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 (D-Winchester), 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.

Massachusetts Legislature Announces Comprehensive Proposal on Sales Tax Holiday, Minimum Wage, and Family and Medical Leave

BOSTON – The Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Massachusetts State Senate announced today a legislative proposal to raise the minimum wage; create a framework for paid family and medical leave for most workers; and establish a permanent sales tax holiday.
The legislation is based on months of negotiations with stakeholders sponsoring proposed ballot questions for the November 2018 election. It is scheduled to come to the House and Senate floors on Wednesday.
“This compromise strikes the right balance of empowering employees, supporting our hardworking residents and ensuring that businesses can continue to provide good, steady jobs,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. “I sincerely thank the stakeholders who came to the table and the legislators who brokered this compromise.”
“This compromise is designed to benefit working families, support businesses throughout the Commonwealth, and grow our economy,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler. “I commend the work done by the stakeholders and legislators through this process.”
Among other initiatives, this legislative proposal does the following:
  • Creates a permanent sales tax holiday, beginning in 2019;
  • Increases the minimum wage to $15.00 over the next five years;
  • Increases the tip wage to $6.75 over the next five years;
  • Gradually phases out premium pay on Sundays and holidays;
  • Establishes a Department of Family and Medical Leave within the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development;
  • Creates a framework for family leave of 12 weeks; family leave for the care of a service member of 26 weeks; and medical leave for up to 20 weeks; and
  • Exempts small businesses from financial contribution to the paid family and medical leave fund
The proposal leaves the sales tax unchanged, and does not impose a teen sub-minimum wage.
“I’m pleased that this compromise will lift up working families in the Commonwealth, with a $15 minimum wage and a strong paid family and medical leave program, said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “At the same time, the legislation balances the concerns of employers, particularly small businesses that form the backbone of our Main Streets. I greatly appreciate the hard work and spirit of collaboration that all the stakeholders have exhibited through this process.”
“I am pleased to put forward this bill which 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 Representative Paul Brodeur, House Chair of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “This bill 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.”

Senator Jason Lewis Announces Plan to Revive Fair Share Amendment

A statement from State Senator Jason M. Lewis:

At the start of the next legislative session in January 2019, I plan to file a legislative amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution that would create a 4% surtax on annual individual income above one million dollars and direct this new revenue toward investments in education and transportation.

This proposal — which would be identical to the initiative petition pursued by the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition and recently disqualified from the 2018 ballot by the Supreme Judicial Court — would not be subject to the same constitutional challenges that derailed the Raise Up petition since it would be a legislative proposal. With support from my colleagues, it could be on the ballot for voters to make the final decision in 2022.

Income inequality is at unacceptable levels in Massachusetts and, at the same time, our transportation infrastructure is woefully inadequate and our schools are struggling to provide a quality education to every student. If we don’t act boldly and comprehensively to address these issues, then we will put the future of our communities and state economy at risk.

The constitutional amendment would help fix crumbling roads and bridges, improve MBTA and commuter rail service, implement the bipartisan recommendations of the Chapter 70 Foundation Budget Review Commission to provide adequate funding for K-12 schools, expand access to quality early childhood education, and make higher education at our state colleges and universities more affordable for students and families.

Numerous polls have indicated overwhelming public support for this proposal. In addition, in two successive constitutional conventions, lawmakers voted with 70% support to move this proposal forward.

Although I’m deeply disappointed that the Raise Up petition will not be on the ballot in 2018, I remain absolutely committed to achieving greater fairness in our state’s tax system and ensuring that we are investing in the future of our families, communities, and Commonwealth.

Senate Passes an Act to Promote a Clean Energy Future

The Massachusetts Senate unanimously voted to pass S.2545, An Act to promote a clean energy future. This legislation represents a firm stand by the Senate to ensure a healthier, cleaner Commonwealth for future generations of Massachusetts residents. Most importantly, the policies enacted in this legislation will have measurable benefits in the health of the global environment.

This legislation is a forward-looking plan that prepares Massachusetts for the inevitable obstacles that will come with climate change. The policies and programs will protect public health, increase the use of renewable energy, reduce greenhouse emissions, implement a price on carbon, and create jobs in the innovative green-energy economy.

“With the unanimous passage of the clean energy bill, the Massachusetts State Senate has taken a major step forward in the effort to fight climate change and accelerate our shift away from fossil fuels,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “The imminent threat of climate change demands urgency from our leaders and policymakers, and I’m proud that my colleagues stepped up to the challenge and took bold action to protect the environment, promote the Massachusetts green economy, and empower our communities.”

The legislation raises renewable portfolio standards, lifts the cap on solar net metering, authorizes additional hydropower and offshore wind procurement, establishes market-based greenhouse-gas emission limits, and implements statewide energy storage goals.

Senator Lewis also sponsored a successfully adopted amendment which requires the Energy Facilities Siting Board, the state review body for utilities projects, to consider local public health as a potential impact when major energy infrastructure projects are proposed. This means that the EFSB must weigh not only cost of these projects, but also the health of neighborhoods and communities for projects like the proposed Eversource transmission line in our district. Senator Lewis has been actively involved in addressing neighborhood and community concerns regarding this project.

Specific policy changes include:

  • Increasing the percentage of Class I renewable energy that must be purchased by retail electric suppliers under the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard from an additional 1% annually to an additional 3% annually.
  • The legislation requires the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs to establish market-based compliance mechanisms to maximize the ability of the Commonwealth to achieve its greenhouse gas emission limits for: (i) the transportation sector not later than December 31, 2020; (ii) the commercial and industrial building sectors not later than December 31, 2021; and (iii) the residential building sector not later than December 31, 2022.
  • Requiring the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs to adopt statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits for the years 2030 (35% and 45% below the 1990 emissions level) and 2040 (55% and 65% below the 1990 emissions level), and a plan to achieve those reductions.
  • Requiring the 2030 emission limit to be adopted no later than 2021 and the 2040 emissions limit to be adopted not later than 2031.
  • Requiring the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs to issue a plan to achieve the 2050 emissions limit.
  • Requiring the Department of Energy Resources to establish an energy storage system target program to achieve a statewide energy storage deployment target of 2,000 mega-watts by January 1, 2025.
  • Removing the net metering cap for non-governmental solar net metering facilities.
  • Eliminating the current sunset date of December 31, 2020 for the regulations promulgated under the Global Warming Solutions Act.
  • Creating a joint procurement taskforce consisting of the Department of Energy Resources, the Attorney General and representatives of the distribution companies, to conduct a review of the clean energy procurements.
  • Allowing the Department of Energy Resources to recommend solicitations and procurements for more than 9,450,000 megawatts-hours of clean energy generation, and to recommend offshore wind energy generation solicitations and procurements of up to 5,000 megawatts of aggregate nameplate capacity by December 31, 2035.

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

Senator Jason Lewis Backs Passage of Major Life Sciences Bill

The Massachusetts State Senate voted on May 31 to pass a bill extending the state’s investment in life sciences research and training to capitalize on the state’s national advantage in the sector responsible for thousands of jobs in the state.

The bill, S.2531, An Act providing continued investment in the life sciences industry in the Commonwealth, extends the state’s life sciences tax incentive program for another ten years, proposes millions of dollars in grants to community colleges and vocational schools to increase employment opportunities, and authorizes spending on initiatives to promote regional efforts to advance innovations in bio-manufacturing. The bill is based on the $1 billion, ten-year initiative launched by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2007.

“The biotech and life sciences industry is a major economic driver in Massachusetts, and a hub of innovation for the global economy,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “With this legislation, our state can dramatically expand workforce development in life sciences and continue to develop our world-class industrial and bio-manufacturing capacity.

Senator Lewis was particularly pleased with a provision in the bill, which he helped to write, that promotes workforce development programs, like apprenticeships, in the life sciences sector. As the Senate Chair of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development and a longstanding champion for working families, Senator Lewis emphasized that the growth and gains of the life sciences sector should create opportunities for all Massachusetts workers.

The bill also authorizes spending for innovative new programs at the state’s UMass campuses, including:

  • a biotechnology and precision manufacturing research and training facility at UMass-Amherst
  • a center for nursing innovation at UMass-Boston
  • expansion and renovation of the center for advanced bio-manufacturing and digital health at UMass-Dartmouth
  • a joint proposal between UMass-Lowell and UMass Medical School to advance neuroscience workforce training, research and commercialization of medical devices

The bill will be reconciled with a version passed by the House of Representatives before going to the governor for his signature.

 

Senate Passes Extreme Risk Protection Order Legislation

The Massachusetts State Senate passed H.4517, An Act relative to firearms. This extreme risk protection order (ERPO) legislation would expand upon current Massachusetts gun laws by establishing a legal framework to prevent individuals, if deemed a threat to themselves or others, from accessing firearms.

“I’m proud that after a productive debate, the State Senate adopted Extreme Risk Protection Order legislation,” said State Senator Jason Lewis. “This legislation makes Massachusetts residents safer, creating a judicial process for the extremely difficult decisions that we ask law enforcement officers to make regarding individuals in crisis. By providing certainty to our police authorities and a speedy pathway for intervention, the ERPO policy stands to prevent gun violence while also respecting the Second Amendment rights of lawful gun owners.”

This legislation would close a gap in Massachusetts law to allow family members and law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily suspend an individual’s access to firearms if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others. In addition to potentially preventing an act of gun violence, ERPOs create safer circumstances for individuals to seek treatment or engage other resources to address the underlying causes of dangerous behaviors.

“A temporary, court-ordered firearm removal from an individual in crisis gives local law enforcement authorities increased certainty when tough decisions have to be made quickly,” said Wakefield Police Chief Richard Smith. “The proposed ERPO policy would help local police get a speedy decision from a judge, making us more confident that we’re appropriately exercising our discretion in difficult situations.”

Similar laws already exist in five other states. As of this year, 32 ERPO bills were being considered by 19 states’ legislatures as well as Washington D.C.

The bill will now be reconciled with a version passed by the House of Representatives, before moving to the Governor for final approval.

 

With Sen. Lewis, Senate Retail Task Force issues final report

Today, the Massachusetts Senate Task Force on Strengthening Local Retail unanimously approved its final report. The Task Force was charged with assessing the economic health of the Massachusetts retail sector, and identifying challenges and opportunities facing retail communities.

“I’m grateful for the policymakers, business owners and advocates who came together to work on this essential report,” said Senator Jason Lewis, a member of the task force. “These findings reaffirm our commitment to downtown revitalization, Main Street storefront restoration, and strong state-local partnerships for economic development. I look forward to continued advocacy for these priorities in the State Senate.”

The Task Force, chaired by Senator Michael Rodrigues (D- Westport) and Senator Vinny deMacedo (R- Plymouth), held a series of regional public meetings, hearing directly from retail employers and employees. The Task Force issued a set of findings, reflecting the testimony of retailers, information presented by industry experts, and an examination of current policies and mandates.

Members of the Task Force also included Senator Mike Barrett (D- Lexington), Senator Julian Cyr (D- Truro), Senator Kathleen O’Connor-Ives (D- Newburyport), and Senator Don Humason (R- Westfield).

The retailers appointed to the Task Force included Judith Herrell, owner of Herrell’s Ice Cream in Northampton; Peter Kavanaugh of La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries in Dartmouth; Barry S. Rotman, Board Chair of Rotmans Furniture in Worcester; Malcolm Sherman, a retail consultant with expertise in turning around struggling businesses; Christopher Carlozzi, Massachusetts State Director of the National Federation of Independent Business; John Cahill of Maestranzi Bros.; and Christopher Connolly, President of the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association.

The remaining appointees included Jim Carvalho, Political Director of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445; Harris Gruman, Executive Director of the SEIU Massachusetts State Council; and Jon Hurst, President of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.

Senator Jason Lewis Backs Passage of Fiscal Year 2019 Senate Budget

The Senate voted today on a $41.49 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2019, including targeted investments to create opportunities and ensure access to the tools that individuals, children and families need to succeed in the economy and in their communities. The budget invests in key areas related to education, local aid, health and human services, housing and tools for low income families, while limiting the use of one-time revenue sources and directing $88.5M to the state’s Stabilization Fund.

“The Senate budget adopted today fulfills the dual promises of opportunity and fairness that our Commonwealth makes to all residents,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Assistant Majority Whip. “The Senate stands as a strong partner to our local municipalities, providing crucial funding for affordable healthcare, education, workforce development for young people, and support for working families. I’m proud that this budget lays a strong framework for investing in and supporting the people of Massachusetts and defending their civil rights, raising up the most vulnerable, and ultimately empowering them to succeed. I thank my colleagues for their collaboration, advocacy and partnership, and I look forward to the passage of the final FY19 budget later this year.”

The budget invests significantly in education for people of all ages and backgrounds and focuses in particular on elementary and secondary education, including $4.91B for the Chapter 70 education formula, its highest level ever. This funding allows for a minimum aid increase of $30 per pupil for every school district across the state and 100% effort reduction to bring all school districts to their target local contribution. The budget also continues to phase in the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) recommendations to more adequately fund school districts and ensure high quality education for all students. The Commission was created through Senator Lewis’s advocacy in the State Legislature over the last decade, and the unanimous adoption of the FBRC recommendations by the State Senate earlier this month marked a major victory for school funding reform advocates, led by Senator Lewis.

On education matters, the Senate budget includes record Chapter 70 funding; major investment in the University of Massachusetts, state universities and community colleges; full funding for the Special Education Circuit Breaker program, a longtime goal of special education advocates; substantial investment in reimbursements to school districts for costs incurred when students leave to attend charter schools; and a new School Breakfast program and a policy change to ensure free and reduced-price breakfast is served after the start of the school day. Senator Lewis sponsored amendments to the budget which, when adopted, allocated key funding for Youth-At-Risk Matching grants, including support for YWCAs, YMCAs and Boys & Girls Clubs, and created a new registered apprenticeship program in the Commonwealth to provide post-high school pathways to well-paying middle class jobs for Massachusetts youth.

The budget continues Massachusetts’ leadership in providing health and human services, investing in health care for low income residents and vulnerable populations, services for people struggling with mental illness and substance misuse and resources for children, seniors, veterans and individuals with disabilities.

In line with the Senate’s continued efforts on health care cost containment, the budget provides MassHealth with new tools to tackle the rising cost of pharmaceutical drugs, setting an annual spending target and permitting the Secretary of Health and Human Services to pursue rebates from pharmaceutical manufacturers. This policy change allows for savings without changing eligibility standards, reducing access to certain pharmaceuticals or compromising access to comprehensive health coverage.

Major new healthcare investments and innovations include a range of substance abuse treatment, intervention and recovery support services, including funding to open five new recovery centers; full funding for Department of Developmental Services Turning 22 services to help young people with disabilities transition to adulthood; and increasing salaries of providers of mental health services for both children and adults and improve access to this critical care. Senator Lewis was proud to champion and secure funding for five new School Based Health Centers in the state, which have been shown to reduce rates of student absenteeism, tardiness, STI transmission and teen pregnancy, while supporting the physical, social and emotional health of students. The senator’s advocacy for School Based Health Centers was inspired in part by the planned opening of a School Health Center at Malden High School later this year.

The budget invests in programs and advances policies to encourage self-sufficiency and economic mobility for low income families, providing them with the tools to secure their essential needs and develop skills to join the workforce. Policy changes include raising the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) state match to 30% of the federal credit, eliminating the failed state policy that denies Department of Transitional Assistance benefits to children conceived while the family was receiving assistance and increasing the clothing allowance to $350 per child to help families secure their basic needs.
The budget also continues to finance initiatives that connect Massachusetts workers with economic opportunities and boost thriving sectors of our economy. The Senate budget increases funding for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program by 30% over the previous year, which will allow access to the credit for nearly 450,000 Massachusetts families. Senator Lewis won major new funding for Low Income Tax Clinics to help families navigate the tax filing process and access resources like the EITC.

The Senate budget invests substantially in low income housing and homelessness services to increase access to quality, affordable housing, a necessary foundation for people seeking to climb the economic ladder. Services like Emergency Assistance Family Shelters, Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), rental subsidies for individuals with mental health challenges, and housing and supportive services for unaccompanied homeless youth promote a Commonwealth where every resident can be safe and healthy while pursuing a better life for themselves and their families, and Senator Lewis continues to champion affordable housing and support for the most vulnerable members of Massachusetts communities.

Recognizing that each community in the Commonwealth has unique assets and needs, the Senate budget directs significant investments to local aid and community services and empowers municipalities to provide vital education, public safety and infrastructure services. The budget includes over one billion dollars for unrestricted general government aid to support community investments in education, health care, public safety and roads and bridges, as well as support for the statewide Board of library Commissioners, local Councils on Aging, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

The Senate also adopted an amendment to protect the civil rights of immigrants and prevent state resources from being used to enforce federal immigration law or to establish a registry based on a person’s protected status.

A Conference Committee will now work out the differences between the Senate budget and the version passed by the House of Representatives in April. Fiscal Year 2019 begins on July 1, 2018.

Senator Jason Lewis Champions Education Funding Reforms

Students, parents, and teachers filled the State House as the Massachusetts Senate unanimously voted to pass a key education reform bill to update the state’s 25-year-old school funding formula, known as Chapter 70. An Act Modernizing the Foundation Budget for the 21st Century (S.2506) implements the recommendations of the bipartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC), which found that the funding formula drastically underestimates actual education costs in Massachusetts. As a result, school districts have struggled to balance their budgets and many have been forced to make deep cuts to educational programs and services.

For Senator Jason Lewis, passage of this legislation is pivotal progress on one of his top priorities since first being elected to the state legislature. When he previously served in the House of Representatives, Senator Lewis sponsored the legislation that created the FBRC, and he has long championed these necessary reforms to the state’s school finance system in order to provide adequate funding to our public schools.

Speaking on the floor of the Senate during debate on the bill, Senator Lewis said, “Massachusetts has long recognized that every child deserves a high quality education, but in recent years our school funding formula has been undermining this bedrock commitment. I’m very pleased that the Senate has passed this incredibly important legislation to implement the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission. This is a major step toward ensuring that every school district in the Commonwealth has the resources it needs, and every student can realize her full potential.”

Established by the 1993 Education Reform Act, the Chapter 70 Foundation Budget was designed to ensure that every Massachusetts student is provided a quality education. However, the formula has failed to keep up with rising fixed costs like health care and special education that have outpaced initial estimates. It also underestimated what it actually takes to educate English Language Learners (ELL) and students living in poverty.

The FBRC found these combined costs have led the Commonwealth to underestimate the statewide cost of funding K-12 public schools by as much as $1-2 billion every year. Local communities have too often had to shift resources from other high priorities to cover education costs, and many have struggled with contentious property tax overrides. The funding shortfall has also exacerbated the state’s achievement gap.

This legislation addresses the funding crisis by accurately projecting special education costs, modernizing the ELL and low-income components of the foundation budget formula, and realistically accounting for school districts’ actual healthcare costs. The bill also establishes a Data Advisory Task Force that will enable greater transparency to school-level expenditures and student outcomes in order to better inform future policymaking.

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

Senator Lewis is the Assistant Majority Whip in the State Senate. He also serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. He also co-founded and co-chairs the legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus.

Massachusetts Senate Approves BRAVE Act for Veterans, with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

The Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed the BRAVE Act, new legislation that will expand benefits and increase access to a range of services for veterans, active-duty military, and their families. Understanding the sacrifice that military personnel and their families make not only while on active duty, but also after returning home, the Massachusetts Legislature has consistently provided a continuum of major veteran legislation to help with those who sacrifice the most for our freedoms.

“Massachusetts has a strong record of supporting veterans, service members, and their families, and this legislation will ensure that the Commonwealth continues to lead the nation on this front,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “Many of the initiatives advanced in this bill come directly from recommendations offered by veterans themselves. The Senate is proud to meet its commitment to supporting those who have put the most on the line to defend our freedoms.”

On the recognition front, the legislation designates the 5th day of April as Gold Star Wives Day and the last Sunday in September as Gold Star Mothers and Families Day, and directs cities and towns to designate reserved parking for veterans at all city and town halls.

The bill also grants paid military leave for those called to duty by the armed forces for up to 40 days for training and operation purposes. To help ease the costs of housing, the legislation changes the requirement for veterans to receive property tax exemptions from residing in the Commonwealth for five years down to two years. It also increases the amount a veteran can earn on their property tax exemption for volunteering in their city or town.

The BRAVE Act increases the burial expense paid by the Commonwealth from $2,000 to $4,000 for indigent veterans to receive to adequately provide for a dignified funeral. It also exempts any veterans who receive annuities for service to their country from income calculations when applying for state programs or services.

The bill also strengthens services for veterans by: addressing emergency medical transportation reimbursements; revising Veteran Court Diversion programs; updating the veteran bonus program at the State Treasurer’s Office; and, providing several studies and analyses regarding higher education, incarcerated veterans, and National Guard recognition.

The BRAVE Act now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senator Lewis is the Assistant Majority Whip in the State Senate. He also serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. He also co-founded and co-chairs the legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus.