Beacon Hill Roll Call – Regular weekly report – October 17, 2014

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THE HOUSE AND SENATE. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call looks at Question 4, one of
the four questions on the ballot that will be decided directly by the voters in November.

The question asks voters if they want to require both public and private employers with 11 or more employees to allow them to earn and use up to 40 hours of paid sick time per year. Employees working for companies with 10 or fewer workers could earn and use up to 40 hours of unpaid sick time annually. All employees would earn one day of sick time for every 30 hours worked. Employees of an individual city or town would be covered only if the proposed law was approved or funded by the city council or town meeting or funded by the Legislature.

The Legislature has never voted on the ballot proposal. The Labor and Workforce Development Committee in 2013 approved a similar bill but it died in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which did not act on it. That proposal required employers with 10 or more employees to give each worker up to 56 hours of paid sick time per year. Employees of companies with six to 10 workers would be entitled to up to 40 hours of paid sick leave while companies with fewer than six employees would only be required to offer 40 hours of unpaid leave. And just like the ballot question, this proposal would have given one day of sick time for every 30 hours worked.

Here are the official arguments, gathered by the secretary of state, by each side of the question:

IN FAVOR: Written by Raise Up Massachusetts. For more info, go to www.raiseupma.org or call 617-284-1260.

“A YES vote will allow workers in Massachusetts to earn up to 40 hours of sick time a year to take care of their own health or a family member’s health.

Workers will earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked, and can use their sick time only after working for 90 days.

Thousands of hardworking people in Massachusetts are forced to choose between going to work sick or losing a day’s pay — or worse, their jobs. Some are even forced to send a sick child to school to save their income or job.

A YES vote on Question 4 will save jobs and income, allowing workers to spend more in the local economy, benefiting us all.

Businesses providing sick time find that it reduces employee turnover, increases productivity, and helps their bottom line.”

AGAINST: Written by Retailers Association of Massachusetts. For more info, go to www.votenoquestion4.org or call 617-523-1900.

“Protect Massachusetts Small Businesses. Vote NO on Question 4.

Question 4 would make Massachusetts the first state to require small and taxpayer-funded employers to provide up to a week of mandatory paid sick time and family leave to all employees, including part-timers. The red tape and mandate would be costly to small businesses and taxpayers.

When an employee at a typical office setting calls in sick, other employees usually step in to cover the workload. However, for customer service focused employers or employers with mandatory staffing levels, this may not be an option. These employers would be required to pay twice, once to the employee on leave and a second time to the employee working the shift. It would essentially double their payroll.

One size does not fit all, and small businesses and their employees depend on flexibility to increase salaries and other benefits, not costly state mandates.”

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

COACHES MUST LEARN CPR (S 1918) – The House approved a Senate-approved bill that would require all school coaches to complete a course in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) from the American Heart Association, American Red Cross or other state-approved agency by August 2015. The measure also prohibits local cities and towns from being responsible for the costs. Only final approval is needed by both branches in order for the measure to go to Gov. Deval Patrick.

Supporters said this invaluable training costs about $50 per person and will save many lives. They noted there are creative ways to pay for the training or to get the fee waived.

AUTOMATIC TAX CUT “POSSIBLE” ON JANUARY 1 – Gov. Patrick’s Administration and Finance Secretary Glen Shor said that sufficient economic growth in 2014 under the terms of a 2002 law might result in a tax cut for millions of Bay State taxpayers beginning in 2015. The cut would come from a reduction in the income tax rate and long-term capital gains tax from 5.2 to 5.15 percent effective January 1, 2015. This mechanism has already resulted in a tax cut in 2012, when it fell from 5.3 to 5.25 percent, and in 2013, when it fell from 5.25 to 5.2 percent. The decision will be made on December 16.

The tax cuts do not need the approval of the Legislature. They are part of a system devised by the Legislature when it approved a $1 billion-plus tax hike package in 2002. The package set the long-term capital gains tax at 5.3 percent and froze the income tax rate at 5.3 percent instead of allowing it to drop to 5 percent in January 2003 — a reduction that was approved by voters in 2000. The 2002 law also includes an automatic trigger that reduces both taxes by one-half of one percent each year that the state’s economic growth is at least 2.5 percent until each tax is reduced to five percent. Shor estimates that the new tax cuts will reduce state revenue by $70 million in fiscal year 2015 and $145 million in fiscal year 2016.

BAN HALLUCINOGENIC DRUG (H 4484) – The Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a bill that would make the hallucinogenic drug “25-1” illegal. Fifteen-year-old Emily Valentine of East Bridgewater died in June of organ failure after ingesting this drug that is also known by its street names “N-bomb” or “Smiles.” Emily’s mother Erin testified in favor of banning the drug that is typically sold over the Internet. “Her life is gone because of a five-dollar hit of a drug that is not even illegal,” Valentine said.

STATE GETS REAL ID EXTENSION – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has granted Massachusetts a federal REAL ID compliance extension. The federal REAL ID Act establishes federal standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards so that they may be used to board commercial airline flights and to enter federal buildings and nuclear power plants. The one-year extension until October 2015 allows Massachusetts license and identification card holders to retain access to federal facilities.

MAKE MATERNITY LEAVE GENDER NEUTRAL (S 685) – A bill that would change the state’s female-only maternity leave law to a gender-neutral one is stuck in the House Bills in Third Reading Committee. The proposed law would give parents of a newborn or adopted child eight weeks off, with or without pay at the discretion of the employer, and the right to return to their job after that period. The Senate gave near-final approval to the bill in October and sent it to the House. The House gave it initial approval but has not yet taken further action on it.

Supporters say this would bring this law into the current century. They noted it is outrageous that coverage is currently reserved for women.

BAN DISCRIMINATION AGAINST VETERANS (S 1921) – A bill that would prohibit an employer from discriminating against an individual in hiring and firing practices and compensation because he or she is a veteran is languishing in the House Ways and Means Committee since it was unanimously approved by the Senate in November.

Supporters say that, oddly, veterans are not included in the state’s current anti-discrimination law.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“I hear so many times, isn’t this already a law?”

Allyson Perron, Senior Government Relations Director at the American Heart Association, talking about how people are amazed that the state does not have a law that would require all school coaches to complete a course in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). The law is pending in the Legislature.

“9,400 and 6 percent.”

The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development’s estimates of how many jobs the Bay State added in September and the current unemployment rate, which rose 0.2 of a percentage point over the August rate.

“Legalizing marijuana will not only protect the public better than prohibition, it will raise new revenues and create jobs … and enable states to realize huge savings in law enforcement costs.”

Alex Arsenault, a spokesman for the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts, which has put the non-binding question of legalizing marijuana on the ballot in eight state representatives’ districts.

“Acted arbitrarily and capriciously, abused its discretion, violated provisions of the Gaming Act, gave Wynn unequal (and better) treatment than other gaming applicants, and treated other applicants unfairly and inequitably.”

From a lawsuit filed against the state’s Gaming Commission by the City of Revere and a union that represents 145 workers at Suffolk Downs over the awarding of a gaming license to Wynn Resorts. Revere was hoping that a Mohegan Sun casino at Suffolk Downs in Revere would have been chosen.

HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION? Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time that the House and Senate were in session each week. Many legislators say that 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 that their jobs also involve committee work, research, constituent work and other matters that are important to their districts. Critics say that the Legislature does not meet regularly or long enough to debate and vote in public view on the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been filed. They note that the infrequency and brief length of sessions are misguided and lead to irresponsible late night sessions and a mad rush to act on dozens of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of an annual session.

During the week of October 13-17, the House met for a total of 16 minutes and the Senate met for a total of four hours and 58 minutes.

Mon. October 13 No House session
No Senate session

Tues. October 14 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:09 a.m.
Senate 11:00 a.m. to 3:51 p.m.

Wed. October 15 No House session
No Senate session

Thurs. October 16 House 11:05 a.m. to 11:13 a.m.
Senate 11:03 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.

Fri. October 17 No House session
No Senate session

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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