By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives on four roll calls and local senators on two from the week of Oct. 28 to Nov. 1.

HELP MILITARY FAMILIES (H 3720)

House 155-0, approved the VALOR II Act, a bill that would expand financial and education benefits and many other services for veterans, active-duty military personnel and their families. Provisions include increasing the buffer zone of 500 feet to 1,000 feet for demonstrations at any military funeral; 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; and allowing private-sector employers to give preference to veterans and spouses of 100 percent disabled veterans.

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

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

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes.

SUPPORT RULING ON HOUSING ELIGIBILITY (H 3735)

House 126-29, upheld the ruling of the acting House Speaker that a proposed amendment to the VALOR II Act was beyond the scope of the bill and would not be allowed on the House floor for debate and a vote.


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The amendment would have required all current tenants and new applicants for subsidized public housing to provide their Social Security number for use by the state in verifying their eligibility.

Supporters of the ruling said that verifying eligibility for housing has nothing to do with expansion of benefits for military members and their families.

Opponents of the ruling said it is outrageous that currently people can get subsidized housing without producing a Social Security number.

(A "Yes" vote is against the amendment being allowed for consideration. A "No" vote supports allowing consideration.)

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

APPROVE $1.4 BILLION FOR HOUSING (H 3727)

House 151-2, and Senate, on a voice vote without a roll call, approved and sent to the governor the conference committee's version of a bill allowing the administration to borrow $1.4 billion over five years for public and affordable housing. Provisions include $500 million to renovate and modernize many of the state's 45,000 public housing units; $55 million in loan guarantees to assist homeowners with blindness or severe disabilities to make their homes accessible; and $45 million for loans for the development of community-based housing for individuals with mental illness and intellectual disabilities.

Supporters said that Massachusetts has the fourth-highest average home sale price in the nation. They noted this package will help thousands of people remain in their homes or find new affordable housing in the state.

Opponents expressed concern that another $1.4 billion is being approved for housing without assurances that the benefits will be reserved for people with proper legal documentation.

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

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes.

PROCEDURES FOR WELFARE REFORM BILL (H 3728)

House 125-29, voted for an order that would set procedural parameters for debate on the upcoming bill making changes in the state's welfare system. The order required the bill to be filed by 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1, and all amendments to be filed by 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 4.

Supporters said the time period was reasonable and allowed for adequate time for the process.

Opponents said that legislators would need more time to read the bill before crafting amendments and more time to file them.

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

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

REGULATION OF COMPOUNDING PHARMACIES (S 1899)

Senate 38-0, approved a bill that would increase the state's oversight and regulation of compounding pharmacies and the state agencies that regulate them. The House already approved a similar measure. The Senate version now goes back to the House for consideration.

The proposal comes a year to the month after an outbreak of fungal meningitis infected hundreds of people across the nation and killed 61, prompting an investigation that led the State Board of Pharmacy to revoke the license of the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, the pharmacy found to have compounded the drugs that caused the infections. Provisions include establishing a specialty license for all sterile and non-sterile compounding pharmacies and mandating unannounced, detailed inspections of all licensed pharmacies.

Supporters said the bill sets many new standards and requires more transparency from the pharmacies, which will save lives. They argued it will hold pharmacies to high standards in quality control and sterility, and would bring compounding pharmacy operations out of the shadows and put them in a regulatory framework to ensure the tragedies will never happen again.

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

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

LABELING OF MEDICATIONS (S 1899)

Senate 37-0, approved an amendment to the pharmacy bill that would require hospital pharmacies to label pharmaceuticals as sterile or non-sterile. Supporters said this would help guarantee that the drug delivered to a patient was in fact the drug prescribed and help prevent medical errors.

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

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

ALSO ON BEACON HILL

BUYERS MUST NOW PAY 6.25 PERCENT SALES TAX ON AMAZON SALES -- Nov. 1 marked the first day that a 6.25 percent sales tax is being collected on every online purchase made by Massachusetts residents on Amazon.com. Amazon is voluntarily collecting the state sales tax for online purchases as a result of negotiations with the state, without the usual process of a bill having to be passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor. Currently, Amazon.com, Overstock.com and other Internet companies are exempt from collecting the tax under a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Internet retailers only have to charge sales tax in states in which they have a "physical presence."

MAKE PARENTAL LEAVE GENDER NEUTRAL (H 1774) -- The House gave initial approval to a bill previously passed by the Senate that would change the state's female-only maternity leave law to a gender-neutral one. The law gives parents of a newborn or adopted child eight weeks off, with or without pay at the discretion of the employer, and the right to return to their job after that period.

Supporters noted that it is unfair for leave related to the birth of a child to be reserved for women exclusively. Further House and Senate approval is necessary before the measure is sent to Gov. Patrick.

SCHOOL BUS DRIVER DAY (H 2880) -- The House gave initial approval to a bill establishing School Bus Driver Day on Oct. 20, recognizing the "invaluable contributions of the commonwealth's school bus drivers to the safe delivery of the state's children to and from school" and recommending that the day be observed in an appropriate manner by the people. The measure was approved on Oct. 30, so the day of honor for the drivers will be delayed almost a year, until Oct. 20, 2014.

SHAKEN BABY SYNDROME AWARENESS WEEK (H 2881), RARE DISEASE DAY (H 2774) -- The House gave initial approval to two other commemorative bills -- establishing a Shaken Baby Syndrome Awareness Week in April and a Rare Disease Day in February.

POSSIBLE BAY STATE HOSTING OF 2024 OLYMPICS (S 1840) -- Gov. Deval Patrick signed a measure creating an 11-member commission to study the possibility of the Bay State hosting the Summer Olympic Games in 2024.

HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK'S SESSION? During the week of Oct. 28 to Nov. 1, the House met for a total of eight hours and 59 minutes while the Senate met for a total of seven hours and four minutes.