By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll call votes in the House or Senate during the week of Dec. 9-13. The House and Senate are meeting only in brief, informal sessions until January and there will not be any additional roll calls until that time. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call reports local representatives' final roll call attendance records for the 2013 session.
The House has held 279 roll call votes. Beacon Hill Roll Call tabulates the number of roll calls for which each representative was present and voting and then calculates that number as a percentage of the total roll call votes held. That percentage is the roll call attendance record.
Several quorum roll calls, used to gather a majority of members onto the House floor to conduct business, are also included in the 279 roll calls. On quorum roll calls, members simply vote "present" in order to indicate their presence in the chamber. When a representative does not indicate his or her presence on a quorum roll call, we count that as a roll call absence just like any other roll call absence.
Only 36 percent or 55 of the 158 House members have perfect 100 percent roll call attendance records.
Some representatives may have poor attendance records because of a variety of reasons, including health problems or military service. Beacon Hill Roll Call does not ask each individual representative why he or she missed roll call votes.
The worst roll call attendance record belongs to Rep. Benjamin Swan, D-Springfield, who missed 41 roll calls (85.3 percent roll call attendance record).
Rounding out the top five worst are Reps. Aaron Michlewitz, D-Boston, and Rep. Bradford Hill, R-Ipswich, who both missed 36 roll calls (87 percent attendance) and Reps. Joseph Wagner, D-Chicopee, and William Pignatelli, D-Lenox, who both missed 31 roll calls (88.8 percent attendance.)
REPRESENTATIVES' FINAL 2013 ROLL CALL ATTENDANCE RECORDS
The percentage listed next to the representative's name is the percentage of roll call votes for which the representative was present and voting. The number in parentheses represents the number of roll calls that the representative missed.
Rep. Jennifer Benson, 97.8 percent (6); Rep. Sheila Harrington, 99.6 percent (1).
LOWER TUITION FOR ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS (H 1078) -- The Higher Education Committee heard testimony on a bill allowing some illegal immigrants to pay the in-state tuition rates and fees at Massachusetts universities. To qualify, the student must have attended a high school in Massachusetts for at least three years and have graduated or received the equivalent of a diploma. The measure also requires these students to provide the university with an affidavit stating that he or she has filed or will in the future file an application to become a citizen or permanent resident.
Supporters said that many of these students were babies when they were brought here by their parents and had no choice about entering the country illegally. They argued that many are unable to afford the five-times-higher tuition for out-of-state students and end up skipping college and working in low-pay, low-skilled jobs.
No opponents testified against the bill. In the past, opponents have said the state should not offer financial rewards to anyone who has broken the law and is in this country illegally. They've noted that it is inappropriate to offer low tuition rates to these students while legal citizens from outside Massachusetts, including war veterans, are required to pay higher rates if they attend a Massachusetts state school.
PAY GAS TAX BASED ON MILES TRAVELED (H 3142) -- The Transportation Committee held a hearing on a bill that would establish a pilot program taxing drivers for each mile they drive. The pilot program would include 1,000 drivers who will have on-board mileage-counting equipment added to their vehicles. The bill is unclear on whether the mileage tax would replace the current gas tax or be in addition to it.
Supporters said the tax is necessary to raise revenue to fund the state's crucial transportation programs. They argued it would help determine whether this tax can be imposed while still protecting the privacy of drivers.
Opponents said this is nothing more than another unnecessary tax and noted the state recently raised the gas tax by 3 cents per gallon. They argued the bill would also invade people's privacy and provide the government with a record of each driver's travels.
INMATES PAY COSTS (S 1173) -- The Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee held a hearing on legislation that would require prison inmates who are not indigent, pregnant, terminally ill or confined in a hospital to pay the state $2 per day to defray the cost of incarceration.
Amendment supporters say it is time these criminals share a small portion of the financial burden of incarcerating them.
Amendment opponents say the proposal is misguided and mean-spirited and argued the revenues will amount to less than the cost of administering the program.
OTHER PUBLIC SAFETY BILLS -- Other measures on the committee's agenda include requiring that all school buses seating more than 16 and manufactured after January 1, 2013, be equipped with seat belts (H 2122); prohibiting the use of restraints on pregnant inmates while they are being driven to doctors' offices and the courts (S 1125); banning inmates from using cellphones or other handheld electronic transmission devices and adding a minimum one-year additional prison sentence on violators (H 2169); and requiring all drivers of recreational vehicles (RVs) to take a new state-run educational safety program for the operation of RVs.
ASSISTED SUICIDE (H 1998) -- The Public Health Committee's agenda also included a proposal allowing physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill. Voters defeated a similar measure on the 2012 ballot by a slim 51 percent to 49 percent margin.
HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK'S SESSION? During the week of December 9-13, the House met for a total of 25 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 28 minutes.