A frenzied conclusion to the 2015-2016 Beacon Hill legislative session produced far-reaching measures on energy and economic-development, but no agreement on restricting the use of non-compete agreements.
A consensus pay-equity bill supported by the business community passed a week earlier and is due to be signed by Governor Charlie Baker today.
Richard C. Lord, President and CEO of AIM, said employers should take encouragement from the fact that the final bills that passed around midnight Sunday largely reflected the moderate approach to business issues taken by the House of Representatives.
“The House and the Baker Administration again showed an understanding of the factors that contribute to business growth and job creation,” Lord said. “We give particular credit to House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who forged meaningful compromises on pay-equity, non-compete agreements and other key issues.”
He also noted that lawmakers and Governor Baker worked responsibly to balance a difficult budget with no tax increases.
The energy bill commits Massachusetts utilities to purchasing up to 30 percent of the state’s electricity from offshore wind generation and hydropower imported from Canada or upstate New York. The final version rejects a troublesome proposal to double the state's minimum requirements for renewable energy and also maintains funding mechanisms for development of natural gas pipelines.
“The bill will raise electricity rates as the commonwealth transitions to non-carbon fuel sources. That said, lawmakers approached the issue in a careful and thoughtful manner that recognizes the need to include a variety of generation sources for electricity,” said Robert Rio, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at Associated Industries of Massachusetts.
Average electric rates in Massachusetts are the third highest in the nation for industrial ratepayers, and more than twice as high as companies pay in the competitor state of North Carolina. Those costs place employers at a significant disadvantage when competing with businesses located in other areas of the country.
The breakdown of negotiations on non-compete agreements brought a stunning, if temporary, end to a contentious effort by venture capitalists to do away with current law governing non-competes. AIM has waged a protracted battle to defend the vast majority of Massachusetts employers who wish to preserve the use of non-competes, but the association nevertheless negotiated a reasonable compromise measure that passed the House of Representatives.
The House bill would have limited the duration of non-competes to one year and required employers who did not compensate workers at the time they signed a non-compete to pay 50 percent of the worker’s salary during the non-compete period. A separate Senate bill would have limited the term of non-competes to three months and required employers to pay 100 percent of a worker’s salary regardless of existing financial compensation.
The deadlock means that opponents of non-competes will have to return to square one and refile their proposals when the 2017-2018 legislative session begins in January.
“The outcome of negotiations on the use of non-competes is disappointing to the business community, which worked in good faith with the House on a reasonable compromise. AIM continues to believe that non-compete agreements with common-sense limitation protect intellectual property and stimulate investment and innovation in Massachusetts,” said Brad MacDougall, Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM.
The economic development bill includes $500 million in authorized borrowing for the MassWorks infrastructure program, $45 million in capital dollars for brownfields environmental projects and $45 million for equipment for career and technical education, among other measures. The bill also features a new tax deduction intended encourage families to save for college tuition costs.
The pay-equity bill is intended to promote salary transparency, limit upfront questions to job candidates about salary history, and encourage companies to conduct reviews to detect pay disparities. It explicitly recognizes legitimate market forces such as performance and the competitive landscape for certain skills that cause pay differences among employees.