There were no roll call votes in the House or Senate last week. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call reports local representatives’ roll call attendance records for the 2021 session through May 7.
The House has held 32 roll calls so far in 2021. Beacon Hill Roll Call tabulates the number of roll calls on which each representative votes and then calculates that number as a percentage of the total roll call votes held. That percentage is the number referred to as the roll call attendance record.
The vast majority of the 160 representatives are not in the House chamber during a session because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sources tell Beacon Hill Roll Call that they have seen as few as 12 members in the chamber and as many as 40. The rest watch the session from their home or business and vote remotely.
Here’s how the remote voting system works: Eight appointed monitors are required to be present in the House chamber and are each given the task of recording the votes of approximately 20 members who are watching the session remotely from their home or business office. Each monitor has their 20 members on a conference call and fills out a form indicating how each member voted. The sheets are given to the court officers who then give them to the House clerk who verifies that the correct totals have been recorded and that the sheet is signed by the monitor. The assistant clerk records the yeas and nays in the roll call computer, which activates the green (voted yes) or red (voted no) lights on the electronic roll call board.
Members participating remotely then have the opportunity to see on the broadcast how they are recorded so they can verify that their vote was recorded accurately. The tally is then displayed on the roll call board and the presiding officer announces the totals and the result of the vote.
If a member wants to speak on an issue under consideration, they leave the conference call temporarily. Using a different telephone, they call into a line that patches them into the debate. Their voice is then heard in the House chamber and by those watching the broadcast online.
In the House, 96.8 percent (155 out of 160 representatives) did not miss any roll calls and have 100 percent roll call attendance records. Only 3.2 percent (five representatives) have missed one or more roll calls.
The representative who missed the most roll calls is Rep. David LeBoeuf, D-Worcester, who missed four, resulting in an 87.5 percent attendance record.
Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester, missed three roll calls, making for a 90.6 percent roll call attendance record.
Reps. Brian Murray, D-Milford; Orlando Ramos, D-Springfield; and Sheila Harrington, R-Groton, each missed one roll call and have 96.8 percent roll call attendance records.
Beacon Hill Roll Call contacted these five legislators and asked each one for a comment on his or her attendance record. Only two responded.
Rep. Harrington: “Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware I wasn’t connected during the consolidated amendment, but I realized before the final vote at 2:22 a.m. and had reconnected so that my vote was counted. I thought I was just listening to dead air because the House was in recess. Unfortunately, my connection had been lost and I did not know it.”
Rep. LeBoeuf: “Any roll calls not recorded are the result of technical difficulties resulting from remote voting. We currently vote over the phone and unfortunately, I have terrible cell and internet service in my apartment building. The emergency rules do not permit representatives to vote after the roll call period has closed, as is permitted under traditional procedure. I have provided the House clerk with a letter explaining the technical difficulties and what my vote would have been for the House Journal.”
The percentage listed next to the representative’s name is the percentage of roll call votes on which the representative voted. The number in parentheses represents the number of roll calls that he or she missed.
Rep. Natalie Blais — 100 percent (0)
Rep. Paul Mark — 100 percent (0)
Rep. Susannah Whipps — 100 percent (0)
Lots of bills were considered during virtual hearings that were held last week on Beacon Hill. Here’s a look at some of them:
This proposed legislation would prohibits the sale of over-the-counter diet pills and supplements sold for weight loss and muscle building to individuals under the age of 18.
“I filed this legislation with hopes to bring awareness and protect children from harmful weight loss and muscle-building supplements,” said sponsor Sen. Mike Rush, D-Boston. “As children have greater access to social media outlets, weight loss and sports improvement advertisements have driven the sale of weight loss and muscle-building supplements.”
If passed, this bill would prohibit the marketing of sugary drinks in schools. Another key provision requires that all sugary drink advertisements have the following label: “WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugars contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.”
The measure would also allow a chain restaurant to sell a children’s meal only if the default beverage is one of the following: water, sparkling water or flavored water, with no added natural or artificial sweeteners; nonfat or 1 percent milk or a non-dairy milk alternative containing no more than 130 calories per container; or 100 percent juice, with no added sweeteners, in a serving size limited to 8 ounces.
“I filed this bill because, as a legislator and advanced practice nurse, I am committed to improving health outcomes for all people across the commonwealth,” said sponsor Rep. Kay Khan, D-Newton. “According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sugary drinks are the single largest source of added sugar in the American diet. These sugary drinks contribute to higher rates of Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer, stroke, tooth decay and heart disease. Too many kids in the commonwealth are suffering from these preventable chronic diseases. The American Heart Association recommends that children over the age of 2 have no more than one 8-ounce sugary drink a week. Yet kids today are consuming as much as 10 times that amount. Children in low-income families consume two-and-a-half times more than their peers in higher-income families.”
In 2016, Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly passed Question 3 to prevent cruelty to farm animals. At the time it was the strongest law for farm animals in history, but since then leading retailers, producers and other states mandated even stronger standards in the shift to cage-free conditions for hens. A bill, proposed by Sen. Jason Lewis, D-Winchester, would updates Massachusetts’ existing law to meet this new standard.
“In 2016, the advocacy of animal welfare groups across Massachusetts and overwhelming support from voters passed Ballot Question 3 to ensure that the factory farming industry provides more humane standards for egg-laying hens, pigs and calves,” Lewis said. “Since then, the standard around the country for egg-laying hens has evolved, and Massachusetts is now an outlier, which could threaten our supply of eggs. Fortunately, the egg producers and animal welfare groups have come together to agree on a fix to the ballot question, and Rep. Dan Cahill and I have filed legislation to reflect their consensus and ensure a continued supply of eggs for the commonwealth.”
This proposed legislation would prohibit smoking in any motor vehicle in which there is a child who is required to be in a child passenger restraint. Under Massachusetts law, children must use a restraint until they are at least 8 years old or at least 57 inches tall. The measure imposes a $100 fine on drivers who violate the ban.
The proposal would prohibit a police officer from searching a motor vehicle, its contents, the driver or a passenger solely because of a violation of this law. It also prohibits the violation from being used as evidence of contributory negligence by the driver in any civil action and requires officers, for 90 days after the law is in effect, to give only a warning and not a citation to a driver who violates this law.
Supporters say that second-hand smoke causes respiratory problems, ear infections and mental health disorders including depression. They note it can also make a child’s asthma worse. They argue that the only effective way to fully protect non-smokers from harm is to eliminate smoking in enclosed spaces including homes, worksites, public spaces and vehicles.
“I was elected on a promise to advocate and protect our most vulnerable,” said sponsor Rep. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro. “I feel an obligation to be the voice for those who are unable to be heard.”
Some opponents say this is another example of unnecessary government intrusion into people’s lives.
Others ask why this arbitrary bill doesn’t protect children older than 8 or taller than 57 inches.