By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators and representatives’ votes on roll calls from the week of June 18-22.
A note to readers from Bob Katzen, Publisher of Beacon Hill Roll Call:
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RAISE MINIMUM WAGE, FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE AND SALES TAX HOLIDAY (H 4640)
House 119-24, Senate 30-8, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a bill that would hike the minimum wage from $11 to $15 over five years; increase the wage for tipped workers from $3.75 to $6.75 over five years; phase out over five years extra pay for employees who work on Sundays and holidays; institute a permanent sales tax holiday on a weekend every August; and establish a $1 billion family and medical leave program funded by a payroll tax paid for by both employers and employees.
Dubbed the “Grand Bargain Bill” by its supporters, the compromise bill is in response to the likely successful effort by the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition to get the minimum wage and paid leave questions on the November ballot; and the likely success of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts (RAM) to get a question on the ballot to reduce the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent.
Raise Up Massachusetts has agreed not to bring its family and medical question to the ballot while RAM has agreed to drop its effort to reduce the sales tax to 5 percent. The fate of the minimum wage ballot question is undetermined. The version passed by the Legislature differs from the ballot question version in several ways. The legislative version gives the raise to $15 over five years rather than the four years on the ballot version; does not include tying the minimum wage to inflation; and includes phasing out extra pay for employees who work on Sundays and holidays.
RAM President Jon Hurst had mixed feelings about the compromise but ultimately embraced it. “The compromise legislation passed today contains very costly initiatives that will negatively impact the thousands of small business owners and their employees that RAM represents,” said Hurst. “The retail marketplace has never been more competitive, and the margins have never been smaller. The new payroll mandates passed today will significantly increase costs, resulting in businesses being less competitive, forcing some doors to close and good jobs to be lost. This is not rhetoric, but reality. At the same time, the results would be far worse had these measures gone to the ballot, and the Legislature deserves credit for bringing the parties together to bring a balanced resolution.”
Meanwhile, critics of the compromise say that RAM was able to extract compromises from Raise Up by using the sales tax cut as a bargaining chip. The Supreme Judicial Court had just ruled that a proposed ballot question imposing an additional 4 percent income tax on taxpayers’ earnings of more than $1 million cannot go on the November 2018 ballot. Supporters of that measure saw millions of tax dollars lost as a result of the decision and said that reducing the sales tax would cause a fiscal crisis and require cutbacks of many programs.
“This bill empowers workers, recognizes the needs of business owners, and ensures that Massachusetts residents will no longer have to choose between caring for a sick relative or losing their job,” said Rep. Paul Brodeur (D-Melrose). “It is the result of months of negotiations and demonstrates that regardless of what happens in Washington, here in Massachusetts we focus on cooperation and compromise.”
“I fundamentally disagree with the premise that we have to give up some workers’ rights in order to gain new workers’ rights,” said Sen. Kathleen O’Connor-Ives (D-Newburyport). “This bill ends time and a half on Sundays in order to start paid family and medical leave and phase-in a $15 minimum wage. This was a strategic decision in order to prevent these issues and the sales tax roll-back from going on the ballot. I would rather see the ballot question process play out and then respond as a Legislature and raise lost revenues by ending wasteful corporate tax credits if the sales tax was rolled-back to 5 percent.”
“This deal represents a series of compromises made in the best interest of the commonwealth,” said Rep. Joseph Wagner (D-Chicopee). “By reaching a thoughtful balance, this package will protect Massachusetts workers while promoting a competitive environment for our local businesses.”
“My ‘no’ vote is for a better minimum wage” said Sen. Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton). “My ‘no’ vote is for hardworking Massachusetts citizens, many of whom depend on the guarantee of a fair wage for working Saturdays and Sundays. My ‘no’ vote is for the rights of Massachusetts voters who brought this initiative forward so that the people would be able to decide the issue for themselves.”
A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it).
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ALLOW AMENDMENTS REDUCING THE MEALS TAX AND SALES TAX (H 4640)
House 116-34 and 115-35, upheld the ruling of Acting Speaker Paul Donato that amendments reducing the meals tax and sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent are beyond the scope of Grand Bargain Bill and will not be allowed on the House floor for debate and a vote.
Supporters of the ruling said the ruling is correct because both amendments introduce a new subject that is not already part of the bill and bypass the legislative process.
Opponents of the ruling said the bill deals with taxes and the amendments are appropriate because they also deal with taxes. They noted that on the sales tax reduction amendment, the bill specifically creates a sales tax holiday which clearly is directly related to an amendment to reduce the sales tax.
(A “Yes” vote is for the ruling of the chair. A “No” vote is against it. The first vote is on allowing debate on the meals tax reduction. The second vote is for allowing it on the sales tax reduction).
Rep. Christine Barber Yes/Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes/Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes/Yes
LOWER WAGE FOR YOUNG TEENS (H 4640)
House 35-116, rejected an amendment allowing employers to pay workers under 18 years the $11 minimum wage instead of hiking it to $15 over five years.
Amendment supporters said the hike would discourage employers from hiring inexperienced teens under 18 to train. They said the amendment would give businesses more flexibility to hire those teens.
Amendment opponents said these teens should get equal pay for equal work.
(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Mike Connolly No Rep. Denise Provost No
HEALTH CARE CHANGES (H 4617)
House 117-32, approved a complicated 130-page bill imposing assessments of $247.5 million on health insurers and $90 million on the largest hospitals. The funds would be used for grants to community hospitals. The measure also hikes fees for doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who pay the state to obtain their state license. Other provisions create new requirements for transparency in health plan network and benefit design and costs; protect consumers from surprise bills; require disclosures related to out of network billing and facility fees; and establish standards for telemedicine, that allows doctors and patients to communicate remotely rather than at the doctor’s office.
“Massachusetts continues to lead the way in healthcare and this bill takes significant steps at addressing some of the most pressing concerns in our health care system today – price variation, unnecessary cost growth, consumer engagement, and greater transparency,” said Rep. Jeffrey Roy (D-Franklin). “It also harnesses technology and innovation to improve the delivery of care and is ultimately shaped around enhancing the experience for patients. At its heart, this bill, in conjunction with our prior legislative efforts, is transforming how we seek to pay for care to promote cost-effective, value-driven services in a way that makes the healthcare system more accessible and effective for all of us.”
“I voted against the bill because it does little in the way of cost containment and does not include any MassHealth reforms offered by Gov. Baker to bring state Medicaid spending under control,” said GOP House Minority Leader Brad Jones (R-North Reading.) “Instead, it imposes hundreds of millions of dollars in new assessments on larger hospitals, specialty clinics, and insurers over the next three years, while increasing fees for thousands of licensed medical professionals across the state.”
The Senate has approved a different version of the bill and a conference committee will try to work out a compromise version.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it).
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes
WAGE THEFT (S 2327)
Senate 38-0, approved and sent to the House a bill to prevent wage theft by employers who, according to the bill’s supporters, steal $700 million of wages annually in Massachusetts from about 350,000 workers.
Wage theft includes paying below the minimum wage, neglecting to pay overtime and paying workers in cash to avoid paying taxes. Key provisions of the proposal make companies that contract with a subcontractor that withholds wages liable for those wages and empower the attorney general to issue a stop work order to employers committing wage theft and impose a penalty of up to $25,000.
“This bill returns workers’ hard-earned wages to them when they have been illegally underpaid or had their wages outright stolen by disreputable employers,” said Sen. Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow). “If an employer knew or should have known that workers were being denied their wages, this bill will provide recourse to the employee and penalize the employer.”
“Wage theft remains a major problem in Massachusetts, especially for the most vulnerable workers, like immigrants and low-income families,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester). “This legislation will help prevent and deter wage theft, ensure a level playing field for all employers, and protect the rights of working families.”
Although no one voted against the bill, some say said the bill unfairly punishes unknowing contractors for the illegal actions of their subcontractors. They said it is unfair and anti-business to require companies to police the payroll of their subcontractors.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ELIMINATE CALL FOR CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION (S 2555)
Senate 23-15, approved a change to a bill that calls upon Congress to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to establish that corporations do not have the same constitutional rights as human beings and that corporations’ campaign contributions and expenditures may be regulated.
The bill was filed in response to the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission. In that decision, the court ruled that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting corporations, unions and individuals from donating unlimited funds to Super Political Action Committees (PACs) that do not donate directly to candidates or political parties.
A two-thirds vote in favor of the amendment in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House would send the proposal to the 50 states and the amendment would become part of the Constitution if at least three-fourths (38) of the states ratify it.
The bill also provides that if Congress does not propose this constitutional amendment within six months of the passage of this bill, then the Bay State calls for a limited Constitutional Convention for the exclusive purpose of proposing the amendment. Congress is required to call the convention If at least two-thirds (34) of the states ask for it. The state Senate’s 23-15 vote would strike the provision.
Supporters of the change said there is no basis in law or precedent to limit the topic of a convention. They argued that a convention could result in a free-for-all in which many constitutional amendments are proposed.
Opponents of the change said they believe the convention can be limited to just one amendment. They argued that the constitution must be amended, and that Massachusetts should take the bold step of joining the call for a convention if Congress itself will not propose an amendment.
(A “Yes” vote is for striking the convention provision and therefore against calling for a convention. A “No” vote is against striking it and therefore favors the convention.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen No
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
“RIGHT TO DRY” (S 1117) – The House approved a Senate-approved local option proposal that would prohibit a city or town from outright banning any homeowner or tenant from using a clothesline to dry clothing. The law would only take effect in cities or towns that opt into it. Condominium associations and landlords would be allowed to place reasonable restrictions on the placement and use of clotheslines but could not ban them completely. The measure still needs additional House and Senate approval before it goes to the governor.
Supporters said that using a clothesline in place of energy-intensive automatic dryers is a low-tech way of cutting energy use, reducing pollution and saving on bills. They noted the bill will protect the aesthetic and safety interests of homeowners by allowing homeowners’ associations to impose reasonable location and manner restrictions on clothesline use.
BIOMETRICS (S 95) – The House approved a Senate-approved proposal that would add biometrics to the Security Breach Law that the Legislature approved in 2007. That law requires the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation to regulate the use and protect the security of personally identifying information including passwords and social security numbers. It also imposes a duty on third parties who hold such information to report breaches in security.
Biometric indicators are unique biological attributes or measurements that can be used to authenticate the identity of a person including fingerprints, genetic information, iris or retina patterns, voice recognition, facial characteristics and hand geometry.
Supporters said the 2007 law has worked well and has resulted in the identification of thousands of breaches and the protection of millions of Massachusetts residents, including 947,000 Target customers whose information was compromised in 2013. They argued the law must be updated to keep up with new and changing technology and to protect consumers.
NOVEMBER BALLOT QUESTION UPDATE – The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a proposed ballot question imposing an additional 4 percent income tax, in addition to the current flat 5.10 percent tax, on taxpayers’ earnings of more than $1 million cannot go on the November 2018 ballot. It also ruled that a proposed question that would limit how many patients can be assigned to each registered nurse in Massachusetts hospitals and certain other healthcare facilities can appear on the ballot. The maximum number of patients per registered nurse would vary by type of unit and level of care.
Proponents have until July 4 to gather another 10,792 signatures in order for the question to appear on the November 2018 ballot.
TAX CREDIT FOR PET ADOPTION – (No number yet) – A late-filed bill by Rep. Dave Muradian (R-Grafton) would allow a taxpayer to receive a tax credit, ranging from $100 to $400, for the adoption of a pet from a non-profit animal shelter. The credit would be $400 for a dog over 7 years old or any disabled dog or cat regardless of age; $200 for a dog one to six years old or a cat over the age of seven; and $100 for a cat from one to six years old. The credit would be used over a 3-year period.
The credits would be at least partially funded by profits from the Registry of Motor Vehicles’ sale of special auto license plates indicating support for adoption of animals from shelters and containing the phrase “I’m Animal Friendly.”
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 June 18-22, the House met for a total of 22 hours and eight minutes while the Senate met for a total of 17 hours and 34 minutes.
Mon. June 18 House 11:00 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.
Senate 11:13 a.m. to 11:22 a.m.
Tues. June 19 House 11:02 a.m. to 11:06 p.m.
Senate 11:17 a.m. to 4:14 p.m
Wed. June 20 House 10:59 a.m. to 7:53 p.m.
Senate 1:24 p.m. to 7:54 p.m
Thurs. June 21 House 11:05 a.m. to 12:05 p.m.
Senate 11:02 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Fri. June 22 No House session
No Senate session
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