News Briefs: Hinds’ ‘Agenda for Western Mass.;’ early voting law imposes an unfunded mandate on local governments

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By Thursday, Feb 16 News
State Sen. Adam Hinds, at a rooftop get-together in Pittsfield, Mass.

Hinds releases ‘Agenda for Western Mass’

Boston — State Sen. Adam G. Hinds, D-Pittsfield, has outlined his “Agenda for Western Mass,” crafted during the first six weeks of his tenure in the Massachusetts Senate and based primarily upon feedback he received from residents during the campaign and during his ongoing ‘Speak Up Western Mass’ gatherings.

As Senator-elect, Hinds hosted five public forums, dubbed ‘Speak Up Western Mass,’ in December in the communities of Great Barrington, Chesterfield, Pittsfield, North Adams and Shelburne Falls. More than 100 residents joined him to ask questions, pitch ideas and help him craft his policy agenda for the 2017–2018 legislative session. Hinds continued the conversation in January with a ‘Speak Up Western Mass’ event in Williamsburg attended by 60 residents.

Friday, Jan. 20, was the deadline for legislators to submit “timely” bills for consideration. Sixteen days after assuming office, Hinds sponsored eight bills focused on issues of priority for the rural communities and working families of western Massachusetts. Hinds’ bills can be reviewed and tracked online throughout the session.

  • SD.869, An Act commissioning a study of vocational education, directs the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to conduct a study of the availability of vocational education to ensure access to quality voc-ed in all regions of the Commonwealth.
  • SD.872, An Act authorizing the sale of farmer-distiller products at farmers’ markets, allows licensed farmer-distillers to sell their products at farmers’ markets in Massachusetts.
  • SD.873, An Act relative to the licensure of insurance adjusters in the Commonwealth, requires insurance adjusters working for any insurer in the Commonwealth to be licensed.
  • SD.1114, An Act relative to volunteer ambulance service, directs the state Department of Public Health to adjust ambulance staffing regulations to allow volunteer ambulance service providers performing basic life support to staff an ambulance with one EMT and one EMS First Responder.
  • SD.1300, An Act relative to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, updates the membership of the MCAD advisory board to include representatives of the LGBTQ Community.
  • SD.1859, An Act relative to school bus safety, requires school buses to be equipped with a device to ensure riders have fully cleared the passenger side door before closing.
  • SD.1875, An Act relative to income eligible childcare: Current state Early Education and Care regulations allow a household to receive a childcare subsidy if they make at or below 50 percent of the state median income and maintain that voucher until they make over 85 percent of the state median income at reassessment. The legislation codifies those regulations but increases the reassessment amount to 90 percent to help upwardly mobile working families who still depend on financial assistance to access safe, quality childcare.
  • SD.1891, An Act mandating that offenses for which a pardon has been granted be expunged from Criminal Offender Record Information reports, mandates that offenses for which a pardon has been granted be expunged from Criminal Offender Record Information reports.

SD.869, SD.872, SD.873 and SD.1114 were sponsored by former State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing in previous legislative sessions. Hinds assumed custody of the proposals and re-filed them in 2017 because of positive feedback he received from constituents, parents and voc-education advocates, local farmers and Buy Local organizations, and local volunteer ambulance service departments.

SD.1300, SD.1859, SD.1875 and SD.1891 are new bills that Hinds drafted in response to direct suggestions received from state and regional officials, community leaders and constituents.

A second internal deadline of Friday, Feb. 3, marked the date by which legislators had to make decisions on which bills to co-sponsor. Hinds received more than 800 calls, letters and emails from constituents identifying bills they supported or opposed. This testimony greatly informed the Senator’s decisions on co-sponsorship and has been recorded in his office for further consideration throughout the legislative review process.

Based on the testimony received as well as meetings and conversations in the district, Hinds co-sponsored 77 proposals filed by colleagues in the House of Representatives and Senate. Hinds’ co-sponsored bills can also be reviewed and tracked online throughout the session.

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Auditor determines part of early voting law imposes an unfunded mandate on local governments

Boston — Auditor Suzanne M. Bump Tuesday released a determination that certain early voting costs incurred by local clerks should be paid for by the Commonwealth. Bump’s Division of Local Mandates conducted the review and made the determination in response to petitions from the city of Woburn and the town of Oxford.

The determination cited the requirements that municipalities establish an early voting polling location that has sufficient staffing and privacy for voters as the factors driving the conclusion. In 2016, Woburn reported spending a total of $5,446.25 on these requirements and Oxford reported spending $1,486.94.

As part of its research, DLM solicited cost estimates from the Commonwealth’s 351 cities and towns. Based on information from the 80 percent of municipalities that responded, which represent 91.33 percent of Massachusetts registered voters, Bump’s office estimates that in-total municipalities spent $719,708.25 on the required costs during that time period.

Under the Unfunded Mandate Law, cities and towns, when faced with a potential unfunded mandate, can petition DLM to issue a determination. Woburn and Oxford can use the determination provided Tuesday to seek a court-ordered exemption from compliance with the law until state funding is provided. Additionally, local governments can seek legislative changes to the law, which may involve state funding for mandated expenses, or modification of the mandate.

The early voting law, which was passed into law in 2014, requires that municipalities allow any qualified voter during biennial state elections (and other elections taking place at that time) to vote during a 12-day early voting period. The Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office reported that more than 1 million voters cast their ballots during that period in 2016, representing more than 22 percent of registered voters in the state.

In addition, municipalities report additional costs related to personnel for optional early voting locations or extended evening and weekend hours, office supplies, newspaper advertising, police personnel at early voting locations, and the costs associated with a central vote tabulation facility. While the determination did not find the costs to be unfunded mandates, Bump’s office estimates $1,190.624.43 in municipal spending related to the services during the time period.

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