Legislature Set to Negotiate Key Issues during Extended Session

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August 7, 2020
By: Brooke Thomson


The Massachusetts Legislature will attempt to reach consensus on multiple issues affecting employers – from health care to transportation to economic development – during a lawmaking session that has been extended for six months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state House of Representatives and Senate traditionally wrap up formal business on July 31 of […]


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Legislature Set to Negotiate Key Issues during Extended Session

Budget, Tax, & Finance Economy Energy Health Care Costs HR & Employment Law News | August 7, 2020
By: Brooke Thomson

The Massachusetts Legislature will attempt to reach consensus on multiple issues affecting employers – from health care to transportation to economic development – during a lawmaking session that has been extended for six months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state House of Representatives and Senate traditionally wrap up formal business on July 31 of the second year of two-year legislative sessions. But lawmakers voted last month to continue formal meetings through January of 2021 amid extraordinary fiscal and policy uncertainty caused by the COVID crisis.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts has urged the Legislature to exercise caution and avoid passing tax increases or other measures that could harm employers struggling to survive as the commonwealth moves through a deliberate economic re-opening process. At the same time, AIM supports pending proposals to expand affordable housing, ensure that telemedicine reduces the cost of health care and expand the availability of solar energy for commercial and industrial customers.

“The extension of the legislative session means that employers will need to pay close attention to conference committees that will hammer out final versions of bills that will significantly affect the Massachusetts economy. AIM looks forward to working with the Legislature and the Baker Administration on policies that will help get some of the half of million residents who lost their jobs due to the pandemic back to work,” said John Regan, President and Chief Executive Officer.

Here is what the Legislature has on its plate. Each issue summary includes the name of the AIM staff member point of contact you may reach out to for more information.

COVID-19 Re-Opening

AIM continues to work with the Legislature and members of the Baker Administration on legislation, rules, and guidance.

Brad MacDougall, bmacdougall@aimnet.org or 617-262-1180.

Fiscal Year 2021 Budget

Governor Baker signed a $16.5 billion appropriations bill that was approved by legislature to fund state government through October.

The Baker Administration and the Legislature also indicated support for maintaining the fiscal year 2021 local aid and school aid at FY 2020 levels and to provide an additional $107 million in school aid to cover inflation and enrollment factors.  These resources will be considered separate from $450 million in new federal supports for K-12 schools to assist with educating students during the pandemic.

Brad MacDougall, bmacdougall@aimnet.org or 617-262-1180.

Racial Justice

The conference committee members:

Senate
Sen. William Brownsberger,
Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, and
Minority Leader Bruce Tarr

House
Rep. Claire Cronin,
Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, and
Rep. Timothy Whelan

The reform plans include the creation of a certification and decertification system for law enforcement officers, establishment of clear and uniform limits on excessive force and a duty to intervene, a commission for comprehensive civil service review, and a commission on structural racism.

The House and Senate diverged in their approaches to limiting qualified immunity that shields police officers from civil lawsuits.

The Senate passed its bill (S 2820) on a 30-7 vote. The House voted 93-66 to pass its bill (H 4860). Both branches had verbally committed to enacting compromise legislation by July 31 before the legislative session was formally extended.

Brooke Thomson, bthomson@aimnet.org or 617-262-1180.

Health Care 

The Senate and House each passed their own version of health-care legislation pertaining to telehealth, out-of-network rates and enhanced scope-of-practice matters, building on experiences gained from the state’s health-care response to COVID-19.

S.2796An Act putting patients first was passed in the Senate on June 25 with 70 amendments considered. H.4916 passed in the House on July 29 after debate on 107 amendments.

The conference committee members:

House
Majority Leader, Ron Mariano
Rep. Dan Cullinane
Rep. Randy Hunt

Senate
Health Care Financing Chair, Cindy Friedman
Sen. Julian Cyr
Sen. Dean Tran

AIM applauds the recognition of telehealth as a necessary tool for the delivery of modern-day health care. The value of telehealth has never been more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic.

AIM supported the need for in-person rate parity for telehealth visits during a state of emergency when it was safer to remain at home and while hospitals and providers experienced plummeting revenues due to the mandated shutdown of all non-urgent, elective procedures.

The Senate language mandates in-person rate parity for all telehealth services over the next two years. The House extends rate parity until July 31, 2021 while maintaining permanent parity for behavioral telehealth service.

AIM has advocated for language authorizing and streamlining access to telemedicine services, without requiring an unreasonable extension of payment parity that negates telehealth’s overall ability to save costs to the health system, sponsoring employers, and health care consumers.

AIM has urged the legislature to prioritize business confidence and recognize health care as a significant component of the cost of doing business in Massachusetts. As employers navigate the complex re-opening process and welcome their employees back to work, maintaining their stability is of utmost importance in helping us bring the economy back to its feet.

Earlier this session, the Senate acted on two additional health-care measures including S.2546An Act addressing barriers to care for mental health and S.2409An Act relative to pharmaceutical cost, transparency and access.

On Thursday, July 30 the Senate similarly passed S. 2843An Act relative to step therapy and patient safety, pertaining to the use of step therapy as a prescription practice in the commonwealth. The House has yet to approach these issues.

Vasundhra Sangar, vsangar@aimnet.org or 617-262-1180.

Transportation

The House and Senate passed their own versions of the An Act authorizing and accelerating transportation investment - S2836 and H4547. More than 700 amendments were considered as each bill was passed.

The conference committee members:

Senate:
Sen. Joseph Boncore,
Sen. Michael Rodrigues, and
Sen. Dean Tran

House:
Rep. William Straus
Rep. Mark Cusack, and
Rep. Norman Orrall

AIM supports transportation policies and responsible new investment to reduce congestion, grow capacity to deliver capital projects, and lower carbon emissions in the transportation sector while ensuring accountability and transparency in transportation investment spending.

AIM believes strongly that the first step in any reform must be to remove current structural impediments that prevent the Department of Transportation and the MBTA from spending the money that the taxpayers have already given them.

AIM is concerned with any transportation proposal that imposes new taxes, fees, or revenue at this time, including gas taxes and fees on ride-sharing companies. AIM joined the National Association of Manufacturers’ call to increase federal spending on long-term infrastructure and transportation investments that will help to grow jobs and expand our economy.

AIM supports the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), the regional program that would add a carbon-based fee on gasoline and diesel use and return the money to consumers in the form of rebates to purchase electric vehicles or non-carbon emitting vehicles.

Of particular concern is a provision in S2836 that would allow local and regional transportation ballot initiatives to raise revenue through local/regional sales, property, room occupancy and vehicle excise tax surcharges. AIM has historically expressed concern about this proposal, which would create multiple taxing authorities.

Robert Rio, rrio@aimnet.org  or 617-262-1180.

Climate Change

Each branch passed a major climate bill (S2500 and H4933) and both are now in conference.

The conference committee members:

Senate:

Chairman Michael Barrett (Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy),
Majority Leader Cynthia Creem, and
Sen. Patrick O’Connor

House:
Chairman Thomas Golden (Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy),
Rep. Patricia Haddad, and
Rep. Brad Jones

Of the two bills, H4933 sets real climate-reduction goals and includes little excess process – although there are still a few troubling provisions AIM is discussing with the conference committee. H4933 adopts net-zero emissions goals by 2050, a step supported by the governor, the House and Senate so it is likely to remain in any final bill. It also adopts interim climate change reduction goals of 50 percent in 2030 and 75 percent in 2040. These goals were similarly expected and will be the final bill, should one emerge from conference.

AIM advocated for several amendments to H4933. One would make solar energy easier and more cost-effective for commercial and industrial customers’ behind-the-meter installations. Also added was a study on energy storage, something that AIM supports. A final amendment establishes energy efficiency standards on some appliances, such as computers. The amendment has been vetted and has no opposition – many of the products already on the market and meet the law. Many amendments that AIM opposed were withdrawn.

Bob Rio rar@aimnet.org or 617262-1180.

Economic Development

The House and Senate have passed their own versions of an economic-development bill (H.4879 and S.2842), which will now go to a conference committee to reconcile differences.

The conference committee members:

House:
Rep. Aaron Michlewitz,
Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante
Rep. Donald Wong

Senate:
Sen. Eric Lesser
Sen. Michael Rodrigues, and
Sen. Patrick O’Connor

Both branches produced more than 400 amendments to be debated and considered. Many amendments related to corporate tax law were filed and considered but ultimately were not contained in the final House or Senate legislation.  HR and employment-law items were also considered, and a few items as listed below will be considered by the conference committee.

Some items that were withdrawn could be considered at a future time now that the legislative session will go beyond July 31.

Key elements AIM weighed in on and is monitoring, include:

  • Housing choice legislation to spur production of housing in Massachusetts
  • Rural tax and job retention tax credit
  • Various economic development and grant programs for minority, women and veteran owned businesses and small businesses under 20 employees.
  • Various grants for workforce development programs
  • HR Labor Law Issues
    • Senate Amendment 125to address replacement workers and PFML
    • Senate Amendment 350to address holiday pay
    • Senate Amendment 111to create a Commission to Study Barriers to Job Retention for Low-Income Workers
    • Resources for the Massachusetts Center for Employee Ownership
    • Permit extension act
    • Patent Infringement
    • Online Sports Wagering
    • Fairness in debt collection – Senate Amendment 129
    • Consumer Data Privacy – Senate Amendment 303

Brad MacDougall, bmacdougall@aimnet.org or 617-262-1180.

IT Bond Bill

The House and Senate approved a final conference committee proposal (H.4932) advancing the legislation to the governor for his review.  Many AIM members are providing important broadband or ancillary services throughout Massachusetts and would be impacted by the provisions of these bills related to digital infrastructure for business, health care (telemedicine and other remote services) and all levels of education.

AIM urged the conference committee to ensure that investments in broadband through state dollars are used only for buildout in truly un-served areas and for assistance with broadband adoption in areas where the service is currently available but financial challenges prevent a resident from signing up for the service.  AIM raised concerns regarding the utilization of state dollars for duplicative and government-owned networks.

AIM also raised the need for state programs to leverage technology to ensure program integrity when maintaining or building new information technology systems and government services through state government websites.

Given the strain on state resources and the importance of Massachusetts residents and businesses personal information, AIM urged that that investments be made to protect personal identifiable information through best practices in data security. In addition, there must be secure data verification processes and data verification services to ensure that claimants to critical services such as unemployment insurance or health care through MassHealth receive their benefits.

AIM also supports language to support technology usage with the state’s unemployment insurance system to further assist in the ongoing improvements and overhaul of the state’s unemployment insurance system.

Brad MacDougall, bmacdougall@aimnet.org or 617-262-1180.

Housing

AIM continues to support and monitor a variety of housing bills – H 4263, Gov. Baker’s “Housing Choices” bill; S 2831, eviction and foreclosure moratorium extension; H 1316 and H 3924, rent control and tenant protection, in addition to the economic development legislation that is advancing to a conference committee.

AIM has expresses support for provisions that will result in the production of badly needed housing in Massachusetts. AIM and other business groups have been in support of housing reform to address affordability as well as its availability, which is frequently cited by AIM members as one of the impediments to attracting workers to Massachusetts.

The housing issue is particularly acute in the eastern portion of the state where housing costs are among the highest in the nation. The high cost and scarcity of housing is not only impacting the ability of employers to attract workers, but also the ability of medical and educational institutions to attract professionals from other states.

Bob Rio rar@aimnet.org or 617262-1180.