By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. There were no roll call votes in the House or Senate last week.
Beacon Hill Roll Call has obtained the official list from the state treasurer's office of the "per diem" travel, meals and lodging reimbursements collected by the Legislature's 39 state senators from Jan. 1 to Sept. 4. The list reveals that senators have collected a total of $33,863.
Under state law, per diems are paid by the state to senators "for each day for travel from his place of residence to the Statehouse and return therefrom, while in the performance of his official duties, upon certification to the state treasurer that he was present at the Statehouse." These reimbursements are given to senators above and beyond their regular salaries.
The amount of the per diem varies and is based on the city or town in which a senator resides and its distance from the Statehouse. The Legislature in 2000 approved a law doubling these per diems to the current amounts. The payments range from $10 per day for senators who reside in the Greater Boston area to $90 per day for some Western Massachusetts lawmakers and $100 per day for those in Nantucket. Senators who are from areas that are a long distance from Boston's Statehouse often collect the highest total of annual per
Supporters of the per diems say the system is fair and note the rising costs of travel, food and lodging. They note many legislators spend a lot of money on traveling to Boston and some spend the night in Boston following late sessions.
Some opponents argue most other private sector and state workers are not paid additional money for commuting. Others say the very idea of paying any per diem is outrageous when thousands of workers have lost their jobs and homes and funding for important programs has been cut.
The 2012 statistics indicate that nine senators, have received reimbursements ranging from $2,052 to $7,470, while 30 senators have so far chosen not to apply for any money. State law does not establish a deadline that senators must meet in order to collect the per diems.
The senator who has received the most per diem money in 2012 is Sen. Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield) with $7,470. The other eight senators who received money include Sens. Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport), $4,365; Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst), $4,080; Daniel Wolf (D-Harwich), $3,960; James Welch (D-West Springfield), $3,762; Michael Knapik (R-Westfield), $2,904; Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster), $2,722; Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), $2548; and Michael Moore (D-Millbury), $2,052.
LOCAL SENATORS' PER DIEMS FOR 2012
The dollar figure next to the senator's name represents the total amount of per diem money the state has paid him or her for 2011. The number in parentheses represents the number of days the senator certified he or she was at the Statehouse during that same period.
Sen. Eileen Donoghue, $0, (0 days); Sen. James Eldridge, $0, (0 days); Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, $2,722 (77 days).
ALSO ON BEACON HILL
FUEL STAMPS, TERMINAL ILLNESS AND DISABLED PERSONS - The Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities has recommended that several bills be sent to a study committee including legislation that would establish a gasoline assistance program that issues "fuel stamps" for free gas for senior citizens and handicapped persons who have owned a small business for six years or longer in which the use of their automobile is essential (H 1864). Other bills include one that creates a pilot program that would provide up to a $10,000 one-time, state-funded low-interest loan to help 30 individuals in Massachusetts pay their expenses incurred as a result of their child being diagnosed with a terminal illness (H 978). Another measure prohibits any state-funded mental health programs or facilities for individuals with disabilities from using any procedure on their patients that denies adequate sleep, food, shelter, bedding or bathroom facilities or causes physical pain like hitting, pinching and electric shock for the purposes of changing the behavior of the person (H 77). Most measures shipped off to a study committee are never actually studied and are essentially defeated.
WELFARE RECIPIENTS AND ELDERLY GAYS - Other proposals that are headed for a study committee include establishing a program for random drug testing of anyone receiving public assistance who has been convicted on any drug-related charge (H 974) and requiring the Department of Elder Affairs to work to improve access to services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender elders and caregivers (H 48). It requires all caregivers who receive funding from the department to be trained in the field of providing services to these groups.
HIKE MINIMUM WAGE (H 2291) - The Labor and Workforce Development Committee has recommended that legislation raising the minimum hourly wage from $8 to $10 over three years be shipped off to a study committee. The wage would rise to $8.75 the first year, $9.50 the second year and $10 in year three. The measure also provides that the $10 wage be automatically raised annually to reflect increases in the Consumer Price Index.
BED BUGS (H 109) - The Consumer Protection Committee suggests a study committee be the fate of a bill that would prohibit the sale of bed mattresses without an encasement designed to keep bed bugs from entering mattresses and/or to keep existing bed bugs trapped.
MALE BREAST CANCER (H 4019) - The House and Senate gave final approval to and sent to Gov. Deval Patrick a measure designating the third week in October of each year as Male Breast Cancer Awareness Week to raise awareness of the occurrence of breast cancer in men and to encourage regular screenings.
"I think I would. I've learned a lot working alongside Governor Patrick, seen a lot. You know, like anything else you learn as you do your job."
Lt. Gov. Tim Murray who is considering a run for governor in 2014, when asked if he would make a good governor.
"A more recent study conducted by Stanford University and University of Chicago shows that on the average women in Congress introduce more bills, attract more co-sponsors and bring home more money to their districts than the guys do."
Barbara Lee, of the Cambridge-based Barbara Lee Foundation that strives to advance women's equality and representation in American politics.
"What we have seen in the past few months encapsulates the overall course of this economic recovery."
Raymond Torto, Chair of Associated Businesses of Massachusetts' (AIM) Board of Economic Advisors commenting on the three-point rise in the Business Confidence Index in August following an 8.5-point plunge in June.
"You're going to sit there and you're going to listen to this, okay?"
House Speaker Robert DeLeo talking to an empty chair at a Democratic National Convention breakfast, mocking Clint Eastwood's speech at the Republican National Convention during which the actor spoke to an empty chair that represented President Obama.
"Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago."
Sen. John Kerry addressing delegates at the Democratic National Convention.
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 September 3-7, the House met for a total of 41 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 45 minutes.