By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Last week was April vacation week for all public schools in the state. Keeping with tradition, each branch held only brief, informal sessions during school vacation weeks and there were no roll call votes.

This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call reports the votes of local senators on three roll calls from prior sessions.

MORE LOCAL AID OPTION (S 2039)

Senate 7-31, rejected an amendment to resolutions stating the intent of the Legislature to hike Chapter 70 school aid by $100 million and unrestricted local aid by $25 million. The amendment would provide that those amounts be the minimum amounts and allow the Legislature to later increase funding.

Amendment supporters said this would simply allow flexibility to increase this local aid funding if possible.

Amendment opponents said House and Senate leaders agreed on this amount and argued that any change would hold up the resolutions and delay letting cities and towns know how much they will receive.

(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.

REGISTRY MODERNIZATION (S 2023)

Senate 10-28, rejected an amendment that would provide independent third-party oversight of a $63 million program to improve and modernize the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV).

Amendment supporters said this massive IT project should have oversight to protect taxpayers' dollars and interests. They pointed to major costly problems with a recent IT project -- the state's Health Care Connector, which has since cut ties with CGI Corp, the architect of the connector's troubled website.

Amendment opponents said oversight itself will not solve the problems. They urged the Senate to wait until the Legislature considers a comprehensive IT bill including major reforms.

(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.

BRIDGE REPAIRS FIRST (S 2023)

Senate 4-34, rejected an amendment that would prevent the undertaking of any new capital expansion transportation projects and instead prioritize projects and make the repair of structurally deficient bridges the first priority.

Amendment supporters said many bridges are in need of repair and without it, an estimated 500 bridges across the state will continue to be dangerous.

Amendment opponents said this ties the hands of Gov. Deval Patrick, whose administration ultimately decides which projects get funded. They noted this restriction would delay projects like the Green Line expansion, which is likely to get 90 percent reimbursement from the federal government.

(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.

ALSO ON BEACON HILL

LEGALIZE POT (H 1632) -- The Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a proposal that would legalize, license, regulate and tax marijuana and allow adults over 21 to grow it for their personal use and the use by others over 21.

PROTECT ANIMALS (S 1914) -- The Judiciary Committee also heard testimony on The Act Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety (PAWS) that would create a statewide registry of animal abusers that would have to be checked by animal shelters, pet stores and breeders before a person is allowed to buy or adopt the pet. Other provisions include establishing an anonymous animal abuse tip hotline; increasing penalties for cruelty to animals; and allowing law-enforcement officers, in cases of emergency, to enter private property without a warrant to protect against the imminent death or serious injury of an animal. The bill was filed in response to the "Puppy Doe" case in which a dog was euthanized in September after she suffered extensive injuries, including a stab wound to her eye and burns to her body. 

FLUFFERNUTTER (H 2868) -- The House gave initial approval to a bill filed by former Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein of Revere that would make the Fluffernutter the state's official sandwich. The Fluffernutter is a sandwich made of peanut butter and Marshmallow Fluff, invented by North Shore natives Allen Durkee and Fred Mower and still locally owned and manufactured in Lynn. The bill has been filed for several years but has never made it through the Legislature.

The bill was first filed in 2009 in response to a proposal by Cambridge's former Sen. Jarrett Barrios to limit the serving of Fluff to students in schools statewide to once a week. At the time, Barrios said he learned that his son had been served a Fluffernutter at his elementary school and that the sandwich is not a very healthy menu choice. Reinstein subsequently filed her bill and said it was important to defend and protect this local delicacy.

IMMUNITY FOR GIVING POOR RECOMMENDATION (H 4011) -- The House gave initial approval to a bill giving civil immunity to school administrators who "in good faith" disclose information about a former teacher's or other employee's job performance to a prospective employer. Supporters said this would help ensure that a school district could give a frank and honest response when asked for a reference check without fear of successful lawsuit by a former employee.

ANTI-BULLYING (S 2055) -- Gov. Patrick signed into law a bill adding some provisions to the state's 2010 anti-bullying law that requires all public and private schools to develop and implement a plan to prevent bullying and to discipline bullies. The new law requires that each plan provide specific and additional protections for students who may be more vulnerable to become targets of bullying based on several factors, including race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex and sexual orientation. It also requires schools to annually report bullying data to the state.

Supporters said these changes will enhance the law and save countless children from a lifetime of physical and emotional scars and worse.

TOILETS AND SHOWERS MUST BE EFFICIENT (H 4007) -- The House gave initial approval to legislation that would prohibit the sale of any plumbing fixture, toilet or urinal in the Bay State unless it meets the water-saving performance standards outlined in the legislation. Supporters said the bill will promote and ensure water conservation. They argued the bill is well balanced and allows manufacturers to be environmentally responsible while still providing a fair and reliable supply of products to consumers.

HOUSING AUTHORITIES (H 2128) -- 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 and on their state websites.

Supporters said that currently tenants who need help have to call the Massachusetts Housing Authority and navigate through a maze of general information and listen to an extensive recording before they can even begin looking for simple assistance. They argued the bill would make it easier for tenants and applicants to reach their local commissioners and to contact building managers.

OFFICIAL COWBOY (S 1622) -- The House gave initial approval to a proposal making Rex Trailer the official cowboy of Massachusetts. The late Trailer, who died in January 2013, hosted the local children's show "Boomtown" from 1956 to 1974 and was involved with many charitable causes. In 2012, before his death, the Tourism Arts and Cultural Development Committee recommended approval of the same bill. The measure was then sent to the Senate Ethics and Rules and no further action was taken on it.