By Bob Katzen

There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week. The 2011-2012 legislative session is winding down and ends in early January. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call continues a series of reports highlighting legislation approved by the House and the Senate and signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick in the 2011-2012 session.

COMBAT HUMAN TRAFFICKING (H 3808): House 153-2, Senate 37-0, approved a law aimed at combating human trafficking. The bill creates the crimes of trafficking persons for sexual servitude and forced services, and imposes imprisonment for up to 20 years for violations. If the victim is a child under 18, the prison sentence increases to up to life in prison. Other provisions include one that creates a Victims of Human Trafficking Trust Fund, funded from fines and convicted human traffickers' forfeited assets to provide restitution to victims; and another that increases the punishment for individuals who pay prostitutes for sex.

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

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes

OVERHAUL SYSTEM OF HANDLING RUNAWAY AND TRUANT CHILDREN (S 2410): House 155-0, Senate 39-0, approved a law that makes major changes in the current Children in Need of Services (CHINS) system of handling children who are runaways and truants.


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The measure abolishes the current system, which brings most of these juveniles to court, and replaces it with a statewide community-based intervention network that would provide community services for these children and their families. Children would be diverted from the juvenile legal process and instead be given behavioral, medical and mental-health treatment; special-education evaluations; mentoring, family and parental support; after-school and out-of-school opportunities; and crisis management.

(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes

CHANGES IN TRIAL COURT AND PROBATION DEPARTMENT (H 3644): House 152-0, Senate 39-0, approved a bill that would overhaul the management of the trial court and the hiring process for the Probation Department.

The measure divides up the tasks currently performed by the chief justice for administration and management between a newly created "civilian" Office of Court Management and a chief justice of the Trial Court. The new civilian administrator would handle business functions and the chief justice would tackle all the judicial management responsibilities, including assigning judges. Other provisions include removal of the unilateral hiring power from the probation commissioner; an entrance exam for the hiring and promotion of all probation and court officers; and requiring applicants for state jobs to disclose the names of all immediate family members who are state employees.

(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes

CHANGES TO STATE GOVERNMENT (S 2342): House 152-0, Senate 39-0, approved a law that makes major changes in the way state government operates. Key provisions include requiring monthly rather than quarterly distribution of unrestricted local aid; requiring each state agency to have a performance management system in place; and establishing a commission to make recommendations on the feasibility of moving the state from traditional maintenance-based budgeting to a modern zero-based budgeting process -- a system that would require all state departments to start with zero dollars and prepare and justify their budget regardless of what it was in prior years.

(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes

1,000 NEW UNITS OF HOUSING (S 1967): House 154-0, Senate 38-0, approved a law that would require the creation of up to 1,000 units of supportive housing in Massachusetts by 2015. According to the Citizens' Housing and Planning Association, supportive housing is defined as "affordable housing linked with supportive services designed to help tenants with modest incomes maintain housing stability and maximize their independence."

(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes

POWER OUTAGES (S 2404): House 153-0, Senate 26-0, approved a law regulating the actions of utility companies during and following power outages. A key provision gives the revenue from fines levied on public utility companies directly to ratepayers instead of to the state's coffers.

The law requires public utility companies to provide thrice-daily estimates to customers on when electricity will be restored following a 24-hour damage assessment period. It also requires the companies to set up a well-staffed call center in Massachusetts during major storms.

(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes

MUNICIPAL HEALTH PLAN CHANGES (H 3580): House 150-2, Senate 37-0, approved a law giving local communities more flexibility to make changes to health-insurance plans of their public employees outside of the current full collective-bargaining process.

The law includes expedited collective bargaining to negotiate a new health-insurance benefit plan for employees. If the municipalities and unions fail to reach agreement within 30 days, the case is submitted to a three-person review panel. Municipalities use this process to adopt co-pays and deductibles, along with other cost-sharing health-care plan features that are not higher than those offered by the Group Insurance Commission.

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

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes

SCHOOL EMERGENCY PLANS (S 2132): House 154-0, Senate 35-0, approved a law that requires each school to have a written medical emergency-response plan to "reduce the incidence of life-threatening emergencies and promote efficient responses to such emergencies." The measure is called "Michael's Law" in memory of 16-year-old Michael Ellsessar of Sutton, who died suddenly of cardiac arrest during a high school football game.

Provisions include requiring establishment of a rapid communication system linking all inside and outside parts of the school campus to the emergency medical service system and a method of providing access to training in CPR and first aid for teachers, coaches and other school staff.

(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes

VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS (H 537): House 155-0, Senate 37-0, approved a law that expands protections for volunteer firefighters who risk being fired from their regular day job if they miss work or are late for work because of an emergency call. Current law defines an emergency call as one in which the employee is responding to, working at the scene of or returning from a fire.

The bill expands the definition to include rescues, emergency medical service calls, hazardous material incidents or natural or man-made disasters. It also expands the protection currently enjoyed by volunteer firefighters to emergency medical technicians.

(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes

HEALTH CARE CHANGES (S 2400): House 133-20, Senate 35-2, approved a law making changes in the state's health-care system. A key provision establishes a statewide cost growth goal for the health-care industry tied to the growth in the economy.

Other provisions provide $100 million over the next five years in community-based prevention, public health and wellness efforts; $100 million to accelerate and facilitate the ongoing statewide adoption of new technology for expansion and maintenance of the electronic medical records system; and expanding the role of physician assistants and nurse practitioners to act as primary-care providers in order to expand access to cost-effective care.

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

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, No ; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes

ALSO ON BEACON HILL

BUDGET CUTS AND $9 MILLION LOCAL AID CUT: Gov. Patrick cut state spending by $225 million in order to help address what the administration says is a $540 million mid-year budget gap. The cuts include funding for many government agencies and programs, including $5.25 million for homeless student transportation, $1 million for regional school districts' transportation of students, $11.5 million for reimbursements for districts with high-needs special-education students, $100,000 to help homeless people, $25,000 for literacy programs, $25,000 for a new state police class and $157,462 for teenage pregnancy prevention programs.

Patrick also filed legislation asking the Legislature to allow use of $200 million from the state's rainy day fund and to give him the power to cut $9 million in unrestricted local aid for cities and towns.

Patrick said the shortfall is a result of slower-than-expected tax collections and noted his actions address the projected shortfall in a sensible and sustainable manner. The governor said, "We have faced unprecedented fiscal challenges in recent years, but, working together, we have promptly and responsibly addressed these challenges. I am confident that we will again do so and keep the commonwealth on sound fiscal footing while best preserving the services and programs on which the people we serve depend."

Republicans and others immediately attacked the plan. Rep. Bradford Hill, R-Ipswich, said, "Gov. Patrick and the Legislature must not use reductions in local aid as a means to solve the state's budgetary shortcomings. Our cities and towns are already feeling the adverse effects of the impending 'fiscal cliff' and any further budgetary reductions would further diminish any hope of an economic recovery at the local level."

VIRTUAL SCHOOLS (S 2467): The Senate approved a bill allowing and regulating "virtual schools" in Massachusetts. Virtual schools allow students to "attend" an online-only public school. The measure requires the Board of Education to give preference to proposals that focus on certain students, including students who have dropped out, students with special medical needs requiring a home or hospital setting or gifted and talented students. Students in these schools would be required to meet the same performance standards and testing requirements as those in other public schools.

Other provisions cap the per-pupil tuition paid by a school district to send a student to a virtual school at $5,000, limits to 10 the number of these schools that may operate at any one time and caps the total number of virtual school students at 2 percent of the state's public school population, or approximately 19,000 students.

The House has approved its own version of the bill and the Senate version now goes to the House for consideration.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

Several outgoing legislators gave their farewell speeches on the House and Senate floor. Here's a sampling:

"That was quick. I guess sort of like my tenure."

Freshman Rep. Paul Adams, R-Andover, after being introduced By Speaker DeLeo to deliver the first farewell speech.

"To my father, John Atsalis, who always had a dream to be a representative. He lost back in 1967. And he was able to live the dream back in 1998 and 1999 with my election. He's not here today, but I'm sure he's watching."

Rep. Demterius Atsalis, D-Barnstable.

"To my Republican colleagues, I would offer this advice: If the Republican Party is ever going to be larger, it cannot do so by becoming smaller. It must accept people with different ideas."

Rep. Richard Bastien, R-Gardner.

"I have been a politician for over 20 years. And I'm darn proud of it. There has been a Creedon holding political office since 1969."

Rep. Geraldine Creedon, D-Brockton.

"As important as this is, the work we do day in and day out ... and don't get me wrong, I loved it, I know what's important to me now. And what's important for (my wife) Sarah and me is that we're two good parents (to our two young children)."

Rep. David Torrisi, D-North Andover.

"Mr. Speaker ... (Thanks) for putting up with my tenacity. I hope I've been more often tenacious than stubborn. But probably not."

Rep. Alice Wolf, D-Cambridge.

"I was here hoping I could change government and make it more accessible ... so that people without a voice could have a voice."

Sen. Frederick Berry, D-Peabody.

"We have participated in some groundbreaking decisions that have made Massachusetts a national leader."

Sen. Susan Fargo, D-Lincoln.

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 December 3-7, the House met for a total of three hours and 40 minutes while the Senate met for a total of eight hours and 37 minutes.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com.