By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives on six roll calls and local senators on four roll calls from the week of July 28- August 1.

HEROIN (H 4001)

House 151-1, Senate 35-5, overrode Gov. Deval Patrick's veto of an increase from 20 to 30 years in the maximum sentence for trafficking between 18 and 99 grams of heroin.

Supporters said there is an epidemic on the streets and these dealers are killing people. They said it is time to give out harsher sentences.

In his veto message, the governor said he vetoed the hike because it "imposes disproportionate maximum penalties."

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

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes

SUPER PACS (H 4366)

House 142-10, Senate 38-1, approved and sent to the governor a measure raising from $500 to $1,000 the maximum individuals can contribute to any one candidate in a calendar year, beginning in January 2015. The measure also requires super Political Action Committees (PACs) to release to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance the names of their contributors within seven days of running an ad and within 24 hours starting 10 days before a primary or general election.


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Another provision requires the names of the PAC's top five contributors who donate over $5,000 to be revealed in any ad it airs.

These 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 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 hail it as a victory for freedom of speech.

Another provision requires, beginning in 2015, that the voter guides mailed to citizens prior to an election include a note written by the governor's Executive Office of Administration and Finance (A&F) explaining the fiscal consequences on state and municipal government finances if a ballot question is approved.

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.

Some opponents said the bill does not go far enough on several counts to make true campaign finance reforms and noted it still allows unions to contribute excessive money to campaigns. Others said the provision requiring A&F to include a statement on each ballot question would make it more difficult to pass almost any ballot question since a governor could direct his A&F Secretary to write a biased, unfair one-sided note to help kill the question.

(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

LOCAL HOUSING AUTHORITIES (H 4374)

House 150-0, Senate 40-0, approved and sent to the governor a bill making changes in the regulation of local housing authorities. Provisions include establishing performance benchmarks, requiring training for board members and executive directors, requiring an annual report from each authority, mandating annual audits by independent auditors and allowing a tenant a seat on all local boards.

Supporters said the bill would increase transparency, accountability and efficiency and establish new roles for tenants in the governing of their local housing authority. 

(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

CLINIC ACCESS (S 2283)

House 119-33, approved (Senate approved on a voice vote without a roll call) and sent to the governor a bill filed in response to the recent U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that struck down a 2007 Massachusetts law that established a 35-foot protest-free buffer zone at reproductive health care centers. The measure authorizes law enforcement officials to issue a written order mandating immediate withdrawal of anyone who substantially "impedes" access to a facility entrance or driveway. The individuals must then remain at least 25 feet from the facility's entrances and driveways for a maximum of eight hours.

Supporters said the bill balances public safety and access considerations with the right of free speech. They noted it regulates the conduct of individuals who are outside clinics, not their speech.

Opponents said proponents should abide by the Supreme Court ruling and not look for ways to rush through a bill that tries to get around the court's decision. They argued the bill takes away the rights of protesters.

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

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, No

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE (S 2334)

House 152-0, approved (Senate approved on a voice vote without a roll call) and sent to Gov. Patrick a bill that would require employers with 50 or more employees to allow workers who are victims of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault to take a paid or unpaid annual 15-day leave of absence to address court, housing, health and other issues arising from the incident. Another key provision would prohibit the use of an "accord and satisfaction" agreement in domestic violence cases. These agreements allow the courts to dismiss a domestic violence charge over the prosecutor's objection if the victim acknowledges in writing that he or she has signed an out-of-court private agreement with the offender.

Other provisions create a new charge for a first offense of domestic assault and delay bail for domestic violence offenders by six hours, allowing victims an opportunity to find a safe place and get the necessary help.

Another provision requires local police departments to withhold from their public reports all the information about domestic violence allegations including the identity of the person arrested on these charges. Supporters said this is designed to protect the confidentiality of domestic violence victims. Opponents, led by Robert Ambrogi, executive director of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, said this would in fact violate freedom of the press and protect the alleged perpetrator by hiding his or her name.

Supporters said this long overdue bill is a critical step toward protecting victims of domestic abuse. They argued it is time to ensure that victims don't have to choose between dealing with problems from their assault and losing their jobs because of excess absences. They also noted that Massachusetts is the only state that still allows "accord and satisfaction" agreements and argued banning these would protect victims from being victimized again by being coerced into signing one.

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

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

ALSO ON BEACON HILL

POTLUCK DINNERS (H 3680) -- The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Patrick a bill that would prohibit state and local departments of public health from regulating the serving of food brought to potluck dinners sponsored by a group of individuals or by a religious, charitable or nonprofit organization.

Supporters said some local boards of health have gone too far by attempting to regulate this time-honored harmless tradition.

Opponents said there is real danger of diners getting a food-borne illness and noted people have become sick and even died from the food at these events.

DAVID F. MARCELLI LAW (H 4378) -- The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Patrick a proposal that would prohibit any body part or organ from being retained following an autopsy without consent from the deceased's next of kin, except if it is being kept for the purpose of determining the cause of death. The measure was filed on behalf of Cathie and Donald Marcelli, whose 18-month-old son David died suddenly in 1996. David's organs were retained without his parents' knowledge or permission following a hospital autopsy. Supporters say the family suffered untold anguish when they had to bury the body parts four months after David's death. The House gave the same bill initial approval in 2011 but no further action was taken on it.

REDUCE FREE 411 CALLS (H 4021) -- The House approved and sent to the Senate legislation reducing from ten 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 cell phones 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.

GOOD SAMARITAN LAW (S 795) -- The House and Senate approved and sent to the governor a bill that would apply the current "Good Samaritan" law to engineers, architects, environmental professionals, landscape architects, planners, land surveyors, licensed site professionals and contractors who render voluntary services at the scene of a disaster or catastrophe. This would expand current law, which applies to civilians, off-duty police officers, firefighters and EMTs.

Supporters said these professionals should not be held liable if anything goes wrong as a result of their efforts to provide emergency care. They said under current law, they could be sued if they give aid off-duty and something goes wrong.

PRESCRIPTIONS DURING AN EMERGENCY (H 4215) -- The House approved and sent to the Senate 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.

ENFORCEMENT OF MUNICIPAL ORDINANCES AND BY-LAWS (S 944) -- The House gave initial approval to a Senate-approved proposal to allow municipalities to seek civil penalties in court against an offender when a local law is violated. Under current law, the court is not allowed to assess a civil penalty.

Supporters said that cities and towns need the tools to enforce their laws and to show offenders that the community is serious about these violations.

REBATES FOR MOTORCYCLE EDUCATION (S 2324) -- The Senate approved and sent to the House a bill that would require the Registry of Motor Vehicles to provide $100 rebates to persons under the age of 21 who successfully complete a motorcycle basic rider course approved by the registrar.

Supporters said this is designed to encourage young riders to enroll in these courses that will make them better and safer drivers. They noted the funds would come from an existing fund used solely for the purpose of promoting and advancing motorcycle safety. The money in that account is derived from collecting $2 from every motorcycle registration.

HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK'S SESSION? During the week of July 28 to Aug. 1, the House met for a total of 28 hours and 2 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 30 hours and 43 minutes.