House, Senate Pass $541 Mil Spending Bill Under Threat of Maylor Action

House and Senate leaders broke a weeks-long impasse over a more than $1 billion surplus spending bill Wednesday night, cutting a deal that dropped a controversial corporate tax change that would have financially benefited Massachusetts businesses and set aside $32 million for repairs on the MBTA, which is less than the $50 million sought by Gov. Charlie Baker. The vote on the compromise budget bill to close the books on the fiscal year that ended back in June capped a tumultuous day during which Comptroller Andrew Maylor backed off a threat to sweep the entire surplus into reserves by mid-afternoon if the legislature couldn’t resolve its differences. And before the deal was finalized, House counsel Jim Kennedy got involved in a back-and-forth with Maylor over the breadth of his legal authority, with Kennedy challenging Maylor’s assertion of power to sweep the surplus and leave deficits in certain accounts, including MassHealth. The total spending in the final version of the budget clocked in at $541 million, which was significantly less than previous iterations of the bill that ranged from $723 million to $853 million. Instead of spending more of the surplus, the budget bill proposed to deposit $587 million into the state’s “rainy day” fund, pushing the balance of the reserve account to $3.45 billion.

State House’s Annual Gold Star Families Tree Dedication Salutes Fallen Heroes

Music, carolers, a visit from Santa and a holiday tree decorated with photos and memories of fallen heroes greeted families this week during the State House’s Annual Gold Star Families Tree Dedication. State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell joined government officials, veterans organization and families for the Wednesday ceremony, organized by the nonprofit Military Friends Foundation. The event pays tribute to Massachusetts service members who gave their lives in service to our nation and the families who carry their legacies forward. Campbell told attendees, “You are the reason that people all over the world pray every day that our experiment in democracy continues, messy as it is; that our country remains the strongest and most generous force in the world for freedom and basic human rights; and that we do not shy away from world leadership.”

As House chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, Campbell’s remarks were among those offered by Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Adjutant General of the Massachusetts National Guard Major General Gary Keefe, Secretary of Veterans’ Services Francisco Urena, and Sen.Walter Timilty. More than 100 military families from across the Commonwealth were in attendance.

Rep. Andy Vargas Says Anti-Vax Effort Fueled by Pseudo-Science, Digital Misinformation and Profit

Haverhill Rep. Andy X. Vargas was among those testifying yesterday in favor of removing a religious exemption against vaccinating children. Vargas spoke before the Public Health Committee in favor of his bill that would eliminate the current religious exemption from vaccinations, allowing only medical exemptions. He said the majority of parents using religious exemptions are “good-hearted people.”

“Unfortunately, figuring out what’s best for your kids is increasingly difficult in the era of pseudo-science, digital misinformation campaign and people who profit from the anti-vax movement,” he testified. Vargas told the committee to be wary of anyone who claims to be an expert and questions the effectiveness of vaccines. He said the hearing should not be about the science of vaccination, but instead about “the use of a quote ‘religious’ exemption to childhood vaccines ...

Legislature’s Public Health Committee to Hear Vargas Amendment on Vaccinations

The legislature’s Public Health Committee holds a hearing Tuesday on a pair of vaccination-related bills, including an amendment by Haverhill Rep. Andy X. Vargas to allow only medical exemptions

State law requires children who are entering school to be immunized against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles and poliomyelitis, unless a physician certifies that a vaccine would endanger the child’s health or unless the parent or guardian offers a written statement that vaccination or immunization conflicts with their “sincere religious beliefs.” The Vargas bill would strike the language about religious belief, allowing only medical exemptions. Rep. Paul J. Donato and Sen. Rebecca L. Rausch have filed a bill seeking to standardize immunization requirements and exemption processes. Rausch and Donato plan to testify on their bill, according to Rausch’s office, as do others including security analyst Juliette Kayyem and American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts President Beth Kontos.

Mass. State House

Insulin Bill Aims to Address Emergency Situations

A new bill before state lawmakers on the Public Health Committee would allow pharmacists to dispense a 72-hour supply of insulin to a patient in an emergency situation. The bill, filed by Fitchburg Republican Sen. Dean Tran, defines “emergency situation” as an event in which a doctor’s authorization for dispensing insulin cannot be readily obtained. The bill presents another option for state lawmakers to consider as they mull potential steps to take this session around health care access and prescription drug costs. The Senate earlier this month unanimously passed a pharmaceutical pricing bill that made insulin access a centerpiece. That legislation would cap co-pays at $25 a month and exclude insulin from deductibles, a provision senators said could provide price relief for the one in 10 Massachusetts residents with diabetes.

Gov. Baker Signs DiZoglio-Backed Campaign Finance Reform

Sen. Diana DiZoglio says a revised campaign finance law, signed this week by Gov. Charlie Baker, will help state officials identify discrepancies between candidates’ income and spending and their bank records. The depository reporting system, operated by the independent Office of Campaign and Political Finance directs candidates for public office to submit to “stringent campaign finance reporting requirements,” a statement from DiZoglio’s office said. Previously, the legislature and some mayoral candidates were exempt from using this reporting system. The senator said, “It’s important that voters be able to quickly access information about who is donating to candidates and where candidates are spending their money.”

By including all legislative and mayoral candidates in the depository reporting system, the law increases accountability by requiring more frequent reports disclosing campaign contributions and confirmation of expenditures reported in monthly statements filed by their designated financial institutions. By increasing filing frequency and pairing candidate disclosures with bank reporting, the law enhances transparency in statewide campaign finance activity.

Gov. Baker Signs Distracted Driving Bill; Legislators Delayed Over Tracking Police Profiling

Lawmakers responsible for a new law designed to take phones out of motorists’ hands defended its approach to preventing certain communities from being targeted for enforcement, arguing Monday that the profiling language is an improvement from the status quo, despite concerns from some civil rights groups. The new law prohibits the use of virtually all handheld device use behind the wheel, and it also updates how state agencies monitor police departments for disproportionate enforcement of traffic laws on women or people of color. However, the final version that was signed by Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday does not go as far as some activists had hoped. Rahsaan Hall, racial justice program director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, described it last week as “one step forward, two steps back.”

The original Senate bill would have required police to note the age, gender and perceived ethnicity of every driver pulled over by police, regardless of the stop’s outcome. The state would have collected and analyze the information from police every year, omitting badge numbers for privacy reasons and making both the findings and the raw data available to the public.

State Campaign Finance Bill Requires Greater Mayoral, Legislative Disclosure of Contributions

The Massachusetts State Senate last week unanimously passed a campaign finance bill championed by state Sen. Diana DiZoglio. The bill increases transparency and accountability in the Commonwealth’s elections by requiring now-exempt mayoral and legislative candidates to file monthly campaign contribution reports. The bill had already been approved in the state House of Representatives. If also signed by Gov. Charlie Baker, the bill would require candidates to use the Office of Campaign and Political Finance’s depository reporting system. Currently, filings for those presently exempt from the depository system occur only two or three times a year.