By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives' votes on three roll calls from the week of March 24-28. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.
ASSIST MILITARY FAMILIES (S 2052)
House 146-0, approved and sent to Gov. Deval Patrick a bill that would expand financial and education benefits and many other services for veterans, active-duty military personnel and their families. Provisions include allowing private-sector employers to give preference to veterans and spouses of 100 percent disabled veterans; increasing penalties for disturbances of military funerals; 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 waiving the initial application fee for vets seeking any kind of business license.
Supporters said the state should provide these additional benefits and opportunities to the thousands of Bay State veterans who in harm's way have served and are still serving our nation. They noted that one in three homeless people in the nation is a veteran, and that one in five Massachusetts veterans suffer post-traumatic stress and 11 percent suffer traumatic brain injuries.
(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)
Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes.
PROHIBIT SHACKLING OF FEMALE INMATES (S 3978)
House 146-0, approved a bill that would prohibit the shackling of a female prisoner during pregnancy, labor and delivery except to prevent her from escaping or seriously injuring herself or others.
Supporters said that shackling a female prisoner during birth is an archaic practice that should have been banned years ago. They argued that all women deserve a safe, healthy pregnancy and birth of their baby.
(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)
Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes.
EXTEND DEADLINE FOR FILING AMENDMENTS TO BILL HIKING MINIMUM WAGE (H 3896)
House 31-115, rejected a motion to increase from two days to five days the length of time representatives are given to file amendments to the bill increasing the minimum wage, making changes to the state's unemployment insurance system and establishing rights and protections for domestic workers.
Extension supporters said many legislators have not had time to read the just-released bill and craft amendments. They argued that there is no harm in giving additional time to file amendments to this important piece of legislation.
Extension opponents said that two days is a reasonable time and is the same amount of time legislators are given to draft amendments to the multi-billion dollar state budget.
(A "Yes" vote is for the extension to five days. A "No" vote is against it.)
Rep. Jennifer Benson No; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes.
ALSO ON BEACON HILL
LEGALIZE SPARKLERS AND MORE (H 3262) -- The House gave initial approval to a bill legalizing some currently banned small fireworks including sparklers, snake and glow worms, smoke devices and "trick noisemakers" such as party poppers, snappers and drop pops.
Supporters said the current ban on these small-time novelty items is another example of excessive government intrusion that limits people's choices. They argued that adults and children can be properly trained to use these devices safely.
Opponents said the current ban is reasonable and has worked well in reducing the number of accidents on the Fourth of July and other times these items are mishandled and cause tragedies.
"BOSTON STRONG" LICENSE PLATES (S 2072) -- The Senate approved 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. The House in January approved a different version of the bill. The Senate version now goes to the House for consideration.
Supporters said the revenue from the additional $50 fee would allow people to contribute financial support to victims who were impacted by this tragedy. They noted that the plates are one more way to honor the victims and their families.
UNCLE SAM DAY (H 2813) -- The House gave initial approval to a bill establishing Sept. 13 as Uncle Sam Day to commemorate Arlington native "Uncle" Sam Wilson.
Supporters say that Wilson in the early 1800s supplied barrels of meat to the U.S. Army and included the initials U.S. on the barrels. At that time, the abbreviation for the United States was relatively new and not widely used. Soldiers eventually associated the initials with Sam and the moniker "Uncle Sam" was born. The town of Arlington has led the campaign to promote Wilson. In 1976 the town erected a statue of Wilson and in 1999 the Uncle Sam Committee was created by Arlington's Town Meeting to promote an Uncle Sam Day.
The House also gave initial approval to a measure establishing Oct. 18 as Inflammatory Breast Cancer Awareness Day to raise awareness of the occurrence of the disease and encourage regular testing (H 2901).
STATE WORKERS' SAFETY (H 2460) -- The Labor and Workforce Development Committee approved a bill that would expand health and safety protections to cover state employees. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) covers private employees but 26 states have exercised the act's option of extending the OSHA protections to public workers. Supporters said this would cover an estimated 150,000 state workers who perform jobs that are sometimes just as dangerous as private sector ones.
LOTTERY SCAMMERS (H 25) -- The Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure gave a favorable report to a bill designed to crack down on "ten percenters" who cash in winning lottery tickets for "scofflaw" winners who owe child support or state taxes. The moniker "ten percenter" is used because the people who cash in the tickets are generally given 10 percent of the winnings for helping the winners avoid paying taxes or child support. The ten percenter then gives the remainder of the money in cash to the winner.
The Lottery currently compiles reports on anyone who cashes in 20 or more tickets annually but does not have the power to withhold the winnings. The measure gives the Lottery the power to do so.
MUST LABEL FOOD WITH GMOS (H 813) -- The Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture gave a favorable report to a bill that would require all foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be labeled as such. GMO refers to crop plants that have been modified in a laboratory to enhance desired traits, including resistance to herbicides.
Supporters of labeling say that consumers have the right to know what is in the food that they eat. They note that there are safety concerns and risks involved with eating genetically modified food.
Labeling opponents say that genetically modified foods are perfectly safe. They note they are more resistant to herbicides, enhance flavor and can have vitamins and minerals added to them to provide greater nutrition benefits.
CREATE OFFICE OF HEALTH EQUITY (H 3888) -- The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill creating an 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 do so. "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 still remain.
GYM CLASSES (S 2047) -- The Education Committee gave a favorable report to a bill that would amend the current law that requires physical education to be taught as a required subject in all grades for all students but allows cities and towns to determine the amount of mandated time. The measure requires that the instruction be age-appropriate and include physical activity, nutrition and wellness with a focus on physical competence, health-related fitness and enjoyment of physical activity that benefits children physically, cognitively, emotionally and socially. Another provision requires the education commissioner to conduct an evaluation of the duration, frequency and content of current physical education classes and to report its findings to the Legislature.
Supporters said that it is time to ramp up physical-education requirements. They noted childhood obesity has increased 300 percent over the last three decades and led to an increase in heart disease, diabetes and other obesity-related diseases.