2019 Senate Scorecard: In Review

This is a companion doc to the mid-session Senate report card for the 191st Session of the General Court.

Although transparency was a controversial issue in the House, the Senate started off the session by voting unanimously for some good-government Rules changes, such as increasing the notice for hearings from 48 hours to 72 hours and requiring the posting of recorded votes taken in committee online (1s). However, not every pro-transparency proposal passed, as the Senate voted down a commonsense proposal to provide representatives more notice when a Conference Committee produces a final bill for legislators to vote on (i.e., moving up the deadline from 8 pm to 5 pm the night before) (2s). 

Even though the Senate is a more transparent chamber than the House, it still needs improvement. So, as we did for the House, we scored a Transparency Pledge that involved committing to post one’s own committee votes online and standing for roll calls. It’s an important data point (26s). 

The Senate began the session by finishing important business from last session. That included voting to ban the damaging and homophobic/transphobic practice of “conversion therapy,” which has the goal of “changing” a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity of a minor, and voting to eliminate a punitive welfare policy that denies benefits to children who were born while a family is receiving state assistance. 

During the conversion therapy debate, Republicans tried to attack the bill as an assault on free speech and get it ruled unconstitutional (3s). Some of the Republicans who voted to rule the bill unconstitutional also voted for the bill itself; we believe that the first vote best captures intent.

Similarly, in the debate about lifting the so-called “cap on kids,” we chose to score the vote on the amendment from Charlie Baker 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 cap as well as the Senate’s vote to override Baker’s veto (4s, 6s). 

In other unfinished business from the prior session, the Senate also voted to establish a gender-neutral identity option for Massachusetts licenses, a recognition that some individuals may not identify as either male or female (7s).

The Legislature also had to respond to the harmful actions from the Trump administration (something they should be doing more of…). During a supplemental budget the Legislature passed before the start of budget season, the Legislature voted to make $8 million available for family planning clinics in Massachusetts at risk of losing federal funding under a new Trump administration rule that cuts support for providers that offer abortion services (5s). 

Progressive Massachusetts, along with our allies in the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition, were ready to organize for the Fair Share Amendment on the 2018 ballot. That 4% surtax on income over $1 million would have provided an essential revenue stream for education and infrastructure investments. But the corporate lobby sued, and Charlie Baker’s Supreme Judicial Court appointees agreed to kick it off the ballot. That created a need for a new strategy, and rather than a citizen-led ballot initiative for the constitutional change required (Yes, a flat tax is built into our constitution. ?!?!?), legislators would file the amendment themselves and vote to put it on the ballot. The first of two constitutional conventions happened in the summer of 2019, and during that convention, a series of conserative, anti-tax amendments to water down the Fair Share Amendment were roundly defeated. We and our allies in RUM asked for a clean vote, so we scored all of the amendments as well as the final vote (8s-14s). 

Another bit of unfinished business from the last session was legislation in response to the Supreme Court's Janus ruling, a right-wing assault on public sector unions. The bill passed almost unanimously, which was a big win, but one that obscured the actual fight happening in the chamber. Republicans were putting forth amendment after amendment to hollow out the bill, which truly showed who was willing to stand with labor and who was not (15s-17s)

Fixing our broken education funding formula was one of our top priorities for the legislative session, and the Legislature did that with the Student Opportunity Act, which promised $1.5 billion in additional money in our public schools, especially for the neediest students (22s). During the debate around the bill, the Senate passed two amendments that our members along with education justice activists had lobbied for: one increasing community and educator involvement in school districts' plans to reduce disparities -- and requiring charter schools to create such plans as well (19s) and one requiring a study of the impact of the regressive Prop 2 ½ law on municipalities' ability to provide a high-quality education to all students (20s). 

During the debate, the Senate voted down a regressive amendment to steer a greater percentage of total education spending toward more affluent districts (21s), but also voted down an important amendment increasing the frequency of reviews of the education funding formula from every 10 years to every 5 years so that it never gets too out-of-date (18s). 

Although the bill’s passage was a success, it’s important to remember that it’s just a promise, not an appropriation, so the fight continues. 

Later in the fall, the Legislature voted to ban flavored tobacco products, heeding the advice of public health experts. The Senate took a series of votes on amendments to weaken the bill. We chose to score one of the amendments that best captured the dynamics of the debate, i.e., one removing the ban on menthol cigarettes from the underlying bill banning flavored e-cigarettes and tobacco products (23s).

As the 2019 session ended, the Senate voted to ban single-use plastic bags, an action that cities and towns across the state have already taken and that environmental advocates have been demanding for years. In the lead-up to that vote, the Senate voted down two amendments to water down the final bill, and we chose to score those. One amendment contained the text of the House version of the plastic bag ban, which would have allowed retailers to use thicker single-use plastic bags and eliminated the fee for other single-use bags (24s). Another amendment sought to nullify enforcement of the underlying ban (25s). Since some senators voted for the final ban while voting to weaken it, we believe these amendments best capture intent. 

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