2018: Senate Scorecard in Review

A scorecard tells a story. So what story does our 2018 scorecard of the Senate tell? : A guide to the 2018 Scorecard (View Spreadsheet here, website here) -- All numbers refer to the spreadsheet.

Criminal Justice Reform: The Senate passed a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill last fall (and easily passed the conference report). Early in the new year, the Senate made sure not to exacerbate the existing problems of the system more by striking the section of an animal welfare bill that allowed juveniles ages 14-17 to receive adult criminal sentences for animal cruelty (19-17, 37s). Countless studies show that housing youths in adult prisons only worsens recidivism and works against a goal of rehabilitation.

Democracy: Massachusetts has some of the highest voter turnout in the country due to the affluence and high education rates in the state. But those rates are hardly impressive by international standards and mask significant inequality within. In a win for democracy, the House passed Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), a reform first adopted by Oregon in 2015 (38-0, 56s). Eligible voters who interface with the RMV or MassHealth would be automatically registered to vote unless they decline. With more than 700,000 eligible citizens in MA unregistered, AVR would increase the accuracy, security, and comprehensiveness of voter rolls.

The Senate tried to build on past election modernization reforms even further by providing funding for early voting in the primary (35-3, 41s), although that unfortunately did not make it into the final budget.

In addition to expanding voting rights, the Senate, recognizing the essential role of an engaged and informed citizenship to democracy, voted to enact a comprehensive civics education curriculum and requirement in schools across Massachusetts (32-4, 39s) and defeated a Republican effort to weaken the bill (9-27, 38s).

Less successful, however, was an attempt to call for a limited constitutional convention focused on clarifying that the spending of money to influence elections is not protected free speech under the First Amendment and thereby enabling Congress and the states to better regulate political contributions (aimed at the disastrous 2010 Citizens United ruling). The Senate voted 23-15 to strike out the call for a convention from the underlying bill, the We the People Act, resulting in a rather modest resolution about the importance of curbing the outsize role of money in politics (53s).

 

LGBTQ Rights: The Senate voted 36-1 to establish a gender-neutral identity option for Massachusetts licenses, a recognition that some individuals may not identify as either male or female (54s), although the bill unfortunately later got caught up in end-of-session chaos and squabbling and did not make it through the House.

 

Public Safety: Massachusetts has some of the strongest gun laws in the country, but as we here at Progressive Mass stress, the question is not whether we’re doing better than other states, but whether we’re doing as much as we can.

The Legislature, learning from other states’ successes, passed legislation creating a kind of court order (Extreme Risk Protection Order, or ERPO) to temporarily restrict a person's access to guns because they pose a significant danger to themselves or others, which can be requested by family members and law enforcement (36-1, 55s). Empowering family members, who are able to see early warning signs, to act in this way can prevent gun violence, whether mass shooting or suicide.

 

Housing: We supported the effort to increase the funding for the Community Preservation Act through a surcharge for documentation at the Registries of Deeds (38-0, 43s). CPA funds can be used for affordable housing, historic preservation, and green and open space.

A key item on the agenda for both House and Senate this year was regulating short-term rentals (e.g., Airbnb). Unlike what tends to happen, the Senate’s original bill was weaker than the House’s, but the Senate, thankfully, beat back an effort to reducing the possible revenue the state could raise from a tax on short-term rentals (11-26, 40s). The final bill that came out of the conference between House and Senate was stronger (30-7, 64s), but it has been stuck in limbo because of an effort by Republican Governor Charlie Baker has sought to make industry-friendly changes to the law.

 

Education: Massachusetts’s 25-year-old education funding formula is short-changing our schools $1-2 billion per year due to outdated assumptions about the costs of health care, special education, ELL (English Language Learners) education, and closing racial and economic achievement gaps.

The 2015 Foundation Budget Review Commission recommended a path forward for fixing it. The Senate unanimously adopted a bill to implement them, only to see resistance from the House (42s).

 

Climate Action: The Senate unanimously passed an impressive climate mitigation and adaptation bill that would accelerate our state’s transition to renewable energy, with an eye to equity (51s), only to again face opposition in the House.

The Senate also defeated a Republican effort to constrain the state from regulating vehicle emissions standards, ostensibly because doing so would place the state in violation of federal law (7-30, 50s). With the Trump administration day after day seeking to roll back critical environmental regulations, Massachusetts needs to be taking bolder action, not creating unnecessary, self-imposed constraints.

 

Immigration: Despite Massachusetts’s liberal reputation, our Legislature has been historically hostile to passing legislation to strengthen protections for our immigrant community.

The Senate included four provisions from the Safe Communities Act, a bill that our members fought strongly for, in its FY 2019 budget: (1) a prohibition on police inquiries about immigration status, a prohibition on certain collaboration agreements between local law enforcement and ICE, (3) a guarantee of basic due process protections, and (4) a prohibition on participation in a Muslim registry (25-13, 45s). The Senate shortly thereafter defeated a xenophobic amendment needlessly entangling police in deportations and set us back from the Lunn v. Commonwealth decision, which set limitations on such collaboration (13-25, 46s).

Due to opposition from House Leadership, the vital Safe Communities provisions did not make it into the final FY 2019 budget, which passed 36 to 1 (57s).

 

Revenue: We began the session with the expectation that the Fair Share amendment (“millionaire’s tax”) would be on the ballot this November. Conservative justices on the Supreme Judicial Court torpedoed those plans, striking the question from the ballot in June.

Anti-tax ballot initiatives from 1998 to 2002 have created a longstanding revenue crisis in this state, as vital programs are cut and the rainy day fund is regularly drained to fund basic budgetary needs. The Legislature did not improve matters this session. They reauthorizing a major tax giveaway to the biotech industry 33-5 (49s), rejecting an effort to subject these tax incentives to periodic review to evaluate whether they are actually delivering (15-22, 48s).

The Senate voted twice on creating a sales tax holiday. The first vote failed 14-24 (44s), but after the “Grand Bargain” made sales tax holidays permanent, they voted 33-6 to create a sales tax holiday in 2018 (61s). It remains a useless tax gimmick whose main outcome is draining much-needed revenue from the state.

The Senate did, however, vote to give municipalities a way to raise more revenue, authorizing them to place questions on the ballot to raise revenue for local and regional transportation projects (27-10, 62s). Many other states do this, and it provides communities a way to take action when inertia dominates in the State Legislature. The Senate passed this last session, and like before, it did not survive in the House.

 

Civil Liberties: Civil liberties suffered two main blows in 2018 in the Senate.

The first one came through a bill authorizing the creation of “Community Benefit District” (CBD) corporations, which could enable wealthy property owners to essentially “own” public spaces and impose fees on other property owners in the district with or without their approval, all with zero safeguards for civil liberties and equal access. The ACLU sounded the alarm, but the Senate nonetheless voted 22-15 in favor of the bill (59s). An effort to shore up tenants’ rights in the process failed 10-27 (58s).

The second one came through the Senate’s opioid bill. The Senate voted 33-4 to permit judges to civilly commit individuals suffering from addiction to a treatment facility without a hearing, until the courts open, with the patient entitled to a hearing within 72 hours (60s). People who undergo involuntary treatment in Massachusetts are twice as likely to die as people who undergo treatment voluntarily.

 

Economic Fairness: The Senate voted unanimously to empower the AG’s office to prosecute wage theft and holding businesses accountable for exploitative and illegal practices by their subcontractors (52s), only to see the legislation flounder in the House.

Less admirably, the Senate voted 31-6 for a a Republican messaging amendment to the budget to push racist welfare fraud myths and create burdens for small and minority-owned businesses (47s).

But back to the good: In the first time since last year’s pay raise that the Senate overrode a non-budgetary veto of the Governor, the Senate voted 32-5 to override Baker’s veto of a bill requiring that the hiring, promotion and termination of employees in custodial, maintenance, and other non-teaching positions in public schools be conducted in accordance with any governing collective bargaining agreement (63s).

They also overrode his veto of language that would prevent his administration from effectively denying vulnerable children needed welfare benefits, by unilaterally counting a parent’s Social Security Income (afforded to disabled adults who are low-income) to determine children’s benefits eligibility (31-6, 66s). And they voted down 7-30 a proposal of his to make the adoption of a more stringent calculation of benefits (counting a parent's Supplemental Security Income in determining their children's eligibility for welfare benefits) a precondition of lifting the punitive "cap on kids” (67s). Unfortunately, this battle happened so close to the end of formal sessions on July 31 that when Baker vetoed the provision the Legislature had insisted on (rejecting his alternative proposal), the Legislature was conducting only informal sessions, in which roll-call votes (required for veto overrides) do not take place. Massachusetts will remain one of the only states that still denies benefits to children who were born while a family is receiving state assistance.

 

About the Scorecard

A scorecard serves its purpose if it tells a story and informs advocacy.

As such, we prioritize votes that are contentious over those that are unanimous: unanimous votes neither tell a story nor inform advocacy. We prioritize bills and amendments that relate to our Progressive Platform and Legislative Agenda over those that do not, and we make a point of including bills and amendments for which our members lobbied their legislators.

Since legislators’ jobs are to vote, we count absences as the same as votes against the progressive position when calculating scores. HOWEVER, when legislators submit letters to the Clerk detailing how they would have voted had they been present, we will count these intentions, so long as their vote would not have alone decided the outcome of a bill or amendment. This helps us better achieve one of our main goals -- informing advocacy -- and acknowledges that there are extenuating circumstances behind some absences.

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