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Eyes & Ears on Beacon Hill: Fines for Not Voting, Budget Debate, Local Alcohol Tax

Is Fining People For Not Voting A Good Idea?
     Proposed legislation (H 653) would require eligible voters to cast a ballot in any November General Election or face a fine of $15 that would be added to the non-voter’s state tax liability for each election missed. The measure also clarifies that the voter does not have to actually vote for anyone and is allowed to leave the ballot blank.
     “There are two schools of thought when filing legislation,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Dylan Fernandes (D-Falmouth) who intends to refile the proposal. “One is filing a bill that is rigorously vetted, that has been combed line by line and that you hope only receives marginal edits through the committee process. The other is filing an idea that you believe is worthy of a robust public debate that will reshape the bill.
     "Although it won’t pass this session and may never pass at all, I believe mandatory voting is an idea worth debate and consideration at the Statehouse and by thoughtful citizens across the state because it drives at questions fundamental to our society, which is whether civic participation in democracy is a duty or a right. I filed this bill to spark that debate.”
     “I am in full support of compulsory voting,” said Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, the executive director of MassVOTE. “I just want to make sure it does not disproportionately affect communities of color, low income and new citizens. Maybe consider a sliding scale.”
     “It’s totally ridiculous and just as radical,”said Paul Craney, executive director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “If politicians can ‘fine’ voters for not voting, they will feel empowered to penalize voters for not voting for their preferred candidate. This legislation should be rejected at every step of the way.”
A Look Behind The Scenes Of The Budget “Debate” On Beacon Hill
     This was the first state budget in the COVID-19 era and most state representatives participated virtually from their homes.
     Most of the decisions on which of the amendments proposed by representatives are included and which are not included in the budget are made “behind closed doors.” Of the 778 budget amendments proposed, most of them are bundled into consolidated amendments by category which are then voted up or down on one vote by the House. This year there were four consolidated amendments, and all but one were approved unanimously and without real debate. The other one received only one negative vote.
     The system works as follows: Individual representatives file amendments on various topics. Pre-pandemic, members were then invited to “subject meetings” in Room 348 where they pitched their amendments to Democratic leaders who then draft consolidated amendments that include some of the individual representatives’ amendments while excluding others. This year, negotiations on amendments took place in private Zoom calls, dubbed "348 Zoom,” with a nod to Room 348.
     Supporters of the system say that any representative who sponsored an excluded amendment can bring it to the floor and ask for an up or down vote on the amendment itself. They say this system has worked well for many years.
     Opponents say that rarely, if ever, does a member bring his or her amendment to the floor for an up-or-down vote because that is not the way the game is played. It is an “expected tradition” that you accept the fate of your amendment as determined by Democratic leaders.
     Opponents also say this archaic inside system takes power away from individual members and forces legislators to vote for or against a package of amendments. They argue that individual amendments should be considered on a
one-by-one basis on the House floor.
Bill Proposes 2% Local Alcohol Tax
Local Alcohol Tax (S 1617) – The Town might soone have addtional tax revenue to help fund a new elemenatry school. A bill filed by Sen. Cindy Creem (D-Newton) would allow cities and towns to impose up to a 2 percent tax on the sales of alcohol in restaurants bars and stores. The bill would require cities or towns that impose the tax to establish and put all the revenue in a Municipal Substance Abuse Prevention and Public Health Fund and use the money for substance abuse prevention and protecting the public health.
     “I originally filed this bill to provide another revenue source for cities and towns to address increasing public health and substance abuse concerns,” said Creem. “I will continue to look at ways to help municipalities deal with these ever-increasing costs.”
     “The bill was filed before the COVID-19 pandemic and we will be reconsidering [whether to refile it] it in light of the economic impact the pandemic has had on the restaurant industry,” Creem’s chief of staff Richard Powell told Beacon Hill Roll Call. 
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