Mass. Lawmakers Zero In On Ways To Fund Transportation, Education

Mar 18, 2019

A so-called millionaire's tax got thrown off the ballot last year in Massachusetts. Now lawmakers are zeroing in on other ways to fund transportation and education. 

For a couple years, Massachusetts voters have been told that investments in education and transportation can't wait.

But is there urgency on these issues, now that the mechanism for funding change isn't there?

Katie Lannan, State House News Service: Definitely. I think we've seen, first of all, the millionaire's tax proposal resurface — although any sort of actualization of that is still several years away. But education and transportation remain at the forefront for lawmakers in the new session a couple of months in.

Education funding definitely seems to be an early priority. We've seen the governor put forward a plan with his budget. We've got a hearing coming up this week on other proposals. And of course, when it comes to transportation, all you have to do is sit in traffic, try to get to Boston from western Massachusetts, or ride the T, and certainly you'll have something to say about where investment is needed.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: A ban on conversion therapy for minors was overwhelmingly supported by the House last week. But a rare second vote was held after independent Susanna Whipps, who represents the Second Franklin District, discovered that her vote was recorded as opposing the ban. What went wrong?

I don't really know what exactly happened with the vote here. We know Rep. Whipps is a co-sponsor of this conversion therapy ban. It's something she supports. But when the original vote was tallied, she was listed as a 'no,' and she said, after the fact, that she thought she voted 'yes.'

A colleague showed her the recorded vote that listed her as a 'no.' And she was visibly upset in the House chamber as all this was going on, conferred with other lawmakers, and House leaders agreed to retake the vote. 

Rep. David LeBoeuf from the Worcester area said he sits near her, and he saw her green 'yes' light up in support for the bill. But then something must have happened somewhere along the way that switched to a 'no' vote.

The exact mechanics of what must have gone on are a little murky, but they agreed to another vote, and it passed the second time, 147 to 8 — the same total as the first time, because another lawmaker, Rep. Nicholas Boldyga of Southwick, voted in favor of the bill the first time, and then the second time, was a 'no' vote. We're not entirely sure what happened there, either.

Do lawmakers routinely check to make sure their votes are recorded correctly? Or should they be checking those things?

I guess they should be — anything technical, there's always room for a mishap. We have seen people vote one way and then change it themselves, if they hit the wrong button, or something like that. But it's very unusual to have a realization after the fact, and a whole new vote called. I don't think I've seen that before.

People from other states often criticize Massachusetts drivers for being bad drivers. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health released some data last week suggesting about 7 percent of all adults in the state drove under the influence of marijuana in the past month. In response, the governor has proposed some new regulations, but there's still no good test to identify drivers who are high on pot. Are lawmakers going to go along with this?

Yes. The governor's bill came out of a report by the Special Commission on Operating Under the Influence and Impaired Driving. They issued 19 recommendations a while back for how to handle the newly legal marijuana, and what it means for drivers. 

The governor's bill, which certainly does seem to have support from some lawmakers — although it hasn't reached a groundswell, or an indication they're taking it up soon — it looks to set up a situation where a driver would only need to be proven to be impaired to have a conviction. They wouldn't need to prove the substance they're impaired by. It's certainly supported by people in the public safety field as well.

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