By Bob Katzen

The Labor and Workforce Development Committee heard testimony at a hearing on a bill that would allow the attorney general to file a civil suit for injunctive relief, damages or lost wages and benefits for an employee and for the employee to receive triple damages if the suit is successful. Currently, the attorney general can only give either a civil citation or file a criminal complaint.

Supporters said the bill would give the attorney general and workers the power to hold accountable employers who commit wage theft or look the other way when it is going on. Wage theft is the practice of not paying employees what they’re owed.

Sen. Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington), said that rates of substance use disorder are higher among construction workers. “Exacerbate that by not getting paid, exacerbate that by working for subcontractors who don’t pay benefits to their employees … exacerbate that when people underpay you or don’t classify you correctly,” said Friedman. “So, we’re asking them to do a job, to build all of our buildings and our schools and we’re asking them to come to work every day, but we’re not going to ensure that they get paid, and that is just fundamentally, deeply unfair.”

Opponents said the bill contributes to the anti-business reputation of the Bay State. They said allowing triple damages goes too far and takes away all discretion from judges despite the circumstances of the case.

THE BAY STATE REMAINS IN 8TH PLACE IN NEW U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT RANKING OF BEST STATES – Massachusetts, ranked number 1 in 2017, plummeted to number 8 in 2018 and held steady in 8th place for 2019.

The Bay State rankings include #1 in Education, #2 in Health Care, #4 in Crimes and Corrections, #7 in the economy and near the bottom of the list at #44 in infrastructure.

“Today, the fields of education and health services employ the most people in Massachusetts,” said the report. “Another top industry is manufacturing, especially computer and electronic products. Massachusetts’ technology sector has flourished in recent years and is among the most concentrated in the nation.”

$1,500 TAX CREDIT FOR FAMILY CAREGIVERS (S 702) – The Health Care Financing Committee heard testimony on a bill giving up to a $1,500 tax credit to reimburse a family member who spends his or her own money to care for an ailing relative. Expenses covered include the improvement or alteration to the caregiver’s primary residence to accommodate the relative, equipment that is necessary to assist the relative in carrying out one or more activities of daily living, the hiring of a home care aide or personal care attendant, respite care, adult day health, transportation, legal and financial services and assistive technology.

The family caregiver claiming the credit must be over age 18 and have a Massachusetts adjusted gross income of less than $75,000 for an individual and less than $150,000 for a couple.

Supporters say this will save some money for caregivers. They note that Massachusetts has more than 800,000 unpaid family caregivers who are helping an aging parent or other loved one to live independently in their own homes. They argue that many of these caregivers have a regular full or part-time job and are overwhelmed by their caregiver duties. They note that a study from 2015 concluded that in Massachusetts, family caregivers provided 786 million hours of unpaid care valued at an estimated $11.6 billion annually.

“This would go a long way in helping them, would enable more of our seniors and those with disabilities to remain at home where they want to be when they want to age with dignity in the community, keep them out of more restrictive care, which as you know is much more expensive,” said the bill’s Senate sponsor Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester). “Even though it will cost the state some money for the credit, it actually, overall, could be a cost saver for us.”

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