By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND

SENATE

As is customary during the February school vacation week, there were no roll call votes in the House or Senate last week.

Beacon Hill Roll Call has obtained the 2012 official list from the state treasurer's office of the per diem travel, meals and lodging reimbursements collected by the Legislature's 40 state representatives from Jan. 1, 2012, to Dec. 31, 2012. The list reveals that representatives collected a total of $298,999. Beacon Hill Roll Call reported a few weeks ago that state senators in 2012 collected $58,304 in per diems. The combined 2012 total collected by representatives and senators is $357,303.

Under state law, per diems are paid by the state to representatives "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 representatives above and beyond their regular salaries.

The amount of the per diem varies and is based on the city or town in which a representative 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 legislators who reside in the Greater Boston area to $90 per day for some Western Massachusetts lawmakers and $100 per day for those in Nantucket. Members who are from areas that are a long distance from Boston's Statehouse often collect the highest total of annual per diems.

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 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, the state is in the midst of a recession, and funding for important programs has been cut.

The 2012 statistics indicate that 101 state representatives received reimbursements ranging from $432 to $9,400, while 59 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 representative who received the most money in 2012 is Rep. Timothy Madden, D-Nantucket, with $9,400.

Representatives rounding out the top 10 include Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, $8,460; William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, $8,100; John Binienda, D-Worcester, $7,776; Former Rep. Demetrius Atasalis, D-West Barnstable, $7,350; Paul Mark, D-Hancock, $6,840; Michael Finn, D-West Springfield, $6,732; Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, $6,660; Ellen Story, D-Amherst, $6,480; and Angelo Puppolo, D-Springfield, $6,420.

The dollar figure next to the representative's name represents the total amount of per diem money the state paid him or her for 2012. The number in parentheses represents the number of days the representative certified he or she was at the Statehouse during that same period.

Rep. Jennifer Benson, $2,088 (58 days); Rep. Sheila Harrington, $0 (0 days)

ALSO ON BEACON HILL

VIOLENCE PROTECTION (H 57): A new law, signed by Gov. Deval Patrick as part of a supplemental budget, requires that any state-operated or state-funded human-service program providing direct services to clients have a workplace violence prevention and crisis response plan for its social workers, human services workers, volunteers and all other employees. The proposal was prompted by the 2008 death of 53-year-old social worker Diruhi Mattian, who was performing a home visit when she was murdered by her client.

Supporters say more than 50 percent of social workers in Massachusetts have been physically assaulted in a work-related incident, ranging from pushing, hitting and choking to life-threatening attacks. They note it is time to protect these dedicated, often underpaid workers. 

DEADLINE TO REGISTER TO VOTE FOR U.S. SENATE ELECTION: April 10 is the last day to register to vote in the special state primary to fill the U.S. Senate seat given up by Secretary of State John Kerry. Registration hours are from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., except in towns with under 1,500 registered voters, where the hours are 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

EARLY CANDIDATES: Meanwhile, Sens. William Brownsberger, D-Belmont, and Katherine Clark, D-Melrose, and Rep. Carl Sciortino, D-Somerville, have taken the unusual step of already announcing their intention to run for U.S. Rep. Edward Markey's seat if Markey is elected U.S. senator in the special election.

THOUSANDS OF PROPOSALS FOR THE 2013-2014 SESSION: Many pieces of legislation have been filed for consideration in the 2013-2014 Legislature. Here are 10 of the more interesting ones:

LABEL TUNA TOXINS: Requires labels on tuna, swordfish and other saltwater fish to provide information about the toxin levels' hazards to consumers' health including young children and pregnant women.

BALLOT LISTING OF CANDIDATES: Prohibits the use of the word "incumbent" next to a candidate's name on local and state ballots and replacing the word "unenrolled" with "independent" when referring to a candidate without a party affiliation. Also provides that candidates be listed on the ballot in an order determined by a random lottery. Current law requires incumbents to be listed first, followed by an alphabetical listing of candidates of established political parties and then an alphabetical list of nonparty candidates.

NO SMOKING IN CARS WITH YOUNG KIDS: Prohibits smoking in cars in which there is a child who is required to be in a child passenger restraint. Under Massachusetts law, children must use a restraint until they are at least 8 years old or at least 57 inches tall.

DONATE FOOD WITHOUT LIABILITY: Immunizes from criminal and civil liability businesses that make good-faith food donations to food pantries and homeless shelters. Current law immunizes only individuals.

OPTIONAL SEX EDUCATION: Requires any school's sex education courses to be offered only on a nonmandatory elective basis in which parents may choose to enroll their children through written notification. Also requires schools to implement a written policy ensuring that parents are notified of the programs and their content and prohibits public school teachers or administrators from being required to participate in any school programs that violate their religious beliefs.

NO NAMES (H 2773): Prohibits the placing of the name of any appointed or elected official on any state signs and property.

SIMPLIFY LANGUAGE (H 2809): Requires all documents published by the state to be written in language understandable by a child at a third grade reading level.

VISITING NURSES (H 3018): Exempts from city and town parking fines any vehicles driven by visiting nurses on duty.

PROSTITUTES (H 1322): Increases the prison sentence for "johns" of prostitutes from the current one-year sentence and/or up to a $750 fine to 2.5 years in prison and/or up to a $5,000 fine.

ALLOW SUNDAY HUNTING (not yet numbered): Allows hunting on Sundays with a bow and arrow. Current law bans hunting on Sundays.

ELDERLY ABUSE (not yet numbered): Requires mandated reporters, including doctors, nurses, social workers, police and firefighters, to report incidents of compulsive hoarding by senior citizens. Hoarding is acquisition of and unwillingness to discard large quantities of items that cover the living areas of the home and threaten the health and safety of the resident.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

"I thought it was a crank call at first."

Newly appointed Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz on receiving a call from a senior Patrick administration official asking if he was interested in the job.

"The governor's blizzard leadership was interesting. First we're all ordered by the state to stay off the highways or face a year in jail, then some residents were ordered by their local government to evacuate. People were asking, on talk shows and Facebook, which order should prevail."

Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

"Defendant must testify truthfully and completely before any grand jury and at any hearing and trial ... Defendant must not attempt to protect any person or entity through false information or omission."

From the plea bargain agreement between the federal government and disgraced former Chelsea Housing Authority chief Michael McLaughlin, in which McLaughlin agrees to cooperate with investigators to help them prosecute others in exchange for a possible reduced jail sentence. McLaughlin pled guilty to concealing his inflated salary from state and federal authorities for four years, including reporting only $160,415 in income in 2011 when his actual salary was $283,471.

"We commend the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for the speedy release of guidance that spells out in no uncertain terms the protections assured to transgender and gender-nonconforming students in Massachusetts."

Julian Cyr, chair of the Massachusetts Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth.

"All of the terrible things that are supposed to happen to the economy (when the minimum wage is raised) have never come to fruition. In fact, we've seen there's actually increased purchasing power that gets spent immediately in the economy."

Sen. Marc Pacheco on his proposal to raise the state's minimum wage from $8 per hour to $11 per hour over three years.

"Far better that Congress deals with it and comes up with a reasonable (minimum wage) increase that applies to 50 states than Massachusetts goes alone and puts local employers out of step with employers over the border."

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, on the proposal to hike the state's minimum wage.

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 February 18-22, the House met for a total of six minutes while the Senate met for a total of one hour and 33 minutes.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com.