THE HOUSE AND SENATE. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week. The 2009-2010 legislative session is winding down and ends in early January. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call begins a series of reports highlighting legislation approved by the House and the Senate and signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick in the 2009-2010 session.

PENSION SYSTEM CHANGES (S 2079)

House 150-0, Senate 40-0, approved and Gov. Patrick signed into law the conference committee version of a bill making changes in the state's pension system. The House and Senate had originally approved different versions of the measure. The committee resolved many differences including adopting the Senate version which applies the changes to current and future workers. The House version was more limited and applied only to future employees.

Other provisions include prohibiting elected local officials from counting toward their pensions any year in which they were paid less than $5,000; eliminating a current policy that allows elected officials to claim a "termination allowance" that increases their pensions if they are not re-elected; raising from six to ten the number of years elected officials must serve before being vested in the state's pension system; prohibiting housing, car and travel allowances from being used to boost a pension; and eliminating a current policy that allows elected officials to add an entire year of "service" to their pension calculations even if they only worked one day that calendar year.

(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Thomas Calter, Yes

Rep. Daniel Webster, Yes

Sen. Robert Hedlund, Yes                                    

CHANGES TO ETHICS, LOBBYING AND CAMPAIGN FINANCE LAWS (H 4133)

House 157-0, Senate 40-0, approved and Gov. Patrick signed into law a proposal making changes in the state's ethics, lobbying and campaign finance laws. The measure bans all gifts to public officials and makes it a civil violation for gifts up to $1,000 and a felony for gifts of more than $1,000; increases the penalty for bribery from $5,000 and/or three years in prison to $100,000 and/or 10 years in prison; increases the penalty on all ethics law violations from $2,000 to $10,000 per violation; and raises the penalty for violating lobbying laws from up to a $5,000 fine to a $10,000 fine and/or a five-year prison sentence.

Other provisions require that all bribes be subject to the state income tax in order to give prosecutors another avenue to go after corrupt public officials; prohibit the use of campaign funds for payment of fines levied for ethical violations; prohibit the name of a candidate from appearing on a state ballot if a civil action has been initiated against him or her for failure to file reports or statements; and give the Secretary of State subpoena power.

(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Thomas Calter, Yes

Rep. Daniel Webster, Yes

Sen. Robert Hedlund, Yes

                           
EDUCATION SYSTEM CHANGES (S 2247)

House 98-47, Senate 23-12, approved and Gov. Patrick signed into law a lengthy and complicated measure making changes to the state's education system including implementing mechanisms designed to improve underperforming schools.

The bill creates Innovation Schools that are district schools with increased autonomy and flexibility to operate. It raises the state’s spending cap for charter schools from 9 percent to 18 percent of new school spending in the lowest 10 percent of performing districts and eliminates the cap that limits the state’s total charter school population to 4 percent.

Other provisions require all public high schools to include a mandatory course on the correct use, display and etiquette relating to the American flag and allow the Education Department to designate up to 72 schools as "underperforming." These schools would be targeted for aggressive intervention including making it easier to dismiss and replace poor teachers and administrators and to reopen and amend collective bargaining agreements.

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

Rep. Thomas Calter, Yes

Rep. Daniel Webster, Yes

Sen. Robert Hedlund, No        

                             
CHANGE CORI AND SENTENCING LAWS (S 2583)

House 131-22, Senate 30-9, approved and Gov. Patrick signed into law the bill making changes in the state's Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) and mandatory sentencing laws.

The measure allows certain entities access to CORI information on felony convictions for ten years after the offender's release from jail and on misdemeanor charges for five years. Currently, records are sealed after 15 years for felonies and ten years on misdemeanors. Under the bill, murderers and Level 1 and Level 2 sex offenders would be permanently ineligible for sealing. Another provision would prohibit employers from asking on initial job applications whether an applicant has been arrested or convicted. The bill retains the right of employers to ask about an applicant's criminal history, but delays this inquiry to ensure that applicants are considered for their qualifications before being screened for a criminal record.

The measure allows some non-violent offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related crimes to be eligible for parole upon serving one-half of their sentences in a house of corrections. Other provisions add certain illegal gun possession charges to the list of crimes for which a prosecutor may move for pre-trial detention based on dangerousness and prohibit convicted sex offenders from working as ice cream truck vendors.

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

Rep. Thomas Calter, Yes

Rep. Daniel Webster, No

Sen. Robert Hedlund, Yes        

                            
STOP SCHOOL BULLYING (S 2404)

House 159-0, Senate 37-0, approved and Gov. Patrick signed into law legislation requiring all public and private schools to develop and implement a plan to prevent bullying from occurring and to discipline bullies. The measure prohibits bullying on school grounds, at any school-sponsored event or activity on or off campus, through the use of the school's computer system while on or off campus and through the use of any personal digital device on campus and in any non-school related situations if the bullying affects the school environment or creates a hostile environment at school for the victim.

(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Thomas Calter, Yes

Rep. Daniel Webster, Yes

Sen. Robert Hedlund, Yes       

                             
FREEZE UNEMPLOYMENT TAX (H 4470)

House 152-0, Senate 35-0, approved and Gov. Patrick signed into law a proposal freezing the unemployment insurance tax paid by employers at the 2009 level through 2010 instead of allowing a scheduled increase to take effect. The payments go into a fund that provides benefits to laid-off workers. 

The contribution that employers pay into the fund was scheduled to rise dramatically because of the increasing number of laid-off workers collecting unemployment benefits.

The average 2009 employer contribution into the fund was $584 per employee.  Without this freeze, the 2010 per-employee assessment would have jumped to an estimated $852. 

(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Thomas Calter, Yes

Rep. Daniel Webster, Yes

Sen. Robert Hedlund, Yes           

                         
ALLOW CITY OF LAWRENCE TO BORROW $35 MILLION (H 4516)

House 101-49, Senate 31-4, approved and Gov. Patrick signed into law legislation authorizing the city of Lawrence to borrow up to $35 million to help solve its fiscal crisis. The measure calls for a fiscal overseer to develop a three-year operating and capital financial plan. The overseer could also determine at any time that the city cannot balance its budget, at which point the state would remove the overseer and install a more powerful financial control board with broader powers.

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

Rep. Thomas Calter, Yes

Rep. Daniel Webster, No

Sen. Robert Hedlund, No       

                              
APPROVE MUNICIPAL MANAGEMENT BILL (H 4877)

House 137-15, Senate 32-6, approved and Gov. Patrick signed into law a measure that would give cities and towns more management flexibility and options.

Provisions include extending the pension funding schedule for municipalities from 2030 to 2040; allowing cities and towns to lease public buildings for up to 30 years instead of up to 10 years; establishing a statewide mutual aid agreement to allow municipalities to share fire, police and other emergency services in the case of a public safety or public works incident; allowing cities and towns to reduce the current 8 percent interest rate that must be paid on any property tax deferrals based on financial hardships; creating an optional early retirement program for city and town workers; and giving local communities the option to use electronic billing of taxpayers and to implement a tax amnesty program.
(A "Yes" vote is for the bill. A "No" vote is against the bill.)

Rep. Thomas Calter, Yes

Rep. Daniel Webster, No

Sen. Robert Hedlund, No              

                       
NATIONAL POPULAR VOTE (H 4156)

House 116-34, Senate 28-9, approved and Gov. Patrick signed into law a bill that would make Massachusetts a member of the Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote. The agreement would require states that join the pact to cast all of their electoral votes for the presidential candidate who wins a majority of the national popular vote in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The pact would become effective when states representing at least 270 electoral votes - a majority of the 538-vote Electoral College - join this compact. States currently have a number of electoral votes equal to the number of senators and representatives that the state has in Congress. This endeavor is led by Fair Vote, a national group that says Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey, with a total of 50 electoral votes, have already joined the agreement.
(A "Yes" vote is for the bill making Massachusetts a member of the pact. A "No" vote is against the bill.)

Rep. Thomas Calter, Yes

Rep. Daniel Webster, No

Sen. Robert Hedlund, No               

                      
AUTO INSURANCE APPEALS BOARD (S 2022)

Senate 39-0, House 156-0, approved and Gov. Patrick signed into law a measure establishing a board that hears appeals from drivers who are found more than 50 percent at fault in accidents. These drivers lose safe driver points and pay an insurance surcharge unless their appeal is successful. The board already exists under a state regulation but the amendment would make the board permanent by putting it into state law. Former Insurance Commissioner Nonnie Burnes earlier had announced plans to scrap the board and replace it with an alternative means of addressing at-fault accidents. Following an outcry from legislators and the public, Burnes changed her mind and left the board intact.
(A "Yes" vote is for the proposed state law establishing the board.)

Rep. Thomas Calter, Yes

Rep. Daniel Webster, Yes

Sen. Robert Hedlund, Yes    

                                
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

JOB COMMISSION HAS NEVER MET - The State House News Service reports that a 2008 special commission established to create jobs has never met. Almost two years ago, the Legislature approved and the governor signed into law a bill creating the 17-member commission "for the purpose of making an investigation and study relative to the economy in order to create and maintain quality jobs in the commonwealth." The commission, scheduled to report back to the Legislature by June 2009, has not yet held a meeting and its reporting deadline has been extended to 2012. Sarah Blodgett, chief of staff to committee co-chair Sen. Karen Spilka (D-Ashland), said the group was delayed because it took a long time to appoint all the commission members.

PROBATION DEPARTMENT - Senate President Therese Murray has appointed Sens. Cynthia Creem (D-Newton), Brian Joyce (D-Milton) and Michael Knapik (R-Westfield) to the special commission to study ways to reform the state’s Probation Department. House Speaker Robert DeLeo's office announced that the speaker intends to appoint Reps. Patricia Haddad (D-Somerset), Byron Rushing (D-Boston) and Jay Barrow (R-Mansfield) to the bipartisan group. The other three appointments will be made by Gov. Patrick.

The Probation Department has come under fire following a state probe that concluded corruption in its hiring and promotion process is rampant throughout the system. The report notes legislators would "sponsor" candidates for Probation Department jobs and that the interview and selection process was often rigged in favor of hiring candidates with political or other personal connections instead of better qualified, non-connected applicants.

POOLING OF TIPS (H 4814) - The fate of the bill allowing some shift supervisors at fast food restaurants to share in the tips received by the other employees is still in limbo. Current law does not allow these supervisors to share the tips. The Legislature approved the proposal in July and sent it to Gov. Patrick, who proposed an amendment. The measure excluded supervisors with the power to fire and hire from sharing in the tips. The governor removed the exclusion. The bill and proposed amendment are now in a House committee.

AMERICAN FLAGS MADE IN AMERICA (H 5081) - The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill requiring that any American flags purchased by any state agency be made in the United States. Current law is looser and allows the state to purchase flags that have a "substantial majority of (their) principal components assembled into the final product in an assembly plant in the United States."

HOMESTEAD PROTECTION  (H 4878) - The Senate gave final approval to and sent to the governor a bill that would provide homeowners automatic protection of up to $125,000 of the amount of equity in a single-family home or condominium from seizure by some creditors, without the homeowner having to file any documents. The legislation also retains current law that allows a homeowner to protect up to $500,000 of the value from creditors by filing a "homestead declaration."

Other provisions would allow a homestead to be declared on property held in trust and on two- to four-family dwellings and prohibit refinancing of a mortgage from affecting a prior homestead.

The homestead is limited and does not provide protection against outstanding taxes, court-ordered support payments, first or second mortgages and any debts incurred prior to filing the homestead declaration.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

"The Probation Department's system for hiring and promoting staff, which the independent counsel has described as corrupt, constitutes a serious and significant potential threat to public safety. We need to make sure that men and women hired at Probation are the best qualified candidates for the job."

–– House Speaker Bob DeLeo announcing his proposal to place the Probation Department under the Civil Service Commission. DeLeo, according to the investigation, sponsored 12 candidates for jobs in the Probation Department. Seven of his job-seekers were hired.

"In a move akin to the fox installing the security system at the hen house, (House) Speaker Bob DeLeo says he will file legislation to stop lawmakers from influencing the hiring of friends, relatives and political supporters at the scandal-ridden Probation Department."

–– Press release from the Massachusetts Republican Party commenting on DeLeo's announcement.

"It shouldn't have taken this long to appoint people.  This issue is going to be with us for some time. But it is unfortunate we missed the opportunity to address it earlier."

–– Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) commenting on the failure of a 2008 special commission to create jobs to hold a single meeting.

"You would have thought, at least over the last couple of years, with jobs being the number one issue facing the commonwealth, that we (the jobs commission) would have had some meetings. That this is something we would have wanted to work on. In all honesty, jobs certainly should be a number one priority."

–– Rep. Paul Frost (R-Auburn) commenting on the commission.

"The date when they were supposed to report was a pretty tight timeframe. At that time, there was an awful lot of stuff going on. At the end of 2009, the Legislature clearly was trying to do things to improve the state's economic climate. It appeared to be a pretty high priority."

–– John Regan, Executive Vice-President of Government Affairs for the Associated Industries of Massachusetts commenting on the commission.
"I think it is very timely, even though it took a long time to get it passed, and a long time to meet. I think the purpose of it is to look at what the state can do to support jobs creation."

–– Rep. Alice Wolf (D-Cambridge) commenting on the commission.

Beacon Hill Roll Call
Volume 36-Report No. 49
December 10, 2010
Copyright © 2010 Beacon Hill Roll Call. All Rights Reserved.