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 2013 official list from the state treasurer's office of the "per diem" travel, meals and lodging reimbursements collected by the Legislature's 158 current state representatives from Jan. 1, 2013, to Dec. 30, 2013. The list reveals that representatives collected a total of $230,977. Beacon Hill Roll Call recently reported that state senators in 2013 collected $60,239 in per diems, making the total for both branches $291,216.
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.
Some supporters of the per diems say the system is fair and note the rising costs of travel, food and lodging. They argue that many legislators spend a lot of money on travel to Boston and some spend the night in Boston following late sessions. Others argue that some legislators accept the per diem but use all of the revenue they receive to support local nonprofit causes.
Some opponents argue the entire concept of per diems is outrageous and noted that most private sector and state workers are not paid additional money for commuting. Others say the per diem is especially inappropriate given the recent 3-cent-per-gallon hike in the state's current 21-cent-per-gallon gas tax and the creation of automatic gas tax hikes by linking the tax to the U.S. Consumer Price Index.
The 2013 statistics indicate that 77 current state representatives received reimbursements ranging from $52 to $8,100, while 81 have so far have 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 2013 is Rep. Timothy Madden, D-Nantucket, with $8,100.
Representatives rounding out the top five include William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, $7,380; Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, $7,110; Michael Finn, D-West Springfield, $7,062; and John Binienda, D-Worcester, $6,588.
REPRESENTATIVES' PER DIEMS FOR 2013: The dollar figure next to the representative's name represents the total amount of per diem money the state paid him or her in 2013. The number in parentheses represents the number of days the representative certified he or she was at the Statehouse during that same period. Representatives who have not requested any per diems have "0 days" listed. That is not meant to suggest that these senators didn't attend any sessions but rather that they chose not to request any per diems.
Rep. Jennifer Benson, $2,232, (62 days); Rep. Sheila Harrington, $0, (0 days)
ALSO ON BEACON HILL
STUDY PUBLIC UTILITIES' TREE CLEARING (H 3754) -- The Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee heard testimony on a bill that would establish a 14-member commission to study the issue of how public utility companies keep transmission lines free of interference, stray tree branches and overgrown vegetation in order to provide safe and reliable electricity transmission. Supporters said utility companies have recently taken a far more aggressive approach to tree clearing than in the past. They argued that this approach should not be allowed to override local concerns about property taxes, home values, safe drinking water, wildlife habitat and public safety.
FIVE SPECIAL ELECTIONS ON APRIL 1 -- It's not an April Fool's joke. There are now an unusually high number of special elections for four vacant House seats and one Senate seat all scheduled for April 1. The primaries will be held on March 4. Talk about the domino effect. Elections include the race to succeed former Sen. Katherine Clark, D-Melrose, who moved up to the U.S. Congress when she won the special to succeed U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, who resigned his U.S. House seat after he won the special election to succeed John Kerry, who resigned to become the U.S. Secretary of State.
Others include elections to fill seats being vacated by Sen. Donald Humason, R-Westfield, whose House seat became vacant when he moved up to the Senate after winning a special election last month for the seat held by former Sen. Michael Knapik, R-Westfield, who took a position at Westfield State University; and former Reps. Martin Walsh, D-Dorchester, who is now mayor of the city of Boston, Eugene O'Flaherty, D-Chelsea, who is becoming chief legal counsel in Walsh's administration; and Kathi Anne Reinstein, D-Revere, who is taking a job as government affairs manager for the Boston Beer Company, brewer of Samuel Adams Beer.
RESALE OF SPORTS TICKETS -- The Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee will hold a hearing on Jan. 21 at 1 p.m. in Room A-2 on several proposals to change the state's laws for the resale of tickets to sporting and entertainment events including repealing the current law that prohibits the resale of tickets for more than $2 over the face value. If the repeal is successful, Massachusetts will join 27 other states that have repealed their anti-scalping laws.
Current state law dates back to 1924 and limits the resale price companies may charge to $2 above face value plus costs incurred by the seller related to obtaining and selling the ticket, excluding the cost of the seller's general business operation. Allowable charges include paying for messengers to stand in line to buy tickets, postage, long distance telephone calls and credit card fees. The current law is rarely enforced.
HOUSING LEGISLATION (H 1152) -- The Housing Committee will hear testimony on Jan. 28 at 10:30 a.m. in Room B2 on a proposal to create a Window Falls Prevention Program in the Department of Housing and Community Development. The program would educate the public about the danger to children 6 years old and under of falling from windows and the importance of installing window guards in all state-controlled dwellings that are operated by local municipal Housing Authorities. The proposal also requires, subject to the availability of funds, the purchase of window safety guards for each of these public housing units in which a child 6 and under lives.
BAN SMOKING IN SENIOR HOUSING (H 1157) -- The Housing Committee's hearing will also include a bill that would designate at least one residential building within each regional and local housing authority as a smoke-free building. Any housing authority that oversees fewer than 100 units would be required to make at least 20 percent of their units smoke-free. The policies would be phased-in and current tenants would be grandfathered in and exempt from the measure.
Other bills on the agenda would grant preference to veterans in all state-aided housing projects (H 1104); deny access to state-funded public housing facilities for anyone convicted of Level 2 or Level 3 sex offenses (H 1133); and prohibit anyone who is ineligible for federal assisted housing to displace or be given priority over any applicants who are eligible under both state and federal guidelines (H 1128). Federal eligibility standards and proof of identity for housing assistance are stricter than Massachusetts standards.