Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of May 16-20. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.
The House, 155-0, approved a bill that makes changes in the cannabis industry including a section that would require the state to put its tax and licensing revenue from the sales of marijuana revenue into a newly created Social Equity Trust Fund to provide grants and loans, including forgivable and no-interest loans, designed to assist entrepreneurs and businesses from communities disproportionately harmed by the decades of marijuana prohibition. The measure would also allow municipalities to vote by a local referendum or through a vote of the municipal government for social consumption of marijuana to take place in their community. The Senate has already approved its own version of the bill and a House-Senate conference committee will likely hammer out a compromise version.
Supporters explained that opening an average cannabis retail shop can require up to $1.5 million. They noted that since federal cannabis laws prevent these businesses from accessing traditional bank loans, lack of capital can pose an insurmountable barrier. They noted that less than 20 (6%) of the 346 marijuana businesses are connected to participants in the Cannabis Control Commission’s current social equity program or economic empowerment entrepreneurs.
“This legislation builds upon the House’s multi-session efforts to create a fair and successful cannabis industry, fostering equitable opportunities to those disproportionately impacted by the systemic racism of historic drug policy,” said Speaker of the House Ron Mariano, D-Quincy. “With this legislation, the House addresses ongoing concerns that have only become more pronounced with the growth of the cannabis industry, such as the host community agreement process and systemic barriers for minority-owned businesses to enter the cannabis market.”
“This legislation continues to build on the strives we have made in the cannabis industry to ensure equitable access for all Massachusetts residents, particularly those who have been disadvantaged by marijuana prohibition and enforcement,” said Rep. Dan Donahue, D-Worcester, House Chairman of the Committee on Cannabis Policy. “This bill lays out a clear and fair approach to expungement for prior marijuana convictions that ensures the best interest of justice is served by providing a real and effective avenue for many to put their past behind them.”
“I voted against the cannabis bill first based on the principle that I believe legalization was a mistake,” said Rep. Jeff Turco, D-Winthrop, one of only two members who voted against the measure. “I believe this bill compounds the mistake by using taxpayer funding to finance new entrants into the cannabis market. In addition, this bill will allow people convicted of distributing cannabis in a school zone and to children to be permanently expunged from their criminal record. In light of all of these concerns, I voted against the bill.”
Rep. Marc Lombardo, D-Billerica, the only other representative who voted against the measure, did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call for a comment.
Public meeting before licensing
The House, 29-126, rejected an amendment that would require that a public hearing be held prior to the signing of an agreement between a host city or town and a marijuana business.
“Under current law a public meeting must take place in a community prior to a cannabis business applying for a license from the Cannabis Control Commission,” said amendment sponsor Rep. Paul Frost, R-Auburn. “However, that public meeting can and has taken place after a host community agreement is already signed and agreed to between the business and community officials. My amendment sought to require that the public meeting must take place prior to the signing of the host community agreement. This way residents, especially those impacted by the location of such a business, can have input prior to any agreement on addressing impacts being finalized. It makes the process far more transparent and consistent from community to community.”
Rep. Donahue, co-chair of the Committee on Cannabis Policy. opposed the amendment. “Currently municipalities are allowed to host, have their host community agreement meetings before a host community agreement is required,” said Donahue during the debate in the House. “The Cannabis Control Commission under this legislation will have the ability to promulgate new regulations … which … could include possibly the preference to have a host community agreement meeting before they sign … This bill is about setting the boundaries for what could be included in a host community agreement. It doesn’t deal with the processes for which a municipality will engage their community members in signing the host community agreement.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against it).
NO: Rep. James Arciero; Rep. Colleen Garry; Rep. Kenneth Gordon; Rep. Natalie Higgins; Rep. Vanna Howard; Rep. Meghan Kilcoyne; Rep. Michael Kushmerek; Rep. Rady Mom; Rep. Tram Nguyen; Rep. Dan Sena; Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik.YES: Rep. Kimberly Ferguson; Rep. Marc Lombardo; Rep. David Robertson. Reps. Thomas Golden and Sheila Harrington have resigned.
Borrow $5 billion for state projects
The House, 155-0, approved and sent to the Senate a $5 billion bill that borrows money for hundreds of projects — the majority involving maintenance and modernization projects of buildings — many of which are decades old. The House added $125 million during consideration of the package. A key provision imposes a five-year moratorium on any prison or jail construction in Massachusetts.
There was no debate on the House floor during consideration of the package. There were 256 amendments filed by members, many of which were filed by legislators for projects in their own district. Members pitched their amendments behind closed doors. In the end, there was no debate or vote on individual amendments but rather approval of a single mega-consolidated which included some, but not all, of the 256 amendments.
Rep. Danielle Gregoire, D-Marlborough, the House chair of the Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets, did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call to comment on passage of the bill. Her committee held a hearing on the original version of the measure sponsored by Gov. Charlie Baker in January.
Also up on Beacon Hill
— Allow cities and towns to impose water fees: The Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government held a virtual hearing on legislation that would allow cities, towns and water or wastewater districts to impose “reasonable” fees that would be used only to remedy/offset impacts that water withdrawals and discharges have on the natural environment.
Supporters said that “water banking” at the local level has proven to be an effective tool for mitigating the impacts of water withdrawals on both the natural environment and local and regional water infrastructure systems.
“In response to administrative consent orders and increasingly stringent regulatory mandates, communities are being encouraged to establish water banks or mitigation funds,” said sponsor Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton. “These funds are needed to design and construct water, sewer and stormwater improvements that are required to mitigate environmental impacts directly attributed to new or increased demands placed on these essential services.”
— Raise fines for animal cruelty: Stuck in the Bills in Third Reading Committee since approved by the House on Dec. 30, is a bill that would amend current law that imposes up to a seven-year prison sentence and/or $5,000 fine for a first offense of animal cruelty and a 10-year prison sentence and/or $10,000 fine for a second offense. The bill leaves the prison sentences as they are but raises the fines to $5,500 for a first offense and $11,000 for subsequent offenses. It also creates a special account where up to $500 for a first offense and up to $1,000 for subsequent offenses would go to fund improvements to animal shelters in the city or town in which the violations occurred.
— $500 payments to 333,000 eligible low-income workers: The administration of Gov. Charlie Baker announced that 300,000 low-income workers will each receive $500 under the second round of the COVID-19 Essential Employee Premium Pay Program that was part of the American Rescue Plan Act approved by the Legislature in December. The administration was given the power and flexibility to implement the program and announced last week that these round two checks will be mailed out soon.
Massachusetts residents will be eligible for the $500 if their 2021 income from employment was at least $13,500—and their total income put them below 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Individuals who received a round one payment through this program or received unemployment compensation in 2021 will not be eligible for this second round of payments, nor will commonwealth executive branch employees who received or will receive a one-time COVID-19-related payment from the state as their employer.
“As Massachusetts motorists are on the verge of paying six dollars a gallon for gasoline, Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka should reconsider their thoughts that suspending the state gas tax is a gimmick. Instead, they should address suspending the gas tax and cutting other taxes to help middle class Massachusetts taxpayers keep more of their hard-earned money.” – Paul Craney, spokesman for the Mass Fiscal Alliance
“While this shooting happened in New York, we need to talk about it here in Massachusetts—because that could have been Nubian Square, Grove Hall, downtown Brockton or Forest Park in Springfield. It could have been, and historically has been, a synagogue, a mosque or a center serving immigrant communities.” – Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence statement on mass shootings in Buffalo and across the nation.
“Achieving an accurate count for all 50 states and DC is always a difficult endeavor, and these results suggest it was difficult again in 2020, particularly given the unprecedented challenges we faced.” – Census Bureau Director Robert Santos on its nationwide corrected census data which includes adjusting the total number of people living in the Bay State from 7,029,917 to 6,784,000 — a reduction of 245,917.
“When you include additional time for construction and the start of construction and the rate of inflation that we have to project, as we are seeing inflation on a lot of our work and a lot of our bids and in the overall economy, there is going to be a significant increase in what we collectively thought the cost estimates would be for this project.” – Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler predicting that the estimated cost to demolish and replace the Bourne and Sagamore bridges has risen from the 2019 estimate of up to $1.65 billion to a new estimate of up to $4 billion.
How long was last week’s session? Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time that the House and Senate were in session each week. Many legislators say that legislative sessions are only one aspect of the Legislature’s job and that a lot of important work is done outside of the House and Senate chambers. They note that their jobs also involve committee work, research, constituent work and other matters that are important to their districts. Critics say that the Legislature does not meet regularly or long enough to debate and vote in public view on the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been filed. They note that the infrequency and brief length of sessions are misguided and lead to irresponsible late-night sessions and a mad rush to act on dozens of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of an annual session.
During the week of May 16-29, the House met for a total of eleven hours and 17 minutes and the Senate met for a total of one hour and 25 minutes.
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