Beacon Hill Roll Call: May 6 to May 10, 2024

Franklin Regional Council of Governments Senior GIS Specialist Ryan Clary pumps up a tire on one of the agency’s two bikes on Tuesday. The House gave initial approval to a bill that would require any city or town that has received state funding for transportation development to conduct a study to expand the number of bicycle routes on its public roadways. The measure mandates that the city or town report back to the Legislature in six months with a report including its findings and proposals to increase the lanes.

Franklin Regional Council of Governments Senior GIS Specialist Ryan Clary pumps up a tire on one of the agency’s two bikes on Tuesday. The House gave initial approval to a bill that would require any city or town that has received state funding for transportation development to conduct a study to expand the number of bicycle routes on its public roadways. The measure mandates that the city or town report back to the Legislature in six months with a report including its findings and proposals to increase the lanes. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

By BOB KATZEN

Published: 05-17-2024 10:01 AM

There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

The Senate has held 35 roll calls so far in the 2024 session. Beacon Hill Roll Call tabulates the number of roll calls on which each senator voted and then calculates that number as a percentage of the total roll call votes held. That percentage is the number referred to as the roll call attendance record.

Thirty-seven (92.5%) of the current 40 senators did not miss any roll calls and have 100% roll call attendance records.

The senator who missed the most roll calls is Sen. Mike Rush, D-West Roxbury, who missed nine roll calls resulting in a 74.2% roll call attendance record. All nine missed roll calls were held on April 25.

“On April 25, I was on orders with the United States Navy, and as a result, was unable to participate in roll call votes during that session,” Rush told Beacon Hill Roll Call. “On April 29, I submitted a letter to the clerk of the Senate to be included in the Senate Journal stating this fact and recording how I would have voted had I been present.”

The only other senator who missed any roll calls is Sen. Mike Barrett, D-Lexington, who missed two roll calls on Jan. 11, resulting in a 94.2% roll call attendance record. Barrett did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call asking him for a comment.

It is a Senate tradition that the Senate president only votes occasionally. Current Senate President Karen Spilka follows that tradition and only voted on six (17.1%) of the 35 roll calls while not voting on 29 (82.9%) of them.

The percentage listed next to the senator’s name is the percentage of roll call votes on which the senator voted through May 10. The number in parentheses represents the number of roll calls that he or she missed.

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Sen. Joanne Comerford — 100% (0)

Sen. Paul Mark — 100% (0)

Also up on Beacon HillSenate Ways and Means Committee proposes $57.9 billion budget (S 4)

The Senate fired the next shot in the long battle over the state budget for fiscal year 2025 that begins on July 1. The Senate Ways and Means Committee proposed its own version of the spending package.

Gov. Maura Healey fired the opening volley in January when she filed her version of the spending package. The House recently approved its own $57.9 billion version. It increases spending by $1.9 billion, or 3.3%, over the current fiscal year 2024 budget. The Senate will debate the budget the week of May 20 and a House-Senate conference committee will eventually craft a plan that will be presented to the House and Senate for consideration and sent to the governor.

Ban home equity theft (H 4624)

The Revenue Committee has advanced a new version of a bill that would prohibit municipalities that foreclose on properties for back property taxes from keeping all of the profits when the city or town sells the property at auction. Current Massachusetts law allows this practice.

Last year, the United States Supreme Court ruled that cities and towns that foreclose on properties for back taxes cannot keep all of the profits when the city or town sells the property at auction. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, writing a unanimous decision about a similar Minnesota law, said that “a taxpayer who loses her $40,000 house to the state to fulfill a $15,000 tax debt has made a far greater contribution to the public fisc than she owed.”

Senate co-chair of the Revenue Committee Sen. Susan Moran, D-Falmouth, said she never imagined that cities and towns could keep the equity after a home was seized and a debt paid.

“Because in all the consumer work that I did, or with respect to mortgages ... the individuals who owed the debt were able to retain their equity,” Moran said. “So I was not familiar that with municipal foreclosures, the municipality actually kept all of that equity. And I felt that it was incredibly unfair.”

Ban sending deepfake images within 90 days of an election (S 2730)

The Election Laws Committee held a hearing on legislation that would prohibit a person from knowingly sending out deepfakes of a candidate or political party within 90 days of an election without providing the following disclaimer: “This (image, video or audio) has been manipulated or generated by artificial intelligence.”

A deepfake is defined as an image, audio recording or video recording of a candidate’s appearance, speech or conduct that has been intentionally manipulated through digital and other means to injure the reputation of the candidate. It is designed to deceive a voter and appear to a reasonable person to depict a real individual saying or doing something that that individual did not say or do.

Supporters note that the 90-day period is used because 90 days or less before Election Day is crunch time, and at that late date, campaigns may not have time or resources to adequately respond to deepfakes and ensure voters know the material is non-authentic during this time fame.

The measure empowers aggrieved candidates to seek civil action up to a $10,000 fine against the person who posted the deepfakes. The bill’s provisions do not apply to news outlets or websites as long as the outlet acknowledges that the authenticity of the deepfake is in question.

“Voters deserve to make their decisions on accurate information, and deepfake media makes that difficult,” said sponsor Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover. “With artificial intelligence rapidly evolving, I am proud to have filed this proposal that will protect voters from the influence of deceptive and fraudulent media this election cycle.”

Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen, the Washington D.C. consumer organization founded by Ralph Nader, testified and told the Election Laws Committee that 13 other states have already adopted similar legislation. He said that the upcoming election “is shaping up to be the first very serious deepfake election we’ve ever seen.”

“Artificial intelligence has been around for a while,” Holman said. “But only this year, this election cycle, we’ve seen startling new advances where artificial intelligence can depict a candidate saying or doing something that they never did. And it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between what’s real and what is just entirely computer fabricated.

“It’s not a ban,” Holman continued. “It exempts news media, it exempts broadcasters and even social media platforms that make a reasonable effort to discern whether a communication is a deepfake or not. And it provides the targeted candidate with injunctive relief to try to stop further dissemination of that type of deepfake ad.”

$2.4 million for supportive and social day programs

Gov. Maura Healey announced that $2.4 million in grants, ranging from $15,000 to $300,000, will go to 20 organizations and communities to broaden supportive and social day programs for older adults and individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

Recognizing that historically underrepresented communities lack access to supportive and social day programming, funding will be awarded to rural communities and Gateway Cities, and will focus on developing programs in Portuguese, Haitian Creole, Chinese, Spanish and American Sign Language.

“We’re proud to support these organizations that are doing incredible work across our state to serve older adults, especially those who are suffering from Alzheimer’s and related dementias,” said Gov. Healey. “It’s important that our older adults and their loved ones can feel confident that they are receiving the best care possible.”

“Social and supportive day programs are essential to support our most vulnerable aging adults,” said Secretary of Elder Affairs Elizabeth Chen. “These programs provide a safe space for those with Alzheimer’s and related dementias to gather, stimulate conversation and foster connections. A number of these programs shut down during the pandemic, leaving these residents without a place to go, so the creation and expansion of the awarded programs is so important for our communities post-pandemic.”

End veterans’ homelessness

Secretary Jon Santiago of the Executive Office of Veterans Services and Secretary Ed Augustus of the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities met with staff and residents of Brighton Marine to discuss the Healey administration’s goal of ending veterans’ homelessness by 2027. Brighton Marine, according to its website “supports uniformed service members, retirees, veterans and their families by providing U.S. Family Health Plan, wraparound support services and case management for the greater Boston community.”

The Healey administration said the End Veterans Homelessness campaign is a multi-pronged partnership to identify all homeless veterans in Massachusetts, and develop and implement evidence-based strategies to prevent and intervene in veterans’ homelessness.

More bicycle lanes (H 3350)

The House gave initial approval to a bill that would require any city or town that has received state funding for transportation development to conduct a study to expand the number of bicycle routes on its public roadways. The measure mandates that the city or town report back to the Legislature in six months with a report including its findings and proposals to increase the lanes.

Sponsor Rep. Daniel Hunt, D-Dorchester, did not respond to several requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call asking him to comment on his proposal.

No penalties for canceling an auto insurance policy (H 1102)

The House gave initial approval to legislation that would allow auto insurance policyholders, if they cancel a policy or change companies, to be entitled to a pro-rated rebate for the exact number of days paid for in the policy without any surcharge of expenses beyond the exact days the policy was in effect.

Rep. James Murphy, D-Weymouth, the bill’s sponsor, did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call asking him to comment on his proposal.