By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives on three roll calls and local senators on two from the week of Oct. 14-18.
$94 MILLION SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET (H 3700, S 1890)
House 155-0, Senate 36-0, approved different versions of an estimated $94 million spending plan to close out the books on fiscal year 2013 that ended June 30. The Senate version now goes to the House for consideration. Provisions include $20 million for low-income heating assistance; $8.1 million for the recent special elections held in the state; $81,517 to reimburse Watertown for expenses incurred in April during the search for the Boston Marathon bombing suspect; $13 million for emergency shelters for the homeless; $11.5 million for early education; and $2.1 million for the Welfare Department to implement new monitoring and oversight programs.
Supporters said the package is fiscally responsible and funds necessary programs including several that are running out of money.
(A "Yes" vote is for the $94 million budget.)
Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes.
AUDIT WELFARE DEPARTMENT (H 3700)
House 42-112, rejected an amendment requiring the state auditor to audit the Welfare Department and issue a report to the Legislature by Feb. 15. The audit would include monitoring and counting out-of-state usage of EBT cards, and verifying that social security numbers are being required prior to benefits being awarded.
Amendment supporters said it is time for another audit to ferret out waste and fraud and ensure taxpayer money is being well spent only on people who legitimately are needy. They noted an audit will also reveal if any recent reforms to the system are working.
Amendment opponents said the auditor recently conducted an audit and reported on fraud and waste and that the state is working on addressing those problems. They noted the auditor has said it is too soon for another audit.
(A "Yes" vote is for the audit. A "No" vote is against it.)
Rep. Jennifer Benson, No; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes.
REQUIRE SIX HEARINGS ON TAX HIKES (H 3700)
House 31-124, rejected an amendment requiring the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees to hold at least six public hearings on any bill that raises taxes or fees and to give the public three days notice prior to each one.
Amendment supporters said this requirement will ensure the public has the opportunity to be informed about pending tax hikes. They pointed to the recently repealed tax on computer system design services and a new law tying future increases in the gas tax to the Consumer Price Index as incidents in which many people were not made aware of these hikes prior to their passage.
Amendment opponents said the amendment is poorly drafted and flawed. They said it does not differentiate between a multi-million tax hike and a $1 increase in the fee for a marriage license, and would require six hearings on each.
(A "Yes" vote is for requiring public hearings. A "No" vote is against the requirement.)
Rep. Jennifer Benson, No; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes.
FLOOD INSURANCE (S 1890)
Senate 9-27, rejected an amendment that would provide $100,000 for a grant program to distribute funds to cities and towns to be used to help lower their residents' premiums for flood insurance.
Amendment supporters said that recent changes in flood insurance mandated by the federal government in 2012 have raised premiums for thousands of homeowners and also mandated that some homeowners who previously were exempt from the requirement buy it. They noted the funds can be used by cities and towns to directly help reduce premiums or to pay a coordinator who can help the community's residents receive discounts through another program. They cited the case of one homeowner whose premium rose from $1,300 to over $68,000.
Amendment opponents said this issue needs to be addressed but that this piecemeal approach was not the way to go. They noted the Senate should study the issue more and address the problem in a comprehensive way.
(A "Yes" vote is for the $100,000 program. A "No" vote is against it.)
Sen. Eileen Donoghue, No; Sen. James Eldridge, No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, No.
ALSO ON BEACON HILL
SENIOR CITIZENS SAFETY ZONE (S 77) -- The House gave initial approval to a bill that would allow cities and towns to double speeding fines in areas adjacent to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals and senior housing and community centers.
LIMIT SPEED IN HISTORIC DISTRICTS (H 3097) -- The House gave initial approval to a proposal that would allow cities and towns to set vehicle speed limits inside a historic district.
MONEY FOR MILK FARMERS (H 751) -- The House gave initial approval to a bill that would reimburse small independent dairy farmers from a special insurance fund created in the 1980s to protect farmers when dairy processors go out of business without paying the farmer. The program is funded by the dairy farmers themselves and has been used in the past but has been mostly stagnant for years. Farmers would be reimbursed based on what they have contributed to the fund over the years. It is estimated that the state's 100 or so dairy farmers would receive amounts ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 while still leaving a minimum of $1 million in the fund, as required by law.
PROTECT ANIMALS -- Lead sponsor Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) announced that his recently filed Act Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety (PAWS) has attracted 75 legislators as co-sponsors including 22 Republicans and 53 Democrats. PAW's centerpiece would create a statewide animal abuse registry of animal abusers that would have to be checked by animal shelters, pet stores and breeders before a person is allowed to buy or adopt the pet. Other provisions include establishing an anonymous animal abuse tip hotline and increased penalties for cruelty to animals. The bill was filed in response to the recent "Puppy Doe " case in which a dog was euthanized after she suffered extensive injuries, including a stab wound to her eye and burns to her body.
ALLOW PUBLIC MEETINGS VIA INTERNET (H 2088) -- The Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight heard testimony on a proposal to allow city and town boards and commissions to hold their meetings and discussions online. The bill would change a current law that requires these meetings to be held in a physical building. Supporters said it is time to bring these meetings into the computer age and not require people to drive miles and spend hours at a meeting. Opponents said the change would be unfair to many who cannot watch the proceedings online including some seniors, people with disabilities and residents of rural areas that don't have Internet access.
HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK'S SESSION? During the week of Oct. 14-18, the House met for a total of six hours and 22 minutes while the Senate met for a total of four hours and 49 minutes.