By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll call votes in the House or Senate last week.
This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call examines the percentage of times local senators in 2013 voted with the Senate Democratic leadership on key roll call votes.
Beacon Hill Roll Call uses 215 key votes from the 2013 Senate session as the basis for this report. This includes all roll calls that were not on local issues.
The three senators, all Democrats, who voted with the leadership 100 percent of the time are Sens. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre; Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester; and Jennifer Flanagan, D-Leominster.
The senator who voted the lowest percentage of times with the Democratic leadership is Sen. Bob Hedlund, R-Weymouth. He supported the leadership only 50.9 percent of the time.
The next two who voted the least with the leadership are not surprisingly also members of the GOP: Sens. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, 62.3 percent, and Richard Ross, R-Wrentham, 63.0 percent.
The three Democrats who voted with the leadership the lowest percentage of times are Sens. James Timilty, D-Walpole, 76.7 percent; Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, 78.5 percent; and Kathleen O'Connor-Ives, D-Newburyport, 89.7 percent.
The 33 other Democrats all voted with the leadership more than 90 percent of the time.
PERCENTAGE OF TIMES LOCAL SENATORS VOTED WITH DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP POSITION
Here is how local senators fared in their support of the Democratic leadership on 215 key roll calls.
The percentage next to the senator's name represents the percentage of times the senator supported the Democratic leadership.
The number in parentheses represents the number of times the senator opposed the Democratic leadership.
Some senators voted on all 215 roll call votes. Others missed one or more of the 215 votes. The percentage for each senator is calculated based on the number of roll calls on which he or she voted and does not count the roll calls for which he or she was not recorded as voting.
Sen. Eileen Donoghue, 94.8 percent (11); Sen. James Eldridge, 94.8 percent (11); Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, 100 percent (0).
ALSO ON BEACON HILL
ALLOW LIQUOR STORES TO OPEN EARLIER ON SUNDAYS (H 228): The House gave initial approval to a bill that would allow liquor stores to open at 10 a.m. on Sundays. Current law prohibits stores from opening until noon.
Supporters said this would help Massachusetts stores, especially border ones, to compete with neighboring Rhode Island and Connecticut, which allow sales at 10 a.m. They noted that revenue has increased in stores that allow earlier Sunday alcohol sales, which in turn increases tax dollars for the state.
Opponents disagreed and said that the additional hours would not result in additional revenue but would simply spread out current sales over more hours. Some expressed concern that the earlier opening might force small businesses to open earlier to stay competitive with the larger stores.
HISTORICAL COMMISSIONS (H 3679): The House and Senate approved and sent to the governor a measure that would allow cities and towns to have alternate members on their historical commissions. Current law allows this only for zoning boards of appeal and planning boards.
Supporters said it is often difficult in the winter months in places like Cape Cod and the Berkshires to find a quorum of commission members. They noted this often causes unnecessary delays on projects for several weeks until the members return from vacation and a quorum is present.
LIMIT FEES CHARGED BY CHECK-CASHING STORES (H 223): The House gave initial approval to a bill that would set a cap on the fee percentage check-cashing stores are allowed to charge. The cap includes a 2.25 percent cap plus a dollar service fee for payroll checks over $100 and a 5 percent cap or $5, whichever is less, plus a dollar service fee for personal checks over $100. This type of business is growing and even some of the big chain stores like Walmart are getting involved. A 2012 survey by the state showed these fees ranged from a low of 2.39 percent for a payroll check between $100 to $500 to a high of 6.83 percent for personal checks of $100 or less.
Supporters said of the 34 states that regulate check-cashing stores, Massachusetts is one of eight that do not regulate the fees that may be charged. They argued these operations are often located in low-income neighborhoods and take advantage of vulnerable residents.
REGULATE TREATMENT OF ADDICTION TO PAINKILLERS (S 1926): The House gave initial approval to legislation that would allow the state to regulate the use of Suboxone, a buprenorphine-based drug used for outpatient treatment of opioid dependency including addiction to heroin, OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, Demerol and some other pain-killing drugs. Under a 2000 federal law, any physician who completes a one-day training course is allowed to prescribe and dispense the drug in their office.
Supporters said Suboxone treatment must be more strictly regulated because it has become one of the most abused and diverted drugs. They noted the bill will give the state the power to regulate it instead of blindly following loose federal regulations.
COURT RULES JUVENILE KILLERS ELIGIBLE FOR PAROLE: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court struck down a current state law that provides for life sentences without parole for juveniles under 18 who are convicted of first-degree murder.
"Simply put, because the brain of a juvenile is not fully developed, either structurally or functionally, by the age of 18, a judge cannot find with confidence that a particular offender, at that point in time, is irretrievably depraved," the court opined in ruling the law unconstitutional. Repeal of the law is retroactive and will result in parole hearings for 63 prisoners after they have served the mandatory 15 years required to be considered for parole.
The controversial decision stems from the case of then 17-year-old Gregory Diatchenko, who has served 31 years in prison since he was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for stabbing Thomas Wharf in Boston in 1981. The SJC ruled that Diatchenko is now eligible for parole.
Gov. Patrick applauded the decision. "Young people, even ones who commit terrible crimes, are developmentally and now constitutionally different from adults. Our SJC has wisely held that, while violent felons will be held accountable, youthful ones deserve every opportunity for rehabilitation," the governor said.
Opponents said the ruling will give juveniles who committed heinous murders the opportunity to be paroled after just 15 years while the families of the victims are sentenced to a lifetime without their loved ones. Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett, who is also president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, said, "I am concerned for families who thought they had finality about their loved ones being murdered. Now they have to go through these parole hearings."
MONEY FOR MILK FARMERS (H 751): The House and Senate gave final approval to and sent to Gov. Patrick a bill that would reimburse small independent dairy farmers from a special insurance fund created in the 1980s to protect farmers when dairy processors go out of business without paying the farmer. The program is funded by the dairy farmers themselves and has been used in the past but has been mostly stagnant for years.
Supporters said farmers would be reimbursed based on what they have contributed to the fund over the years and noted the bill does not cost the state any money. They estimated that the state's 100 or so dairy farmers would receive amounts ranging from $10,000 to $20,000.
"I don't know this cousin, at least not well. I'd like to (meet him)."
Gov. Patrick on his first cousin, Reynolds Allen Wintersmith, whose 1994 life sentence for dealing crack cocaine was recently commuted by President Obama.
"I have a lot of concerns about the impact on our criminal justice system, and on the prisons in particular, of nonviolent drug offenders and the mandatory minimum around that ... If there was a way to relieve the crowding in the prisons by commuting a class of those cases, I'd be very interested in doing it."
Gov. Patrick on the possibility of commuting the sentences of any prisoners before his term ends in 2015. He has not pardoned or commuted the sentences of any prisoners in the seven years he has been in the corner office.
"With current scientific evidence in mind, we conclude that the discretionary imposition of a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole on juveniles who are under the age of 18 when they commit murder in the first degree violates the prohibition against 'cruel or unusual punishment.'"
From the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision striking down a law allowing juveniles to be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
"Limits imposed by the executive branch on hiring permanent employees have led to using temporary employees to meet permanent staffing needs."
From an investigation by Inspector General Glenn Cunha reporting that some state agencies are getting around the limits on hiring permanent employees by hiring temporary ones and keeping them for a long period of time.
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at email@example.com.