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Beacon Hill Roll Call; A sampling of how your elected officials voted.

COLUMN: BEACON HILL ROLL CALL

There were no roll call votes in the House or Senate during the week of Dec. 21 through 25.

Beacon Hill Roll Call has obtained the official list from the state treasurer's office of the "per diem" travel, meals and lodging reimbursements collected by the 40 state senators in 2009. The list reveals that senators have collected a total of $90,502. Under state law, per diems are paid by the state to senators "for each day for travel from his place of residence to the Statehouse and return therefrom, while in the performance of his official duties, upon certification to the state treasurer that he was present at the Statehouse." These reimbursements are given to senators above and beyond their regular salaries.

The amount of the per diem varies and is based on the city or town in which a senator resides and its distance from the Statehouse. The Legislature in 2000 approved a law doubling these per diems to the current amounts. The payments range from $10 per day for senators who reside in the Greater Boston area to $90 per day for some Western Massachusetts lawmakers and $100 per day for those in Nantucket. Senators who are from areas that are a long distance from Boston's Statehouse often are the ones who collect the highest total of annual per diems.

Supporters of the per diems argue the system is fair and note the rising costs of travel, food and lodging.

Some opponents say most other private sector and state workers are not paid additional money for commuting. Others argue the very idea of paying any per diem is outrageous when thousands of workers are losing their jobs and their homes, the state is in the midst of a recession, funding for important programs has been cut and taxes have been raised.

The 2009 statistics indicate that 26 senators have received reimbursements ranging from $410 to $10,530 and 14 senators who have so far chosen not to apply for any money. State law does not establish a deadline that senators must meet in order to collect the per diems.

The senator who received the most per diem money in 2009 is freshman Sen. Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield) with $10,530. The other recipients in the top five include Sens. Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst), $9,000; Michael Knapik (R-Westfield), $8,250; Robert O'Leary (D-Cummaquid), $5,500; and Stephen Brewer (D-Barre), $5,445.

Local senators' per diems for 2009

The dollar figure next to the senator's name represents the total amount of 2009 per diem money that the state has paid the senator through Dec. 31, 2009. The number in parentheses represents the number of days that the senator certified that he or she was at the Statehouse during that same period.

A total of 14 or 35 percent of the state's 40 senators did not list any days and did not request any per diems. This should not be construed to mean that these 14 senators were never at the Statehouse in 2009. It simply means that they chose not to list the number of days and not to request their per diems.

Sen. Harriette Chandler ... $5,220 (145)

Also on Beacon Hill

$76 million from abandoned property - State Treasurer Tim Cahill announced the state's December unclaimed stock liquidation sale and eBay auction of other unclaimed items has raised $76 million in new state revenue to help balance the state budget.

Hand sanitizing at restaurants (H 3918) - A bill before the Public Health Committee would require take-out restaurants without restrooms to install a sink with soap and water or make hand sanitizer available to its employees and customers.

Allow Donation Of Leftover Food (H 3999) - The Judiciary Committee is looking at a proposal that would allow restaurants and cafeterias to donate their edible leftover cooked food and nonperishable food to local food pantries and shelters. The measure allows a tax credit or deduction for the donation and prohibits liability of the restaurant in the event of any harm resulting to a person who eats the food.

Post-partum depression (H 3897) - The Committee on Financial Services' agenda includes legislation that would require all health care plans to cover benefits for screening for post-partum depression - a serious condition that can affect women following childbirth.

Dangerous activities for children (H 4001) - The Public Safety and Homeland Security is considering a measure that would require written consent of both divorced parents who share custody of their child before he or she is allowed to participate in activities considered hazardous `by a reasonable person's standard.' Hazardous activities are described as including hunting, motocross and shooting or participating at an event at a gun range.

Mandatory helmets while riding a horse (H 3885) - The Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture is looking at a bill that would require anyone who rides a horse or who is riding in a horse-drawn vehicle to wear a helmet.

Discourage gridlock at intersections (H 4028) - The Transportation Committee is considering legislation that would impose a $100 fine on drivers who cause gridlock at intersections. The measure requires drivers to allow enough space between their vehicles and the one in front of them in order to prevent getting stuck in an intersection at a red light and making it impossible for cross traffic to move.

More time to pay property taxes (H 3967) - The Revenue Committee is considering a proposal giving seniors over 60 and veterans an additional grace period of 10 days to pay property taxes.

How long was last week's session? Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time the House and Senate were in session each week.

Many legislators say legislative sessions are only one aspect of the Legislature's job and that a lot of important work is done outside of the House and Senate chambers. They note their jobs also involve committee work, research, constituent work and other matters that are important to their districts.

During the week of Dec. 28 to Jan. 1, the House met for a total of five hours and 55 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 34 minutes.

Monday, Dec. 28: House, 11:05 a.m. to 4:44 p.m.; Senate, 11:05 to 11:21 a.m.

Tuesday, Dec. 29: No House or Senate session.

Wednesday, Dec. 30: House, 11:09 to 11:25 a.m.; No Senate session

Thursday, Dec. 31: No House session. Senate, 11:04 to 11:22 a.m.

Friday, Jan. 1: No House or Senate session.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 7, 2010
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