Beacon Hill Roll Call: Oct. 4 to Oct. 8, 2021

  • The House, 156 to 1, approved a bill that would make changes and put Massachusetts in line with other larger egg-producing states that have put in place standards for hen confinement. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Published: 10/14/2021 2:12:57 PM
Modified: 10/14/2021 2:13:01 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of Oct. 4 to Oct. 8.

Hens (H 4194)

The House, 156 to 1, approved a bill that would make changes and put Massachusetts in line with other larger egg-producing states that have put in place standards for hen confinement. In 2016, Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly passed Question 3 to prevent cruelty to farm animals. At the time it was the strongest law for farm animals in history, but since then, leading retailers, producers and other states mandated even stronger standards in the shift to cage-free conditions for hens. Supporters said the bill will ensure Massachusetts adapts to the new science unavailable in 2016.

“The updates in today’s bill are consistent with the goals of the law passed in 2016 and, in certain cases, actually strengthen animal protections,” said Rep. Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston. “This legislation is time sensitive. Without these updates, we know that many egg producers both inside and outside of Massachusetts who have upgraded their facilities to the emerging national standards won’t be able to provide eggs to our residents as early as the first of the year. This is particularly concerning because we know that many families, particularly those experiencing food insecurity, rely on eggs as an essential, low-cost source of protein.”

Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, the only representative to vote against the bill, did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call for a comment.

The Senate approved a different version of the bill in June. The House version now goes back to the Senate for consideration.

“Massachusetts is now an outlier, which could threaten our supply of eggs,” said Senate sponsor Sen. Jason Lewis, D-Winchester. “Fortunately, the egg producers and animal welfare groups have come together to agree on this legislation, ensuring safe and humane conditions for egg-laying hens and affordable eggs for Massachusetts consumers.”

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

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Free school breakfast and lunch (H 3999)

The House, 157 to 0, and the Senate on a voice vote without a roll call, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a bill that would require schools in which a majority of students come from low-income families to provide universal free breakfast and lunch to all students. The program would be paid for by the federal government.

The legislation also abolishes policies that can shame students for having unpaid school meal debt. It prohibits schools from publicly identifying a student who has a meal debt; disposing of an already served meal because of the student’s lack of funds to pay for the meal or because of unresolved meal debt; denying a student a meal as a form of behavioral discipline or punishment; and not allowing a student or a sibling of a student from attending or participating in extracurricular activities, field trips or school events and from receiving grades, official transcripts, report cards or from graduating or attending graduation events solely because of unresolved meal debt.

“With the historically high percentage of economically disadvantaged students across the state, it makes sense to lock in this data now, which the federal government recognizes for at least the next four years,” said co-sponsor Rep. Andy Vargas, D-Haverhill.

“The practice of identifying and shaming children and families who are unable to afford food is archaic and must end immediately,” said co-sponsor Rep. Sean Garballey, D-Arlington. “This legislation is in line with the commonwealth’s values of supporting our most vulnerable citizens.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Election law changes (S 2545)

The Senate, 36 to 3, approved and sent to the House a bill making permanent the mail-in and early voting options used in Massachusetts in 2020. Other provisions include same-day voter registration; ensuring that individuals who are incarcerated who are eligible to vote are provided with voting information and materials to exercise their right to vote, and that individuals who are incarcerated but prohibited from voting are notified of their right to vote upon release and given the opportunity to fill out a voter registration form; allowing U.S. service members and other citizens residing overseas to cast their votes electronically; and requiring the secretary of state to conduct a comprehensive public awareness campaign to publicize the new voting and registration options.

“The provisions contained within this bill, including same-day voter registration, early voting and permanent vote-by-mail, will make it much easier to vote in Massachusetts — which is especially important for those individuals and communities that have struggled to vote or who have been disenfranchised in the past,” said Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland. “I am excited to see this bill signed into law so that all of our citizens will have expanded access to voting, our most sacred right as Americans.”

“This bill was too far reaching in the election policies it sets out to accomplish,” said Sen. Ryan Fattman, R-Sutton, one of the three senators who voted against the bill. “Measures like universal mail-in ballots were specifically intended to keep people safe during the pandemic, but the costs levied by making this measure permanent would be too costly for small municipalities like some that I represent. I am not sure at this point that we have the safeguards in place to ensure confidence in our electoral system. Eighteen thousand mail-in ballots were rejected in last year’s state primary, and we must work to improve the efficacy of this system before we implement sweeping measures.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Dropboxes for voters (S 2545)

The Senate, 13 to 25, rejected an amendment that would require each city and town to have at least one ballot dropbox for voters to deposit their ballots from the day the ballots are printed and that remains available to voters until the polls close on election day. The amendment requires municipalities with more than 25,000 voters to provide one dropbox per 25,000 voters and requires the boxes to be in a public location that is accessible to voters for at least 12 hours per day.

“During the 2020 election, we witnessed how the expanded use of ballot dropboxes provided a safe, convenient and accessible way of voting amid a global pandemic,” said amendment sponsor Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham. “However, in some of our largest cities and smaller towns, dropboxes were not a viable voting option because they weren’t accessible, weren’t open or didn’t even exist. We can fix that problem, setting baseline standards for municipal ballot dropbox accessibility.”

“Mandating that municipalities maintain one ballot dropbox per 25,000 residents would create substantial new costs and obligations,” said Sen. Cindy Creem, D-Newton. “Not only would municipalities have to purchase and deploy the dropbox, they would have to devote staff time to the periodic collection of ballots and to collecting ballots on election day when they are already stretched thin and concerned about the work they have to do.”

A “Yes” vote is for the ballot dropbox requirements. A “No” vote is against them.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — No

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Permanent voting by mail option (S 2545)

The Senate, 7 to 31, rejected an amendment that would allow voters to choose to become a permanent voter by mail for all future elections, a temporary voter by mail for all elections in a calendar year or a temporary voter by mail for one specific election. The measure automatically enrolls voters who voted by mail in the 2020 state primary and general election as permanent mail voters. Voters would also have the option to change their status at any time.

Sponsor Sen. Becca Rausch said the state does not require voters to reregister every year and should not require voters to sign up for various voting methods each year.

“By allowing voters to choose automatic delivery of a ballot in every election, we tear down unnecessary barriers to exercising the right to vote,” Rausch said. “Every extra step we add to the process of voting — including forcing people to opt into vote by mail annually — places another burden on the voter in their exercising of this fundamental right. Elections must be accessible for all voters, plain and simple. Expanding voting options to include a permanent vote by mail status is one way we can empower voters to exercise their fundamental right to vote.”

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against it.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — No

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — No

Workers get paid time off to vote (S 2545)

The Senate, 12 to 26, rejected an amendment that would require all employers to give each worker two hours of paid time off per election to vote. The employee could use that two hours to vote early in-person, vote by mail or vote on election day. The amendment would replace a current law that is narrower and requires the worker to apply for a leave of absence to vote and only allows the worker to vote during the two hours after the polls open on election day.

“Workers should not have to choose between earning a paycheck and exercising their fundamental right to vote,” said sponsor Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham. “Where Massachusetts should be a leader in the nation on the issue of granting paid time off to head to the polls, we are notably far behind. Twenty-three other states and the District of Columbia already enacted paid time off for voting, and our commonwealth’s citizens deserve the same.”

“I think if we really want to have a discussion about how we really wanna help people that are working two, three, four jobs, we should have that discussion,” said Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover. “But I don’t think this (amendment) solves that. There is a problem out there, that we did not have enough people in lower social economic communities take advantage of vote by mail, because they don’t trust the post office and there’s a lot of misconceptions up there. That is something I believe we need to work on, but I don’t think this is gonna be the solution to get people from lower social economic communities to come out to vote even more. I do think that with some of the things we have passed, having a better public relations campaign explaining the benefits of vote by mail, that is how we can get people from lower social economic communities to get out.”

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against it.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — No

Sen. Anne Gobi — No

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Public awareness campaign (S 2545)

The Senate, 38 to 0, approved an amendment that would require the secretary of state, via digital and social media and other means, to conduct “a linguistically diverse and culturally competent public awareness campaign” to inform voters of the election law changes in the bill. The secretary would also be required to ensure specific outreach is done for groups and communities that have underused vote-by-mail and early voting.

“We can’t achieve our goal of expanding ballot box access unless the voters know about these substantial reforms,” said sponsor Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham. “A culturally relevant and linguistically diverse outreach campaign will support voters in exercising their constitutional right to vote.”

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Overseas voting (S 2545)

The Senate, 38 to 0, approved an amendment that would allow residents who are serving in the armed forces overseas and their families, as well as any Massachusetts citizen living in a foreign country, to cast their vote electronically through an online portal.

Amendment supporters said the current process for voting from overseas is complex and burdensome. The voter is required to communicate with their local clerk, receive their ballot, print it out and fax, scan or mail it back. They noted that military members often do not have functioning printers, scanners or fax machines available to them on military installations or are out on missions that take them away from their installations.

“When you are in the military, the focus is always on the mission at hand,” said sponsor Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield. “We as a commonwealth have an obligation to make this process as easy as possible so that our military members can exercise their right to vote and get back to their mission. At the most fundamental level, this amendment is about making it easier to vote for those who have given us our right to vote.”

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Also up on Beacon HillRaise fines for animal cruelty (H 2132)

A bill before the Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government would amend current law that imposes up to a seven-year prison sentence and/or a $5,000 fine for a first offense of animal cruelty and a 10-year prison sentence and/or a $10,000 fine for a second offense. The bill leaves the prison sentences as they are, but raises the fines to $5,500 for a first offense and $11,000 for subsequent offenses. It also creates a special account where up to $500 for a first offense and up to $1,000 for subsequent offenses would go to fund improvements to animal shelters in the city or town in which the violations occurred.

“We need to set a stronger precedent that animal cruelty will not be tolerated,” said sponsor Rep. Bruce Ayers, D-Quincy. “The additional funds generated through this bill will help subsidize much-needed improvements to animal shelters across Massachusetts, putting the financial burden on the backs of those who violate the law.”

Sports betting

Is sports betting in Massachusetts stalling out or moving forward? Should the state legalize it or stay away from the practice? Find out more on Tuesday, Oct. 26, at 9 a.m. during a MASSterList and State House News Service virtual panel discussion with legislators and key experts in the field. To register for this free webinar, visit bit.ly/3lGkZsT.

$25 million to promote businesses, tourism (S 2242)

A bill before the Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development Committee would create a $15 million grant program administered by the Office of Travel and Tourism to provide tourism and visitor marketing funds to businesses and regional tourism councils. The measure is aimed at promoting and advertising visitation and tourism to create jobs, support hospitality and tourism-related businesses, and stimulate the state and local economies. The measure also provides another $10 million for grants for small businesses for marketing campaigns.

“Massachusetts invests far less for the promotion of travel and tourism than other states with comparable population size,” said sponsor Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro. “We are not supporting our tourism industry as we should, and as a result, our residents who make a living from this industry are suffering. Without being forward-thinking about tourism promotion, we give up ground to competing states that choose to put real dollars behind tourism promotion initiatives.”

Impact of substance abuse on minority communities (H 2126)

The Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery Committee held a virtual hearing on a proposal that would create a commission to study the disproportionate impact substance use disorders and overdoses have on the minority community in Massachusetts and on the disparities in substance use disorder treatment access.

“Many studies conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration have concluded that the opioid crisis in the Black and Latino communities is an urgent issue,” said sponsor Rep. Orlando Ramos, D-Springfield. “There remains significant opportunity to improve access and integration of care for substance use disorders, particularly for minority communities. These communities are disproportionately impacted by the use of substances, in many instances using at higher rates and suffer worse treatment outcomes. Traditionally, interventions have not adequately been tailored to meet the needs of these communities thus leading to lower engagement and retention rates in care. To have an impact on reducing these striking disparities, it is imperative that we not only study but include the voices and experiences of those communities in the solutions as well.”

Death penalty for murder of law enforcement officers (H 1552)

The Judiciary Committee held a virtual hearing on legislation that would institute the death penalty for anyone convicted of the murder of a law enforcement officer including police officers, firefighters, court officers, prison guards, parole officers and probation officers.

“Each and every day our law enforcement officers put their lives on the line to protect us and to ensure the safety of everyone in the commonwealth,” said sponsor Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk. “We have seen an uptick of violence directed back at them. Since our officers each day stand ready to offer us the ultimate sacrifice, we should be prepared to offer them the same level of protection.”

$500,000 in grants for startup companies (S 277)

The Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies held a virtual hearing on a measure that would establish a pilot program to offer $500,000 in competitive grants for startup companies owned by Massachusetts residents.

“This pilot grant program would allow the commonwealth to provide the startup capital necessary for new small businesses to get off the ground,” said Sen. Patrick O’Connor, R-Weymouth. “This represents another tool we can use to support the many talented individuals who call Massachusetts home and help grow our economy.”


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