The Massachusetts Legislature ended its 2017-2018 formal session last night by mandating increased use of clean energy, establishing limits on the use of non-compete agreements and curbing the practice of “patent trolling.”
Lawmakers meanwhile were unable to reach agreement on a massive health-care bill that had generated concern among employers because it leveled assessments on medical providers and insurers that would eventually be passed on to consumers. The bill also contained no reform of the MassHealth program even as employers contribute $200 million per year to close a budget gap in the health-insurance program for low-income people.
Beacon Hill lawmakers crossed the finish line early this morning after a frenetic day that saw passage of bills covering everything from economic development to opioid care.
Governor Charlie Baker now has 10 days to review all the legislation. AIM will consult with member employers on the issues before recommending that the governor sign or veto each measure.
The new energy law authorizes an additional procurement of offshore wind power, increases the renewable portfolio standard that governs the amount of clean energy utilities must purchase, and establishes an energy storage target.
The compromise calls for the renewable portfolio standard to increase by one percent until the end of 2019, then by two percent each year until the end of 2029. It would then set the state on a track of one-percent increases each year thereafter.
Associated Industries of Massachusetts had supported a measured approach that would neither harm ratepayers nor elbow out other zero-carbon generation such as hydro-electric power. AIM supports the final bill.
“H.4857 An Act to Advance Clean Energy constructively builds upon the success of last year’s omnibus energy legislation,” said Robert Rio, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM.
“By following this measured approach, Massachusetts avoids disrupting the energy sector by making significant changes to programs that are themselves in the middle of being finalized. AIM feared that course would have delayed our effectiveness in meeting our greenhouse gas reduction goals.
“The measure will continue our aggressive transition from fossil fuels to a zero-carbon future while at the same time recognizing the importance of cost on Massachusetts ratepayers.”
(Contact Rio at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617.262.1180 to learn more.)
The law governing use of non-competes, included in an economic development bill, mirrors a compromise that AIM and other business groups reached two years ago with House Speaker Robert DeLeo. The measure limits non-competes to one year and gives employees the opportunity to consult a lawyer when signing a non-compete but does not require companies that compensate employees at the time they sign non-competes to pay them again during the restricted period.
“AIM has fought relentlessly for more than 11 years on behalf the vast majority of Massachusetts employers who wish to preserve the use of non-competes to protect intellectual property. The new bill accomplishes that goal and reflects the productive compromise brokered two years ago by the speaker,” said Brad MacDougall, Vice President of Government Affairs.
The economic development bill also contains a provision to limit the practice of patent trolling, in which third parties demand financial settlements for alleged infringement on patents they do not even own. AIM maintains concerns about the language of the provision because some employers may be unable to engage in legitimate protection of their intellectual property amid an avalanche of state litigation.
“The language of the bill is materially different from the compromise language previously approved by the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure,” MacDougall said.
“This is an important and legally complex issue, one that should be addressed by federal law. However, given Congress’ failure to act, if Massachusetts is to establish a policy, we need to get right for our AIM members who are victims of patent trolls and patent holders.”
The demise of the health-care bill turned on differing approaches by the House and Senate to capitalizing community hospitals.
House Majority Leader Ronald Mariano told the State House News Service early this morning, "We were just too far apart philosophically to a come to a resolution that fit our agenda."
The Quincy Democrat said the House was focused on trying to find a way to financially stabilize community hospitals in the short-term with assessments on insurers and large hospitals, while he said the Senate "wanted a market driven approach." "We just thought we couldn't wait," Mariano said.
Katie Holahan, Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM, said, the lack of agreement on health care reflects the enormous complexity of the issue. She said AIM and its employer-members will continue to work with the Legislature to find ways to moderate the cost that companies face in providing health coverage for employees.
“While final action was not taken on major health-care legislation, we remain gravely concerned that – without long-term reform to MassHealth and the commercial market – Massachusetts’ health-care costs will continue to increase unchecked. Until reform is achieved, no relief is in sight for employers and their workers seeking to access care at a reasonable cost,” Holahan said.
The conclusion of formal sessions on July 31 of even-numbered years generally means the end of the line for controversial bills. Lawmakers will meet for the remainder of 2018 in informal sessions, when a single lawmaker may stop any measure with an objection.
(Contact Holahan at email@example.com or 617.262.1180 for more information.)