United States: Massachusetts Legislature Ends Active July With Budget Overrides

After a busy final few weeks of activity, the Massachusetts Legislature departed for its summer recess with a new budget and progress on several priority policy issues. In addition to overriding $97 million in Governor Baker's vetoes, Boston lawmakers considered tax, public records, energy, healthcare, and labor issues. The Massachusetts Sales Tax Holiday was sent to the Governor's desk for approval and a new public records law stalled in the face of opposition from municipalities, only to see executive action on the same topic. These developments, detailed in this alert, set the stage for an active fall agenda when the legislature reconvenes.

Budget:

The legislature overrode $97 million of Governor Baker's $162 million proposed vetoes in the FY16 budget. The legislature restored $5.25 million in cuts to the UMASS system, after high profile lobbying of the legislature by new UMASS system president Marty Meehan. Also on the education front, the legislature unanimously restored $17.6 million for full-day kindergarten programs targeted at underperforming schools.

After extensive conversations with the business community, the legislature and the Governor have compromised on how to alter the FAS-109 tax credit to pay for an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) expansion. Rather than repeal the corporate deduction in its entirety, lawmakers have agreed to temporarily suspend it and use the money that would have gone toward those credits to fund the EITC expansion. This compromise received strong support from business leadership groups such as the Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. Of additional importance for small businesses, the legislature restored $1.1 million in funding for the Massachusetts Capital Access Program, a small business loan system.

Also of note, the legislature restored almost all earmarked funding for local institutions and initiatives. Certain MBTA reforms in the budget, such as the fiscal oversight board, have already come into effect. The budget's transportation measures take on new importance because the legislature did not consider a separate MBTA reform bill before the August break as legislative leaders once discussed. Additionally, the FY16 budget funded anti-opioid measures in line with the recommendations of the Governor's Opioid Task Force, with $111 million in total substance abuse treatment spending. The legislature may override additional vetoes when they return in the fall.

Taxes:

Along with the FAS-109 compromise, several other tax measures emerged from the final stretch of the legislative session. Among the most prominent, the Massachusetts Sales Tax Holiday received legislative approval. All signals indicate Governor Baker will sign the bill into law in time for the August 15-16 planned suspension of the 6.25% state sales tax.

On the final day of the session, the Senate adopted legislation (Senate Bill 1974) that will allow the Department of Revenue to collect online sales tax revenue if Congress passes a law allowing states to do so. While some online sellers, like Amazon, collect Massachusetts sales tax under special agreements, this bill clears the procedural path to more general collection on goods sold to Massachusetts residents, pending federal legislation.

Public Records:

In the final weeks of July, political leaders debated reform measures for the Commonwealth's public records law. The proposed legislation would create rules to make it easier for citizens to request public records, such as requiring lower copy costs and paying attorneys' fees for wrongfully denied requestors. The bill faced opposition from the Massachusetts Municipal Association, which represents the Commonwealth's cities and towns. The municipalities expressed strong concerns over the compliance costs associated with this legislation, which lawmakers have decided to reexamine in the fall.

In light of the legislative delays, Governor Baker unveiled new rules to facilitate public records requests for executive agencies. These rules require a point person in each department to handle incoming records requests and limits on search and printing fees for producing the documents. The order waives all fees for small and routine requests, and alerts the requestor if the documents will take more than ten business days to produce.

Beyond the legislative and executive actions, on Monday August 3rd Secretary of State William Galvin filed a ballot initiative to send many of the measures in the proposed records legislation directly to the voters in 2016. Secretary Galvin, the official state supervisor of public records, has often expressed his frustration with Massachusetts's subpar records performance and claims that this initiative will bring Massachusetts in line with national standards.

Energy:

Energy legislation also came to the forefront in July, with new solar legislation sponsored by Senator Benjamin Downing and new hydropower legislation filed by Governor Baker. Senator Downing's legislation, which passed the Senate as an amendment to a broader climate change bill on July 30th, would raise the limits on how much solar energy consumers can sell back to the grid through "net metering" to 1,600 megawatts and provide a framework for stream-lining solar incentives thereafter. Many see this as a necessary step to maintain continued investment in the Commonwealth's solar industry. In certain parts of the state, the limits on net-metering have been reached, placing new projects that depend on net metering on hold. Governor Baker has indicated he will introduce his own proposal for solar legislation in the near future.

Earlier in the month, Governor Baker filed a bill to increase utilization of large scale, Canadian hydropower by Massachusetts electricity consumers. This bill would direct electric distribution companies to enter into long term contracts for hydropower. This is expected to stabilize electricity costs and help reduce price spikes and improve grid reliability during peak consumption times in the winter and summer. The "low carbon" nature of hydropower is also expected to help the state meet its carbon emission reduction goals. The bill does not allow hydropower to qualify for renewable energy incentives so it is not expected to crowd out domestic renewable power sources, such as wind power. The House of Representatives is expected to take up comprehensive energy legislation during the fall.

Healthcare:

In addition to the anti-opioid measures in the budget, a range of new legislation to combat the addiction epidemic has come to the forefront. Most notably, Governor Baker filed a bill requesting $27.8 million in supplemental spending to fight opioid abuse. This bill includes $15.2 million for Department of Public Health substance abuse services. Additionally, the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse favorably reported House Bill 1796, which pertains to substance abuse screening for students.

Two ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana were submitted to the Attorney General during the first week of August. While one proposal provides strict regulations on marijuana sales and an excise tax on top of the normal states sales tax, the other allows those over 21 to grow and sell marijuana with few restrictions. Key political players such as Governor Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh have lined up against legalization. Senate President Stan Rosenberg expressed interest in a non-binding resolution on marijuana legalization, but the idea gained little traction.

Several other health bills progressed through the committee process during the last weeks of July. Bills addressing Alzheimer's, breast reconstruction surgery, postpartum depression screening, and tanning facilities advanced out of the Committee on Public Health. House Bills 1804 and 1785, both of which aim to improve child access to psychiatric services, received favorable reports from the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse. Any of these bills could be brought before the legislature when they reconvene in September.

Labor & Gender:

Many of the state's top female lawmakers joined forces to endorse a Pay Equity bill, which received a favorable report from the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development on July 30th and will likely be voted on in September. As mentioned in our prior alert, Attorney General Maura Healey, Auditor Susanne Bump, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, and Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka have rallied behind the measure. The bill includes provisions to make it easier to sue employers for gender discrimination and a requirement that employers post minimum salaries on job advertisements. Business groups oppose the bill as unnecessary and burdensome on employers without high chances of making progress towards gender pay equality.

Additionally, the Joint Committee on Workforce and Labor Development favorably reported House Bill 1769, which requires employers in the Commonwealth to provide "reasonable accommodation" to pregnant employees. The Senate also adopted a resolution calling for equal representation of men and women on corporate boards.

Other Legislative Topics:

Tech Startup Monies

The Senate passed a bill that would help tech startups learn about the government procurement process and connect with municipalities. The bill would appropriate $750,000 for this program in FY16 and is supported by the Tech Hub Caucus.

Foreclosure Bill

The Senate tabled a bill that would alter the state's foreclosure process. The bill contains measures that would make it easier for the former owners of foreclosed properties to clarify their legal obligations. Senate Ways and Means Chair Karen Spilka questioned the specifics of the bill and suggested that the Senate reexamine the law to make sure it will perform its intended purpose.

Criminal Justice Reform

Additionally, Governor Charlie Baker, Senate President Stan Rosenberg, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo have asked the Council on State Government and the Pew Center for the States to assist the Commonwealth in reviewing its criminal justice practices. They are requesting this review in hopes of putting together criminal justice reform legislation in the fall.

Outlook:

A range of 2016 ballot petitions are arriving in advance of the August deadline. In addition to Secretary Galvin's public records initiative and marijuana legalization, the Attorney General will certify the constitutionality of questions regarding Common Core education standards, a tax on millionaires, and other potential ballot measures submitted before the Thursday deadline.

With many of the aforementioned issues from equal pay to criminal justice reform seen as urgent priorities demanding legislative attention, Beacon Hill should be busy during the balance of the 2015-2016 legislative session.

ML Strategies will continue to monitor the Massachusetts political landscape and report on new developments.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Max Samels
 
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration
Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:
  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.
  • Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.
    If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here
    If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here

    Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

    Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

    Use of www.mondaq.com

    You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

    Disclaimer

    Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

    The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

    Registration

    Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

    • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
    • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
    • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

    Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

    Information Collection and Use

    We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

    We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

    Mondaq News Alerts

    In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

    Cookies

    A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

    Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

    Log Files

    We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

    Links

    This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

    Surveys & Contests

    From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

    Mail-A-Friend

    If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

    Emails

    From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

    *** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .

    Security

    This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

    Correcting/Updating Personal Information

    If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

    Notification of Changes

    If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

    How to contact Mondaq

    You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

    If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.

    By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions