Beacon Hill Roll Call

BOSTON — Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of Nov. 16-20.

PUBLIC RECORDS (H 3858) — The House 157-0, approved and sent to the Senate legislation designed to update state and local municipality public records laws and enhance accountability measures. Provisions include establishing a timeframe and process under which any requested documents must be produced, including giving cities and towns 75 days to produce records and state agencies 60 days; ensuring that judicial remedies are available if the request is turned down or not fulfilled in a timely fashion; requiring cities and towns and state agencies to designate a public records officer to assist the public and facilitate timely responses; establishing guidelines for the fees associated with obtaining documents; and creating a standardized process through which the public can access records. The bill also creates a special legislative commission to examine the constitutionality and practicality of subjecting the Legislature, the governor’s office and the judicial branch to the public records law.

Supporters said this is the first update to the state’s public record laws in 40 years and noted it would make state and local government more transparent. They argued this is balanced legislation that improves access to public records while also protecting local municipalities from unreasonable procedures and unfunded mandates.

While no one voted against the bill, some critics say it does not go far enough. Others say the bill is flawed because it continues to exempt the Legislature from the public records laws.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Donald Berthiaume Yes; Rep. Kimberly Ferguson Yes; Rep. Stephen Kulik Yes; Rep. Susannah Whipps Lee Yes; Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik Yes

RULING ON SUBJECTING LEGISLATURE TO PUBLIC RECORDS LAW (H 3858) — The House 122-34, upheld the ruling of the chair that prohibited consideration of an amendment that would make the Legislature subject to the state’s public records law. The amendment would have repealed the current law that exempts the Legislature. The chair ruled that the amendment is not properly before the House because the House a few minutes ago already addressed this issue by creating a special legislative commission to examine the constitutionality and practicality of subjecting the Legislature to the public records law.

Supporters of the ruling said the ruling is appropriate because rules prohibit the House from considering an amendment on an issue that contradicts a previous one already approved by the House.

Opponents of the ruling said the making the Legislature subject to the public records law is different from just setting up a commission to look at the matter.

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

Rep. Berthiaume No; Rep. Ferguson No; Rep. Kulik Yes; Rep. Whipps Lee No; Rep. Zlotnik Yes

VETERANS LEGISLATION  The Senate last week approved several pro-veteran bills and sent them to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk for his signature. Supporters said the state’s veterans are heroes who deserve to be treated, respected and helped. There were no opponents of any of the bills.

The first three roll calls below are on veterans bills.

STOLEN VALOR (H 1641) — The Senate 39-0, approved a bill that would make it a crime for a person to misrepresent himself or herself as a veteran. Violators would be subject to a one-year prison sentence and/or a $1,000 fine. 

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Anne Gobi Yes; Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, President rarely votes

FLAG HOLDERS (H 3173) — The Senate 39-0, approved a bill that would make it a crime to destroy, mutilate or deface an American flag, veteran’s commemorative flag holder or a commemorative flag holder representing service in either the police or fire department. Offenders would be sentenced to up to five years in prison. This law currently applies only to tombs, monuments, gravestones, trees, shrubs and plants.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Gobi Yes; Sen. Rosenberg, President rarely votes

FREE ACCESS TO STATE PARKS FOR VETERANS (H 3243)  The Senate 39-0, approved a bill that would provide Purple Heart recipients free access to state parks, state forest recreation areas and state reservations. Currently free access is provided for disabled veterans and handicapped persons.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Gobi Yes; Sen. Rosenberg, President rarely votes

FENTANYL TRAFFICKING (H 3755) — The Senate 39-0, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a bill that would create the crime of trafficking of the drug fentanyl in amounts greater than 10 grams and impose a prison sentence of up to 20 years for those convicted of the crime. Under current law a person can only be charged with manufacturing, distributing or possessing fentanyl, but not with trafficking.

Supporters said use of this dangerous drug is accelerating and is estimated to be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. They noted traffickers sometimes mix fentanyl with heroin, often without the knowledge of the buyer.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Gobi Yes; Sen. Rosenberg, President rarely votes

SEX EDUCATION (S 2048)  The Senate 32- 6, approved a bill that would require schools that offer sexual health education to include “medically accurate, age-appropriate” information for students regardless of gender, race, disability status or sexual orientation. The measure also requires that the program include the benefits of abstinence and delaying sexual activity; the importance of effectively using contraceptives and barrier methods to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS; ways to effectively discuss safe sexual activity; and relationship and communication skills to form healthy, respectful relationships free of violence, coercion and intimidation. Another provision strengthens a current law that gives parents the right to withdraw a student from all or part of the instruction.

Supporters said the bill does not require that sex education be taught and in fact retains the current law that gives local schools the option of whether to teach a course or not and gives parents the power to opt their children out. They said the measure simply mandates some fair and reasonable specific topics the course must provide.

Some opponents said the definition in of “age appropriate” in the bill is open to interpretation and might result in younger students being taught topics that might be “age inappropriate.” Others argued they prefer that the course have an “opt in” provision rather than an “opt out” one.

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

Sen. Gobi Yes; Sen. Rosenberg, President rarely votes

During the week of Nov. 16-20, the House met for a total of 14 hours and 21 minutes while the Senate met for a total of ten hours and 15 minutes.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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