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 four from the week of January 13-17, 2014.

BOSTON STRONG LICENSE PLATES (H 3664)

House 147-0, approved and sent to the Senate legislation that would allow drivers to purchase "Boston Strong" license plates for an additional $50 or more above the regular biennial $50 fee for a license plate. Proceeds would benefit the One Fund that raises funds for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.

Supporters said the revenue from the additional $50 fee would allow people to contribute financial support to the thousands who were impacted by this tragedy. They noted that the plates are one more way to honor the victims and their families.

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

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

CHANGES TO ELECTION LAWS (S 1975)

Senate 37-1, approved a bill making changes in the state's election laws including allowing early voting beginning 10 business days before any primary or general election and ending two days before the election. Other provisions include allowing online voter registration, allowing 17-year-olds to vote in municipal elections in Lowell if Lowell voters approve the measure, eliminating the requirement of a check-out desk at polling places and requiring municipal election officials to attend annual training given by the secretary of state.


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Supporters said it is time for Massachusetts to join the 19 states that allow online registration and the 32 that permit early voting. They argued both changes will increase voter turnout.

The lone opponent said the bill creates great potential for fraud with provisions like same-day registration. He noted it also mandates other unworkable requirements and potentially imposes unfunded state mandates on local cities and towns by forcing them to add extra personnel.

The House has already approved a different version of the proposal, and the Senate version now goes to the House for consideration.

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

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

ALLOW 17-YEAR-OLDS TO VOTE IN LOCAL ELECTION (S 1975)

Senate 30-7, approved an amendment that would allow 17-year-olds to vote in city elections in the city of Lowell. The proposal would have to first be approved by Lowell voters. The amendment still prohibits voting by 17-year-olds in state and federal elections.

Amendment supporters said this is supported by the Lowell City Council and will increase voter participation in low-turnout local elections.

Amendment opponents said the age of 18 has worked well and that tampering with it in local communities would result in a patchwork of inconsistent election laws across the state.

(A "Yes" vote is for allowing 17-year-olds to vote in Lowell city elections. A "No" vote is against it.)

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

SAME-DAY REGISTRATION (S 1975)

Senate 30-8, approved an amendment allowing people to register to vote on Election Day at the polls. Current law prohibits persons from registering fewer than 20 days before an election. The person would have to show proof of residency by showing one of the following: a valid photo identification, utility bill, bank statement, government check, residential lease agreement, wireless telephone statement, paycheck or other government document that would include a Social Security card.

Amendment supporters said this includes sufficient safeguards and would increase voter registration and turnout.

Amendment opponents said same-day registration would lead to chaos at the polls and argued that people have hundreds of days on which they can register to vote.

(A "Yes" vote is for same-day registration. A "No" vote is against it.)

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

SHOW ID OR SWORN AFFIDAVIT TO VOTE (S 1975)

Senate 9-29, rejected an amendment requiring voters to show an ID or submit a sworn affidavit identifying themselves in order to be allowed to vote at their polling place. Any person who could not show proof of residency by showing either a current and valid photo identification, utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document, including a Social Security card, would be allowed to instead signed a sworn statement.

Amendment supporters said it is illogical that all voters are not required to show identification prior to voting and noted 30 states have laws requiring IDs. They argued people cannot cash a check, rent a car, rent a DVD or even enter some government buildings without showing an ID. They noted the sworn affidavit option offers an additional choice for anyone who does not have an ID.

Amendment opponents said the amendment would disenfranchise thousands of voters who do not have a current address because they are in a homeless or domestic-violence shelter or domestic-violence facility. They argued there have been no widespread reports of voter fraud in Massachusetts. Some said the amendment may have been used in other states to attempt to suppress voter turnout in minority districts.

(A "Yes" vote is for the amendment requiring an ID or sworn affidavit. A "No" vote is against it.)

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, No; Sen. James Eldridge, No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, No.

ALSO ON BEACON HILL

PET EVACUATION (S 1172) -- The House gave initial approval to a bill that would require cities' and towns' emergency evacuation plans during a disaster or emergency to include household pets and service animals.

Supporters said 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.

Some animal advocates question why there is no provision for the evacuation of animals that are being bred for sale and technically are not household pets.

BABY HEART SCREENINGS (S 1919) -- The House gave initial approval to a bill that would require all newborns to have a test that would determine whether he or she has a congenital heart defect. The test would be preformed prior to the infant being discharged.

Supporters said 27 other states have this mandate. They noted that the requirement will save lives.

PHONE INSURANCE (H 3541) -- The House and Senate have agreed on a version of a bill that would create a licensing framework for the sale of insurance for cellphones and other portable devices in Massachusetts. Currently, there is no statutory or regulatory structure that exists for the sale of this insurance. A key section gives a retail store an overall license to sell insurance and authorizes all its employees to do so. Other provisions would require many disclosures by the person who sell the insurance.

Supporters said that without the bill, every salesperson in a store would have to be individually licensed to sell insurance to consumers, a requirement that would be overly burdensome to insurance regulators and the business. They argued the measure is a fair one that provides crucial consumer protection.

Only a final vote is needed in each branch prior to the measure going to Gov. Deval Patrick.

NEW CONFLICT OF INTEREST RULING -- The five-member State Ethics Commission has approved a new exemption that would allow state and municipal employees and elected officials to hold a financial interest in publicly bid contracts providing they do not participate in any negotiations and that certain other conditions are met. The ruling was made in response to a petition from former gubernatorial candidate Sen. Dan Wolf, D-Harwich. The commission in August ruled that then-candidate Wolf was in violation of state ethics laws because Cape Air, the company he founded 25 years ago and in which he still has an interest, has agreements with MassPort to use Logan Airport. In response, Wolf dropped his gubernatorial bid.

HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK'S SESSION? During the week of January 13-17, the House met for a total of nine hours and 25 minutes and the Senate met for a total of four hours and three minutes.