By Bob Katzen

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

This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call reviews local senators' votes from the 2011-2012 session on eight key proposals to increase or reduce taxes.

REDUCE SALES TAX TO 5 PERCENT (S 3): Senate 10-28 in 2011 and 5-31 in 2012, rejected an amendment to reduce the state's sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent over a two-year period.

(A "Yes" vote is for the sales tax reduction. A "No" vote is against it.)

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes/No; Sen. James Eldridge, No/No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, No/No

REDUCE SALES TAX TO 5 PERCENT AND REPLACE IT WITH CASINO REVENUE (S 3): Senate 9-27, rejected an amendment to reduce the state's sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent over a two-year period. The amendment also requires 12 percent of the state's revenue from casinos go to the General Fund to compensate for the sales tax reduction.

(A "Yes" vote is for the sales tax reduction. A "No" vote is against it.)

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, No

REDUCE INCOME TAX RATE FROM 5.3 PERCENT TO 5 PERCENT (S 3): Senate 5-33, rejected an amendment reducing the income tax rate from 5.3 percent to 5 percent over three years.

(A "Yes" vote is for the income tax reduction. A "No" vote is against it.)

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, No; Sen. James Eldridge, No; Sen.


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Jennifer Flanagan, No

PERMANENT SALES TAX HOLIDAY (S 3): Senate 4-34, rejected an amendment establishing a permanent annual two-day sales tax holiday in August. The Department of Revenue would choose the dates of the holiday and announce them by July 15 each year.

(A "Yes" vote is for the permanent tax holiday. A "No" vote is against it.)

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, No; Sen. James Eldridge, No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, No

ONE-TIME TWO-DAY SALES TAX HOLIDAY IN AUGUST (S 2350): Senate 28-9 in 2011 and 31-6 in 2012, approved a bill that would allow consumers to buy most products that cost under $2,500 on one Saturday and Sunday in 2011 and 2012 respectively, without paying the state's 6.25 percent sales tax.

(A "Yes" vote is for the one-time tax holiday. A "No" vote is against it.)

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes/Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, No/No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes/Yes

MAKE MORE SENIORS ELIGIBLE FOR TAX BREAK (S 3): Senate 9-29, rejected an amendment that would allow more senior homeowners and renters over 65 to qualify for the state's $970 "senior circuit breaker" tax credit.

(A "Yes" vote is for expanding the tax credit. A "No" vote is against it.)

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, No; Sen. James Eldridge, No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, No

TAX CREDIT FOR BUSINESSES THAT CREATE JOBS (S 2015): Senate 4-32, rejected an amendment using 10 percent of the state's revenue from casinos to provide a tax credit to businesses that create jobs in Massachusetts.

(A "Yes" vote is for the tax credit. A "No" vote is against it.)

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, No; Sen. James Eldridge, No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, No

HIKE TAX ON CIGARS AND SMOKELESS TOBACCO (S 3): Senate 15-23, rejected an amendment that would raise the tax on most cigars and smokeless tobacco to make it equal to the tax on cigarettes.

(A "Yes" vote is for the tax hike. A "No" vote is against it.)

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, No; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, No

ALSO ON BEACON HILL

FUNERAL VEHICLES (H 3390): The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill allowing hearses and other funeral home vehicles to have emergency lights similar to those on police and emergency vehicles when in a funeral procession or when responding to a fatality on behalf of the Chief Medical Examiner's Office. Supporters said a current state regulation permits this but noted the bill would codify it in state law so it can't be changed or reversed administratively by the executive branch.

LONG-TERM CARE INSURANCE (H 4348): Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law a bill regulating long-term care (LTC) insurance in Massachusetts. LTC insurance provides coverage for a wide range of long-term care services and facilities, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities and care at home.

Provisions include requiring the state to develop guidelines consistent with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners model, prohibiting unfair and deceptive sales practices, allowing a policyholder to cancel the policy up to 30 days after the effective date and receive a full refund, requiring the employees of companies that sell LTC insurance to take a minimum eight-hour training course by July 1, 2014 and then continue taking at least four hours of training biennially to keep up with any changes in the regulations.

LAWS TAKING EFFECT: Several laws approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Patrick in August have recently taken effect or are about to do so. Most approved new laws don't take effect until 90 days after the governor signs them. New laws include:

HEARING AIDS (H 52): Effective November 4: Requires health insurance plans to cover the cost of hearing aids for anyone under 21. The measure would require coverage of up to $2,000 per hearing aid every three years. The average price of a hearing aid is estimated at $2,500.

Supporters said it is outrageous that insurance companies have not been required to cover these necessities.

Opponents said the Legislature will drive up health insurance costs if it continues to mandate additional coverage.

CLEFT LIP TREATMENT (H 3928): Effective November 4: Requires health insurance plans to provide coverage for treatment of cleft lip and palate for anyone under 18.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT BILL (H 4352): Effective November 5: An economic development and jobs bill. Provisions include the recent August sales tax holiday that will allow consumers to buy most products under $2,500 without paying the state's 6.25 percent sales tax; a two-year extension of existing state and local permits held by developers who had been unable to proceed with their projects because of tight credit markets; and creation of a MassWorks Infrastructure Program, which will serve as a one-stop shop for infrastructure funding.

Gov. Patrick vetoed several tax-related items and the Legislature never overrode the vetoes. Those items include an expansion of brownfields tax credits, a tax credit equal to the current $456 minimum corporate excise tax for all corporations for their first three tax years, restructuring of corporate tax payments and an increase in historic building rehabilitation tax credits. He said the state cannot afford the loss of millions of dollars in revenue.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

"We are now requesting that the Governor ... appoint an independent investigator to conduct this broader review."

Attorney General Martha Coakley announcing her office will step down from a broader probe of the scandal at the state drug lab. Instead, it will focus on criminal charges against chemist Annie Dookhan, accused of mishandling drug samples and putting in question an estimated 34,000 drug conviction cases.

"As unimpeachable as the Office of the Attorney General is, to truly expedite an incontrovertible resolution to this crisis and fully restore public confidence in our criminal justice system, this expanded investigation must be--and must be seen--to be credible and beyond reproach."

Carol Rose, Executive Director, ACLU of Massachusetts applauding Coakley on her decision.

"There has been a failure of government that has endangered both the public health and the public safety of not only the citizens of Massachusetts but citizens throughout the United States of America. What has happened is inexcusable."

Rep. David Linsky (D-Natick) on his plans to hold hearings on both the state drug lab scandal and the compounding pharmacy at the center of the spread of fungal meningitis to almost 400 people in 19 states, including 23 deaths.

"Oh, they tore themselves away from the Obama (campaign) trail."

House Republican Minority Leader Bradley Jones (R-North Reading) on Democrat Linsky's plan, along with two other Democratic legislators, to conduct the hearings.

"My plans are not dependent upon who's in or who isn't. It's about what I think I could offer and a vision on how do we continue to build on what we've done."

Lt. Gov. Tim Murray on whether he plans to run for governor in 2016.

"(My wife) Barbara and I have talked a little bit about this and we basically said, 'Let's take time after the election to really get into this subject matter in terms of my future and how I can best serve the people of the commonwealth.'"

State Treasurer Steve Grossman on his gubernatorial plans.

HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK'S SESSION? Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time that the House and Senate were in session each week. Many legislators say that legislative sessions are only one aspect of the Legislature's job and that a lot of important work is done outside of the House and Senate chambers. They note that their jobs also involve committee work, research, constituent work and other matters that are important to their districts. Critics say that the Legislature does not meet regularly or long enough to debate and vote in public view on the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been filed. They note that the infrequency and brief length of sessions are misguided and lead to irresponsible late night sessions and a mad rush to act on dozens of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of an annual session.

During the week of October 29-November 2, the House met for a total of 24 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 40 minutes.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com.