By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives on one roll call and local senators on three from the week of Oct. 7-11.

WAMPANOAGS AND CASINOS (H 3376)

House 115-38, approved a new version of a casino compact negotiated by Gov. Deval Patrick and the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe to build a casino in Southeastern Massachusetts. The state would receive between 15 and 21.5 percent of any casino revenue, depending on how many other casinos are built in Massachusetts. The Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs rejected the first version of the compact about a year ago.

Supporters said the state should make this deal with the tribe because if it doesn't and the casino is approved by the federal government, the state will get nothing. They argued this casino would generate millions of dollars for the state and create thousands of jobs.

Opponents said it is premature to ratify a compact until and unless the tribe actually gets a "thumbs-up" from the federal government. They argued this compact will discourage other developers from attempting to build a casino in Southeastern Massachusetts and warned if the tribe never gets approval, the region could end up with no casino.

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

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, No.

HELP PET EVACUATION (S 1172)

Senate 38-0, approved and sent to the House a bill requiring cities' and towns' emergency evacuation plans during a disaster or emergency to include household pets and service animals.


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Supporters said that pets left behind often meet with tragic consequences including death. They noted that many pet owners refuse to evacuate without their pets and as a result put themselves and first responders in danger. They argued these owners should not have to suffer the additional emotional stress of having to abandon their household pets during a disaster.

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

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes.

HELP MILITARY FAMILIES (S 1878)

Senate 37-0, approved and set to the Senate the "Valor Act 2," a bill that would expand financial and education benefits and many other services for veterans, active-duty military personnel and their families. Provisions include allowing college students who are called to active duty the option to complete their courses at a later date or withdraw and receive a refund of all tuition and fees; allowing private-sector employers to give preference to veterans and spouses of 100 percent disabled veterans; creating a new "Support our Veterans" license plate; increasing the buffer zone of 500 feet to 1,000 feet for demonstrations at any military funeral; and designating the Mass Turnpike as the "Purple Heart Massachusetts Turnpike."

Supporters said the state should provide these additional benefits and opportunities to the thousands of Bay State veterans who have served and are still serving our nation. Some noted that one in three homeless people in this nation are veterans and that in Massachusetts, one in five suffer from post-traumatic stress while 11 percent suffer traumatic brain injuries.

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

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes ; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes.

PROPERTY TAX ABATEMENT FOR VETS (S 1878)

Senate 37-0, approved an amendment that would require the state to study the feasibility of implementing a sliding scale property tax abatement program for veterans and their spouses, based upon the veteran's percentage of disability. The results would be reported to the Legislature by March 15, 2014, along with findings and legislative recommendations.

Amendment supporters said this would expand the current law that allows abatements but does not take into account the level of disability. They said a sliding scale would offer more help to many veterans.

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

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes.

ALSO ON BEACON HILL

RAISE DROPOUT AGE FROM 16 TO 18 (S 206) - The Education Committee held a hearing on a proposal that would raise from 16 to 18 the age at which a student may choose to drop out of school. Other provisions include expanding into earlier grades the state's system for identifying students at risk of dropping out; assigning some students in schools with high dropout rates a graduation coach to work with school personnel and the student's family to develop an individualized plan for supporting the student's academic progress; and providing alternative educational services to students who are expelled or suspended for more than 10 days.

Supporters said the bill is aimed at lowering the annualdropout rate, which is currently near 8,000. They note many dropouts do not live up to their full potential and added they also make up 70 percent of the state's prison populations, at an average annual cost of about $46,000 per person.

Opponents said some of the mandates in the proposal will result in new costs for cities and towns that are already feeling the pinch and experiencing layoffs.

ALLOW VOTING 10 DAYS BEFORE AN ELECTION (S 12) - The House and Senate approved a proposed constitutional amendment allowing voters to cast their ballots during the 10 days leading up to a scheduled election for any reason. Currently, the constitution allows voters to vote by absentee ballot only if they are absent from their city or town at the time of the election, have a physical disability that prevents them from voting at their polling place or hold religious beliefs that conflict with voting on Election Day. In order to be part of the constitution, amendments must be approved by two successive Legislatures and then by voters.

Supporters of the amendment said that "unconditional absentee voting" would increase the number of votes cast and involve more voters in the process.

Opponents of the amendment said it goes too far and argued that absentee voting should only be available to voters who qualify under current law. They noted that early voters miss the opportunity to see the final days of a campaign, often including the last debate.

BAN DISCRIMINATION BASED ON HEIGHT AND WEIGHT (H 1758) - The Labor and Workforce Development Committee voted in favor of legislation that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of a person's height or weight.

Supporters said that overweight people are often not hired or not promoted because of their weight. They noted this type of discrimination is on the rise and is more acceptable and pervasive than race, gender or sexual orientation discrimination. They argued that often people are unaware they are being discriminated against until after they shed pounds and are suddenly promoted.

Opponents said the measure goes too far and asked if it will be considered discrimination to fire an employee who can no longer perform his or her duties because he or she gained weight.

VICTIMS OF ABUSE (H 1764) - The same committee gave a favorable report to legislation that would make it illegal for an employer to deny employment, reemployment, retention or promotion to a U.S. military veteran, including members of the National Guard, on the basis of their military association (S 867). A "thumbs up" was also granted to a bill requiring employers with more than 50 employees to allow workers who are victims of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault to take up to an annual 15-day leave of absence to address issues arising from the incident. The legislation is designed to give victims the opportunity to seek medical attention, counseling, legal assistance, housing and court-ordered protection.

HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK'S SESSION? During the week of Oct. 7-11, the House met for a total of four hours and 53 minutes while the Senate met for a total of seven hours and 38 minutes.