Economic Development Bill Signed into Law, Including Non-Compete Reforms Championed by Senator Jason Lewis

BOSTON — The state legislature enacted a sweeping economic development bill which was signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker earlier this month. The bill includes long-sought reforms championed by Senator Jason Lewis to the enforcement of non-compete agreements in Massachusetts.

Non-compete agreements restrict where somebody can work, for a certain period of time, after leaving their current employer. Many people believe that they are unfair to workers and their families, and that they also hurt our economy by sapping innovation and restricting labor mobility. Originally limited mainly to the high tech industry, their usage in other industries, including the lower-wage service sector, has become more widespread in recent years.

“This economic development legislation will strengthen our economy for all workers, and I’m particularly pleased that it includes significant reforms to non-compete agreements,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “These contracts can prevent workers from earning a living and stifle our innovation economy. I greatly appreciate all the hard work that finally got this very important legislation across the finish line.”

The non-compete reforms include the outright ban on the enforcement of non-compete agreements against low-wage workers and workers who are laid off. In cases where non-competes will still be allowed, they will now be restricted in length and scope. Workers will have to be paid a portion of their previous salary during the period of time they are unable to work in their field, and they will also have other new protections.

In addition to non-compete reforms, the economic development bill authorizes grants to workforce training programs and public infrastructure projects across Massachusetts, including:

  • $75 million in competitive grants for technical education and workforce training programs
  • $250 million for the MassWorks Infrastructure Program that will support thousands of jobs rebuilding local roads, bridges and other infrastructure, and completing community revitalization projects
  • $500 million in local economic development aid to our cities and towns
  • $2.5 million to support the Massachusetts Cybersecurity Innovation Fund to strengthen capabilities to address cybersecurity threats.

The legislation also established a two-day sales tax holiday weekend, which took place on August 11 and 12 ahead of the back-to-school shopping season.

Governor Baker Signs into Law Comprehensive Bill to Combat Opioid Epidemic, With Support from Senator Jason Lewis

BOSTON –The Massachusetts legislature recently passed An Act for prevention and access to appropriate care and treatment of addiction and Governor Baker has signed the bill into law. This legislation builds upon earlier efforts to fight the opioid epidemic, and further establishes Massachusetts as a national leader in efforts to strengthen education, prevention, treatment, and addiction recovery.

“The passage of this vital legislation marks another step forward in addressing the devastating opioid epidemic in our communities,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Committee on Public Health. “I’m grateful for the extensive input of patients, medical professionals, law enforcement, public health experts, community members and other stakeholders in the development of this legislation to ensure that it is as comprehensive and effective as possible in strengthening addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery.”

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health earlier this year estimated there were 1,977 opioid-related overdose deaths in the state last year. This number is down 8 percent from the 2,155 deaths in 2016. To continue to reduce the number of overdose deaths and reduce opioid addiction rates, the legislation increases access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT), expands prevention efforts, and addresses the high rates of co-occurring conditions of substance use disorder (SUD) and mental illness.

“Our communities are being deeply harmed by the opioid crisis and substance use disorder, and we all know a neighbor, friend or loved one who has been hurt, sometimes irreparably, by addiction,” said Paul Hammersley, City of Malden Addiction Recovery Resource Specialist. “We need to continue to take strong action on all fronts to fight back against this epidemic and equip people in Massachusetts with all available tools to accomplish that goal. I’m glad that the state legislature has taken this important step.”

Under this bill, someone who receives treatment in an emergency room for an opioid overdose will now have the opportunity to begin treatment for their substance use disorder before they leave the care of the emergency department. The bill requires that all emergency facilities have the capacity to initiate voluntary SUD treatment, including opioid agonist treatment, after treatment for overdose.

Opioid agonist treatment commonly includes the use of Buprenorphine, also known as Suboxone, which is an evidence-based treatment that eases the symptoms of withdrawal and relieves opioid cravings. It can be administered as early as 8 to 24 hours after a patient’s last exposure to an opioid. This timetable allows treatment to begin in the emergency department soon after an overdose, when someone with a SUD may be most willing to consider treatment. They will also receive a direct referral to a provider in the community who can continue their treatment regimen after they return home.

The legislation also directs the Department of Public Health to issue a statewide standing order authorizing every pharmacy in the state to dispense naloxone (narcan), eliminating the current requirement that each pharmacy obtain an individual authorization, and making this life-saving medication even more widely available.

In addition, this legislation recognizes the important role that recovery coaches play in successful long-term addiction and mental illness treatment by creating a commission to recommend standards for establishing a professional credential for recovery coaches as an important step toward formalizing the role that they play in the pathway to treatment and recovery.

The bill also creates a community-based Behavioral Health Promotion and Prevention Trust Fund to support and promote positive mental, emotional and behavioral health among children and young adults and to prevent substance use disorders among children and young adults.

To reduce fraud and drug diversion, and improve tracking and data collection, the bill requires that by 2020 all prescribers convert to electronic prescriptions for all controlled substance prescriptions.

Senator Lewis Champions Alzheimer’s & Dementia Bill Sent to Governor

BOSTON – The Massachusetts House and Senate Senate took historic steps to address the Alzheimer’s and dementia healthcare crisis in the Commonwealth voting to pass an Act relative to Alzheimer’s and related dementias in the Commonwealth. The legislation, championed in the Senate by Senator Jason Lewis, marks major progress in supporting individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia, their families, and their caretakers.

“The Massachusetts Alzheimer’s and Dementia Act is critical for the hundreds of thousands of people in our state affected by these diseases,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Committee on Public Health. “We all know a friend, neighbor or loved one who has been touched by Alzheimer’s or dementia, and it is clearer than ever that the growing healthcare crisis requires bold and compassionate response and mitigation.”

More than 130,000 people are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease in Massachusetts—those individuals are being cared for by more than 337,000 family and friends. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in 2018 Massachusetts will spend more than $1.6 billion in Medicaid costs caring for people with Alzheimer’s.

In 2017, Senator Lewis convened a special legislative hearing on the Alzheimer’s and dementia healthcare crisis. Advocates from around Massachusetts testified about the real challenges produced by dementia. This hearing was a catalyst for legislative action in the House and the Senate, as elected officials learned more about devastating toll of Alzheimer’s: not just on those with the disease, but also on their families and caregivers. Nearly 60 percent of caregivers rate the emotional stress as high or very high, and about 40 percent suffer from depression.

“Alzheimer’s is the single largest unaddressed public health threat in the 21st century and we remain on the front lines of this crisis every day here in the Commonwealth,” shared Daniel Zotos, Director of Public Policy & Advocacy of the Alzheimer’s Association, Massachusetts/New Hampshire Chapter. “This legislation follows in the tradition of Massachusetts being a national leader in health care and we commend the Legislature for ensuring everyone impacted by Alzheimer’s gets the quality care and support they deserve.”

The legislation helps patients and their families receive better, more comprehensive care. Caregiving for people with Alzheimer’s is an energy- and time-intensive endeavor and when medical emergencies occur for unrelated conditions, people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias often fare poorly in the acute care setting. This bill helps ensure that caseworkers, medical providers and hospital administrators and staff better understand Alzheimer’s disease so that they can provide the best treatment possible for patients and clients who are brought to them.

An Act relative to Alzheimer’s and related dementias in the Commonwealth supports individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia and their families by:

  • Tasking the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to develop and assess all state programs that address Alzheimer’s and create recommendations and implementation steps to address issues related to Alzheimer’s
  • Creating an advisory council for Alzheimer’s disease research & treatment
  • Requiring that all protective service caseworkers receive training on recognizing signs & symptoms of Alzheimer’s
  • Requiring that all doctors, physician’s assistants, and nurses who serve adult populations complete a one-time course of training on diagnosis, treatment and care of people with Alzheimer’s
  • Requiring physicians to report an initial diagnosis of Alzheimer’s to a member of a patient’s family (or a personal representative) and provide the family with information about understanding the diagnosis, creating care plans, and accessing medical and non-medical treatment options
  • Requiring hospitals to create and implement an operational plan for the recognition of patients with Alzheimer’s and Dementia and treatment for those patients.

The bill now sits on Governor Charlie Baker’s desk awaiting his signature.

Massachusetts Senate Invests in Environmental Protection, with Senator Lewis’s Support

BOSTON – The Massachusetts Senate passed An Act promoting climate change adaptation, environmental and natural resource protection, and investment in recreational assets and opportunity. The legislation authorizes investment in climate change adaptation programs and improvements to existing climate resilient infrastructure.

Massachusetts has continually demonstrated leadership in the fight against global climate change, and the investments authorized in this legislation ensure that cities and towns across the Commonwealth are protected and that public spaces and infrastructure are improved and maintained for the public good.

“With this important legislation, we further demonstrate our commitment to fighting climate change and preserving and protecting our environment and infrastructure,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “Massachusetts continues to lead in environmental stewardship, and the provisions of this bill will ensure that our state remains a desirable, healthy and safe place to work and live.

This bill authorizes the issuance of up to just under $2.2 billion in bonds for projects relating to climate change adaptation and the preservation and improvement of the Commonwealth’s existing environmental and energy assets. These authorizations include funding for projects such as: coastal infrastructure and resiliency improvements; dam and seawall projects; water and air quality protections; hazardous materials cleanup and response; river and wetland restoration programs; agricultural, economic and environmental sustainability and preservation; natural resource protection; improvements to coastal and inland waterways; improvements to roads, trails and bridges, and investment in and acquisition of property for trail purposes; tree planting on publicly-owned land; and protection of Article 97 land.

Senator Lewis successfully sponsored several amendments to secure $6 million in funding for projects in the 5th Middlesex District, including:

  • Lights, markers and other safety measures for the Tri-Community Greenway in Stoneham and Winchester
  • Improvements to Fellsmere Park, a historic park designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, in Malden
  • Upgrades to trails, signage and other improvements in the Middlesex Fells Reservation
  • Improvements to Hunt Park, Memorial Park, Washington Park, Symmonds Way and Sturges Park in Reading
  • Design for the proposed Wakefield-Lynnfield Rail Trail
  • Dredging Winter Pond in Winchester in order to provide safety and environmental improvements
  • Dredging and remediation of First Pond at Mount Hood Golf Course in Melrose

These projects are subject to final approval and release of funds by the Baker administration.

“With every record setting blizzard, every flooded T station, and every endangered species, we experience the effects of climate change in real time,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler. “The legislation that we passed today represents the Massachusetts Senate’s commitment to climate preparedness and the preservation of the Commonwealth’s ecosystems and open spaces.”

Additionally, the bill requires the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security to: (i) coordinate to strengthen resilience and prepare for the impacts of climate change; (ii) publish, every five years, an integrated state climate adaptation and hazard mitigation plan; (iii) establish frameworks for state agency and municipal vulnerability assessments that will be incorporated into the state plan; and (iv) implement the state plan and incorporate information learned from implementing the state plan in plan updates.

Photo credit: Melikamp, Middlesex Fells, between South and Middle Reservoirs, 10/25/09

With Lewis Support, Massachusetts Senate Passes Automatic Voter Registration

BOSTON – Today, the Massachusetts Senate passed An Act automatically registering eligible voters and enhancing safeguards against fraud. The legislation creates a framework in which eligible voters will be automatically registered to vote when receiving services from the Registry of Motor Vehicles, MassHealth, and other participating state agencies. The framework will be overseen and implemented by the Secretary of State.

“The passage of Automatic Voter Registration in Massachusetts will expand access to the ballot for eligible residents, invigorate civic engagement in our communities, and ultimately bolster the health of our democracy in Massachusetts by lowering barriers to the ballot and encouraging active participation,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Assistant Majority Whip. “Automatic Voter Registration eliminates unnecessary obstacles for eligible voters, and will go a long way to involve the nearly 680,000 unregistered eligible voters in the state in the democratic process.”

“It should be the state’s burden to register voters – not yours,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler. “Long work hours and confusion about the registration process are barriers for many citizens. Thousands of Massachusetts citizens are eligible to vote today, but aren’t registered. Registering to vote must be as simple as possible, and this legislation implements a process where any eligible citizen receiving certain state services is automatically registered. Today is a major victory for voting rights and social justice.”

The legislation also bolsters voter-data security. It updates the requirements for transmission of voter registration affidavits and requires the Secretary of State to promulgate regulations to ensure registration is done through electronic transmission, with data security protocols and integration with the online portals.

The legislation increases penalties associated with voter fraud. It orders that whoever knowingly provides false information in connection with automatic voter registration shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for up to 5 years or both.

Senator Jason Lewis Appointed to Health Care Reform Conference Committee

BOSTON- Senator Jason M. Lewis, Senate Chair of the Committee on Public Health, was named as a Senate member of the six-member conference committee dealing with proposed health care reforms. Senator Lewis, along with Democratic Senator James T. Welch, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing and Republican Minority Leader Bruce E. Tarr, will work to reconcile the differences between two pieces of health care reform legislation: one passed by the Senate in November and one passed by the House of Representatives this June.

“I’m pleased to be appointed to serve on this conference committee and look forward to working closely with my colleagues from the House and Senate,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “The quality and affordability of healthcare impacts everybody in Massachusetts, and we have the opportunity with this important legislation to improve health outcomes, reduce health disparities, and contain healthcare costs.”

Senator Lewis also expressed his hope that the final bill will take steps to both rein in healthcare spending for private and public payers as well as reduce health disparities for Massachusetts residents. He highlighted the social determinants of health and the recognition that improving population health is fundamental to containing healthcare costs, reducing health disparities, and improving quality of life.

The House of Representatives appointed House Majority Leader Ronald Mariano (D- Quincy), Representative Jeffery N. Roy (D- Franklin), House Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, and Representative Randy hunt (R-Sandwich) to the House side of the conference committee.

The conferees will meet to negotiate a final version of the health care financing bill to be approved by both houses of the State Legislature.

Senate Passes Jason Lewis Bill to Protect Youth from the Health Risks of Tobacco and Nicotine Addiction

BOSTON– Yesterday, the Massachusetts Senate engrossed comprehensive legislation, sponsored by Senator Jason Lewis, to reduce youth access to tobacco and nicotine products. Tobacco use and nicotine addiction remains the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death in Massachusetts, responsible for more than $4 billion in annual health care costs to the Commonwealth. Youth are particularly susceptible to nicotine addiction, nicotine has harmful health impacts on the developing brain, and 9 in 10 cigarette smokers begin using before age 18. The bill, An Act Protecting Youth from the Health Risks of Tobacco and Nicotine Addiction, raises the minimum legal sales age for all tobacco products to age 21; adds vaping products to the smoke free workplace law; and prohibits the sale of tobacco products in health care institutions, including pharmacies.

“Massachusetts has long been a leader in protecting and strengthening public health,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate. “This comprehensive legislation will once again put the Commonwealth at the forefront of preventing youth addiction to tobacco and nicotine products, in order to improve health, save lives, and reduce healthcare costs.”

“Raising the legal sales age for tobacco is an incredible public health achievement that will save lives, prevent addiction and ensure a healthier future for generations of Massachusetts youth,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler.  “This legislation protects young adults whose minds and bodies are still developing, and is a proven strategy for nicotine addiction prevention. I am proud that the Senate has voted to approve this bill.”

“We have come too far in our fight to protect young people from the dangers of tobacco and nicotine to turn back now,” said Attorney General Maura Healey. “This legislation is an important step toward ensuring that young people do not use these products. I applaud the Senate for passing this important bill and helping prevent another generation from growing up addicted to tobacco and nicotine.”

While youth smoking has declined considerably in the last two decades, youth use of other addictive tobacco products like e-cigarettes is increasing sharply. While nicotine delivery products like e-cigarettes may sometimes help some nicotine-addicted adults to stop smoking traditional cigarettes, they present a significant new threat to the health and wellbeing of young people who have not previously used tobacco products.

To directly target youth use, this legislation increases the legal sales age for tobacco products from 18 to 21. This is a proven and effective strategy to reduce youth tobacco use because it removes legally purchased tobacco products from high school social networks. The town of Needham achieved a 48% reduction in youth tobacco use after becoming the first town in Massachusetts to raise the legal sales age to 21. The Institute of Medicine projects that increasing the age from 18 to 21 will reduce overall tobacco use in a population by 12% – the equivalent of 150,000 Massachusetts tobacco users.

Meanwhile, youth use of e-cigarettes has grown alarmingly, becoming a pervasive presence in our high schools. The provisions in this bill build upon the regulations promulgated in 2016 by Attorney General Maura Healey, and ensure that the places that are tobacco free will also be vape free, including schools, restaurants and workplaces.

“Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in this country, and 95 percent of all adult tobacco users start by the age of 21. If we can keep young Massachusetts residents from buying tobacco until they turn 21, we can save thousands of lives,” said Allyson Perron, Senior Director of Government Relations at the Massachusetts chapter of the American Heart Association, “any action we can take to stop the young from taking that first deadly puff should be ardently pursued. We applaud the Massachusetts Senate for taking this important step in improving the health and wellbeing of our young residents”.

This bill also prohibits the sale of tobacco products in health care institutions, including pharmacies, a policy already in place in more than 160 of our cities and towns, and a practice already adopted by firms like CVS.

Other provisions included in the bill include new authority granted to the Department of Public Health to regulate new, emerging tobacco products; and language requiring the Center for Health Information and Analysis to study the current tobacco cessation benefits offered by commercial insurers, MassHealth, and the Group Insurance Commission.

Many cities and towns have enacted policies to reduce tobacco use and nicotine addiction that go beyond current state and federal laws and regulations, creating a patchwork of different laws across the commonwealth that can confound retailers, distributors, consumers and public health officials. This legislation will provide a uniform statewide set of rules that protect youth and simplify the interaction between our state and local laws.

The bill now returns to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, where the bill has formerly been engrossed, for enactment.

Senator Lewis & Representative Brodeur Lead Successful Effort to Create Paid Family & Medical Leave Program in Massachusetts

BOSTON— Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Paul Brodeur, who serve as Co-Chairs of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, led a successful effort to create a new paid family and medical leave program in Massachusetts. The legislation was signed into law on June 28 by Governor Charlie Baker.

Once the program is fully implemented, almost all workers in Massachusetts will have access to job-protected paid time off from work to take care of themselves or a seriously ill family member or to bond with a new child. The majority of workers in Massachusetts, particularly low wage workers, currently have no access to paid leave benefits.

“Creating a paid family and medical leave program in Massachusetts is a major victory for working families,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “I greatly appreciate the hard work and collaboration of the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition and leaders of the business community to craft a program that will help hundreds of thousands of workers, level the playing field for small businesses, improve public health, and strengthen our state economy – at a cost that is affordable for workers and employers.”

“Working families in Massachusetts will no longer have to choose between losing their jobs or caring for a sick loved one,” Representative Paul Brodeur said. “While workers and their rights remain under attack in Washington DC, I’m proud that here in the Commonwealth we have been able to work with business and labor leaders to craft a paid leave program which will uplift and empower generations of residents.”

Having access to paid family and medical leave benefits will help families deal with medical crises; reduce inequality in the workplace for women and low wage workers; help small businesses compete for talent with larger businesses; reduce employee turnover; retain more women in the workforce and help them advance; promote infant and maternal health; and reduce reliance on public assistance programs.

The legislation provides up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to care for a new child or a seriously ill or injured family member, and up to 20 weeks of paid medical leave for a worker to recover from his/her own serious injury or illness. Workers must meet certain eligibility and certification requirements to ensure program integrity. While on leave, a worker will receive partial wage replacement up to a maximum weekly cap of $850 (which will be adjusted upwards over time). The bill prohibits employer retaliation against workers who take leave, and ensures that a worker is restored to his/her previous position, or to an equivalent position, with the same status, pay, and employment benefits.

The benefits will be paid from a newly established Family and Employment Security Trust Fund, which will be funded from payroll contributions, split roughly equally between employers and employees. Small businesses with fewer than 25 workers will be exempt from payroll contributions.

“Thank you to Senator Lewis and Representative Brodeur for your leadership and fair-minded facilitation of our paid leave design team,” said Debra Fastino, Executive Director of the Coalition for Social Justice and the Co-Chair of the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition. “Massachusetts workers will benefit from the strongest, most progressive paid family and medical leave program in the nation.”

The signing of this legislation into law is the culmination of an almost year-long process led by Senator Lewis and Representative Brodeur. In their role as Co-Chairs of the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, they brought together stakeholders from Raise Up Massachusetts and leaders of the business community to work closely together to design a paid family and medical leave program that would meet the needs of workers while addressing the concerns of employers.

As a result of this successful effort, Raise Up Massachusetts announced that they would no longer pursue a ballot question to establish paid family and medical leave, removing substantial uncertainty and risk for all stakeholders.

Employer and employee contributions for paid family and medical leave will begin in July, 2019, and benefit payments will begin in January, 2021.

Passing Lewis Bill, Massachusetts State Senate Curbs Ivory and Rhino Horn Trade

BOSTON– The Massachusetts State Senate passed S. 2553, An Act relative to ivory and rhinoceros horn trafficking. The bill represents the Senate’s commitment to protecting the environment and conserving critically endangered species.

This bill aligns Massachusetts law with current federal law and seeks to curtail the sale and trafficking of ivory. It restricts the trade of most ivory and rhino horn products with exemptions for antiques that are legal under the federal Endangered Species Act; legally acquired products with a small amount (less than 200 grams) of ivory/horn; musical instruments; inheritance; and sale or donation to scientific and educational institutions.

“The Massachusetts Senate will not tolerate illegal ivory trading in the Commonwealth,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler. “Massachusetts residents believe in animal rights, and the violent and cruel practice of harvesting ivory runs contrary to our values. This legislation aligns the Commonwealth with existing federal laws which restrict the ivory trade and subsequently remove Massachusetts from the illicit ivory market.”

“Wildlife trafficking is a growing global crisis, and the ivory trade has more than doubled over the last decade” said Senator Jason M. Lewis, lead sponsor of the bill. “This legislation sends a clear message: the ivory market in Massachusetts cannot continue to contribute to the slaughter of African elephants, threatening the extinction of this amazing animal, or feed the profits of a brutal and illegal wildlife trade.”

A coalition of leading animal welfare organizations including the MSPCA-Angell, Zoo New England, Animal Welfare Institute, International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International have joined together to encourage the passage of legislation as illegal poaching has decimated the populations of these animals, threatening them with extinction.

“All five remaining rhino species are endangered and African elephants could be gone from the wild in a few decades if the alarming rates of poaching do not subside,” said Laura Hagen, Deputy Director of Advocacy for the MSPCA-Angell. “We thank the Massachusetts Senate for recognizing the role our market plays in the killing, trafficking, and demand that fuel the poaching crisis across the globe, and for taking strong steps to ensure that the Commonwealth does not help drive these iconic species to extinction.”

Poaching is not only a wildlife conservation and animal welfare issue but also directly linked to transnational criminal syndicates. Furthermore, the scale of poaching today supplies a $7-10 billion wildlife trafficking enterprise that is intertwined with terrorism and government corruption.  These groups use poaching as a substantial source of funding for their brutal activities, which also threatens U.S. national security.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

With Lewis, Senate Passes Legislation to Prevent Wage Theft

BOSTON – Today, the Massachusetts Senate passed legislation to help prevent the illegal practice of wage theft and promote employer accountability. The bill, S.2327, gives the state greater power to go after wage violators and provides additional tools for the Attorney General’s office to hold violators fully accountable.

“In spite of strong labor laws and many successful and law-abiding businesses in our state, wage theft remains a major problem in Massachusetts, especially for the most vulnerable workers, like immigrants and low-income families” said Senator Jason Lewis, Chair of the Senate Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “This legislation will help prevent and deter wage theft, ensure a level playing field for all employers, and protect the rights of working families.”

Wage theft has become a pervasive problem throughout the Massachusetts economy, with an estimated $700 million stolen from 350,000 employees each year in the Commonwealth. This illegal practice can take many different forms, such as violating minimum wage laws, not paying overtime, forcing workers to work off the clock, misclassifying employees, or simply not paying workers at all.

To crack down on wage theft and increase accountability in labor contracting and subcontracting, the bill holds lead contractors liable for wages, as well as any penalties or fines, associated with wage theft violations. The bill also enhances the enforcement power of the Attorney General’s office by allowing it to bring wage theft cases to court and seek civil damages.

In cases where there has been a determination of a wage theft violation, the Attorney General would have the ability to issue a stop work order, temporarily halting work until the violation is corrected. Employers would then have the ability to correct the violation and resume operation, or request a hearing.

The bill also establishes a wage theft compensation fund, administered by the Attorney General, to expend funds to workers and lead contractors under certain circumstances, as well as to provide worker outreach and education to prevent wage theft.

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives.