By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives and senators on two roll calls, one in each chamber, from the week of June 2-6.
$1.74 BILLION ENVIRONMENTAL BOND BILL (H 4138)
House 138-5, approved and sent to the Senate a $1.74 billion environmental bond package allowing the state to borrow funds to finance various environmental projects. The House during floor debate added an estimated $186 million in extra spending, mostly for projects in individual districts. The measure 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 landmark environmental legislation package is a fiscally responsible one which will help the state and local communities improve the environment. They argued it is fair and balanced and provides for important projects in all parts of the state.
Opponents said the package, pushed by the Democratic leadership, is loaded with unnecessary spending, particularly in districts where Democratic legislators have Republican challengers in November.
(A "Yes" vote is for the bill. A "No" vote is against it.)
Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes.
AMBER ALERT (S 2173)
Senate 38-0, approved and sent to the House a bill designed to improve and enhance the state's Amber Alert System that helps recover abducted children by interrupting regular radio and TV programming to broadcast information that could help recover the child. Information is also broadcast on electronic signs along highways, in airports and on cellphones.
Provisions include codifying the entire Amber Alert System into law; requiring more descriptive information in the missing child database, including identifying marks, prosthetics or surgical implants, photographs, description of clothing, items that may be with the missing child and his or her means of transportation; allowing the State Police to coordinate with law enforcement agencies in other states; and establishing training guidelines for 911 operators.
Supporters said this important bill would enhance the state's invaluable Amber Alert System. They noted since its inception in the Bay State in 2002, the alert has been activated 15 times and successfully recovered and reunited 23 children with their families.
(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)
Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes.
ALSO ON BEACON HILL
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS FOR SEX CRIMES AGAINST CHILDREN (H 4126) -- The House gave initial approval to a bill increasing the statute of limitations during which a person can file a civil suit for child sexual abuse. Current law allows victims to file a suit up until the age of 21 while the bill would increase the age to 53. The extension is retroactive for claims against actual perpetrators of abuse and prospective for others with indirect liability like supervisors.
Supporters said many children who are victims of sexual abuse are not emotionally ready to confront the situation until many years later. They argued that current law is unfair and allows many sexual predators to get away with their crimes.
Opponents said the bill goes too far because evidence and memories are often hazy, unclear and unreliable after many years. They argued that the bill would result in many people being wrongly convicted.
DEER HUNTING (H 4114) -- The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would allow deer hunting on Sundays with a bow and arrow. Current law bans any hunting on Sundays.
Supporters said it is time to abolish this puritanical ban and stop Bay State hunters from traveling to and spending money in neighboring states where Sunday hunting is legal.
Opponents said an additional day of hunting is inhumane to animals and dangerous for people who want to take nature walks and enjoy the wildlife on Sundays, when many are not at work. They cited a poll showing that 86 percent of Bay State residents support this restriction.
The House also rejected an amendment that would give local cities and towns the option to opt out of the law and ban Sunday hunting.
BURIAL BENEFITS (H 3766) -- The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill changing the current law that provides $4,000 for the burial of a person who dies as a result of an injury on the job under the Workers' Compensation Act. The bill would increase the amount to "eight times the state's average weekly wage." That wage is currently $1,181.28 so the present benefit would be $9,450.24.
Supporters said $4,000 is insufficient and noted the amount hasn't been raised since a hike from $2,000 to $4,000 in 1992. They argued that the average cost of a funeral has doubled in those 22 years and that tying it to average wages in the state will ensure the amount keeps up with the economy.
ABANDONED BABIES (H 138) -- The House gave initial approval to a bill that would allow newborns under the age of seven days to be surrendered to 911 emergency responders. The 2004 law currently allows parents to leave their baby under the age of seven days at a police or fire station or hospital emergency room.
Supporters said adding 911 responders would save more lives and give young, scared mothers another option instead of unsafe abandonment and even death of the baby.
REQUIRE AUDIO RECORDING WHEN USING TASER GUNS (H 3315) -- The Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security has recommended approval of a local option bill that would require that all newly purchased taser guns used by police officers be outfitted with an audio recorder. The proposal would only take effect in cities or towns that approve it. It would also "grandfather in" existing taser guns already owned by the city or town.
Supporters said this will ensure there is an audio recording when a taser gun is used so there won't be any questions about what was said by the police officer or the person who is tased.
NO PICTURES BY FIRST RESPONDERS (H 4040) -- The House gave initial approval to a bill that would prohibit police officers, firefighters, paramedics and other first responders from photographing victims at crime and accident scenes or forwarding such photos to others. The only exceptions would be if it is done in the performance of official duties or upon the consent of the victim or, if the victim is unable to consent, an immediate family member.
Supporters said the bill will protect the privacy of victims in this digital age.