Beacon Hill Roll Call, Oct. 5 – GazetteNET

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of Sept. 27-Oct. 1. There were no roll calls in the House last week.

Increase hours that retired public employees can work (H 4007)

Senate 38-0, overrode Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto of a bill that would increase from 960 hours per year (18 hours per week) to 1,200 hours per year (23 hours per week) the maximum amount of time a public retiree collecting a pension is allowed work for the state or local government.

“I support providing municipalities and state agencies with increased flexibility to make appropriate staffing decisions,” Baker said in his veto message. “However, an increase of 240 more hours per year is a significant policy change and moves the commonwealth and its municipalities closer to a place where employees continue to work near full-time while collecting a pension, without any corresponding changes to improve the current practice. I therefore proposed an amendment that would have increased the number of hours to 975, which more accurately reflects half-time, thereby allowing some flexibility to retired employees who are bumping against the current 960-hour limit. In addition, I proposed a waiver to the hour caps for personnel in positions where a critical shortage of qualified personnel has been determined.”

Supporters of the increase to 1,200 hours said that allowing retirees to work 23 hours per week is reasonable and will help many retirees who are struggling to make ends meet. They said it is unfair to punish retirees who would like to work more hours and provide their services to the state or local government.

“This increase affords retired employees who are faced with rapidly increasing costs of living the ability to work more hours for the commonwealth and earn enough to meet their needs,” said Senate Ways and Means chair Sen. Mike Rodrigues, D-Westport, who was leading the charge on the Senate floor to override the veto.

(A “Yes” vote is for the increase to 1,200 hours. A “No” vote is against it.)

Sen. Joanne Comerford: Yes; Sen. Adam Hinds: Yes; Sen. Eric Lesser: Yes

Repeal the harbor tax credit and medical device tax credit (H 4008)

Senate 33-5, overrode Gov. Baker’s veto of a bill that would repeal the current medical device tax credit and the harbor maintenance tax credit. Baker supported retaining both tax credits and said they encourage innovation and economic activity in the Bay State.

“I see no reason to repeal the medical device user fee tax credit, as it is claimed annually by its intended beneficiaries and supports medical device companies operating in the commonwealth,” said Baker in his veto message.

“Similarly, I do not support the repeal of the harbor maintenance tax credit. It serves as a benefit to shippers, importers and exporters who generate critical commercial activity in and around Massachusetts ports.”

“The Tax Expenditure Review Commission’s recent report made clear that these credits do not provide meaningful benefits to the commonwealth,” said Senate Ways and Means chair Sen. Mike Rodrigues. He noted that Massachusetts is the only state that offers these outdated tax breaks which benefit only a small number of big companies. “We believe that it is important to ensure that our tax dollars are spent in a way that provides tangible benefits to the commonwealth as a whole. Given the failure of these credits to provide a measurable return on investment, they should be repealed.”

(A “Yes” vote is for abolishing the tax credits. A “No” vote is for retaining them.)

Sen. Joanne Comerford: Yes; Sen. Adam Hinds: Yes; Sen. Eric Lesser: Yes

Repeal $5,000 asset limit (H 4012)

Senate 37-1, overrode Gov. Baker’s veto of a bill that would repeal a current law that prohibits anyone with assets of more than $5,000 from being eligible for Transitional Assistance to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) — a program that provides cash assistance and employment support to families with children and pregnant women with little or no income or assets. Assets include things like bank accounts, retirement accounts and cash. Some things do not count as an asset including the person’s house and one car.

“TAFDC extends a vital lifeline to certain Massachusetts residents, but I disagree with eliminating the current asset test completely,” said Gov. Baker in his veto message. “I do support reforming the TAFDC asset rule to allow recipients who meet the asset test at the time of application to continue to accrue assets in excess of the current limit without risk of losing eligibility for TAFDC. I would welcome the opportunity to further develop this policy in partnership with the Legislature to ensure these benefits are available for the commonwealth’s families in highest need.”

Supporters of repealing the $5,000 asset limit said it is unfair to deny families with children and pregnant women who may have as little as $6,000 to $10,000 in assets from benefiting from the TAFDC program. Some said the asset limit encourages people to spend down their assets at a time when they should be preserving or increasing savings.

“Removing the asset limit from the eligibility requirements for TAFDC allows program recipients to maintain their limited savings while still receiving immediate assistance,” said Senate Ways and Means chair Sen. Mike Rodrigues. “Asset limits on these programs have proven to be counterproductive. They require families in need of assistance to spend down savings that otherwise could be used for education, job training, reliable transportation, home expenses and other emergency needs.”

(A “Yes” vote is for repealing the $5,000 asset limit. A “No” vote is against repealing it.)

Sen. Joanne Comerford: Yes; Sen. Adam Hinds: Yes; Sen. Eric Lesser: Yes

Repeal $250 asset limit (H 4011)

Senate 36-2, overrode Gov. Baker’s veto of a bill that would repeal a current law that prohibits anyone with assets of more than $250 from being eligible for Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children (EAEDC) — a program that provides cash and medical assistance to certain categories of needy individuals in Massachusetts including the physically or mentally disabled, aged 65 or older or caring for a disabled individual who would otherwise be institutionalized.

In his veto message, Baker said that he supports aligning the asset limit for the program with the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program asset limit which is currently $2,000. “I prefer this alternative to eliminating the asset test completely, as EAEDC is generally designed to provide a bridge to individuals waiting for an eligibility determination from the SSI program. I look forward to the opportunity to work collaboratively with the Legislature to develop a policy that is in alignment with relevant federal policies and ensures that these benefits are available for individuals and families in highest need.”

Senate Ways and Means chair Sen. Mike Rodrigues said that removing the asset limit allows recipients to receive assistance while keeping their small savings. He noted it is counterproductive to require recipients to spend down savings that could be used for education, home expenses and other important needs.

“Forcing those who are already facing economic hardship to spend down savings only makes them more financially vulnerable. In addition to helping individuals and families in need of assistance, removing the asset cap would improve administrative efficiency by simplifying the review process.”

(A “Yes” vote is for repealing the $250 asset limit. A “No” vote is against repealing it.)

Sen. Joanne Comerford: Yes; Sen. Adam Hinds: Yes; Sen. Eric Lesser: Yes

Study poverty in the Bay State (H 4016)

Senate 36-2, overrode Baker’s veto of a bill that establishes a 29-member special commission to investigate and recommend methods for reducing poverty in Massachusetts over the next 10 years and expanding opportunity for people with low incomes. The commission would include 10 members of the governor’s cabinet and other executive branch commissioners.

The governor supported reducing the commission from 29 members to 20 members. “I strongly support the aim of this commission,” said the governor is his veto message. “However, in my view, to streamline the efforts of the commission and permit the meaningful participation of all members, it is necessary to modify its composition, retaining the position reserved for the Secretary of Health and Human Services and otherwise removing additional representation from the Executive Branch. Without these amendments, I do not support the proposal.”

Senate Ways and Means chair Sen. Mike Rodrigues said that Massachusetts is one of the wealthiest states in the country but is ranked 47th in income inequality, with almost 10 percent of people living in poverty. “This commission would bring together advocates and experts with experience in a wide array of areas to recommend a holistic approach to addressing poverty in the commonwealth,” said Rodrigues. “Through exploring demographic disparities, analyzing historical rates of poverty, identifying the underlying causes of poverty in the commonwealth and surveying existing programs that most effectively reduce poverty, the commission would make policy recommendations to significantly reduce poverty in the commonwealth over the next ten years.”

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

Sen. Joanne Comerford: Yes; Sen. Adam Hinds: Yes; Sen. Eric Lesser: Yes

Also on Beacon Hill

Extend COVID-19 emergency sick leave (H 4127) — The House and Senate approved and Gov. Baker signed into law a bill that would provide qualified full-time workers with up to five days of paid leave for COVID-related emergencies and an equivalent amount for part-time workers. The law applies to workers who are sick with the virus, under a quarantine order, caring for a family member ill with the virus, recovering from receiving a vaccine, helping a family member obtain a vaccine or caring for them as they recover from an injury, disability, illness or condition related to a vaccine. It also includes $500,000 for a public information campaign to educate and promote awareness about the program’s availability. The program, first signed into law in May 2021 was set to expire on Sept. 30, 2021. This bill extends the program until March 31, 2022.

The law creates a $75 million fund to reimburse the costs to businesses with over 500 employees. Under the American Rescue Plan Act signed by President Biden, businesses with fewer than 500 employees are eligible to receive a tax credit from the federal government to cover the costs.

“We want to encourage people to be doing this, getting their own vaccinations, their own boosters, and getting them for their children,” said Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland. We feel that they should be allowed to have some paid emergency time off or if they have a reaction to it, they may need a little time off.”

“With this extension, workers who may be infected with the contagious Delta variant will be able to stay home and avoid infecting others,” said Andrew Farnitano, a spokesman for the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition which has helped lead the charge for paid sick time for Massachusetts workers. “As we work to get more people vaccinated and begin delivering booster shots to millions of already-vaccinated individuals, frontline workers will have the paid time off they need to recover from any side effects of the vaccine or to bring their children to get vaccinated. And a new public awareness campaign will help ensure that every worker in Massachusetts knows they have the right to take up to five days of paid leave if they need it to deal with COVID-related sickness, quarantine, caregiving or vaccination and to ensure that businesses know that state reimbursement is available to them.”

Rename Columbus Day (H 3191, S 2027) — The Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight held a virtual hearing on two bills that would designate the second Monday in October, now known as Columbus Day, as Indigenous Peoples Day and recommends appropriate exercises in schools to “acknowledge the history of genocide and discrimination against Indigenous peoples, and to recognize and celebrate the thriving cultures and continued resistance and resilience of Indigenous peoples and their tribal nations.”

“With the passage of this bill, Massachusetts would join nineteen states and the District of Columbia in observing Indigenous Peoples Day,” said Senate sponsor Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton. “Our cities and towns are also recognizing that justice demands a change in how we mark our history. In my Senate district alone, six cities and towns have changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.”

“Who we choose to celebrate demonstrates whose contributions we value in Massachusetts,” said House sponsor Rep. Brandy Fluker Oakely (D-Mattapan). “As we rightly criticize states and localities that cling to racist monuments of the Confederacy, Massachusetts should lead by recognizing that Columbus Day promotes a troubling racial history and instead we should show our support for Indigenous neighbors by declaring this holiday.”

Elder Affairs Committee’s hearing — The Committee on Elder Affairs held a virtual hearing on several bills including:

Emergency lighting in senior housing (S 402) — Requires all senior housing facilities financed or subsidized by state or federal housing programs to provide an emergency lighting system for residents’ rooms for a period of at least 1.5 hours. “All seniors should have access to the same emergency safety standards regardless of whether they live in a nursing home or subsidized senior housing,” said sponsor Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton. “In 2018, a constituent of mine, living in senior housing lost power, got injured and then had to be hospitalized and subsequently died. Something as simple as emergency lighting, could have saved his life and prevented the injury. In times of power outages, we shouldn’t worry about our loved ones falling in the dark and facing a similar tragedy. We need to protect and care for our seniors properly, and passage of this bill is a step in the right direction.”

Require defibrillator and trained staff in assisted living facilities (S 421) — Requires each assisted living facility to have at least one automated external defibrillator on the premises (AED) and one person trained in its operation on site 24 hours per day. The measure forbids a facility from prohibiting a staff person trained in the proper administration of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or use of an AED from administering this emergency assistance to a resident who does not have a documented or clearly visible do not resuscitate order.

“Currently, there are assisted living facilities that prohibit employees from performing CPR or using other lifesaving actions, regardless of staff training,” said sponsor Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford. “Individuals residing in assisted living facilities rely on the facilities for care in their everyday lives, as well as when health problems arise. CPR and AEDs are both effective lifesaving interventions that properly trained staff should be able to provide to residents. These changes will allow staff to save residents and grant family members peace of mind knowing that their loved ones are cared for properly.”

Pilot program for restaurants to provide prepared meals to qualifying adults (S 432) — Creates a pilot program for restaurants to provide prepared meals to welfare recipients over age 60 who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) and who are also at increased risk of suffering complications from COVID-19. The restaurants would be paid for the cost of the meals by the state.

“I filed this bill to promote both food security and economic recovery,” said sponsor Sen. Walter Timilty, D-Milton. He noted that the proposal is in response to the COVID-19 pandemic which has resulted in both significant loss of life and severe economic hardship.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control, the risk of severe illness with COVID-19 increases with age, with older adults at the highest risk,” continued Timilty. “As of Sept. 22, 2021, more than 77 percent of total deaths resulting from COVID-19 have occurred in individuals 65 years of age and older. Additionally, economic hardship has been felt by individuals and small business owners across this country. Restaurants have experienced extreme financial loss due to COVID-19 and continue to adapt their services as they struggle to stay in business.”

Quotable quotes

“Reducing the fossil fuels we use in our buildings will mean cleaner air, healthier communities and a safer climate for all of us. The Legislature can take a big step toward cleaning up Massachusetts’ big buildings by adopting the Better Buildings Act.”

Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts on legislation that would require the owners of large buildings, including offices, apartment buildings, labs and university and hospital campuses, to report their energy use to the state and take steps to make energy-wasting buildings more efficient.

“It is simply unacceptable that we have nearly 45,000 children in this commonwealth living so far below half the federal poverty level. While the recent increases in Transitional Assistance to Families with Dependent Children were an important down payment, we need to commit to bolder action to ensure that no child ever lives in a state of Deep Poverty, suffering without diapers, nutritious food or winter boots.”

Sen. Sal DiDomenico, D-Everett, on his proposal to raise cash assistance grants by 20 percent per year until they reach 50 percent of the federal poverty level. Families living below 50 percent of poverty are considered to be in “Deep Poverty.”

“The 300 companies contracting with Department of Developmental Services (DDS) to care for people with developmental disabilities should be held accountable just like everybody else. There was a time that these charities got by with bake sales, can drives and private benevolence – but no more. The executives are handsomely paid and should be called to task when they inflict or ignore suffering.”

Massachusetts Coalition of Families and Advocates President Thomas Frain on legislation to end the $20,000 cap, in most cases, on the legal liability of nonprofit organizations.

“This Better Bottle Bill brings us back to the future, by capturing beverage containers that didn’t exist in 1982 — like water bottles, juices, sports drinks, iced teas and others. It is the right time. There is no reason not to do this. By expanding the container deposit system to include all these containers, we bring the Bottle Bill into the 21st century.”

Sen. Cindy Creem, D-Newton, on legislation to expand the state’s bottle deposit law.

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. 27-Oct. 1, the House met for a total of two hours and 10 minutes while the Senate met for a total of four hours and six minutes.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at