78-78 TIE VOTE SAVES TWO SUFFOLK COUNTY-ONLY HOLIDAYS (H 4125)

House on a 78-78 tie vote rejected a Republican-sponsored amendment that would have abolished the Suffolk County legal holidays of Evacuation Day (March 17) and Bunker Hill Day (June 17). Under House rules, a majority of votes in the affirmative is required in order for an amendment to pass. A tie goes to the negative side. If any single representative had voted to abolish the holidays instead of for retaining them, the abolition would have been successful on a 79-77 vote.

The Statehouse and other state and local government buildings in only Boston, Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop are officially closed each year on both dates. Thousands of local and state workers in those communities are given the two days off. Thousands of other state employees in all other cities and towns across the state are allowed to take the two days off or use them as "floating holidays" - a procedure under which they can take off two days of their choice during the year.

The House was in recess for several hours before the amendment reached the House floor. Members of the Democratic leadership called the recess so that supporters of the two holidays would have time to lobby legislators to vote to keep them as days off.

Amendment supporters said that eliminating the two holidays would save an estimated $5 million and would be a very important pro-taxpayer, symbolic move during a time when the state is drowning in debt and thousands of citizens have lost their jobs and houses. They argued that it is unfair and a waste of tax dollars that these state and local workers have these two days off. Some called the two days "hack holidays." Others said that eliminating the two days as state holidays would still allow communities in Suffolk County to make the two days into local city or town holidays.

Amendment opponents said that Bunker Hill Day commemorates the important Battle of Bunker Hill while Evacuation Day celebrates a key victory for the colonies as General George Washington and his troops drove the British out of Boston. They argued that these two holidays commemorate important events that took place in the city of Boston and said it is simply political grandstanding to attempt to eliminate them. Some said that the success of this cynical move could be a slippery slope that leads to the eventual abolition of other important holidays.

The Senate voted 17-22 on May 21 to reject the same move to abolish the two holidays.

(A "Yes" vote is for the amendment eliminating the two holidays. A "No" vote is against eliminating them and favors the two holidays).

Sen. Robert Hedlund, Yes

Rep. Thomas Calter, Yes

Rep. Daniel Webster, Yes


FISCAL 2009 SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET (H 4125, S 2069)

House 156-0, Senate 34-5, approved different versions of supplemental budgets to help the state fund programs and balance its budget for the fiscal year 2009 that ends on June 30. A key provision uses $412 million of the state's share of federal stimulus money to help fund Chapter 70 local education aid. Both versions also provide $2.8 million for the state's increased costs associated with the outbreak of swine flu. Only the Senate version provides some $60 million in funds for Boston Medical Center while only the House draft includes a section allowing a police officer to request the name and address of any bicyclist who violates a traffic law. It imposes up to a $50 fine on an offender who refuses to provide the information to the officer and then allows the officer to arrest the offender without a warrant. Supporters said that the package is a fiscally responsible one that is necessary to close the state's growing budget deficit. Opponents said that the package just continues the Legislature's irresponsible policy of living beyond its means, raising taxes and not making any major reforms to save money. A conference committee will likely work out the differences between the two versions. (A "Yes" vote is for the bill. A "No" vote is against it).

Rep. Thomas Calter, Yes

Rep. Daniel Webster, Yes

Sen. Robert Hedlund, No


REGULATE POWER COMPANIES DURING EMERGENCIES (H 4126)

House 154-0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill designed to require more accountability of public utility companies by requiring them to adequately prepare for and respond to power emergencies. The measure imposes hefty fines on companies that do not cooperate. Provisions include requiring utility companies to annually submit their emergency response plans to the state's Department of Public Utilities (DPU) for approval; allowing the DPU to intervene and ensure that power is restored during an emergency if the power company fails to respond and allowing the attorney general to place in receivership any utility company whose poor management practices are found to have caused the company's lack of timely and adequate response to a power outage. Supporters said that the measure was filed following the problems that resulted from Unitil Company's inadequate response to December's major ice storm in central Massachusetts. They noted that many homes and businesses were left without power for days. (A "Yes" vote is for the bill).

Rep. Thomas Calter, Yes

Rep. Daniel Webster, Yes


CONSOLIDATION AND EFFICIENCY OF STATE COURTS (S 2069)

Senate 11-22, rejected an amendment creating a special commission to determine which courts should be consolidated, eliminated or expanded to make the state's court system more efficient. The measure requires the special commission to file a court reorganization plan and then gives the Legislature the power to approve or reject the plan. Amendment supporters said that there is massive duplication, overlap and waste in the state's court system. They argued that this non-partisan commission would do a fair job of pinpointing the problems and recommending solutions. Amendment opponents said that this new commission is unnecessary because the Trial Court has already undertaken this project. (A "Yes" vote is for creating the special commission. A "No" vote is against creating it).

Sen. Robert Hedlund, Yes


SELL NAMING RIGHTS TO STATE FACILITIES (S 2069)

Senate 36-3, approved an amendment requiring Gov. Deval Patrick's Secretary of Administration and Finance to pursue paid sponsorship and naming rights of state facilities. Amendment supporters said that the state could reap millions of dollars in revenue from selling these naming rights to private companies. They noted that the facilities range from the giant Massachusetts Convention Center to every state park across the state. Amendment opponents said that the state should not be in the business of selling the right to name public entities after corporations. (A "Yes" vote is for selling the naming and sponsorship rights. A "No" vote is against selling them).

Sen. Robert Hedlund, Yes


ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

DIMASI INDICTED - The big news on Beacon Hill was the indictment of former Democratic House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi on federal charges that he received $57,000 in payments from Cognos, a Canadian software company that he helped land nearly $20 million in state contracts. DiMasi's indictment is the third straight one of a speaker, following the indictments and convictions of former Speakers Charles Flaherty and Thomas Finneran.

TELEPHONES, DIRECTORIES AND 411 - The Committee on Telecommunication, Utilities and Energy held a hearing on several bills including requiring telephone companies to eliminate the private caller feature that currently allows callers the option to not have their phone number show up on the caller ID system of the person being called (S 1475). Under the bill, all numbers would be displayed.

Another proposal would require telephone companies to establish a toll-free number and a database of consumers who wish to opt out of receiving telephone directories and prohibit companies from delivering books to those homes (H 3116). The number of directories delivered to a multi-family residence would be limited to only the number of units in the building who that have not opted out. Supporters testified that these directories are littering apartment and condo buildings and streets across the state. Opponents said that some companies already have opt-out procedures in place and noted that this mandatory law would hurt the economy and these small companies.

Other measures heard by the committee include requiring phone, cable, power and insurance companies to send a certified letter to a customer ten days before the scheduled shutoff of any of these services for lack of payment (S 1474); allowing a customer to be released from their service contract with cell phones companies if he or she is called to military duty or experiences more than five dropped calls in any one month (S 1517); requiring telephone companies to enlarge the size of the type used in printed telephone directories (H 3116) and reducing from ten to five per month the number of free directory assistance calls that companies must provide to each business and residential customer. After a one-year period, the number of mandated free calls would drop to zero.

FARM ANIMALS (H 815) - The Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture heard testimony on legislation that would prohibit the confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to "turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs." Proponents said that the measure is designed to prohibit cruel and inhumane battery cages for egg-laying hens, veal crates for calves, and gestation crates for pregnant pigs. Some opponents said that there are few if any cases of this type of confinement in Massachusetts. Others said that these new restrictions would decrease production and increase costs that would be passed along to consumers. The bill provides several exemptions and allows use of these "banned" cages during transportation, rodeo exhibitions and when the animal is being slaughtered.

CAP INTEREST RATE ON CREDIT CARDS (H 1014) - The Committee on Financial Services is considering legislation that would cap at 18 percent the interest rate that credit card companies are allowed to charge a customer.

MAKE DAYLIGHT-SAVING TIME PERMANENT (S 199) - The Committee on Economic Development's agenda includes legislation that would make daylight-saving time (DST) permanent in Massachusetts beginning in 2011. Supporters say that part-time DST is an antiquated system that wastes energy, limits outdoor activities during the winter and creates sleep problems for many people for several weeks after the clocks change.

IMPROVE EDUCATION (H 452) - A very vague bill on the Education Committee's agenda last week would simply require The Department of Education to take measures to improve education in the commonwealth.

SIGNATURE COLLECTORS MUST WEAR BADGES - The Elections Laws Committee held a hearing on legislation requiring anyone who is gathering signatures for an initiative petition to wear a button including his or her name, the name of the committee and if and how much the person is being paid to collect signatures (H 571). These petitions are proposals by citizens for laws or constitutional amendments that would go on the ballot for voter consideration if the necessary number of signatures is gathered. Also on the committee's agenda is a proposal simply making it illegal to pay anyone to collect signatures for an initiative petition (H 572).

QUOTABLE QUOTES - SPECIAL EVACUATION DAY AND BUNKER HILL DAY EDITION

"This is very, very personal to me. This is about where I grew up. This is about my history. ... What's next? Do we say, well you know, Thanksgiving is only about some Indians and some Pilgrims? Let's do away with that. Let's rewrite history. That's not a big deal. Patriots Day. What's that about - Tom Brady? Let's do away with that. We don't need that. Christmas? That's about a fat guy who brings presents. That's not a big deal. Where do we stop?"

Rep. Brian Wallace (D-Boston)

"I welcome Governor Patrick's support and hope that his support will convince my Democratic colleagues to get behind this reform proposal."

Senate Republican Minority Leader Richard Tisei (R-Wakefield) commenting on Patrick's statement supporting Tisei's proposal to eliminate the two holidays.

"I hope these holidays are around and with us a long time after the Globe is gone. And sooner will be better."

Rep. James Fagan (D-Taunton) who also accused the Boston Globe and Boston Herald of trying to "run the state from Morrissey Boulevard or Herald Square." Both newspapers have editorialized in favor of abolishing the two holidays.

"The public is going to continue to believe that Beacon Hill just doesn't get it. This effort is about restoring the public's trust whose confidence in its elected officials has been broken."

House Republican Minority Leader Bradley Jones (R-North Reading).