Beacon Hill Roll Call: May 27 to May 31, 2024

JO COMERFORD

JO COMERFORD

The Senate, 39-0, approved an amendment increasing funding by $655,553 (from $644,447 to $1,300,000) for the distribution of Narcan to municipalities and community organizations. Narcan is the brand name for a life-saving overdose-reversal drug.

The Senate, 39-0, approved an amendment increasing funding by $655,553 (from $644,447 to $1,300,000) for the distribution of Narcan to municipalities and community organizations. Narcan is the brand name for a life-saving overdose-reversal drug. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By BOB KATZEN

Published: 06-07-2024 1:34 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ votes on roll calls from the recent debate on the Senate’s $55.9 billion version of the fiscal year 2025 state budget. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

State flag, seal and motto (S 4)

The Senate, 30-9, approved an amendment providing $100,000 to establish a new advisory commission, under the governor’s charge, to propose a new state flag, seal and motto within one year. The commission would be authorized to request proposals from professional designers and solicit a public competition for people to submit designs.

The current seal portrays an Indigenous person on a shield. The crest above it, which is also the state’s military crest, features an arm holding a sword. The motto is roughly translated from Latin as “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.”

This would not be the first commission to try to tackle this project. In November 2023, a commission that was first formed in 2000 issued a report but without any specific recommendation on changes to the flag, seal and motto.

“The imagery on our state seal and flag has long been viewed by Indigenous people and others as racist, symbolizing white supremacy and ethnic cleansing perpetrated against the Indigenous peoples of this region,” said amendment sponsor Sen. Jason Lewis, D-Winchester. “I was proud to sponsor and help lead the passage of an amendment … that would establish an advisory commission to design a new seal, flag and motto for the commonwealth. Our collective symbols of identity matter, and if they marginalize some of our fellow residents and perpetuate harmful stereotypes, then they should be reconsidered and replaced.”

“The current flag, seal and motto convey the subjugation of Native Americans through violence, and our Indigenous residents have told us the pain and harm that result,” said Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham. “We should never be afraid to learn and move forward from our historical mistakes. It’s rarely a compelling argument to say, ‘It’s always been this way.’ Several communities in my district strongly support an update that better reflects our shared values and hope to have the new flag, seal and motto swiftly, before our towns have to invest more resources printing an antiquated design that will soon be changed.”

“Symbols have weight,” said Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton. “They have meaning. They have power. With this amendment, Massachusetts moves necessarily forward in the process of creating a new state flag, seal and motto that reflect the mutual respect and connection we want and need between all people who share the commonwealth today.”

“The Massachusetts Legislature is currently working to address critical, urgent issues such as the commonwealth’s housing crisis, the rising cost of living, our changing climate and more,” said Sen. Mike Moore, D-Millbury. “While there are valid arguments to be made that the state seal, flag and motto are due for modernization, a special commission created to study the issue met for almost three years before issuing a report in 2023 that made no specific proposals. With so many more pressing issues affecting the everyday lives of Bay Staters, do we just keep creating commissions?”

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“Given the current fiscal state of the commonwealth, using taxpayer funds to recommission a commission for a new flag, seal and motto is wasteful,” said Sen. Ryan Fattman, R-Sutton. “Over two years were spent by the previous commission to reveal no concrete plan forward or even consensus if changes are needed. That commission decided to turn this issue over to the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office because of a lack of consensus. There are countless other priorities troubling the residents of Massachusetts, and in my opinion, elected officials should be focused on those, not this.”

“My decision to vote ‘no’ … was informed by the fact that a commission already exists for the purpose of designing a new seal, flag and motto for Massachusetts,” said Sen. Mike Brady, D-Brockton. “Moreover, I have concerns about the necessity of allocating an additional $100,000 for another commission. I believe that existing resources should be utilized efficiently, prioritizing essential services such as funding for our police, firefighters and teachers.”

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Paul Mark — Yes

$655,553 more for Narcan (S 4)

The Senate, 39-0, approved an amendment increasing funding by $655,553 (from $644,447 to $1,300,000) for the distribution of Narcan to municipalities and community organizations. Narcan is the brand name for a life-saving overdose-reversal drug.

“If we have learned anything from the past 25 years of this opioid epidemic, it’s that Narcan saves lives,” said amendment sponsor Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield. “Just last year, 9,000 overdoses were successfully reversed from Narcan. It is critical that, as the demand for Narcan increases and as our drug supply becomes more deadly, that we as a Legislature provide ... adequate funding to keep pace with the needs of our communities and, most importantly, keep people alive. The unfortunate truth is you cannot treat someone who is dead.”

A “Yes” vote is for the $655,553.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Paul Mark — Yes

Combat antisemitism (S 4)

The Senate, 40-0, approved an amendment that would require the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to make resources, curriculum and professional development available to schools on antisemitism and the harm that it causes. The amendment also establishes and regulates a special commission on combating antisemitism.

“It is deeply disturbing and truthfully infuriating to know that Massachusetts is among those five states that cumulatively make up almost half of our country’s antisemitic acts of hate,” said amendment sponsor Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield. “We pride ourselves for being an inclusive and welcoming state here in the commonwealth. That regardless of your background, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religion, we accept you as you are and will treat you with kindness and respect. But for too many of our Jewish friends and neighbors, we are not living up to our promise.”

Velis continued, “Hate in all of its forms must always be condemned, and yet antisemitism has persisted in countless forms for over 2,000 years dating back to biblical times. Tragically, antisemitism continues to not only exist, but is becoming increasingly normalized. I am proud to be a part of a legislative body that is willing to overwhelmingly speak out in the strongest possible way against it and educate others about the harm that it is causing.”

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Paul Mark — Yes

Fertility preservation treatments (S 4)

The Senate, 40-0, approved an amendment that would require health insurance companies to cover fertility preservation treatments for individuals who have a medical diagnosis or who are going through treatments that may impact their fertility.

Supporters said the change would have a minimal impact on premiums. They noted that the Massachusetts Center for Health Information and Analysis reviewed the proposal and found that it would likely increase premiums by just 2 cents per member per month.

“Tragically, many Massachusetts residents who are receiving treatment for cancer, sickle cell disease or other serious health conditions must also contend with the prospect of not being able to have biological children,” said amendment sponsor Sen. Cindy Creem, D-Newton. “Fertility preservation techniques are available, but without insurance coverage, they can be cost-prohibitive. I sponsored this amendment because in the commonwealth, reproductive health care is a right enjoyed by all, and the cost of fertility preservation should not be a barrier to starting a family for patients going through radiation or chemotherapy.”

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Paul Mark — Yes

$914,000 for veterans’ homes (S 4)

The Senate, 39-0, approved an amendment providing $914,000 to combat veterans’ homelessness by maintaining and operating three veterans’ homes and providing counseling and benefits to veterans and their families.

“Veterans’ homes are an indispensable resource for those who have given so much in service of our country,” said amendment sponsor Sen. John Cronin, D-Lunenberg. “The funding … will stabilize three veterans’ homes in North Central Mass, allowing residents to access the supports and wraparound services they need to live meaningful lives. We owe it to our veterans to ensure that they have every possible tool to thrive.”

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Paul Mark — Yes

Also up on Beacon HillRename the Executive Office of Elder Affairs

Gov. Maura Healey filed legislation that would change the name of the Executive Office of Elder Affairs to the Executive Office of Aging and Independence. The proposal also replaces outdated language in the state’s lawbooks, including changing “elderly persons,” to “older adults” and “handicapped” to “adults with a disability.” The new legislation also incorporates gender-neutral language into current law.

“The Executive Office of Elder Affairs was established more than 50 years ago and was one of the nation’s first state agencies dedicated to addressing the needs of older people,” Healey said. “Today, the agency has evolved to offer programs and services that support 1.7 million older residents and nearly 1 million family caregivers. Our administration is committed to meeting the changing needs of today’s older adults, and I am thrilled that this name change better reflects those that we serve.”

“The new name … mirrors the values and goals of our older adult population and our commitment to support the vibrancy, independence and dignity of our family members, friends and neighbors as they age,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kate Walsh.

Restrict carrying guns (H 2305)

The House gave initial approval to a bill that would prohibit anyone, except on-duty law enforcement officers, from carrying a firearm in any state or local government-owned building, polling place or demonstration. The measure imposes up to a $1,000 fine and/or up to a two-year prison sentence on violators and allows law enforcement officers to arrest, without a warrant, anyone who violates this law.

Rep. Marjorie Decker, D-Cambridge, the sponsor of the bill, did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call asking her to comment on the passage of her proposal.

Supporters say the bill will make government buildings, polling places and demonstrations safer and reduce the number of deaths and injuries from guns.

Opponents say the bill would violate their Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Veterans’ preference (H 3515)

The House gave initial approval to legislation that would amend the state’s current veterans’ preference law that places veterans who pass the exam at the top of the eligibility list for Civil Service positions. The amendment would add members of the Massachusetts National Guard and Reserves of the United States Armed Forces with no less than two years of continuous service to the list.

Rep. Meghan Kilcoyne, D-Clinton, the sponsor of the bill, did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call asking her to comment on the passage of her proposal.