Beacon Hill Roll Call: July 19 to July 23, 2021

  • The $261.6 million fiscal year 2021 supplemental budget passed by the House and Senate includes $5.4 million for the Soldiers’ Homes in Chelsea and Holyoke (pictured) for pandemic-related expenses. Staff File Photo/Carol Lollis

Published: 7/29/2021 2:19:22 PM
Modified: 7/29/2021 2:19:26 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives and senators from the week of July 19 to July 23.

Legalize sports betting (H 3977)

The House, 156 to 3, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would legalize sports betting on professional and college sports for Massachusetts residents over 21 years old. The betting would be regulated by the Gaming Commission, the same commission that regulates the state’s casino gambling. The commission would award in-person licenses at casinos, racetracks and simulcast racing facilities as well as mobile licenses to allow companies to accept bets online. The measure includes a 12.5 percent tax on in-person wagering and a 15 percent tax on mobile wagering.

The measure includes an amendment sponsored by Rep. Paul McMurtry, D-Dedham, House chair of the Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, that would permit the commission to grant licenses that would allow some veterans’ organizations to operate up to five slot machines.

Supporters said legalization will generate up to an estimated $60 million annually in tax revenue as well as up to $70 million to $80 million in initial licensing fees that must be renewed every five years. They noted the revenue will be distributed to cities and towns, and used for economic, workforce, education and public health programs.

“Massachusetts residents are passionate about their sports,” said Rep. Jerry Parisella, D-Beverly, the House chair of the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. “This bill will allow residents to bet on their favorite teams but do so in a regulated manner that promotes responsible gaming, while bringing in revenue to the commonwealth that is currently going to our neighboring states or to illegal online operators and bookies. This legislation was drafted after reviewing laws in other states, speaking with experts in the industry and takes the best practices and incorporates them into this legislation.”

“I voted no on legalizing sports betting because this bill largely benefits near-monopolistic corporations that run online gambling platforms, such as Draft Kings, by further increasing their profits,” said Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven, D-Somerville. “This bill is another example of the state Legislature prioritizing the interest of corporate lobbyists over the needs of their constituents. With all the struggles the constituents of Massachusetts are facing 16 months into the pandemic, it’s absurd that this bill was a priority for the Legislature this summer.”

A “Yes” vote is for legalized sports betting.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Diversity, equity and inclusion (H 3977)

The House, 159 to 0, approved an amendment to a section of the sports betting bill that provides for a study by the Gaming Commission into the feasibility of allowing retail locations in the state to operate sports wagering kiosks. The amendment requires the commission to include in the study the economic impact of authorizing this method of sports wagering on businesses owned by people of color; recommendations to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion are included in this method of sports wagering; and a requirement that the commission consult retailers, convenience stores, restaurants, women- and minority-owned businesses, and small business owners.

“As we prepare to once again welcome a multi-billion-dollar industry into the commonwealth of Massachusetts, I humbly ask my fellow colleagues … to join me in supporting and prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Rep. Orlando Ramos, D-Springfield, on the House floor during debate. “Allowing for casinos and existing online gaming apps to monopolize yet another multi-billion-dollar industry will only help further widen the wealth and income gap because I’m certain there are no Black and Brown-owned casinos in Massachusetts, and to my knowledge there are no major Black and Brown-owned sports apps.”

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

$261.6 million supplemental budget (H 3973)

The Senate, 40 to 0, approved and the House, on a voice vote without a roll call, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a $261.6 million fiscal year 2021 supplemental budget to begin to close out the books on the fiscal year that ended on June 30. A key provision extends until Dec. 15 the practice of voting early by mail that was implemented during the 2020 election held in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other provisions in the bill include $12.5 million to cover costs related to the implementation of last year’s law making major changes in the state’s policing system; $27.9 million for one-time payments, ranging from $525 to $580 per child, to families that receive Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children benefits; $13 million for National Guard activations, including COVID-19-related activations; $7.8 million for home health aide rate increases; $5.4 million for the Chelsea and Holyoke Soldiers’ Homes for pandemic-related expenses; and the establishment of a new Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) board of directors that replaces the current Fiscal Management and Control Board.

“This budget allows us to pay our bills and address time-sensitive needs, while meeting the immediate challenges facing our commonwealth by investing in our early educator workforce, helping vulnerable families and fulfilling our funding obligations to ensure timely implementation of the police reform law,” said Senate Ways and Means chair Sen. Mike Rodrigues, D-Westport.

The measure was approved in the House during an informal session at which there can be no roll calls, but where it only takes one member to stop the proceedings if he or she disagrees with anything. Any representative who was against the voting by mail extension or any other part of the bill could have objected to taking up the measure and postpone its consideration until a formal session when there could be a roll call vote. But no one did.

Although no legislators spoke against the extension or the entire bill on the floor, there were critics following the House vote. The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance said that “important policies that fundamentally change the way Massachusetts holds elections should go through the scrutiny of the normal legislative vetting process and not be bundled into an unrelated bill with little public transparency.”

“Even without the pandemic-related vote by mail program, the regular law in place allows any voter who cannot vote in person on Election Day to request an absentee ballot and vote,” added the group’s spokesperson Paul Craney. “Massachusetts also continues to have several weeks of early voting available. There’s simply no reason to put potentially millions of ballots in the mail, expanding room for error. As the Legislature continues to keep the State House locked down and play games with the process to change the way elections are held, they will continue to erode trust in our election system.”

“Rather than make the Democrats come in and actually have to vote on this legislation, (GOP House Minority Leader) Rep. Brad Jones, as he has done time and time again, stood by and did nothing,” said Massachusetts Republican Party Chair Jim Lyons. “The GOP has to stand up and be an effective opposition party. Anyone with even minor concerns about mail-in voting should be outraged by this maneuver. Election integrity is one of the most important issues in America right now and, based upon our experience with Boston election officials massively undercounting votes in 2020, our concerns are 100 percent valid.”

“Chairman Lyons seems to have forgotten or been distracted by the referral of his campaign finance activities to the attorney general for investigation to recognize that on June 10, the entire House Republican Caucus voted unanimously to oppose an amendment to make mail-in voting permanent in Massachusetts,” responded Rep. Jones. “Introducing such a significant change to our election laws will have far-reaching implications and therefore deserves to be vigorously debated and vetted by the House and Senate. The final language contained in the supplemental budget is very narrow in scope and simply responds to concerns raised by multiple communities to provide for a temporary extension through Dec. 15 so they can have more flexibility in conducting municipal elections this fall on the same basis as communities with elections on June 30 or prior.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Also up on Beacon HillTax on purchase of homes for more than $1 million (H 2895)

The Revenue Committee held a virtual hearing on legislation that would allow cities and towns to impose a fee of up to 2 percent on homebuyers who purchase property for more than $1 million. The funds would be used “for the creation and preservation of affordable housing in municipalities for the benefit of low- and moderate-income households or for the funding of community housing.”

The tax would require approval by the city council in cities and by Town Meeting voters in towns. The tax would be only on the amount above $1 million. Municipalities would also have the option to raise the $1 million threshold to any higher amount and/or reduce the tax to any percentage.

“Massachusetts is in the midst of a profoundly unaffordable housing crisis where ultra-wealthy homebuyers are displacing lifelong residents and not enough units exist to house working families,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth. “This bill gives communities the option, if they choose to enact it, to impose a small fee on ultra-rich people buying luxury homes and properties to fund affordable housing across the state and create a lasting solution to our housing crisis.”

“(This bill is) another tax scheme that would extract an additional 2 percent tax on homes sold for over $1 million, a price that through market appreciation alone is closing in on many properties and homebuyers in the high cost-of-living Bay State,” said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “When is enough enough? I very much doubt it ever will be so long as voters keep re-electing the same politicians.”

Mandatory diaper-changing stations (S 2035)

The State Administration and Regulatory Oversight Committee held a virtual hearing on a bill that would require all new and substantially renovated buildings “reasonably expected to be open to the public” to have at least one diaper-changing table in bathrooms regardless of gender. Examples include grocery stores, movie theaters, restaurants and retail stores.

“This legislation was drafted in partnership with my constituent Josh Polonsky,” said sponsor Sen. Brendan Crighton, D-Lynn. “While visiting a family restaurant with his 1-year-old daughter, Josh and his wife discovered that the establishment had no changing table in either restroom. We hope this bill will help ensure no parent should have to go out with their child having to worry about finding a safe and clean place to change their child’s diaper, resorting to changing their baby’s diaper on their laps, benches or dirty bathroom floors.”

Special commission on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (H 2112)

The Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery Committee held a virtual hearing on a proposal establishing a 15-member commission to study and investigate Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) including prevention and treatment of the disorder and an assessment of the impact of a PTSD diagnosis and treatment on access to health insurance, retirement benefits and disability benefits. The study would also include an examination of the issue of PTSD related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The need to consider services, treatments, policies and programs related to PTSD … is even more needed as we tentatively prepare for a long recovery from the (COVID-19) pandemic,” said sponsor Rep. Kate Lipper-Garabedian, D-Melrose. “Among those who have suffered the most are our health care heroes, neighbors who have been on the front lines, tirelessly fighting the disease day-in and day-out. In their professional roles, these individuals have seen unprecedented suffering and death. Often, they were the only people to be with dying residents in their final hours, given prohibitions on family and friend visitation. Many caught the deadly virus themselves. Our health care providers now face a high risk of PTSD.”

Provide recall notices to vehicles owners during state inspections (S 245)

The Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee held a virtual hearing on a measure that would require Massachusetts vehicle inspection facilities to provide, as part of the inspection process, a notice to vehicle owners of any manufacturer recalls to their vehicle. The notice would inform the vehicle owner that the manufacturer will remedy the defect free of charge and that, with some exceptions, the vehicle registration will not be extended by the state unless the defect is remedied.

“Ensuring that vehicles that have been recalled are taken off the roads and repaired is of the upmost importance, for the driver and for our general public safety,” said sponsor Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield. “The inspection process is a clear opportunity to make vehicle owners aware of possible recalls and defects to their vehicle prior to any road accidents happening.”

Lottery for low license plates

The Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) is now accepting applications for the 2021 Low Number License Plate Lottery. This year’s batch includes 200 low license plates. The lowest plates available are F1, P3, X6, 1H and 1Z. The highest plate is 9987. And in between are dozens of three-digit and four-digit plates.

Applications are available online at mass.gov/rmv. The deadline to apply is Aug. 27, and the virtual drawing will take place on Sept. 8.

Prior to the establishment of this lottery several years ago, these plates were given away under the old-school system that gave the plates to “well-connected” drivers.

Protection for victims of human trafficking

Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford, filed the first comprehensive bill in the country to combat human trafficking in 2005. Success came in 2011 when the Legislature approved and the governor signed legislation that criminalized human trafficking for commercial and sexual exploitation of people, including severe punishments ranging from five years to life imprisonment. It also provided survivors with protections and created a fund to benefit survivors, fueled by assets seized from convicted traffickers.

Montigny has been the leader in Massachusetts’ effort to stop this horror and had another successful effort this year. When Gov. Charlie Baker signed the $48.1 billion fiscal year 2022 state budget into law, it included Montigny’s new 2021 law that will provide victims of violent crime and human trafficking enhanced protections.

“These protections for victims and survivors are long overdue,” Montigny said. “We know from talking with advocates and community partners that this type of violence has thrived during the pandemic, which has inflicted intense financial pressures, family illness, heightened workplace demands and increased levels of isolation. I hope that our action within this budget will provide enhanced access to the resources and protections necessary to escape such abuse, especially at a time when immigrants have been the target of intense fearmongering and attacks in our political discourse.”


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