From State House News Service
ON THE AGENDA
- Baker signs transgender protections bill, provisions in place Oct. 1
- Video: Legalize marijuana question makes November ballot
- State environment chief on drought conditions: “My (Shrewsbury) lawn’s dead”
- Lawmakers eye economic development, consumer protection, dirty laundry
- Vending machine trope prompts lawmakers to consider bill
TOP OF THE HILL
Transgender ‘bathroom bill’ will be law Oct. 1 after Baker’s swift signature
Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law Friday, July 8, legislation protecting transgender people from discrimination in public places, less than a day after the legislation hit his desk.
“No one should be discriminated against in Massachusetts because of their gender identity,” Baker said in a statement announcing he’d signed the bill. “This compromise legislation extends additional protections to the Commonwealth’s transgender community, and includes language to address the public safety concerns expressed by some by requiring the Attorney General to issue regulations to protect against people abusing the law.”
Sun editorial [April 24]: Transgender ‘bathroom bill’ merits passage, and a reminder
A compromise bill (S. 2407) was approved by both branches of the Legislature on Thursday, passing the House on a 117-36 vote and clearing the Senate on a voice vote. It bans discrimination based on gender identity in places of public accommodations and would allow transgender people to use sex-segregated facilities, like locker rooms and bathrooms, that correspond to their gender identity and not necessarily anatomical sex.
The bill directs the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination to adopt policies on enforcing the law and also requires the Attorney General’s office to provide guidance on how to handle legal action if any person were to assert gender identity for an improper purpose. Both offices have until Sept. 1 to report their recommendations, with the law taking full effect on Oct. 1.
After refusing to say whether he would sign or veto the bill that sparked vigorous debate, Baker in June said he would sign the House version of the bill, which contained the language relating to the attorney general and MCAD.
The Massachusetts Family Institute, which vocally opposed the bill, issued a statement Friday saying its members were “extremely disappointed that Governor Baker has broken his original campaign promise to veto this bill.”
In 2011, former Gov. Deval Patrick signed legislation adding the words “gender identity” to the state’s non-discrimination laws, a bid to prevent discrimination against transgender residents seeking housing, employment, credit or postsecondary education.
At the time, Patrick said he signed the bill as a matter of “conscience” even though lawmakers had stripped a provision that would have required all “sex-segregated facilities” to grant admission to people based on their gender identity, rather than their biological gender. The provision, which mirrors the bill enacted on Thursday, was removed in 2011 to build consensus among lawmakers for the law Patrick signed that year.
Massachusetts becomes the 18th state to have such a law on its books.
— Colin A. Young, Katie Lannan and Michael P. Norton (SHNS)
VIDEO OF THE WEEK
Legal marijuana proponents talk court decision, November ballot, chances for success
Just hours after the Supreme Judicial Court cleared the way for a marijuana legalization ballot initiative to go to voters in November, the group working to legalize cannabis turned in what it said is enough signatures to secure its slot on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Just after noon, the campaign handed in to the secretary of state’s office the last of more than 25,000 signatures — 10,792 of which must be certified to guarantee the question a place on the ballot.
Earlier in the day, the SJC ordered the attorney general to rewrite the title and one-sentence description of the ballot initiative that would legalize the adult use of marijuana.
The title of the petition, “Marijuana Legalization,” is “unfair and clearly misleading,” Gants wrote, because the petition also relates to the regulation and taxation of cannabis and cannabis products. Instead, the SJC ruled that the title should be changed to “Legalization, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana.”
The Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, which opposes the marijuana ballot question with the backing of Gov. Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, said the group is happy the SJC recognized the importance of pointing out that the ballot question would legalize more than the leafy green plant.
Meanwhile, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol celebrated the SJC decision as a win for voters who want to legalize marijuana and establish a regulatory and taxation structure for the substance.
The ballot initiative would impose a 3.75 percent state excise tax on retail marijuana sales, allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana in public, and establish a Cannabis Control Commission to oversee the new industry, among other provisions.
— Colin A. Young, with Michael P. Norton contributing
“My lawn’s dead … [the neighborhood is] completely smoked. [It’s] quite striking.”
Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton of Shrewsbury
Toasted by above-average temperatures and long, dry early summer days, the Massachusetts landscape is marked by seared lawns, wilting gardens and lower than normal precipitation, groundwater, stream flow and reservoir levels.
Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton met in Boston Thursday morning with the state’s Drought Advisory Task Force, receiving feedback about conditions from experts on everything from hydrology, weather, agriculture and fire threats.
“Different parts of the state are at different levels,” Beaton said. “The biggest concern is the central and northeastern part of the state. That’s where a lot of the focus was and is.”
The U.S. Drought Monitor, produced through a partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, estimated 44.3 percent of Massachusetts was experiencing abnormally dry conditions as of Tuesday, with 25.3 percent in a moderate drought and 29.6 percent of the state — the areas referenced by Beaton — in a severe drought.
“We’re just watching this as closely as we can,” said Beaton.
Late Friday, Beaton declared a drought watch for central and northeast Massachusetts and a drought advisory for southeast Massachusetts and the Connecticut River Valley.
An advisory represents the second of five drought condition levels, and a watch reflects a higher degree of drought marked by “extremely low groundwater and streamflow levels resulting from a precipitation deficit of nearly ten inches over the past 12 months, including a lack of snowfall in the winter months.”
— Michael P. Norton, with Katie Lannan contributing
Lawmakers eye economic development, consumer protection and dirty laundry
The Senate plans to debate Gov. Charlie Baker’s municipal government reform bill next week, as well as an economic development bill and legislation regarding financial protections and laundry drying.
The municipal government bill, a version of which was approved by the House in June (H. 4419), is teed up for debate on Wednesday, July 13. Senators have until 5 p.m. Monday to file amendments. The Senate Ways and Means Committee has put forward a new draft of the bill (S. 2410).
On Tuesday, the Senate plans to take up a bill dubbed the Family Financial Protection Act, which relates to consumer debts. The Senate is considering a bill (S. 2230) that is a Financial Services Committee redraft of legislation originally filed by Sen. Jamie Eldridge, with the Ways and Means Committee offering another redraft (S. 2409) that will likely be the vehicle for Senate floor debate.
The Senate on Thursday also adopted an order scheduling a Tuesday debate on a Sen. Michael Barrett bill (S. 1056, S. 2408) that would allow municipalities to ban homeowner associations from prohibiting clotheslines or charging someone a fee to use a clothesline. A city or town would first have to put the issue before their voters as a ballot question.
Amendments are due Monday at noon for both of the bills scheduled for Tuesday.
The Senate on Thursday plans to take up an economic development bill, pending its advancement through committees earlier in the week.
— Katie Lannan
Also this week …
- ENDANGERED SPECIES ADVISORY COMMITTEE (Thursday, 1:30 p.m., One Rabbit Hill Road, Westborough): The Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Advisory Committee meets at the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife field headquarters.
- UMASS TRUSTEES VOTE ON TUITION (Thursday, 12:30 p.m., UMass Medical School, 55 Lake Ave. North): The University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees hold a meeting at 2 p.m., with a meeting of the board’s Administration and Finance Committee immediately before. The committee and the full board are slated to approve mandatory student charges for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, and the university system’s fiscal 2017 operating budget. UMass President Marty Meehan postponed the tuition vote to the July special meetings, expressing a desire to wait until the state budget was finalized. The budget Gov. Baker signed on Friday appropriated $508,292,447 for UMass operations, well below the $564.9 million university officials requested from legislative budget writers. Meehan has said tuition and fee increases could vary by campus but predicted an increase that could fall between 5 percent and 8 percent, on top of a 5 percent increase last year.
IN THE NEWS
Faux vending machines prompt legislators to consider healthy eating bill
Examining the contents of a mock vending machine displayed in his office last week, Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, found a surprise.
“Whole-grain Goldfish — I didn’t even know those existed,” Kulik said, peering at a banner depicting a life-size vending machine stocked with snacks like crackers, pumpkin seeds, seltzer and hummus.
The banners are traveling through the State House, making stops in or outside lawmakers’ offices in an attempt to drum up awareness and support for a bill that would require any food or drinks sold in vending machines on state property “be limited to food and beverage items that comply with the nutritional standards” to be set by the Department of Public Health commissioner.
Backed by the American Heart Association, the bill (H. 3988) was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee in May after earning an endorsement from the Health Care Financing Committee. The bill is a Public Health Committee redraft of legislation originally filed by Kulik (H. 2005) in January 2015.
“This is a bill that I have cosponsored for I think two sessions, and the support has been growing as people are more interested in healthy foods,” Kulik said.
The bill lays out three different sets of nutrition and food procurement standards that the state regulations would have to meet or exceed, ranging from a requirement that all food options be healthy to 30 percent healthy on the low end. The American Heart Association advocates for the middle set of standards, which calls for 50 percent healthy contents.
Kulik said his current go-to snack at the State House vending machines is one that wouldn’t earn a designation of health food: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Gesturing at the snacks displayed on the healthy vending banner, he said he thinks that choice could change with other options available.
“You know, if there was some dried fruit for example, that would be a great opportunity,” the Worthington Democrat said. “I see some granola bars and things in here that I would reach for, some packages of nuts. It would be great. I would be happy to buy those.”
— Katie Lannan