By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives on five roll calls and local senators on six from the week of May 12-16.

CHANGES IN ELECTION LAWS (H 4207)

House 147-4, Senate 38-0, approved a bill making changes in the state's election laws. Key provisions allow online voter registration; 16- and 17-year-olds to "pre-register" to vote and automatically be qualified to vote upon turning 18; and early voting beginning 10 business days before any primary or general election and ending two days before the election.

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.

Some opponents said the pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds is an unnecessary and unworkable idea that is opposed by many understaffed city and town clerks. They said many teenagers who pre-register will go away to college and find out they can't vote in their college town because they are already registered in their hometown. Others argued the proposal does not include a key safeguard requiring voters to show a picture ID in order to vote.

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

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Didn't Vote; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Didn't Vote.

REQUIRE PUBLIC HEARINGS ON ALL TAX HIKES (H 4069)

House 31-118, rejected an amendment that would require the Legislature to conduct at least six public hearings in different parts of the state on any legislation that would establish, increase or expand any new or existing tax or fee.

Amendment supporters said this is a reasonable requirement that would ensure the public is made aware of any proposed taxes or fees. They noted it would allow voters to make their feelings known.

Amendment opponents said the Legislature already holds a hearing on every bill. They noted that this requirement goes too far and would require a series of public hearings even on a $1 fee increase.

(A "Yes" vote is for requiring public hearings. A "No" vote is against it.)

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Didn't Vote; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes.

$100 MILLION IN NEW TRANSPORTATION AID (H 4069)

House 114-33, approved an amendment prohibiting a proposal providing cities and towns with an additional $100 million in transportation funds from taking effect until the Patrick administration studies the economic impact of the increase. The funds would come from the state's Rainy Day Fund and would be used for road and bridge repairs and other transportation projects.

Supporters of the delay said it is fiscally irresponsible to take this money from the Rainy Day Fund and spend current budget assets on capital projects. They argued this would lower the state's bond rating and result in higher borrowing costs.

Opponents of the delay said the money is needed by cash-starved cities and towns and will help prevent layoffs and budget cuts. They noted the state took in $627 million more than expected in fiscal year 2013 and currently has more than $500 million in unanticipated revenue for fiscal 2014 with two months still to go.

Locally, the amounts would have been: Ashby, $115,009; Ayer, $122,309; Groton, $253,343; Harvard, $170,069; Pepperell, $207,924; Shirley, $126,437; Townsend, $212,845.

(A "Yes" vote is for the delay. A "No" vote is against the delay and favors the $100 million for cities and towns.)

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Didn't Vote; Rep. Sheila Harrington, No.

WITHHOLD $65 MILLION UNTIL HEALTH CONNECTOR REPORT IS MADE (H 4069)

House 40-110, rejected an amendment that would withhold $65 million in funding for the Obamacare Health Connector until the state conducts a review and provides the Legislature with a report outlining the financial impact of the Connector's failed website. 

Amendment supporters said the Patrick administration has promised but keeps delaying providing this information. They argued it is fiscally irresponsible to continue to fund the Connector and any website without knowing what went horribly wrong with the website and what the financial impact is.

Amendment opponents agreed that the website was a disaster but said the Patrick administration has already agreed to provide this information. They argued it is unfair to withhold money that will help provide insurance for thousands of Massachusetts residents.

(A "Yes" vote is for the amendment withholding the $65 million. A "No" vote is against withholding it and favors providing the $65 million now.)

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Didn't Vote; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes.

REMOVE DRUG-ADDICTED BABIES FROM MOTHERS (H 4069)

House 118-31, approved an amendment that would delay a proposal requiring the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to take custody of and find a foster home for babies born addicted to drugs because of the use of illegal drugs by the mother. The amendment would delay the requirement until the state conducts a study of the issue. The proposal also mandates that the birth mother submit to treatment and random drug testing.

Supporters of the delay said they might support the idea but that the proposal is a major change and should be filed as a separate bill that would go through the normal legislative process, including public hearings.

Opponents of the delay said this is a straightforward issue that should be voted upon now. They argued the amendment would protect infants born addicted to drugs and improve or even save their lives.

(A "Yes" vote is for the delay. A "No" vote is against the delay and favors turning the children over to DCF.)

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Didn't Vote; Rep. Sheila Harrington, No.

SUBSTANCE ABUSE SERVICES (S 2133)

Senate 40-0, approved and sent to the House a bill designed to give recovering drug addicts better access to substance-abuse treatment. Provisions include requiring all insurance carriers to reimburse for substance-abuse treatment services delivered by a licensed alcohol and drug counselor; removing prior authorization for acute treatment services and clinical stabilization services for commercial insurers and requiring coverage for a total of up to 21 days; and removing prior authorization for MassHealth Managed Care entities and mandating coverage of up to 15 days of clinical services.

Supporters said this long overdue legislation is a major weapon in the fight against the opiate addiction epidemic in the Bay State. The argued it is the beginning of a long process to prevent and treat addiction and save countless lives and families.

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

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

DESIGNER DRUGS (S 2133)

Senate 6-33, rejected an amendment that would make "designer drugs" illegal. Designer drugs are drugs that are manufactured by drug dealers with slightly changed chemical compounds so that they are technically not illegal.

Amendment supporters said this will stop devious dealers from staying one step ahead of the law by slightly changing compounds but still ruining users' lives.

Amendment opponents said there are hundreds of designer drugs, and some are sold in convenience stores and gas stations. They said the amendment would unfairly punish buyers who are not even aware the drug is illegal.

(A "Yes" vote is for making designer drugs illegal. A "No" vote is against it.)

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

RATE SUBSTANCE-ABUSE PROGRAMS (S 2133)

Senate 4-35, rejected an amendment requiring the state to create a website that provides information on the success rate of substance-abuse services.

Amendment supporters said this would create transparency and help patients make informed choices by providing information on the success rate and consumer satisfaction with drug-abuse programs across the state.

Amendment opponents said that while the amendment is well-intentioned, there could be unintended consequences including facilities not taking on difficult cases because they fear the treatment will fail and their rating would be lowered.

(A "Yes" vote is for requiring a website. A "No" vote is against it.)

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

SUE IF NOT COVERED FOR MENTAL HEALTH (S 2133)

Senate 14-25, rejected an amendment that would allow consumers to bring private lawsuits to enforce their rights under the existing mental-health parity law. That law requires insurers to cover treatment for mental-health and substance-abuse disorders in the same way that they cover treatment for a physical illness. The measure also allows the consumer to collect triple damages if the suit is successful.

Amendment supporters cited cases in which parity has not been achieved and in which insurers are still denying mental-health coverage.

Amendment opponents said the amendment has merit but argued this bill is not the appropriate place to address this important issue. They said it should be addressed in a separate bill that has already been approved by the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee.

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

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

DELAY $65 MILLION FUNDING FOR CONNECTOR AUTHORITY'S WEBSITE (H 4069)

Senate 33-4, rejected an amendment that would require Gov. Deval Patrick to request a federal waiver to allow the state to reinstitute its original 2006 health-care website exchange, rather than continue to spend money trying to build a new website that would comply with Obamacare regulations. The amendment would prohibit any money from being spent on a new website until the waiver is filed. The state recently approved a dual path -- a plan to hire a new vendor to build a new website with a backup option to join the federal health exchange.

Amendment supporters said it cost the state only $10 million in 2006 to build the highly successful site that led to 98 percent of Massachusetts residents being covered. They argued that the failed Connector has already cost hundreds of millions of dollars and argued the cost-effective and efficient choice is to get permission to reinstitute the successful original site.

Amendment opponents offered no arguments.

(A "Yes" vote is for the amendment withholding the $65 million. A "No" vote favors providing the $65 million now.)

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, No; Sen. James Eldridge, No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Didn't Vote.

ALSO ON BEACON HILL

TRANSGENDER PROTECTION (H 3625) -- The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Patrick a bill that would add gender identity as a class protected from discrimination in the Boston housing market and give the Boston Fair Housing Commission enforcement powers. Current law prohibits discrimination in several areas including race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, religion, handicap, source of income and military status.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE VIOLATIONS BY LOCAL OFFICIALS (H 3760) -- The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Patrick a bill that would prohibit a municipal candidate from appearing on the ballot if civil proceedings for failure to file his or her campaign-finance reports on time have been initiated. These are the same penalties that are currently imposed on candidates for state and county office.

Supporters said it is time to eliminate this unfair loophole that favors municipal candidates.

PROHIBIT SHACKLING OF PREGNANT INMATES (S 3978) -- Gov. Patrick signed into law a bill that would prohibit the shackling of a female prisoner during pregnancy, labor and delivery. The proposal also establishes minimum standards for the treatment and medical care of pregnant prisoners, including adequate nutrition and prenatal care.

USED MATTRESSES (H 263) -- The House gave initial approval to a measure requiring the labeling of any mattress, box spring, studio couch or futon mattress that has been used by a consumer and returned to the store for resale. The required wording on the label would indicate that "this mattress, box spring, studio couch or futon mattress has been previously sold, delivered, used and returned and is being offered for resale."

TELEMARKETERS MUST SHOW REAL PHONE NUMBER (H 285) -- The House gave initial approval to a bill that would prohibit "spoofing," a practice used by telemarketing companies to have a phony telephone number show up on a consumer's Caller ID. The number would have to be "a legitimate number in which the consumer can directly communicate with the solicitor." Current law only prohibits the telemarketers from blocking their phone number from appearing on Caller ID.