Beacon Hill Roll Call: April 29 to May 3, 2024

Gov. Maura Healey, pictured at the podium during an October 2023 press conference, has signed into law a supplemental budget that includes an additional $251 million in funding for the Emergency Housing Assistance Program. She is flanked by Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll and Emergency Assistance Director Lt. Gen. Scott Rice.

Gov. Maura Healey, pictured at the podium during an October 2023 press conference, has signed into law a supplemental budget that includes an additional $251 million in funding for the Emergency Housing Assistance Program. She is flanked by Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll and Emergency Assistance Director Lt. Gen. Scott Rice. STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

By BOB KATZEN

Published: 05-10-2024 9:23 AM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ and representatives’ votes on roll calls from recent sessions during the week of April 22 to April 26. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

Tax credits for conservation land (H 4600)

The House, 154-0, approved a budget amendment that would expand the existing Conservation Land Tax Credit (CLTC) by raising the annual cap for this program from $2 million to $5 million over a three-year period, beginning on Jan. 1, 2026. The increase would remain in place until Dec. 31, 2034. This state tax credit provides an incentive for land with significant conservation value to be donated to public and private conservation agencies. The tax credit is equal to 50% of the fair market value of the donated property, up to a maximum credit of $75,000.

Supporters said raising the cap will help the state address the growing demand for participating in the program, which currently has a waiting list of more than two years.

“The CLTC program plays a critical role in conserving land and creating more accessible and open public space,” said amendment sponsor House GOP Minority Leader Rep. Brad Jones, R-North Reading. “To date, the program has helped Massachusetts conserve 15,505 acres of land across 154 municipalities, and in 2023 alone helped protect 558 acres of land. Raising the annual cap will allow for increased participation in the program and promote the conservation of critical natural resources in the state.”

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Aaron Saunders — Yes

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Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Prioritize 12-month residents (H 4600)

The House, 27-131, rejected an amendment that would give priority consideration for inclusion in the Emergency Housing Assistance Program, when space becomes available, to residents who have resided in the state for a minimum of 12 consecutive months and are on the waitlist for the program.

“With a growing number of people on the waitlist for emergency housing assistance, we need to set clear priorities to better manage the demand and eliminate the waitlist,” said House GOP Minority Leader Rep. Brad Jones, R-North Reading. “When doing so, it’s only fair that longtime residents of the commonwealth in need of services should take precedence over someone who has just arrived here from out of state.”

Amendment opponents said the amendment might be unconstitutional. They also noted that people from around the world who are the victims of rape, violence and oppression are coming to Massachusetts and the state should not impose residency requirements on these suffering migrants.

“I would also just like to underscore … that no families — whether they are longtime Massachusetts residents or families that are new to the state — are being put out on the street,” said Rep. Alice Peisch, D-Wellesley, who opposed the amendment. “We do have these overflow shelters. I don’t want anyone to be operating under the assumption that we have Massachusetts residents who are being left out on the street, so once again, I ask you please … to reject the residency requirement.”

A “No” vote is against the amendment giving priority to 12-month residents.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Aaron Saunders — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Electric suppliers (S 2738)

The Senate, 34-4, approved and sent to the House a bill that would bar electric suppliers from enrolling new individual residential customers in contracts, starting Jan. 1, 2025.

Supporters said the measure would protect residents from unfair and deceptive practices in the competitive electric supply market. They noted that according to the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Public Utilities, data analysis shows that consumers lost more than $577 million to competitive electric suppliers between July 2015 and June 2023. They added that low-income residents and residents of color are disproportionately affected by the industry by being more likely to sign up, and subsequently being charged higher rates.

“Each year, the broken and predatory residential competitive electric supply industry harms consumers across Massachusetts — particularly in low-income communities and communities of color — and fails in its promise to consistently provide consumer savings,” said Attorney General Andrea Campbell, a sponsor of the original version of the bill. “I now urge the House to take up and pass this legislation so that Massachusetts residents are protected from this deceptive and harmful industry.”

“The market would benefit from total reform, not elimination of newer energy suppliers/brokers,” said Sen. Patrick O’Connor, R-Weymouth, who opposed the bill. “A competitive market is healthy for the economy and by implementing strategy that would hold these energy suppliers accountable, it would be beneficial to all parties involved.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Paul Mark — Yes

Impose regulations instead of banning (S 2738)

The Senate, 5-33, rejected an amendment that would replace the bill barring electric suppliers from enrolling new individual residential customers in contracts, with a different bill that would have allowed the practice to continue and would instead impose more barriers for competitive suppliers to enter the market and provided the attorney general with more oversight authority. Under this alternate version, energy brokers, marketers and suppliers would be required to obtain licenses from the Department of Public Utilities, pay fees and maintain bonds. It imposes regulations on in-person or door-to-door marketing practices and requires third-party verification and identification badges for agents. It also imposes conditions on suppliers’ licensure renewals, including notification requirements and restrictions on termination fees.

Sen. Patrick O’Connor, R-Weymouth, said the amendment is aimed at reforming the industry by holding accountable those acting inappropriately in the marketplace, increasing public awareness on best practices to save money and ensuring greater transparency in energy pricing.

“There is value in competition to lower consumer rates, however, I believe to effectively address this issue is by market reform instead of total eradication,” O’Connor said. “The amendment … holds suppliers accountable by identifying bad actors and preventing misleading market practices through new regulations.”

Sen. Mike Barrett, D-Lexington, Senate chair of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, said the amendment used “lousy language.” Barrett signaled competitive suppliers have not added value to their product, despite having 25 years to prove themselves in the marketplace.

“There’s nothing redeemable about this particular option,” Barrett said. It’s too bad. I think a lot of us were very optimistic in the late 90s — this should have worked. Turns out that the product was absolutely fungible. These middlemen don’t have lower costs, they have higher costs.”

A “No” vote is against the amendment that replaces the ban with a new bill imposing regulations.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — No

Sen. Paul Mark — No

Also up on Beacon Hill Gov. Healey signs supplemental budget (H 4582)

Gov. Maura Healey signed into law a supplemental budget that includes an additional $251 million in funding for the Emergency Housing Assistance Program that funds the emergency family shelter system. The measure imposes a new nine-month limit on how long families can stay in the state’s emergency shelters, with up to two 90-day extensions available to some and a new hardship waiver process.

Provisions include $10 million for approved workforce training programs; $10 million for a tax credit for companies that provide job training to Emergency Assistance participants; $3 million for family welcome centers; $1 million for supplemental staffing at Emergency Housing Assistance Program shelters; and $7 million for resettlement agencies and shelter providers to assist families with rehousing, work authorization and English language learning.

Other provisions keep in place some pandemic-era programs, set to expire, including allowing restaurants to sell beer, wine and cocktails for takeout; expanding outdoor dining; and allowing graduates and students in their last semester of nursing education programs to practice nursing.

“This supplemental budget dedicates resources to balance the budget and maintain critical services and programs,” said Gov. Healey. “It also implements a length of stay policy for emergency assistance shelter, which is a responsible step to address our capacity and fiscal constraints as Congress has continued to fail to act on immigration reform. We will be finalizing details of this policy in the coming weeks and ensuring that families and providers are informed of the requirements and the services that we have available to help them secure work and stable housing.”

“Gov. Maura Healey, Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka are only focused on spending as much taxpayer money to deal with the migrant crisis,” said Paul Craney, spokesperson for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “They refused to address the root cause or how the state spends the money. This has resulted in the state spending nearly a billion dollars, or about $3 million a day, just on the housing for the migrants. Their attitude toward the problem is reckless and short-sighted. Massachusetts taxpayers cannot continue to afford this crisis and our state leaders are doing nothing to fix it.”

$375 million for roads and bridges (H 4529)

Gov. Healey signed into law a bill that includes authorizing $200 million in one-time funding for the maintenance and repair of roads and bridges. The $375 million package, a bond bill under which the funding would be borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds, also includes $175 million for several transportation-related grant programs.

The programs funded by the $175 million include the Municipal Small Bridge Program; the Complete Streets Funding Program; a bus transit infrastructure program; and grants for municipalities to purchase electric vehicles and the infrastructure needed to support them.

“We know that residents’ quality of life and our state’s economic strength depends on people being able to get where they need to go safely and on time,” said Gov. Healey. “These Chapter 90 funds and millions more for six grant programs will help us deliver on critical road, bridge and infrastructure projects that communities and the traveling public need.”

“As a former mayor, I know how much this money means to our cities and towns,” said Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll. “In particular, Chapter 90 apportionments go a long way in making sure our transportation system is safe and reliable for people who live, work and visit our communities.”

Home oil leaks (S 2737)

The House gave initial approval to a bill that would mandate that insurance companies in Massachusetts automatically provide residential owners with insurance for damage to property caused by a leak in a residential liquid fuel tank or home fuel supply lines. Each policy would provide this coverage and homeowners can either keep the coverage or opt out.

Current law requires that companies make coverage available for owners, but supporters say that while coverage is available, there are many documented cases of companies not making owners aware that the coverage is available. This often results in homeowners being unaware they do not have insurance coverage until after they experience a liquid fuel tank leak.

Supporters said that some 100 homeowners experience an oil leak in Massachusetts every year. They noted that leaks can incur costly damage to the residence itself, but under Massachusetts law owners are responsible for environmental cleanup, which can rise to $100,000 or more, to dispose of contaminated soil and mitigate the spread in surrounding areas.

“A constituent who had a leaking oil tank, unaware of available leak insurance, had to deplete their savings for a leaking basement oil tank cleanup,” said sponsor Rep. Steve Howitt, R-Seekonk. Howitt explained that the opt-out option, as opposed to the current opt-in option, would protect more consumers.

The Senate has already approved a different version of the bill.

Driving with an expired license (H 3376)

The House gave initial approval to a bill making driving with an expired license a civil infraction. Current law classifies it as criminal and carries with it a fine up to $500.

The bill would reduce the fine to $50 if the license has been expired for less than 90 days and $100 if the license is expired for 90 days or more. The legislation distinguishes an expired license from a revoked license or a driver who never possessed a license.

“This legislation makes sense because sometimes people merely forget to renew their license,” said sponsor Rep. Chris Markey, D-Dartmouth. “People should not be arrested for being forgetful as opposed to someone who is knowingly endangering others on the road.”