Beacon Hill Roll Call

Published: 1/10/2019 11:27:21 AM

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

BOSTON — The Beacon Hill Roll Call begins coverage of the 2019-2020 Massachusetts legislative session with its weekly Beacon Hill Roll Call report.

CREDIT REPORTS (H 4806) —  The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker legislation that would prohibit consumer reporting agencies, like Equifax, Experian and TransUnion from charging fees for freezing and unfreezing a person’s credit information. Under current law, companies can and have charged up to $5 per freeze or unfreeze.

A freeze makes the report inaccessible until the consumer unfreezes it. Since banks and other lenders require access to the borrower's credit report before giving a loan, this greatly reduces identity thieves from getting a loan or credit in another individual’s name.

The proposal gained momentum following the 2017 crisis when, from May to July, the personal information including names, social security numbers, addresses, driver’s licenses, and credit card numbers of 145 million Americans was stolen from Equifax’s systems. Equifax didn’t reveal the breach until September and consumers lost valuable time to act.

Other provisions of the bill prohibit businesses from obtaining a consumer’s credit report without obtaining written, verbal or electronic consent from the consumer; require credit monitoring services to be available for 3.5 years for some consumers affected by a breach; and improve notices and consumer information the companies are required to give.

“While these new tools will help consumers protect themselves from identity theft, it is clear that big businesses have to do a much better job at safeguarding consumers’ personal information and must be held accountable for their failures,” said Deirdre Cummings, legislative director for MASSPIRG. “Identity thieves stole more than $17 billion dollars from American consumers last year – and that number is growing.”

BAN TOXIC FLAME RETARDANTS (H 5024) — The House and Senate approved and sent to the governor legislation that would ban 11 toxic flame retardants from children’s products, bedding, carpeting and residential upholstered furniture sold or manufactured in Massachusetts, except for inventory already manufactured prior to January 1, 2019. Another provision requires the Department of Environmental Protection to review, at least every three years, chemical flame retardants used in these products and include them on the list of prohibited chemical flame retardants that are documented to pose a health risk.

Vehicles, watercraft and aircraft are exempt from this law as are any previously-owned product that contains a retardant. Violators would be fined up to $5,000 for a first offense and up to $50,000 for subsequent offenses.

Supporters explained that since 1975, manufacturers have added chemical flame retardants to a wide array of household items including products with polyurethane foam, such as sofas, car seats, strollers and nap mats. They are also incorporated into electronic products and building insulation.

They argued that the retardants, while well-intentioned, do more harm than good and have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, fertility problems, neurological disorders and other major health concerns.

“This law will protect the health of children and firefighters,” said bill co-sponsor Rep. Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge). “Working with Speaker DeLeo, my partners in the Senate, firefighters and so many advocates is exactly what democracy looks like--crafting laws that value people’s lives and highlighting the connection to our well-being and how we choose to use chemicals that can lead to our deaths instead of protecting us. I am honored to have been the voice of many as the House sponsor.”  

“I am so proud that this important bill will reach the governor’s desk, and we can make 2019 the year we stop allowing the sale of products with unnecessary and harmful flame-retardant chemicals,” said Sen. Cynthia Creem (D-Newton).  “Working with Clean Water Action, the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, and many other advocates helped increase public awareness and get the bill passed.”

GAS SAFETY (H 5005) – The House and Senate approved and Gov. Baker signed into law a bill that would require that all-natural gas work that might pose a material risk to the public be reviewed and approved by a certified professional engineer to ensure the safe construction, operation and maintenance of gas infrastructure.  The bill is based on a recommendation made by the National Transportation Safety Board after investigating the series of fires and explosions on September 13 that killed one person and damaged homes and businesses throughout Andover, North Andover and Lawrence.

PROTECTION FOR WORKERS  (H 4988) — The House and Senate approved and Gov. Baker signed into law a bill requiring the state to set up a system to address the ongoing lockout of National Grid gas workers. The utility locked out more than 1,200 workers in June during a contract dispute and their unemployment benefits are scheduled to run out in January.

Under the program, locked out workers would receive the same weekly amount they are now receiving under the state’s current unemployment system until the lockout is resolved. All costs of the program would be paid by the existing unemployment insurance system.

COUNTERFEIT AIRBAGS (H 4051) — The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker legislation that would impose a 2.5-year prison sentence and/or up to $5,000 fine on anyone who imports or sells counterfeit airbags in Massachusetts. Over the past few years, thousands of counterfeit airbags have made their way into the Bay State through purchases and sales on the Internet.

"I filed this bill to protect Massachusetts drivers from being injured and killed when counterfeit airbags fail to deploy properly," said Rep. Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg).

JURY DUTY NOTICE (S 771) – The House and Senate approved and Gov. Baker signed into law a bill that allows the Office of the Jury Commissioner to communicate with jurors through e-mail, texting, other electronic and telephonic ways and in-person exchanges. Current law requires the communication to be via the post office and was adopted many years ago when these other forms of communication did not exist.

“I was pleased to file this legislation at the suggestion of the Office of Jury Commissioner,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Will Brownsberger (D-Belmont). “This legislation will allow the Office of Jury Commissioner to embrace technological improvements, reduce costs and improve juror convenience.”

THE AGE FOR PURCHASING TOBACCO PRODUCTS IS NOW 21 – A new law raising from 18 to 21 the age to legally purchase cigarettes and electronic cigarettes in the Bay State took effect last week. Other provisions ban e-cigarettes and other vape devices from the workplace and private and public school grounds and prohibit pharmacies and healthcare facilities from selling any tobacco or vape products. The new law does not make it a crime for minors to smoke but does impose penalties on retailers who sell tobacco to underage customers. It also exempts from the hike youths who turned 18 by Dec. 31, the day the law took effect.

Prior to the hike going into effect, some 50 percent of the state’s cities and towns, including Boston, had already raised the legal age up from 18 to 21.

"Raising the minimum legal sales age for tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21 aims to reduce tobacco use and nicotine addiction by decreasing access and exposure to these products,”  said Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel. “Nearly nine out of ten cigarette smokers started before they were 18 years old, and 98 percent first tried smoking by age 26.”

Bharel continued, “Because the brain is not fully developed until the mid-20s, youth and young adults are uniquely at risk for long-term, long-lasting effects of exposure to nicotine.  By delaying the age when young people may first begin using tobacco, we can reduce the risk that they will become lifelong tobacco users.”

“As I have consistently said, if society entrusts an 18-year-old with something as important as the right to vote for their elected officials, or the ability to fight for their country in war, they should be allowed the responsibility to choose whether or not they want to use tobacco,” said Sen. Don Humason (R-Westfield).  “I become concerned when the Legislature tries to tell people who would otherwise be considered adults what they can and cannot do.”

SALARY HIKE FOR CABINET MEMBERS AND OTHERS — The nine cabinet secretaries under the governor have received a 5.5 percent pay hike. The increase of $8,883 will raise their pay from $161,522 to 170,405. Executive agency heads and commissioners and employees of the governor's office will also receive the 5.5 percent hike.

This hike comes only days after a total of $1.2 million in salary hikes per year was given last week to the governor, the other five constitutional statewide officers, 40 senators and 160 representatives. These hikes ranged from a low of $3,709 to a high of $80,000.

Supporters say that this raise is a fair and reasonable one for the people who hold these important positions. They note the governor’s staff did not receive merit pay increases that executive branch managers have received over the past four years.

"'Trickle-down economics’ Bay State style,” said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation.  “Legislators grabbed a 5.83 percent pay raise and another illicit hike in their ‘expenses’ of 8 percent. Then the governor and other constitutional officers got theirs.  Like water flowing downhill, cabinet secretaries and the well-connected schooling downstream catch the scraps from the feeding frenzy,” continued Ford. “Meanwhile, taxpayers got trickled on:  A paltry .05 percent pay raise from the minuscule reduction of the long-past-due rollback of the 3-decades old ‘temporary’ income tax hike. On Beacon Hill this passes for ‘pay equity.’ Marie-Antoinette called it ‘Let them eat cake.’”

HONOR ROSA PARKS (S 2410) – The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill requiring the MBTA, during the month of February, to have an LED display or decal on each bus to recognize the accomplishments of Rosa Parks to the Civil Rights Movement. By refusing in 1955 to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus,  Parks eventually became known as "the first lady of civil rights" and "the mother of the freedom movement."

Parks was arrested and convicted of disorderly conduct. What followed was a 381-day boycott of the bus system by blacks that was organized by the then 26-year old Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The incident led to a Supreme Court ruling that desegregated public transportation in Montgomery.  This eventually led to the 1964 Civil Rights Act that desegregated all public accommodations nationwide.

“It was an honor and a privilege to both sponsor and advocate for this legislative bill which will honor an American heroine, said Sen James Timilty (D-Milton).  “The sole purpose of this legislation is to commemorate the incredible courage and sacrifices exemplified by Ms. Rosa Parks. I am proud that this piece of legislation was enacted by both bodies of the Legislature.”   

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 Dec. 31-Jan. 4. the House met for a total of 19 hours and one minute while the Senate met for a total of 26 hours and 17 minutes.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com.

 

 


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