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Senate votes on pot bill

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The Beacon Hill Roll Call program records local senators’ votes on roll call from the week of April 4-8. There were no phone calls in the House last week.

Marijuana Laws

The Senate, 39-0, approved and sent a bill to the House of Representatives to make changes to the cannabis industry including the creation of a Social Equity Fund, to provide grants and loans, including forgivable and interest-free loans, designed to help entrepreneurs and businesses from affected communities Disproportionately from decades of marijuana ban.

Another major provision would allow cities and towns, either through a voter referendum or by statute of a city council or Selectman Council, to allow the sale of marijuana and marijuana products for consumption on the premises where they are sold.

Supporters explained that opening a cannabis store can require up to $1.5 million. They noted that because federal cannabis laws prevent these companies from accessing traditional bank loans, a lack of capital can present an insurmountable barrier.

Request a review on consumption on the site

The Senate, 3-36, rejected an amendment that would require a city or town to hold a voter referendum on any proposal that would allow marijuana and marijuana products to be sold for consumption where they are sold. The amendment will replace the language in the bill giving cities and towns two options: hold a referendum or have the option to give power to the city council or the board of choosers.

Supporters of the amendment said that voters, not city or town officials, should have the final say on whether these businesses will be allowed to operate in the community.

“If you believe in democracy, full participation, and letting every voter have an influence, and most of us do, then you are in favor of this amendment,” said amendment presenter Senator Bruce Tarr, R. Gloucester.

Opponents of the amendment said that cities and towns should have the option of the referendum and the option of local officials, which would save the costs of holding the referendum.

The main opposition to the amendment, Senator Sonia Chang Diaz, a Democrat from Boston, did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call for comment on the amendment.

(A ‘Yes’ vote is to allow a referendum only. A ‘No’ vote is to allow a referendum or a vote by local officials.)

No: Senator Michael Barrett; Senator John Cronin; Senator James Eldridge; Senator Barry Feingold, Senator Cindy Friedman, Senator Ann Jobe; Senator Edward Kennedy. Yes: Senator Bruce Tarr.

Create a fund to help cities and towns development agreements

The Senate, 8-31, rejected an amendment that would create a state-funded Host Community Technical Assistance Fund to help cities and towns develop and negotiate Host Community Agreements (HCAs) — agreements between a city or town and entrepreneurs looking to open a marijuana-related business in the society.

“If we are going to put a lot of equity in HCAs and put strict requirements on their accounts and implementation, we have to help municipalities that may not have the capacity to negotiate and develop the kind of agreements we all hope to have,” said amendment presenter Senator Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester.

Opponents of the amendment said the fund was not necessary and noted that the bill included creating a model agreement that cities and towns could build their conventions without spending a lot of money. They also noted that cities and towns can use the 3% tax that local communities are already entitled to levy on businesses.

Chang-Diaz, the main opponent of the amendment, did not respond to repeated requests from Beacon Hill Roll Call for comment on the amendment.

(Vote “yes” to the amendment, and vote “no” against it).

No: Senator Michael Barrett; Senator John Cronin; Senator James Eldridge; Senator Barry Feingold, Senator Cindy Friedman, Senator Edward Kennedy. Yes: Senator Ann Jobe; Senator Bruce Tarr.

Committee for Driving Under the Influence of Drugs

The Senate, 39-0, approved an amendment that would create a Special Drug Driving Commission to conduct research on developing technology and methods that would reliably test individuals suspected of operating cars under the influence of marijuana. The commission will report annually, effective January 1, 2024, on its findings and recommendations for legislation.

“From what we’ve seen in Massachusetts and other states where marijuana has been legalized, there’s been a rise in cannabis driving accidents, and this remains a significant public safety issue,” Senator Mike Moore, D-Millbury said. Driving under the influence has long been a problem here in the Commonwealth, however, the lack of reliable testing for individuals who operate cars under the influence of marijuana has posed challenges to law enforcement. This amendment creates a committee to help ensure that we remain alert to advances in technology and have up-to-date policies for court proceedings to keep our roads safe.”

Women’s Rights History Pilot Program

The Senate, 39-0, approved a bill obligating the state to develop and implement the Women’s Rights History Track Program. The measure includes requiring the state to designate properties and sites historically and objectively related to the struggle for women’s rights and women’s suffrage. Another provision stipulates that the state shall promote education and awareness of the struggle for women’s rights in the state. A 13-member Women’s Rights History Track task force will be formed to research, solicit public opinions, and make recommendations on sites, properties, and attractions to be included in the Track.

The House of Representatives has already approved its own version of the bill. The Senate version now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

“Massachusetts has a rich history of being involved in the women’s rights movement,” said bill sponsor Senator Joanne Lovely, D-Salem. “Women have been pivotal in shaping our Commonwealth politics, and this bill will ensure that these contributions are known and celebrated…the history of these women is our history, and we must continue to move that history forward.”

“Women in Massachusetts have played a pivotal role at every step in the history of the Commonwealth, yet their contributions are often overlooked,” said Senate President Karen Špilka, D-Ashland. “The Women’s Rights History Track will be a monument to the history of women – and the women’s rights movement. Understanding this history gives us all an opportunity to reflect on where we came from and what it means to leave a legacy that can uplift and inspire future generations. I am pleased to see that this Track will pay special attention to backgrounds and perspectives The Diverse of the Women Who Changed Massachusetts”.

The House approved the bill in the 2019-2020 session on September 18, 2020, and sent it to the Senate Ways and Means Committee where it died without further action and without a vote by the Senate.

Also on Beacon Hill

Making adoption by family members easier – The House and Senate approved a bill and sent them to Governor Charlie Baker that would overturn the existing law prohibiting adoption by family members including older siblings, aunts, and uncles. The proposal would allow these family members, with the permission of the county probate courts, to legally adopt their family members. Current law only allows these family members to apply to become a guardian.

“I am grateful that the legislature enacted this vital legislation,” said Lovely, the Senate’s sponsor of the measure. “This bill helps Massachusetts families stay together and gives our young people the opportunity to be cared for by those they know and love…I look forward to a positive review by the Governor.”

“This change to existing adoption laws will provide greater continuity and support for many children and families in our Commonwealth,” said Representative Patron of the House of Representatives Jack Lewis.

Many bills on their way to study committee – House and Senate committees have recommended shipping many bills to a study committee where bills are rarely actually studied and essentially rejected. It’s a way to kill a proposal without taking a vote on the bill itself. Here are some of the bills likely to be sent to a study committee soon:

Protecting Seniors from Bullying: It will create a system to track complaints about bullying of older adults in public housing for seniors.

“The reason this legislation was introduced is because elderly residents living in public housing have spoken out about their issue of being bullied and harassed and become fearful when this happens,” said sponsor Rep. Alan Silvia, de-Val River. Then group life becomes very difficult for the elderly or (people) with disabilities, which leads to isolation. Shouldn’t we as a society do everything we can to protect a generation of hard-working individuals? They now have to live in public housing and when they are harassed or bullied they have no voice or anyone to listen when they feel most vulnerable. I feel that if this goes to a study committee, he will probably inevitably die.”

Teaching Financial Literacy in Schools: May require the introduction of financial education in all Massachusetts schools and the creation of a trust fund to fund course materials and educational resources.

“When considering building a more equitable future for our children, requiring schools in Massachusetts to offer K-12 financial education is a critical step,” said bill sponsor Deb Goldberg. Research shows that students who participate in these learning opportunities are more likely to save, budget, invest, and succeed financially. I hope that Massachusetts will join the 39 other states that have statewide requirements.”

“While I am disappointed that the Education Committee has sent this bill for consideration, work on this issue will not stop,” Goldberg said. “I am exploring the possibility of launching a public-private partnership to offer professional development opportunities that span economic education for teachers. This pilot program will demonstrate the importance of financial literacy to students, and the need to provide resources for teachers and administrative staff.”

Healthy school lunches: 50% of school lunches might be healthy foods that contain whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and other high-fiber proteins. The measure also prohibits serving more than 20% of foods that are overly processed or contain a food formula that contains more than 30 milligrams of cholesterol or more than 5% of total calories from saturated fat.

Protect Reporters from Patient Abuse in Assisted Living Facilities: It will provide protection for people who make good faith reports of an allegation of patient or resident abuse, abuse, or neglect in a large assisted living facility. This measure allows facility employees who have been fired after reporting credible allegations of abuse, to file a relief action in court and possibly reinstate their employment if the court deems appropriate. Another provision imposes a minimum fine of $3,000 on employees who fail to report a case of abuse.

“Our seniors in assisted living facilities deserve protection to ensure they are treated with dignity and respect,” said Patrick O’Connor, R Weymouth, Patron of the Supported Living Facilities. This legislation will provide more security for those in a position to report abuse and allow our system to better hold people accountable for their actions.

How long was the session last week? The Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time the House and Senate have been in session each week. Many lawmakers say that legislative sessions are just one aspect of the legislature’s work and that a lot of important work is done outside the House and Senate. They noted that their functions also include committee work, research, foundation work, and other matters important to their districts. Critics say the legislature does not meet regularly or long enough to debate and vote in public opinion on the thousands of legislation that has been introduced. They noted that the irregular and short sessions are misleading and lead to irresponsible late-night sessions and a crazy rush to act on dozens of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of the annual session.

During the week of April 4-8, the House of Representatives met for 36 minutes, and the Senate met for five hours and 46 minutes.

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