By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll-call votes in the House or Senate last week.

ALSO ON BEACON HILL

CHOKING ON FOOD (H 1462): The House approved and sent to the Senate a proposal expanding the current law that requires restaurants with more than 25 seats to have on the premises an employee trained in manual procedures to remove food lodged in a customer's throat. The measure would make the requirements apply to all restaurants regardless of their seating capacity. The measure also exempts take-out only restaurants. The American Red Cross offers a $50 two-hour restaurant emergency program that includes teaching choke-saver skills.

Supporters said this would close a dangerous loophole and noted customers can choke on food regardless of the size of the restaurant.

Opponents said the bill is well-intentioned but unfortunately would be another costly burden on an already struggling hospitality industry.

THE GOVERNOR VS. THE LEGISLATURE ON SICK-LEAVE BANK LEGISLATION: The House and Senate approved and Gov. Deval Patrick vetoed a bill establishing a sick-leave bank for a cancer-stricken employee of the Department of Health and Human Services. The measure, a common practice for years, allows employees to voluntarily donate sick, personal or vacation days to a sick leave bank for use by an ill fellow state worker so he or she can get paid while on medical leave. Sick-leave banks are typically approved when an individual has limited sick, personal or vacation time left.

Supporters said this case is unique because the employee has advanced cancer and anticipates that her remaining accumulated paid sick time will be depleted very shortly. They said this is a proactive measure to guarantee the sick-leave bank is in place for the employee and to prevent her from worrying about its passage when her health deteriorates at a more rapid pace.

In his veto message, the governor said the employee "currently is attending work and has not indicated a need to take a leave." Patrick continued, "She currently has over 700 hours of leave time available to her should the need arise. As such, this legislation appears unnecessary at this time."

The Legislature continues to meet only in informal sessions in which no roll calls are allowed. The governor's veto cannot be overridden without a roll-call vote. So unless the governor changes his mind, the bill will likely die when the 2012 session ends in January.

Beacon Hill Roll Call is withholding the name of the employee to protect her privacy.

POWER OUTAGES (H 3829): Requires electric utilities, after the first eight hours of a power outage, to rebate customers the amount equal to two days of their average prior month's electric bill for each day they are without power.

REPEAL BOTTLE BILL (H 3046): Repeals the state's 30-year-old bottle bill that requires a five-cent deposit on beer and soda containers.

LARGER TYPE AND AMPLIFIERS (H 3298 and H 3299): This pair requires telephone companies to enlarge the size of the type used in printed telephone directories and public pay phones to be equipped with a hearing amplification device.

HIGH-RISK SEX OFFENDERS MUST VOTE ABSENTEE (H 188): Prohibits Level 3 (high-risk) sex offenders from voting at schools and libraries and requiring them to vote by absentee ballot.

ALLOW NONCITIZENS TO VOTE (H 202): Permits cities and towns to allow noncitizens over age 18 to vote in local municipal elections. These noncitizens would be eligible only if they certify in writing that they live in the city or town and "intend in good faith to become a U.S. citizen and intend to begin that process, if eligible." Communities could adopt this law if it is approved by the local governing body and by the voters on a local ballot question.

LEASING HOME PHONES (H 2624): Requires phone companies to specify on all bills the exact charge to a customer who is still leasing his or her telephone. Once the customer's cumulative payments for the leased equipment equal or exceed its fair market value, the customer owns the phone at no additional cost except for a "reasonable finance charge." The customer has the option to refuse ownership of the phone in writing and continue to lease. 

Supporters say that many elderly customers have continued leasing phones -- a carryover from decades ago when all phones were leased. They note that many don't even know there's an option to buy and over the years have paid thousands of dollars to continue to rent the phones.

HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK'S SESSION? During the week of Oct. 8, the House met for a total of 46 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 25 minutes.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com.