By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators and representatives' votes on three roll calls from the week of April 14-18.
$12.7 BILLION TRANSPORTATION PACKAGE (H 4046)
House 150-2, Senate 40-0, approved and sent to Gov. Deval Patrick an estimated $12.7 billion transportation borrowing bill that includes $300 million for local road and bridge repairs, $2.2 billion for the South Coast Rail Project that would extend commuter rail service to New Bedford and Fall River and $325 million for an expansion of South Station, to be re-named the Governor Michael S. Dukakis Transportation Center, $63 million for Registry of Motor Vehicles modernization and improvements and a doubling of the penalty for MBTA fare evasion.
The measure also includes dozens of earmarks costing hundreds of millions of dollars proposed by individual representatives and designed to fund projects in their districts. The projects are actually more of a "wish list": The Patrick administration is required to adhere to the state's annual bond borrowing cap and ultimately decides which projects are affordable and actually get funded.
Supporters said this would give communities their share of the $300 million they are anxiously waiting to receive. They noted the package also includes hundreds of millions of dollars for state roads and other important transportation projects.
Opponents said Massachusetts is already leading the nation in debt per capita and argued it is unfair to spend today and have our children pay the bills tomorrow. They noted the bill included millions of dollars in golden parachutes for retiring toll workers.
(A "Yes" vote is for the bill. A "No" vote is against it.)
Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes.
AUTISM (H 4047)
House 151-0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would provide additional services and educational opportunities to the increasing number of children with autism. A key provision creates a state commission on autism to monitor the implementation of policies impacting individuals with autism and investigate the range of services necessary for such individuals to achieve their full potential. Other key provisions allow families to put aside tax-free funds into savings accounts to pay for long-term care and housing of children with autism and other intellectual disabilities and expand eligibility for services to individuals with IQs higher than 70, currently the maximum IQ allowed under current rules.
Supporters said this long overdue bill will help thousands of families across the state. They noted the new IQ system will allow the state to provide services and tailor plans to help people with severe disabilities who are falling through the cracks in the system because their IQ is above 70.
(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)
Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes.
ADD PARENT AND SPECIAL NEEDS COORDINATOR (H 4047)
House 29-123, rejected an amendment that would place a parent of a child with autism and a current special-needs coordinator employed by a public school on the newly created State Commission on Autism.
Amendment supporters said the commission will benefit from adding a parent of a child with autism and someone who works in the classroom.
Amendment opponents said the amendment is unnecessary because parents of children with autism will already be on the commission through the discretion allowed on the appointment of many other members with specific backgrounds who also happen to be parents. They noted the state director for special education is already on the commission.
(A "Yes" vote is for the amendment. A "No" vote is against the amendment.)
Rep. Jennifer Benson, No; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes.
FREE TUITION, FEES AND ROOM AND BOARD (S 2106)
Senate 40-0, approved and sent to the House a bill that would expand the current law that provides free tuition at state universities for children of police officers, firefighters, corrections officers, prisoners of war during the Vietnam era and all veterans killed in action. The bill provides a full scholarship for tuition, fees and room and board at state universities for all the people covered under current law and adds several others including the children of any call, volunteer, auxiliary, intermittent or reserve police officer, firefighter or emergency medical technician as well as college campus police officers and any public prosecutor.
Supporters said this would be a huge help to the families of these fallen heroes. They noted it would help ease the financial stress related to paying for college and allow them to focus on the healing process and their daily lives.
(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)
Sen. Eileen Donoghue Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes.
HAZARDOUS WASTE (S 2105)
Senate 39-0, approved and sent to the House a bill that amends the current law that requires companies responsible for hazardous materials spills to reimburse the city or town for the costs of its emergency response. The measure would expand current law and require reimbursement even for the "threat" of release of the materials. Another provision releases private homeowners and renters from reimbursing the community for the cost of any cleanup of oil or hazardous material on their property if they notify the local fire department of the incident immediately, the home was only used as a residence, and the owner or renter was not grossly negligent and did not illegally possess oil or hazardous materials.
Supporters said currently communities use lots of resources and dollars to respond to these calls but are not reimbursed unless there is an actual spill. They noted that non-commercial private homeowners and tenants should not be liable for cleanup costs if they meet certain conditions.
(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)
Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes.
ALSO ON BEACON HILL
PRUDENT INVESTOR (H 1830) -- The House gave initial approval to a bill sponsored by the Massachusetts Treasurers Association that would allow treasurers of cities and towns to invest using the state's "prudent investor" standard instead of being limited to a list of entities in which they are allowed to invest.
Supporters said this would give local treasurers more flexibility in what they can invest and would allow them to potentially get a greater return on their investment than they currently receive. They noted the state's prudent investor standard includes safeguards and limitations and does not give treasurers the power to invest willy nilly.
HOUSING AUTHORITIES (H 1136) -- The House gave initial approval to a bill requiring local housing authorities to post the names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses of their commissioners on the wall of the community center of each of their housing developments.
FLAGS AT HALF STAFF (H 2891) -- The House gave initial approval to a bill that would require the state flag to be flown at half staff annually on Sept. 11 in memory of the thousands who perished on that date. The same bill in 2011 was given initial approval by the House but it remained in a House committee and eventually died.
REDUCE FREE 411 CALLS (H 4021) -- The House approved legislation reducing from 10 per month to five per month the number of free directory assistance calls that phone companies must provide to each business and residential customer on their landline phones. The measure leaves intact the current law providing unlimited 411 calls for the disabled, seniors over 65 and state and local governments. The same bill was approved by the House in 2012 but died in the Senate.
Supporters said that as more and more consumers move away from traditional landline phones to cellphones and Internet phones, it becomes harder for traditional phone companies to pay for the existing infrastructure, including free 411 calls. They noted that even with the reduction to five, Massachusetts will still be requiring companies to provide one of the highest number of free directory assistance calls of any state in the nation.
KEEP ABUTTERS NOTIFIED (H 162) -- The House gave initial approval to a proposal requiring the planning boards of cities and towns to keep abutters apprised during the approval process and advise them of their right of appeal during the community's review of any subdivision plan.