By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives on two roll calls and local senators on four roll calls from the week of June 23-27.

ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS (H 4217)

Senate 9-29, rejected an amendment requiring the state to submit a report on the details of and the cost to the state of the recent transport of illegal immigrants to the Hanscom Air Force Base and Logan Airport by Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The amendment was proposed to a bill that would fund the state temporarily until the Legislature approves a fiscal 2015 budget.

Amendment supporters said taxpayers have a right to know the details and cost, including whether any detainees were released from federal custody into the state and whether the state has provided any detainees with state benefits.

Amendment opponents said they weren't necessarily opposed to the idea but noted that the passage of this temporary budget cannot be delayed or the state will run out of operating money.

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

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

NURSE STAFFING RATIO (H 4228)

House 145-0, Senate 39-0, approved and sent to Gov. Deval Patrick a bill that would establish nurse staffing ratios in intensive care units of hospitals. The measure would limit the ratio to one nurse for one patient, or one nurse to two patients in special circumstances as assessed by the nurses on that unit.

Supporters said this will protect and even save the lives of critically ill patients.


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Some noted this is the first step toward the goal of having staffing ratios in every unit in every hospital.

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

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes

SUPER PACs (H 4226)

House 145-4, approved and sent to the Senate a bill requiring super PACs to release the names of their contributors within seven days of running an ad. Other provisions require the names of the PACs' top five contributors who donate more than $5,000 to be revealed in any ad aired by the PAC and raise from $500 to $1,000 the maximum individuals can contribute to any one candidate in a calendar year.

Under current law, these PACs don't have to reveal their donors until just a few days before the primary election and later shortly before the general election. The PACs are created to help candidates and are often run by the candidate's former staffers or associates who use the PAC to fund positive ads about the candidate and/or run negative ads against the candidate's opponents. A candidate's own committee's contributions are limited by federal law but super PACs can legally accept unlimited donations.

The bill was filed in response to a Supreme Court decision ruling that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting corporations, unions and individuals from donating unlimited funds to PACs that do not donate directly to candidates or political parties. Critics say the decision has led to corporations, unions and wealthy individuals contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to PACs and having an undue influence on elections that is drowning out the voices of everyday Americans. Supporters of the ruling hailed it as a victory for freedom of speech.

Supporters of the bill said that while the state cannot overrule the Supreme Court, it can ensure that voters are regularly informed who is funding these influential PACs. They said it will shine the light on this "dark" money.

Opponents said the bill does not go far enough on several counts to make true campaign finance reforms. They noted it still allows unions to contribute excessive money to campaigns.

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

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes

COSTS OF HEALTH CONNECTOR PROBLEMS (H 4217)

Senate 7-27, rejected an amendment that would require the state's Inspector General to conduct a review and provide the Legislature with a report outlining the costs and financial impact of the Health Connector's failed website. The amendment was proposed to a bill that would fund the state temporarily until the Legislature approves a fiscal 2015 budget.

Amendment supporters said the Patrick administration has promised but keeps delaying providing this information. They argued it is important to figure out 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 noted that adding amendments to this temporary budget will delay its progress and argued the temporary budget must be passed quickly or the state will run out of operating money.

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

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

FLOOD INSURANCE (H 3783)

Senate 34-3, approved a bill that would prohibit creditors from requiring homeowners to purchase flood insurance in amounts that exceed the outstanding balance of their mortgage. Other provisions prohibit lenders from requiring coverage for the contents of a home or including a deductible of less than $5,000.

Supporters said this would help reduce premiums for homeowners affected by new federal regulations that threaten to drive up the cost of flood insurance. They noted that homeowners would still have the option to buy additional insurance coverage.

Opponents expressed concern that the bill would leave some homeowners with insufficient insurance and said the bill protects banks at the risk of homeowners.

The House has approved a different version of the measure. The Senate version now goes back to the House for consideration.

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

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

ALSO ON BEACON HILL

WELFARE CHANGES (S 2212): The Senate, on a voice vote without any debate or roll call, approved a bill making many changes in the state's welfare system. A key provisions increases penalties for store owners who knowingly allow the purchase of prohibited products or services with an EBT card. The measure also mandates that applicants search for a job prior to receiving cash assistance. Current law gives recipients a 60-day window after they start receiving benefits before they are required to look for employment.

Other provisions change the exemption from the work requirement for women in the last four months of pregnancy to the last month of pregnancy unless there is a documented medical issue; reduce the period for an extension of benefits beyond the 24-month period from six months to three months; create a job diversion program to connect able-bodied individuals with full-time jobs before they start receiving benefits; and changes the school attendance requirement from age 14 to age 16 and allows participation in an alternative education program or education development program to also meet the school attendance requirement.

Supporters say this long overdue overhaul of the welfare system is firm, fair and honest and will crack down on welfare abuse while offering many poor people a road to economic independence.

Some opponents say the bill goes too far and will hurt many families and elderly and disabled persons. Others say the bill does not go far enough in cracking down on welfare abuse.

DRIVER'S LICENSES FOR ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS (H 3285): The Transportation Committee has recommended that a bill allowing illegal immigrants to obtain a driver's license without producing a Social Security number be shipped off to a study committee. Most measures that are shipped off to a study committee are never actually studied and are essentially defeated.

SEAT BELTS (S 1115): The Public Safety Committee has turned thumbs down on a bill that would make the seat belt law a "primary enforcement," one allowing police officers to stop and issue $25 tickets to drivers and passengers solely for not wearing their seat belts. Current law is a "secondary enforcement," one that prohibits drivers from being stopped solely for not wearing a seat belt and allows an officer to issue a ticket only if the driver is stopped for another motor vehicle violation or some other offense.

GOVERNOR SIGNS CHILD SEX ABUSE BILL (H 4126): Gov. Patrick signed into law 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 perpetrators of abuse and prospective for others with indirect liability like supervisors.

GOVERNOR SIGNS HIKE IN MINIMUM WAGE TO $11 PER HOUR (S 2195): Gov. Patrick signed into law a bill increasing the current $8 per hour minimum wage by $3 over three years to $11 per hour. The measure also makes changes in the state's unemployment insurance system and raises the minimum hourly wage for tipped employees over three years from $2.63 to $3.75.

MIXED MARTIAL ARTS LICENSES FOR NON-CITIZENS (S 2220): The Senate approved a bill that would make it easier for noncitizens to obtain a license to compete in mixed martial arts, boxing and kickboxing competitions in Massachusetts. Current law requires the fighter to obtain a Social Security number. The bill would allow the use of a form of identification "sufficient to identify the applicant."

Supporters said the Social Security number requirement discourages many major competitions from holding events in the Bay State because it is a long process to get a Social Security number. They noted that Massachusetts is one of the few states that require a Social Security number.

ASSAULTS ON PUBLIC EMPLOYEES (S 718): The House gave initial approval to a bill that would allow a police officer to arrest an individual he or she has probable cause to believe committed an assault and battery on any public employee, doctor, nurse, social worker, emergency medical technician, ambulance worker or health care attendant. The measure allows law enforcement to keep the accused in custody for not more than 24 hours. Under current law, police officers are only permitted to give the person a summons for the crime.

Supporters said the bill is designed to give police another tool to combat these assaults and noted the bill was prompted by recent assaults on MBTA drivers.

HIGH SPEED CHASES (H 1500): The House gave initial approval to legislation that would create a new crime of ignoring the signal of a police officer to stop and then driving for more than a mile at 20 miles per hour over the speed limit . The measure imposes a penalty of up to five years imprisonment and a $1,000 fine on offenders.

PRESCRIPTIONS DURING AN EMERGENCY (H 4215): The House gave initial approval to a measure requiring the state to develop and publicize a statewide plan for ensuring the availability of prescription medications during a state of emergency. The plan would include allowing early refills of prescriptions, ensuring that vehicles delivering medications to pharmacies and hospitals be treated as emergency vehicles and establishing a toll-free telephone number and a website for citizens to get assistance in locating prescription medication.