Legislation for the 2015-2016 Session

Legislation Filed by Senator Dan Wolf for the 2015-2016 Legislative Session

 

WAGE AND HOUR / LABOR AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT:

 

S1022 - An Act authorizing municipal increases in minimum wages(new bill)

This bill authorizes a city or town to pass an ordinance or by-law to establish a higher minimum wage or higher tipped minimum wage than the state-wide minimum wage.

 

S1023 - An Act to establish a living wage for employees of big box retail stores and fast food chains(new bill)

This bill requires fast food chains and big box retailers with over 200 employees to pay their employees a minimum wage of $15/hour by 2018.  The minimum wage would be phased in over 3 years ($12 in 2016, $13.50 in 2017, and $15 in 2018).

 

S1024 - An Act Promoting Job Training in the Commonwealth(new bill)

This bill provides much-needed funding for job training for unemployed and underemployed workers in the Commonwealth.  Employers would be assessed an additional 0.056% of their unemployment insurance taxable wage base (equal to approximately $8.40 per employee per year), which would be directed to the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund to train unemployed and underemployed workers. 

 

S107 - An Act to promote employment (new bill)

 The bill would help unemployed parents receiving welfare get the education and training they need to get and keep a job. It requires DTA to provide information about existing education and training opportunities, requires DTA to screen recipients so they are not pushed into the wrong program, allows 24 months for parents who need basic education or vocational programs (same as allowed for college programs), and requires DTA to consider education and training needs and whether the parent can actually get a job before cutting off benefits after 24 months. This bill does not require any new funding.

 

PUBLIC HEALTH / OPIATE ABUSE RELATED LEGISLATION:

 

S1233 - An Act Establishing and Financing a Drug Collection and Disposal Program(new bill)

In an effort to stem opiate abuse in the Commonwealth, this bill requires DPH to establish a state-wide prescription pill collection program to collect unwanted pills.  Under the program, DPH would sort and keep records of the number and amount of addictive drugs collected (drugs in schedules II-IV).  Each pharmaceutical manufacturing company that sells or distributes addictive drugs in the Commonwealth would be required to pay a fee to DPH equal to the retail value of the addictive drugs collected that were manufactured by each company.  The proceeds of the money collected would be used to operate the prescription pill collection program and any excess would be deposited in the Substance Abuse Services Fund

 

HEALTHCARE RELATED LEGISLATION:

 

S1232 - An Act promoting access to accurate medical information(new bill)

Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) are fronts for anti-choice organizations that portray themselves as reproductive healthcare clinics. They target vulnerable pregnant women, especially low-income women and women of color, with deceptive advertising that implies they are full-service women’s health centers. It is critical that women receive medically accurate information about abortion, contraception, and other issues of reproductive and sexual health, which they often may not receive at these facilities.  This bill requires that the Commonwealth only enter into contracts for reproductive health services with, and refer clients seeking information regarding reproductive health services to, a clinic that provides medically accurate, comprehensive, non-directive reproductive health care information, including family planning, birth control, pregnancy, and post-partum care.

 

S372: An Act regarding spouses as caregivers(re-file)

This legislation adds spouses to the definition of family members who are permitted to act as paid caregivers in the Personal Care Attendant program, MassHealth program and Adult Foster Care program. As a result of this legislation, many disabled individuals would benefit from the care by the people whom they trust the most and who cares for them the most.

 

S647 - An Act to ensure effective health care cost control (re-file)

This bill requires the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA) to estimate the total cost of providing health care to all residents of Massachusetts under a single payer healthcare system (the “single payer benchmark”) and then compare that with the actual cost of the current healthcare system.   If the single payer health care system is determined to be more cost-effective than the current system, CHIA is required to submit a single payer implementation plan to the legislature.

 

S1231 - An Act relative to the practice of acupuncture (re-file)

This bill requires insurance companies to cover acupuncture and oriental medicine based diagnosis and treatment in the areas of pain management, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse treatment, and nausea.  It also establishes a commission on acupuncture and wellness to study how acupuncture services can expand access, reduce health care costs, and provide improved healthcare to Massachusetts residents.

 

S646: An Act regarding Medicare savings programs eligibility (new bill)

This legislation expands income eligibility for Medicare Savings Programs (MSP) to 300% of the Federal Poverty Line and eliminates asset tests. These changes would fix the healthcare cliff when people turn 65, shift seniors in state funded prescription assistance programs to 100% federally funded program, shift seniors in state funded programs such as the Health Safety Net into this federally matched program, streamline enrollment and applications, and reduce state administrative costs.

 

S371 - An Act regarding Medicaid eligibility for seniors (new bill)

This legislation adjusts MassHealth eligibility for seniors to 135% of the Federal Poverty Line and align asset limits with a federal program ("Extra Help") administered through the Social Security Administration. These changes will reduce the number of seniors who fall off the cliff when they turn 65. By aligning asset restrictions to the federal Extra Help program, Massachusetts will save significant administrative costs and reduce the burden for seniors to fill out duplicative and lengthy applications, as the MassHealth application for seniors is currently 28 pages.

 

S563 - An Act to increase health insurer reporting transparency(new bill)

This bill enhances the transparency of data for health care consumers by requiring the Division of Insurance to make current insurer public filings publicly available on the Division website in a manner that is easily accessible to citizens across the Commonwealth.  The Division currently collects information from each carrier that includes medical loss ratio, enrollment, capital gains and losses, net income, surplus, reserves, administrative and claims expenses.  However, all of this information remains unavailable to the general public in an easily accessible, meaningful format. Copies of the information can only be accessed by a personal visit to the Division of Insurance in Boston where hard copies of the filings are available for purchase.  To facilitate the intent of the Commonwealth’s health care reform focus on transparency, this information should be made easily accessible to the public in manner that benefits consumers. This bill does not create any new reporting requirements on insurers. It simply requires the Division to post the information it already collects on the Division website in a user-friendly and easily accessible format.

 

S649 - An Act to promote the accessibility, quality and continuity of care for consumers of behavioral health, substance use disorder and mental health services (new bill)

Independent clinicians are contracted on a fee-for-service basis with insurance companies to provide mental health services. Over the years, reimbursement rates for these vital treatments have fallen behind the increased costs of living.  This legislation provides immunity to independent behavioral health providers from anti-trust restrictions that prevent them from negotiating reimbursement rates and administrative practices (such as prior authorization and medical necessity) with insurance companies. In our current system, these decisions are made by insurance companies- not providers. This bill would give clinicians the opportunity to advocate for better policies and increase access to these much needed services. This legislation will also establish a Behavioral Health Insurance Contract Review Board, which will provide state supervision of joint negotiations. The bill will also guarantee the right to be free from retaliation for engaging in joint negotiations – establishing right-of-action and judicial remedies for violations of anti-retaliation provisions.

 

S648 - An Act relative to Sole community providers (new bill)

This bill changes the definition of sole community provider to any acute hospital which qualifies as a sole community provider under Medicare regulations or under regulations promulgated by the executive office, which regulations shall consider factors including, but not limited to, isolated location, weather conditions, travel conditions, percentage of Medicare, Medicaid and free care provided and the absence of other reasonably accessible hospitals in the area; provided, that such hospitals shall include those which are located more than 20 miles driving distance from other such hospitals in the commonwealth and which provide services for at least 60 per cent of their primary service area. This would qualify five (5) hospitals in the Commonwealth as sole community providers:  Cape Cod Hospital and Falmouth Hospital (under common ownership), Berkshire Medical Center, North Adams Regional Hospital and Baystate Franklin.  These hospitals have historically received approximately 70-80% of their costs from MassHealth.  The amendment would allow these hospitals to receive payment rates in the future of not less than 97 percent of their reasonable financial requirements.  There are an additional three (3) hospitals that would arguably come within this revised definition of sole community provider; however, these hospitals are already designated as critical access hospitals (“CAHs”) by Medicare:  Nantucket Cottage Hospital, Martha’s  Vineyard Hospital and Fairview Hospital.   CAHs should not qualify as sole community providers for reimbursement purposes, as they are currently reimbursed under a different payment methodology for CAHs.

 

 

REVENUE RELATED LEGISLATION:

 

S1614: An Act relative to room occupancy excise tax(re-file)

This bill allows cities and towns to opt in, by vote of the city or town, to collect a room occupancy excise on the vacation rental of houses, apartments, cottages or condominiums for a period of less than 60 days. Our neighboring states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, and Connecticut  all assess and collect this tax from their overnight visitors.

 

S1615 - An Act regarding sales tax in cultural districts(new bill)

In 2010 the Legislature passed an economic development bill that directed the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) to establish a program of state-designated cultural districts.  Since then MCC has designated 23 cultural districts. Cultural districts have proved immensely popular—nearly 100 additional communities plan to apply for a designation. The districts have provided cities and towns with effective new tools to nurture their cultural assets, draw visitors to commercial centers, and gain access to other sources of support for their work. This bill creates a Sales Tax Exemption for cultural products within cultural districts and their host municipalities. Results from other states that have adopted this incentive are impressive. Maryland’s economic and fiscal impact analysis conducted in 2008 and 2010 showed nearly $441.8 million in total state GDP. Nearly $74 million was generated by new businesses formed within A&E districts’ boundaries during the study period. The other $368 million was spent by visitors at events supported by the districts during the study period. In Louisiana, cultural districts reported that approximately 489 businesses, 121 organizations, 548 events, and 3,096 artists benefitted from the sales tax exemption for original art. Total revenue reported was just over $1 billion, and the total value of tax exempt sales reported was just over $6 million.

 

HOUSING AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT RELATED LEGISLATION:

 

S122 - An Act promoting the planning and development of sustainable communities (ZONING REFORM) (re-file)

This omnibus legislation seeks to update our antiquated planning and zoning laws in order to encourage new jobs and housing, strong community planning, and natural resource protection. These common sense reforms are important for maintaining a vibrant and competitive Commonwealth. The legislation takes a balanced approach that introduces more certainty and predictability for developers and property owners, while also granting cities and towns the tools necessary to shape the future of their communities. It also includes incentives intended to produce better regional land use outcomes – jobs and homes in places where people already live and work.

 

S244 - An Act establishing an Office of Rural Policy(new bill)

This bill creates a State Office of Rural Policy that would function as a research and policy clearinghouse for issues critical to the health and welfare of our rural communities, including housing, economic development, health care, transportation, and education.

 

 

EDUCATION RELATED LEGISLATION:

 

S688 - An Act to increase access to higher education(re-file)

This bill requires that $5000 will be deposited into a separate account strictly for higher education or job training purposes  for each baby born in Massachusetts to Massachusetts.  The account will either be with the Massachusetts Education Financing Authority or in the Massachusetts UFund.

 

S687 - An Act Relative to Community College Tuition(new bill)

This legislation creates the Massachusetts Workforce Opportunity Scholarship within the Massachusetts Office of Student Financial Assistance (OSFA) to provide students full tuition (after financial aid and gift aid) at a community college in Massachusetts. Scholars must maintain a 2.0 GPA and must also complete at least eight hours of community service per semester before the start of each term. Students must also reapply for the scholarship each year in addition to a FAFSA form. The bill also Creates the Massachusetts Workforce Opportunity Scholarship endowment fund, an irrevocable trust that a specified board of directors will make investments into securities or other entities which the Massachusetts State Board of Retirement is permitted to invest.

 

S350 - An Act related to just cause terminations(new bill)

Since 1993, when just cause language was enacted as part of the Education Reform Act of 1993, PTS teachers have been provided the protection of just cause in dismissals.   Despite legislative history and the twenty years of practice by the parties in applying the statute, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) in School Committee of Lexington v. Zagaeski (decided 7/14/2014) held that just cause was not a standard of review, but rather a catchall phrase for any ground for dismissal not specifically enumerated in section 42.  Thus, the Court found that once the district proves one of the enumerated grounds for dismissal, i.e, conduct unbecoming the arbitrator's role effectively ends.  Under the statute, the arbitrator does not have the authority to consider the traditional just cause factors or to adjust the penalty imposed.    This bill would reestablish the just cause procedures that were in place prior the Lexington v. Zagaeski decision.

 

S1445 - An Act protecting the rights of custodial and other non-teaching employees of school districts(re-file)

This bill clarifies that the hiring, promotion and termination of custodial, maintenance and other non-teaching employees of school districts be conducted according to civil service laws, if such positions are classified as civil service positions, or according to any governing collective bargaining agreement.

 

S349 - An Act concerning media literacy in schools (re-file)

This bill allows for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to encourage school districts to implement instruction in media literacy skills in order to equip students with the knowledge and skills for accessing, analyzing, evaluating, and creating all types of media.

 

CONSUMER PROTECTION RELATED LEGISLATION:

 

S723 - An Act relative to compliance of condominium associations (re-file)

As currently written, the Commonwealth’s condominium statute (183A, Section 10C) requires that all condominium boards maintain all financial condominium documents for owners’ access for 7 years.  This requirement is well intended, but has no way to be enforced except by condo owners themselves at their own expense. This legislation would amend the Commonwealth’s Condominium Statute, which was written in 1963, so condominium associations who are brought to court by one of their members or first mortgagees will cover legal fees if the court finds in favor of the complainant.

 

S562 - Resolve creating the County Property Insurance Commission (re-file)

This bill establishes a special commission to review the feasibility of creating a county managed property insurance entity to serve the counties of Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket, and any other county interested in pursuing this option. The commission’s review includes: a cost-benefit analysis of a county-managed property insurance office providing service to property owners in Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket counties; a report on the legal and regulatory changes needed to create a county property insurance entity, including review of best practices from other governmental entities; a report on past property insurance pricing, including an analysis of loss ratios in various sectors of the market and Commonwealth; an analysis of the relationship of consumer prices to the secondary insurance underwriting market and ways to improve pricing; an analysis of whether there would be benefits to Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket in joining with other counties or areas around the Commonwealth to create a publicly managed property insurance office; and an examination of whether such initiatives would mitigate rising flood insurance rates.

 

ENERGY / UTILITY RELATED LEGISLATION:

 

S478 - An Act relative to vegetation management(re-file)

The legislation would require the vegetation management proposer to negotiate with any community that did not want the said proposer to use chemicals for vegetation management within their community. A potential negotiated agreement would be that the community would arrange for the work to be done and the proposer would contribute at least the amount of money they would have spent using chemicals. Though that might mean that the community might bear some additional expense, it would also mean that the groundwater would be better protected. If the entity seeking to control the vegetation and the municipality are unable to come to an agreement within 60 days of beginning discussions, the disputes shall be decided by a mutually-agreed upon arbitrator. Should a reasonable no-spray agreement be offered to a municipality and an agreement is not reached within 90 days, the entity seeking to control the vegetation may apply its choice of pesticides/herbicides, as approved by the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture.

 

S1799 - An Act to Improve Renewable Energy Distribution(new bill)

This bill requires electricity distribution facilities, upon request from a renewable energy generating facility (“net metering facility”), to provide a date by which all construction work necessary to connect the net metering facility to the grid will be completed.  If construction work is not completed within 30 days of the deadline, the net metering facility owner would receive a credit equal to the value of the amount of electricity not generated.

 

S1797 - An Act establishing a fee on the storage of spent nuclear fuel in pools(new bill)

This bill establishes an annual fee of $10,000 for each nuclear fuel assembly that was stored within a spent fuel pool in a nuclear power station.  Fees will be assessed on the owner of the nuclear power station and the money collected shall be distributed as follows:  30% to the town or city in which the nuclear power station is located; 50% divided among cities and towns within a 20-mile radius of the power station; and 20% to the department of energy resources to fund the green communities program.

 

S1798 - An Act establishing funding to provide moneys for postclosure activities at nuclear power stations (new bill)

When a nuclear power plant closes, there is still much to be done, including moving spent nuclear fuel into dry casks, job training, site and environmental cleanup, off-site emergency planning, safestor, and decommissioning. This bill requires the owner of a nuclear power station to pay an annual postclosure funding fee of $25,000,000, to be placed in a trust fund and used to pay for these postclosure activities.  When all postclosure activities have been completed, any remaining funds would be returned to the owner of the nuclear power station.

 

ADDITIONAL BILLS:

 

S1745 - An Act authorizing the Commonwealth to grant an easement to the town of Barnstable and the town of Barnstable to grant or assign several conservation restrictions to the Commonwealth (new bill)

This Article 97 bill allows for the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife within the Department of Fish and Game to grant an easement to the Town of Barnstable. Furthermore, the Town of Barnstable may acquire from the Commonwealth, a permanent exclusive easement for the right to enter, use, improve, operate, maintain, manage and assign the easement area as a shared use pedestrian and bicycle path

 

S1746 - An Act designating Conflict Resolution Awareness Week (re-file)

This bill designates the third week in October as “Conflict Resolution Awareness Week,” to raise public awareness of mediation and conflict resolution practices.  

 

S108 - An Act protecting persons who provide information to protect children (BY REQUEST, new bill)

This bill encourages individuals to come forward when they have information relating to child abuse or child safety by providing civil and criminal immunity to individuals who participate in a judicial proceeding involving child abuse or neglect, who provide information to the department of children and families in response to an inquiry from the department, or who directly contact the department about a potential threat to a child’s safety.  This bill also prohibits employers from retaliating against an individual who has provided such information.

 

S1446 - An Act correcting pension inequity for James G. Clothier (re-file)

This special legislation enables Mr. Clothier to receive the pension that he was promised by the Massachusetts Teacher’s Retirement Board (“TRB”) in 1993, a pension that the TRB revoked ten years later, after he had retired.

 

S1113 - An Act Relative to the Maintenance of Private Roads, Bridges, and Amenities in Municipalities (re-file)

The legislation provides a simple procedure, including when no homeowners association exists, to insure the proper maintenance of roads, bridges and other amenities that are privately owned and therefore not required to be maintained by towns.  The bill seeks to be fair to property owners both individually and collectively, recognizes that those who use the roads and amenities are the logical parties to pay for their upkeep, and further recognizes that, with proper management and through the use of transparent owners’ associations, dangerous and crumbling private infrastructure items can be repaired and future issues arising out of the failure to maintain such private infrastructure can be minimized.