The Senate's Budget Improves the House's Language on ROE--But Not Much Else

Last night, the Senate passed its much-belated budget for FY2021. Like the House, the Senate failed to take seriously the need for new revenue, abandons the commitment to fund the commitments made in the Student Opportunity Act, and failed to include emergency paid sick time. COVID-19 is expected to get much worse this winter, and our Legislature just simply isn't taking it seriously.

The Senate did, however, manage to improve upon the House's language on a slimmed-down version of the ROE Act.

Like the House's language, the Senate text would do the following:

  • Expand access to abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases of a lethal fetal diagnosis, allowing pregnant people facing serious medical obstacles to their pregnancy to make the decision that’s best for them in consultation with their doctor and receive care here at home.
  • Allow 16 and 17 year olds to make their own decisions about abortion care without having to go before a judge.
  • Streamline access for those under 16 years old by allowing remote hearings, eliminating the need for young people to travel to a courthouse and stand before a judge.

It also went further than the House version in codifying a prohibition against the Commonwealth interfering with a person's ability to access abortion care.

Senator Patrick O'Connor (R-Weymouth) attempted to gut the amendment, leaving only the language about fatal fetal diagnoses. His effort failed, with only four other senators joining him -- a vote of 5-35, with the only Democrat voting YES being conservative newcomer John Velis (D-Westfield).

The ROE amendment itself, filed by Sen. Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester), passed 33 to 7. Voting against it were the four Republicans --- Ryan Fattman (R-Webster), Patrick O'Connor (R-Weymouth), Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), and Dean Tran (R-Fitchburg)--and three conservative Democrats -- Mike Rush (D-West Roxbury), Walter Timilty (D-Milton), and John Velis (D-Westfield).

Of the amendments voted on (rather than simply withdrawn), two others are worth highlighting.

Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) filed an amendment to cap the delivery fees that third parties charge restaurants for delivery. Given the brutal winter that many restaurants face, this is a sensible measure good for restaurant owners, consumers, and workers (who won't bear the brunt of lost revenue as much). Although there was broad agreement that this was a necessary measure, it failed on a vote of 12 to 27. Why? Since the House already passed it, Senate Leadership wanted to exclude it for the sake of having a bargaining chip. Given how unclear it is that the economic development bill will even come out of conference committee, it's a questionable move.

The amendment yielded an interesting split. The most reliable progressives -- Senators Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Jamaica Plain), Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville), and Becca Rausch (D-Needham)--all voted yes. So did some of the more conservative Democrats -- Anne Gobi (D-Spencer), Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton), James Timilty (D-Milton), and John Velis (D-Westfield) -- as well as three out of four Republicans (Fattman, Tarr, Tran).

The second additional amendment of note, filed by Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, contained the text of Governor Charlie Baker's bill on "dangerousness hearings." The language in the bill, opposed by civil rights advocates, would significantly expand the list of crimes for which a person can be held pre-trial, permit prosecutors to seek a dangerousness hearing if a defendant has a prior conviction of any of the listed crimes (regardless of the date of that conviction), and relieve a prosecutor who has succeeded in holding a defendant on dangerousness grounds of the obligation to bring the case to trial expeditiously, which will increase the pressure on jailed defendants to enter a plea regardless of their guilt or innocence.

It failed 12 to 27.

"But, wait," you might say, why, "Why is no vote posted online for this?" In between a roll call vote (where each senator says yea or nay individually) and a voice vote (where no record exists, and the calling of yea's and nay's is a mere formality), there exists another option: a standing vote. When legislators have to stand for their position, you can discern how every legislator voted, even if it doesn't get posted after.

Joining the four Republicans in voting against civil rights were Anne Gobi (D-Spencer), John Keenan (D-Quincy), Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford), Michael Moore (D-Millbury), Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton), John Velis (D-Westfield), and Jim Welch (D-West Springfield).

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