Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives and senators from the week of March 8 to March 12.
Help businesses and workers (H 89)
The House, 155 to 0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that excludes Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans from being taxed by the state in 2020; creates a tax credit for unemployed workers whose income was 200 percent below the federal poverty level; and ensures anyone making under $25,000 as an individual or $34,000 for a household of two is eligible for a tax credit.
Other provisions waive penalties on unemployment insurance taxes; freeze unemployment insurance rates paid by employers; and create a mechanism ensuring all employees will be able to access 40 hours of paid sick time for any COVID-19-related issues, including testing positive, needing to quarantine or caring for a loved one. Employers with fewer than 500 employees will be able to take advantage of federal tax credits to cover these costs.
Businesses would also face a new surcharge, in the form of an excise tax on employee wages, through December 2022 to help repay interest due in September on the federal loans.
House Ways and Means Chair Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, D-Boston, said the bill will stabilize the state’s unemployment system and bring far-reaching, much-needed relief to businesses and workers.
“When a lot of the businesses were requesting PPP loans, they were in the midst of surviving,” Michlewitz said. “They weren’t thinking about next year. They were thinking about how they’d stay open in the midst of an economic shutdown. In order to protect these small businesses and allow them to get back to where they were, short-term and long-term, the loan forgiveness here and tax forgiveness here is an appropriate step to be taking.”
“Without legislative intervention, employers will see a 60 percent increase in their unemployment insurance costs and many independent contractors, restaurants and small businesses will collectively be facing another $150 million in state taxes on their PPP loans,” said GOP House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading. “It is imperative that the Senate follow the House’s lead and act quickly to get this legislation on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk so we can deliver essential tax relief to the state’s small businesses and help protect jobs.”
A “Yes” vote is for the bill.
Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes
Rep. Paul Mark — Yes
Rep. Susannah Whipps — Present
Ban double dipping beyond $100,000 (H 89)
The House, 4 to 152, rejected an amendment to the section of the bill that excludes Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans from being taxed by the state in 2020. Some opponents of this tax break say it will cost the state $600 million in lost tax revenue.
Another section of the bill allows these businesses whose loans are not being taxed to get more tax relief by allowing them to deduct from their other non-PPP business income any business expenses paid for with the very PPP dollars that were not taxed. The amendment, a compromise proposed by Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven, D-Somerville, would cap these additional deductions at $100,000.
Uyterhoeven said the bill provides an unfair “double dip” to some businesses beyond the first dip, which does not tax the loan as income.
“I am sure we are all eager to help struggling businesses through this crisis, but allowing businesses to deduct from their other non-PPP business income any business expenses paid for with PPP dollars benefits only business owners that are earning a profit during the pandemic,” Uyterhoeven said.
“It was clear to me from working closely with tax policy experts and drawing from my experience prior to taking this role that this is bad policy that will cost the commonwealth over $600 million,” Uyterhoeven continued. “Instead, we could have provided direct relief to struggling local businesses, direct relief to working people, and invested in an equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The vote result is a manifestation of false information propagated by well-funded corporate lobbyists. I believe we can do better here in the commonwealth, but sadly the Legislature isn’t quite there yet.”
Amendment opponents said the amendment would impose a huge tax burden on small businesses that are still trying to survive the blow delivered by the pandemic.
“Rep. Uyterhoeven’s amendment would have diminished the benefit of the tax relief provided on the PPP,” Jones said. “This would have a disastrous impact on the state’s small businesses and would threaten their continued survival.”
A “No” vote is against the amendment.
Rep. Natalie Blais — No
Rep. Paul Mark — No
Rep. Susannah Whipps — Present
Extend vote by mail until June 30 (H 73)
The Senate, 40 to 0, and the House on a voice vote without a roll call, approved and sent to Gov. Baker a bill that extends until June 30 the changes the Legislature approved, and the governor signed into law in July 2020, to make it easier to vote by mail and to expand early voting opportunities in the 2020 elections. The changes are set to expire on March 31. The bill extends the law for 90 days until June 30 and is designed to help cities and towns with any local elections they are holding prior to June 30.
“This legislation will help ensure that residents can continue to vote safely and easily during the ongoing pandemic,” said Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, Senate chair of the Committee on Election Laws. “Last year, the Legislature passed a common-sense, bipartisan bill to expand early voting and implement a secure vote-by-mail system for elections in 2020. These reforms protected public health, empowered voters and helped generate record-breaking turnout.”
“Over this past year, the COVID pandemic has caused us to take a closer look at, and improve upon, many of our society’s systems. Voting is one of those,” said Rep. Dan Ryan, D-Boston, House chair of the Committee on Election Laws. I’m looking forward to a robust discussion on how to best move election legislation forward.”
A “Yes” vote is for the bill.
Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes
Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes
Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes
Also up on Beacon Hill Thousands of bills filed for consideration in 2021-2022 legislative session
Legislators have filed 6,587 bills for consideration in the 2021 to 2022 session. Representatives have filed 4,096 while senators filed 2,491.
Here are some of the proposals:
Pay fine for not voting (HD 237): This proposal would require eligible voters to cast a ballot in any November general election or face a fine of $15 that would be added to the non-voter’s state tax liability for each election missed. The measure also clarifies that the voter does not have to actually vote for anyone and is allowed to leave the ballot blank. Another provision strikes all current deadlines for registering to vote and allows people to register anytime.
“This bill aims to prompt a discussion on whether voting is more than a right, and instead a civic duty, much like jury duty,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth. “A citizen who does not vote would be assessed $15 on their yearly tax return, which is less than the civic duty of paying a parking ticket in many cities and towns in the commonwealth. The bill is not going to pass this session and was filed to encourage citizens to think critically about the value of voting. Should a democratic society value paying the parking meter on time more than voting?”
“Rep. Fernandes’ legislation is completely misguided,” said Paul Craney, executive director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “If you believe politicians should be able to force the public to vote, then don’t be surprised if the next law they propose tells you who to vote for. If Rep. Fernandes wants to bring more confidence to the election process, he should start by voting in favor of more transparency in the Legislature. The Massachusetts Legislature is the most opaque legislative body in America, where even some of their votes in committee are not made public. He should focus more of his attention to his own behavior and not those of his constituents.”
“Where else but Massachusetts is everything that is not forbidden by law made mandatory?” asked Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “Voting is a right, therefore not voting is a right as well if that is someone’s choice.”
Online state lottery (HD 36): Allows the State Lottery Commission to sell lottery tickets online via use of a person’s bank account, debit card or pre-paid gift card, and establishes spending limits. Use of a credit card would be prohibited.
Other provisions include an age verification system to ensure players are at least 18 years old; a limit of tickets to be sold online; a procedure to allow players to voluntarily prohibit themselves from participating in the online Lottery; and security measures to protect the personal information of Lottery players.
“As retail commerce continues its rapid shift to online, mobile and cashless transactions, it is vital that the Lottery be able to sell products using these methods to keep pace with consumer preferences and demands,” Michael Sweeney, executive director of the Massachusetts State Lottery, told Beacon Hill Roll Call. “We face a significant threat of becoming obsolete if we don’t avail ourselves of the technology that the rest of the retail world is utilizing.”
Ban smoking in vehicles with children (HD 100): Prohibits smoking in any motor vehicle in which there is a child who is required to be in a child passenger restraint. Under Massachusetts law, children must use a restraint until they are at least 8 years old or at least 57 inches tall. The measure imposes a $100 fine on drivers who violate the ban.
The proposal prohibits a police officer from searching a motor vehicle, its contents, the driver or a passenger solely because of a violation of this law. It also prohibits the violation from being used as evidence of contributory negligence by the driver in any civil action and requires officers, for 90 days after the law is in effect, to give only a warning and not a citation to a driver who violates this law.
Supporters say that second-hand smoke causes respiratory problems, ear infections and mental health disorders including depression. They note it can also make a child’s asthma worse.
“I was elected on a promise to advocate and protect our most vulnerable,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro. “I feel an obligation to be the voice for those who are unable to be heard.”
Some opponents say this is another example of unnecessary government intrusion into people’s lives. Others ask why this arbitrary bill doesn’t protect children older than 8 or taller than 57 inches.
Repainting police vehicles (HD 223): Raises the fine imposed on sellers of police vehicles who don’t repaint the exterior one solid color in order to obliterate all evidence of distinctive police insignias or markings. Current law imposes a fine of between $10 and $500. The bill would raise the fine for first-time violations to $500 and subsequent violations to $1,000.
“This bill aims to raise the fine to improve compliance,” said sponsor Rep. Tim Whelan, R-Brewster, a former police officer.
Allow college athletes to be paid (HD 337): Allows Massachusetts college athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) currently prohibits these students from marketing themselves and profiting from endorsements.
Sponsor Rep. Steve Howitt, R-Seekonk, explains the legislation was inspired by the story of the UMass women’s tennis team and the advocacy of Brittany Collens, a professional tennis player. In 2017, a $252 reimbursement for a phone jack intended for athletes living on campus was unknowingly given to two female athletes living off campus in their annual scholarship stipend. This self-reported accounting error, almost three years later, led to the NCAA deeming this an impermissible benefit giving the women’s tennis team an athletic advantage. The NCAA went on to vacate three years of victories, including their 2017 Atlantic-10 Championship.
“Even though this legislation would not directly assist Ms. Collens, her teammates and the UMass Athletic Department’s efforts to overturn the recent unfair penalties levied against them, it will put an end to an unreasonable restriction on the free market and an abuse of athletes’ rights across the commonwealth,” Howitt told Beacon Hill Roll Call.
Ban animal abusers from having pets (HD 216): Prohibits any pet store, shelter or animal breeder from allowing anyone convicted of animal abuse to buy or adopt an animal. The measure would impose on both the seller and the buyer or adopter up to a one-year jail sentence and/or $1,000 minimum fine for a first offense and up to a five-year jail sentence and/or $5,000 minimum fine for subsequent offenses.
“This pet adoption bill that I filed would ensure the safety of our pets,” said sponsor Rep. Brad Hill, R-Ipswich. “Pets are considered family and should be treated like so. It is crucial to hold those accountable who intentionally abuse our furry friends in order to maintain the well-being of the humanity in our state.”