Beacon Hill Roll Call: May 13 to May 17, 2024

By BOB KATZEN

Published: 05-24-2024 12:17 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of May 13 to May 17. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.

The House gave near-unanimous approval to two major bills — one making major investments in information technology (IT) upgrades, and the other aimed at restoring stability to the health care system, bolstering accountability within the industry and controlling health care spending.

Only two representatives voted against the IT bill — Reps. Nick Boldyga, R-Southwick, and Marc Lombardo, R-Billerica. And only Boldyga voted against the health care measure.

Beacon Hill Roll Call asked Boldyga for a quote on why he voted against both bills. “It just feels good to vote the right way on these issues,” he responded.

Beacon Hill Roll Call also asked Lombardo why he voted against the IT proposal. Nancy Cadigan, Lombardo’s chief of staff, echoed Boldyga’s response. “That sums it up. Sounds perfect,” Cadigan said.

Funding for IT (H 4642)

The House, 152-2, approved and sent to the Senate a bill to invest in IT upgrades and new projects across state government. The measure authorizes $1.23 billion in bonded spending and $400 million in anticipated federal funds.

Provisions include $750 million to improve service delivery to the public; $200 million for technology and telecommunications infrastructure improvements and maintenance; $200 million to support the security of the state’s IT Infrastructure; and $250 million for various strategic initiatives, improvements to business intelligence and modernization of governmental functions.

“The [bill] will make state government more accessible and more effective for everyone in Massachusetts by ensuring our IT systems are up-to-date, safe and secure and easy to use,” said Gov. Maura Healey. “This will put Massachusetts in a stronger position to take advantage of new innovations, like applied AI, in ways that benefit our residents, businesses and economy.”

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“Ensuring that the commonwealth is investing heavily in our technology infrastructure is critical, as protecting against cybersecurity threats and enabling state agencies to operate with an increased level of efficiency are vital aspects of our effort to make Massachusetts more safe, effective and prepared in a world dominated by increasingly sophisticated technologies,” said House Speaker Ron Mariano, D-Quincy.

“The passage of the [bill] marks a significant milestone in Massachusetts’ journey toward technological advancement and growth, promising a safer, more connected future for all residents,” said Rep. Michael Finn, D-West Springfield, House chair of the Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets.

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Aaron Saunders — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

$7.5 million in additional funding (H 4642)

The House, 152-2, approved a consolidated amendment to the IT bill that would add $7.5 million, mostly to fund local projects, to the price tag of the measure.

Amendment supporters said these additional local projects are important to many cities and towns. They argued the amendment would make the bill even better.

Not included in the consolidated amendment was a proposal by Rep. Mike Soter, R-Bellingham, that would ban the use or download of TikTok by public employees on state-owned electronic devices. Since it was not included, the proposal simply died and no further action was taken. Soter could have requested a separate roll call vote on his proposal, but he did not.

Soter did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call asking him to comment on why he filed the proposal and why he didn’t ask for debate and a separate roll call on it.

A “Yes” vote is for the $7.5 million.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Aaron Saunders — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Health care changes (H 4643)

The House, 152-1, approved and sent to the Senate a 102-page bill that supporters said aims to “restore stability to the health care system, bolster accountability within the industry and control health care spending to ensure that everyone in Massachusetts has access to quality, affordable health care.”

According to the State House News Service, the measure “combines reforms intended to avert a repeat of the Steward Health Care crisis with changes designed to boost state oversight of facility expansions and closures, refine cost control tools to better account for fluctuations and increase funding for hospitals that typically serve high shares of low-income patients and people of color.”

“This legislation looks to the past, present and future of health care in the commonwealth,” said Rep. John Lawn, D-Watertown, House chair of the Committee on Health Care Financing. “It closes loopholes and shines a light on blind spots that allowed Steward to exploit Massachusetts patients for profit. It protects and preserves underpaid community hospitals that are the lifeblood of medicine in the commonwealth.”

“This legislation will help stabilize our health care system and ensure accountability from all stakeholders, as we continue to recover from the aftereffects of the pandemic,” said Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, D-Boston, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. “By strengthening oversight and making much-needed reforms, this legislation will not only steady the industry, but will also help control costs for consumers.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Aaron Saunders — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Also up on Beacon HillRaise fine for right-of-way violations (H 3477)

The House gave initial approval to a measure that would raise from $35 to $200 the fine for violating the traffic rule that dictates when two vehicles approach or enter an intersection at approximately the same instant, the operator of the vehicle on the left must yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on the right. The proposal also imposes additional penalties and/or license revocation for up to six months for any of these violations that cause death, serious bodily harm or bodily harm.

Sponsor Rep. Steven Xiarhos, R-Barnstable, noted the bill is named “Cecelia’s Law” in memory of Cecelia Finnegan Alldredge of Sagamore, who was killed on Sept. 6, 2020, when a car turned in front of her and caused a fatal crash.

“For the past three years, the Massachusetts Motorcycle Association, along with the Finnegan family and myself, have been tirelessly advocating for the passage of a bill aimed at increasing penalties for drivers responsible for accidents like the one that took Cecilia’s life,” Xiarhos said. “With motorcyclist fatalities reaching alarming levels nationwide, it is imperative that we take proactive measures to protect vulnerable road users.”

Municipal light plants (H 3142)

The House gave initial approval to a bill that would allow the state’s 41 municipal light plants to provide services to other Massachusetts municipal and state plants, and plants in other states. Current law prohibits this practice.

Supporters said the bill will encourage more efficient services such as constructing, maintaining and repairing utility poles and traffic signals across the state and will also enable municipal light plants to sell, rent and lease merchandise.

“This bill will allow for an expansion of services offered by municipal light plants to surrounding communities,” said sponsor Rep. Jay Barrows, R-Mansfield. “This will be good for consumers as it ideally would enable more competitive services to be provided.”

Must inform customers about insurance availability for heating oil spills (H 3686)

The House gave initial approval to a proposal that would require retail companies that sell home heating oil to annually inform all their customers of the opportunity to buy insurance for heating oil spills.

Current law requires that insurance companies make coverage available for owners but supporters of this bill say there are many documented cases of insurance companies not making owners aware that the coverage is available. They said this often results in homeowners being unaware they do not have insurance coverage until after they experience a liquid fuel tank leak. They noted that the bill will provide an additional layer of customers being informed of the availability of the insurance.

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.

Rep. Michael Day, D-Stoneham, the sponsor of the bill, did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call asking him to comment on why he filed the bill and how he feels about its initial approval.