By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives on two roll calls and local senators on four from the week of February 3-7.

UPDATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call recently reported on a bill (S 1987) that supporters say would provide relief to Massachusetts homeowners who currently lack clear title to their homes due to prior faulty foreclosures. The bill was approved by the Senate on a unanimous 38-0 roll call vote and sent to the House.

Supporters say the measure was filed in response to a Supreme Judicial Court decision that voided thousands of foreclosure sales. They note the court said that a foreclosure is void if the foreclosing lender could not produce a written assignment of its mortgage prior to the first publication of notice.

Supporters go on to say the bill remedies this problem by allowing the affidavit that is recorded during the sale of the property to serve as conclusive evidence that the foreclosing lender is in compliance. They argue this will help thousands of homeowners who unwittingly purchased an improperly foreclosed property and are currently without a clear title and consequently unable to sell or refinance their homes.

Subsequently, we heard from The Massachusetts Alliance Against Predatory Lending (MAAPL), which opposes the measure and says the bill will dramatically curtail illegally foreclosed homeowners' right to regain title to their homes. Its spokesperson, Grace Ross, says that the bill is a "travesty" that strips foreclosed homeowners of their fundamental right to protect their property.


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She argues that senators apparently had no accurate information on which to base their vote.

In a prepared statement, Ross said, "From now on, instead of giving homeowners the 20 years to reverse the wrongs of banks' illegal foreclosures, this bill limits Massachusetts residents to three years." She continued, "Do not run roughshod over 400 years of Massachusetts citizens' property rights. Slow down and listen to the voices of the voters who have lost the homes, far too often illegally, in which they raised their children and poured their hopes for the future."

EXPEL REP. HENRIQUEZ (H 3894)

House 146-5, voted to expel Rep. Carlos Henriquez, D-Dorchester, from the Massachusetts House. The move was in response to Henriquez's Jan. 15 conviction on two assault-and-battery charges stemming from a July 7, 2012, incident involving his former girlfriend. He is currently serving a six-month jail sentence.

Supporters said Henriquez has clearly violated the House Code of Ethics. They argued that he can not adequately represent his constituents while serving time in prison. They noted that the Ethics Committee conducted an exhaustive independent investigation, including reviewing 11 police reports, 78 exhibits and some1000 pages of trial testimony.

Henriquez was brought to the House from his prison cell by sheriff's deputies and made an impassioned speech on the House floor. He returned to prison before the vote was taken. Dressed in a suit and tie and not handcuffed, he denied the assault-and-battery charges and maintained his innocence. His supporters noted he is appealing the conviction and urged the House to wait until the appeal process is complete before taking action.

(A "Yes" vote is for expelling Henriquez. A "No" vote is against expulsion.)

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

CENSURE REP. HENRIQUEZ (H 3894)

House 10-143 rejected a motion to reduce the punishment and censure Henriquez rather than expel him. A censure is a rebuke or reprimand of a legislator and does not result in him or her losing their elected position.

Censure supporters said they agree he should be punished but feel that expulsion goes too far.

Censure opponents said a censure is merely a slap on the wrist and again argued for expulsion.

(A "Yes" vote is for censuring Henriquez. A "No" vote is against censure.)

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

CHANGES IN UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE SYSTEM (S 2001)

Senate 33-4, approved and sent to the House a bill making changes in the state's unemployment insurance system including freezing the 2014 unemployment insurance tax rate paid by employers at the 2013 level instead of allowing an automatic scheduled increase to take effect. It also establishes rates for 2015, 2016 and 2017. The payments go into a fund that provides benefits to laid-off workers. Another change requires businesses that lay off the most workers to pay more than they currently do, while allowing the more stable employers to pay less than they currently do. Under the new rates, the most stable employers would pay $153 per employee per year, while the worst-rated companies would pay $2,337 per employee annually.

Other provisions provide "whistleblower" protection for employees who testify about their employers defrauding the system; require the state to tell applicants within 30 days if they qualify for unemployment benefits; and prohibit crewmembers on commercial fishing vessels from being denied unemployment benefits if unemployment is the result of federal fisheries management restrictions.

Supporters said the measure benefits both workers and businesses by continuing to provide reasonable eligibility standards and benefits for employees while providing businesses with stability and predictable and fair rates for future years.

Opponents said the bill does not go far enough and would not lead to net savings for businesses. Some noted the measure's provision requiring frequent users of the unemployment system to pay more will unfairly hurt companies in the construction and landscaping business that go through regular layoffs.

(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.

ELIGIBILITY FOR COLLECTING UNEMPLOYMENT (S 2001)

Senate 4-34, rejected an amendment changing the formula for determining how much a worker must earn over a certain period of time in order to be eligible for unemployment compensation.

Amendment supporters said the amendment would essentially increase the minimum weekly work requirement to qualify for unemployment from 15 weeks to 20 weeks. They argued this increase would bring Massachusetts in line with the national standard and save Bay State employers an estimated $30 million annually.

Amendment opponents said the current formula is fair and has worked well. They argued that any attempt to ultimately make it harder for workers, laid off through no fault of their own, to collect unemployment is unwarranted and will just cause more pain to working families.

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

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

REQUIRE INTERNSHIP TO COLLECT ADDITIONAL UNEMPLOYMENT (S 2001)

Senate 4-34, rejected an amendment to the current law that allows unemployment recipients to collect for 30 weeks, instead of the usual 26 weeks, if the unemployment rate is above 5.1 percent. While the amendment also allows recipients to collect for 30 weeks if the unemployment rate is above 5.1 percent, it also requires him or her to participate in an approved internship program in weeks 27-30 to collect during these weeks. The amendment also allows the recipient to collect for 30 weeks without an internship, if the unemployment rate is above 7 percent.

Amendment supporters said Massachusetts is the only state that provides as much as 30 weeks while 48 states provide only 26 weeks. They noted the federal government pays for benefits after 26 weeks during times of high unemployment. They argued that mandating these internships will help build recipients' skills and experience and increase the chances they will find employment.

Amendment opponents said high unemployment in a poor economy is the exact wrong time in which to make collecting benefits more difficult. They noted the federal government cannot be trusted to pay after 26 weeks and noted it has refused so far to extend unemployment benefits despite President Obama's urging.

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

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

REQUIRE DECISION IN 30 DAYS (S 2001)

Senate 38-0, approved an amendment requiring the state to determine within 30 days if a person is eligible for unemployment benefits. Current law only requires the state to "make every reasonable effort to give notice of such determination within 30 days.

Amendment supporters said it is time to speed up the decision so that unemployed workers know quickly if they are eligible and can plan accordingly.

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

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

ALSO ON BEACON HILL

VACCINES (S 1971): The House and Senate gave final approval to and sent to Gov. Deval Patrick a bill that would create the Vaccine Purchase Trust Fund to fund the purchase, storage and distribution of routine childhood immunizations. The measure also requires the Public Health Commissioner to annually assess health insurers and self-insured entities for the amount needed for the fund. Another key provision mandates that insurers provide benefits for immunizations on all health-care plans and exempts these immunizations from copayments, coinsurance and deductibles.

HOMELESS BILL OF RIGHTS (H 3595): The Housing Committee held a hearing on a bill that would establish a bill of rights for homeless persons. The measure prohibits denial of any person's rights, privileges or access to public services solely because he or she is homeless. Specifics include guaranteeing a homeless person's right to use and move freely in public spaces, including sidewalks, parks and public transportation buildings; equal treatment by all state and municipal agencies; emergency medical care; the right to vote; and a reasonable expectation of privacy of his or her personal property to the same extent as if he or she were in a permanent residence.

CHECK REGISTRATION STATUS ONLINE: Secretary of State William Galvin announced that Massachusetts voters can now check their voter registration status online. Prior to this, voters could only find out that information by contacting the city or town clerk. Voters simply enter their name, date of birth and zip code in order to check on their voter registration status and party enrollment. The link to the site is: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/VoterRegistrationSearch/MyVoterRegStatus.aspx.

CREATE OFFICE OF HEALTH EQUITY (H 3888): The House gave initial approval to a bill creating a new Office of Health Equity. The office would coordinate all activities to eliminate racial and ethnic health and health-care disparities in Massachusetts and prepare an annual plan to eliminate them. "Health-care disparities" refers to gaps in general health and the quality of health care and its availability across racial and ethnic groups.

Supporters said that while some disparities have been reduced in the past few years, many disparities still remain.