 ballot. “That it was triggered only once in 1987 before now isn’t a bug but a feature.  Nobody can say with a straight face that multi-billions of dollars of excess revenue raked in over the past two years should remain with the state and not be returned to those from whom it was unnecessarily extracted.”

Reproductive health care

The House 137-16, and Senate, 40-0, approved and Gov. Baker signed into law a bill designed to further protect reproductive health care and those who perform abortions in the Bay State. The measure specifically declares that both reproductive health care and gender-affirming care are rights secured by the constitution or laws of Massachusetts and would shield providers of reproductive and gender-affirming care and their patients from out-of-state legal action. The measure would ensure that patients over 24 weeks of pregnancy are able to receive an abortion in Massachusetts because of a grave fetal diagnosis that indicates the fetus is incompatible with sustained life outside of the uterus without extraordinary medical interventions and requires that those decisions are made between the patient and their treating physician.

Other provisions include preventing the state’s cooperation with anti-abortion and anti-gender-affirming care laws in other states; mandating health insurance coverage for abortion and abortion-related care with no cost-sharing; ensuring access to emergency contraception; and providing confidentiality to providers of reproductive and gender-affirming care;  clarifying that vending machines may dispense over-the-counter drugs, such as Plan B – the “morning after” pill; and  ensuring access to medication abortion on all public college and university campuses.

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

NO: Rep. Colleen Garry; Rep. Marc Lombardo

Sports wagering

The House 151-2, and Senate, 36-4, approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill that would legalize sports betting on professional and college sports for Massachusetts residents over 21 years old. Betting on Massachusetts colleges and universities would not be allowed unless the school is playing in a tournament like March Madness. The betting would be regulated by the Gaming Commission, the same commission that regulates the state’s casino gambling.

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

NO: Sen. Barry Finegold.

Public health systems

The House, 153-0, and Senat,e 39-0, approved and sent to Baker a bill that would accelerate improvements to local and regional public health systems across the state to address disparities in public health services by requiring the Department of Public Health to enshrine a set of standards for foundational public health services. The measure creates minimum public health standards for every city and town; incentivizes municipalities to share services; creates a uniform data collection and dedicates state funding to support local boards of health and health departments.

Soldiers’ Homes oversight bill

The House, 153-0, and Senate, 40-0, approved and sent to the governor a bill that would make major changes to the oversight and governance structure of the state’s veterans’ homes in Holyoke and Chelsea. The proposal follows the deaths of 77 veteran residents in 2020 as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke facility. A key provision would elevate the Department of Veterans Services to a cabinet-level executive office with direct reporting to the governor and the ability to hire and fire superintendents.

Other provisions include requiring superintendents of the two soldiers’ homes to be licensed as nursing home administrators and that they oversee day-to-day management and operation of the homes; requiring two annual home inspections by the Department of Health; creating an independent Office of the Veteran Advocate; maintaining local board of trustees and creating a statewide advisory Veterans’ Home Council.

Benefits for military families

The House, 153-0, and Senate, 39-0, approved  and sent to Gov. Baker legislation that would support military families who relocate to the Bay State by providing career stability for the spouses of service members and education for their children.

Provisions include making it easier for military personnel and their spouses who move to the Bay State to get a Massachusetts professional license, if their job requires one, so that they can continue their civilian careers and provide for their families without interruption; requiring the Commissioner of Education to issue a military spouse a valid certificate for teaching if he or she holds a valid teaching license from another state; allowing children of military members to register and enroll in a school district at the same time it is open to the general population by waiving the proof of residency requirement until the student actually begins school; creating a purple-star campus designation for certain schools that are military-kid friendly and show a major commitment to students and families connected to the nation’s military; and requiring that a child or spouse of an active-duty service member in Massachusetts continue to pay the in-state, less expensive tuition rate at state universities even if the service member is assigned to move out of the state.

$11.3 billion infrastructure package

The House, 153-0, and Senate, 39-0, approved and sent to the governor an $11.3 billion transportation and infrastructure package that includes $1.375 billion for Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority modernization and $1.27 billion for non-federally aided roads and bridges.

Other provisions include $114 million for airport improvements; $25 million for municipal road pavement improvements; $20 million for municipalities under the Complete Streets Funding Program; $25.5 million for the Mobility Assistance Program; mandating the MBTA to establish a 3-year safety improvement plan with measurable safety objectives; and directing the MBTA to contract with an independent third-party auditor to conduct annual safety audits.

Also up on Beacon Hill

— Prohibit hairstyle discrimination: Gov. Baker signed into law a bill that would make Massachusetts the 18th state in the nation to prohibit any person or entity including educational institutions, workplaces and public spaces from implementing any policy that would explicitly target someone who wears their natural hairstyle. The measure defines natural hairstyle as hair texture, hair type and protective hairstyles including braids, locks, twists and other formations.

— Adopt research animals — The Beagle Bill: The House and Senate approved  and sent to Gov. Baker a bill that would require research labs to make every effort to offer healthy animals up for adoption by registered non-profit animal rescue organizations rather than euthanizing them when the research is done.

According to supporters, more than 60,000 dogs — almost all beagles — and nearly 20,000 cats, are used each year for animal experimentation in the United States to advance scientific research and to test cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and other household products. Currently, many research labs choose to automatically euthanize these cats and dogs once their experiments are over.

— Negro Election Day: On July 22, Gov. Baker signed into law legislation establishing the third Saturday in July as Negro Election Day. The third Saturday in July this year was July 16 which had already passed by the time Baker signed the bill. So the day passed without it officially being Negro Election Day. The Legislature approved and sent the bill to the governor on July 14, just two days ahead of the 16th.

The holiday commemorates a historically important event that has taken place in the Bay State since the 18th century. It began when enslaved African-Americans would hold an election of a king or governor as an act of civic engagement and self-governance. The annual celebration began to take place on the 3rd Saturday of July during World War II when many African Americans were engaged in our nation’s critical war effort.

— Poaching: The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker a measure that would regulate poaching — the illegal hunting that harms or kills wildlife including fish, birds, mammals and endangered or threatened species. Other provisions elevate the fines and penalties for poaching; align Massachusetts poaching regulations with other states; and bring Massachusetts into the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, which helps states to work together to prevent illegal hunting across state lines.

— Underground Railroad Museum: The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill creating a special commission to study the creation of an underground railroad, civil rights and black heritage museum in Springfield. The measure says the museum will serve as “a catharsis important to alleviate some of the lingering negative effects of the institution of slavery and the discrimination practiced against African Americans,  which had state and federal governmental statutory sanction.” It also notes the bill is designed to enhance regional tourism  and attract conferences and conventions to the city of Springfield.

Rep. Bud Williams (D-Springfield), the sponsor of the measure, did not respond to repeated requests from Beacon Hill Roll Call to comment on his bill.

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 dozen  s of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of an annual session.

During the period of July 25-31, the House met for a total of 39 hours and 55 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 45 hours and 44 minutes.

Mon. July 25 House: 11:09 a.m.-12:39 p.m. Senate: 11:22 a.m.-1:34 p.m.

Tues. July 26 House: 11:03 a.m.-4:46 p.m. Senate: 1:14-5:26 p.m.

Wed. July 27: No House, Senate session

Thurs. July 28 House: 11 a.m.-5:45 p.m. Senate: 1:05-6:32 p.m.

Fri. July 29 House: 11:01 a.m.-6:42 p.m. Senate: 1:10-6:45 p.m.

Sat. July 30 House: 11:01 a.m.-5:10 p.m. Senate: 12:20-5:38 p.m.

Sun. July  31 House: 12:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m. (Monday Aug. 1). Senate: 11:13 a.m.-10:13 a.m. (Monday Aug. 1)

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com.

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