Today marks 100 days until the Massachusetts Legislature wraps up formal business for its 2017-2018 session.
The end of formal sessions will bring with it the usual eleventh-hour debate on bills that will otherwise have to go back to the starting line when a new session begins in January 2019. Informal sessions continue through the end of the year, but the rules of the Legislature make it all but impossible for controversial bills to pass.
Associated Industries of Massachusetts, as the statewide employer association, looks forward to representing employers late into the evening of July 31 – perhaps into the wee hours of August 1 – as lawmakers consider bills that could have a profound effect on employers and the Massachusetts economy.
But the real Beacon Hill deadline that employers need to keep their eye on this year is the first week of July. That’s because the end of the legislative session is inextricably bound up with four potential questions that could appear on the November election ballot, and any compromise on those issues will have to be wrapped up before ballots go to print in early July.
The most important issues for AIM at the end of the session all revolve around these potential ballot questions and ongoing negotiations intended to develop compromises that could be approved by the Legislature before July 31.
AIM has been part of negotiations for more than six months on a proposal to mandate paid family and medical leave for Massachusetts employees.
The association opposes the question, which would cost $1 billion annually by allowing covered workers to take up to 16 weeks of family leave or 26 weeks of medical leave. Workers could take family leave to care for a child after the child’s birth, adoption, or placement in foster care; to care for a seriously ill family member; or to address needs arising from a family member’s active duty military service.
John Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs for AIM, has been hashing out the paid-leave issues with representatives of Raise Up Massachusetts, the coalition sponsoring the proposal. All sides remain committed to seeking a fair agreement that does not inflict significant damage to the economy.
A poll of AIM-member employers last week indicated that companies favor by a two-to-one margin reaching a negotiated settlement.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Harriett Chandler have convened separate negotiations on proposed ballot questions that would increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour and reduce the state sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent.
And looming over all the negotiations is a pending decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on a challenge that four business association colleagues and I filed to a proposed constitutional amendment that would impose a 4 percentage-point surtax on incomes more than $1 million. A decision in that case is expected this spring, adding pressure to the already tight time frame for finding common ground on the other questions.
“AIM will follow hundreds of bills as the session comes to an end, but creating a better and less burdensome paid family and medical leave law will be the priority,” Regan said.
“The minimum-wage increase and graduated income tax are right behind that. The objective is to provide the Legislature with the opportunity to resolve all these issues rather than mounting multiple ballot campaigns that could cost $10 million each.”
It’s a full plate for 100 days. The clock starts now.