Massachusetts Lawmakers Busy With Taxes, Family Leave -- And Cellphones
Massachusetts Senators on Beacon Hill voted unanimously last week in support of a distracted driving measure to ban hand-held cellphone use.
But first lawmakers need to reconcile the differences between House-passed and Senate-passed measures.
Matt Murphy, State House News Service: There's definitely broad agreement here on Beacon Hill, both in the legislature and with Governor Charlie Baker, that the hands-free cellphone bill needs to be passed and become law.
The big question now comes back to the issue that has kind of bogged this whole debate down in past years, and that's the issue of racial profiling and what to do about tracking data for police stops.
The House and Senate both have measures in there to require police departments to report that data to the state on traffic stops, so that they can analyze it and make sure that this law is not disproportionately affecting any one race or ethnicity. But they are differing on whether or not all traffic stops should be reported to the state, or just stops that result in tickets or citations for cellphone violations and other infractions.
The House considered the "all stops" reporting requirement and determined that they thought it would be unfeasible, and not really workable, for police particularly, in cases where a police officer may pull someone over to the side of the road give them a warning. Or maybe they just wanted to tell them that their tail light was out, or that their tire was low on air, or something more benign like that. But the Senate thinks that this could be done and they're going to work with the police chiefs as they negotiate amongst themselves on how to get to a final compromise.
The "millionaires tax" got one GOP vote last week, and will be debated 6/12. Gov. Baker didn't take a position in 2018 and isn't eager to now: "It's a long time before we're going to start talking about that. I'm a lot more worried at this point about the budget...." #mapoli
— Matthew Murphy (@SHNSMurphy) May 13, 2019
Carrie Healy, NEPR: This week, another item that's coming around again is the so-called "millionaire's tax." Last time we saw it coming from a proposed ballot question and it was ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Judicial Court. This time, the proposal — which is expected to raise up to $2 billion — is coming from within the legislature. So what's the buzz on this?
Yeah, the courts determined that the question that was headed towards the ballot last year was unconstitutional because it both proposed to raise -- or impose -- this surtax on income above $1 million, but then it also would have directed how that money could be spent. And the court said that this improperly mingled two different issues. The legislature is not bound by those restrictions, however, so this proposal, which was filed in the House by Rep. Jim O'Day of West Boylston, [is] the bill that is moving forward.
It requires a higher threshold than it did the last time around in the legislature. It needs 101 votes to move on to the next session. But, in a test vote that was taken last month, 156 supporters [went] on record of moving this forward. So it appears that would have the support. And, like you said, this is very similar; it would impose a 4 percent surtax on all income above a million dollars, and dedicate that money to education and transportation spending.
Also this week, there's an effort to delay the paid family medical leave law for three months. What's the holdup, and why is it coming up now?
This is the law that passed last summer, guaranteeing 12 weeks of paid leave for employees to care for a newborn child or care for themselves. In some instances, you can get up to 20 weeks to care for a military veteran. But this whole laws scheduled to begin rolling out on July 1st with a payroll tax that would be imposed on workers and employers, split between the two, to pay for this program when the benefits kick in in 2021.
And the business community and the groups pushing for paid family leave last year have asked for a three-month delay. The legislature is trying to figure out whether or not they want to go along with it. And they're running out of time given that businesses would need to know very soon whether or not they need to start collecting this payroll tax on July 1. So, we are awaiting resolution of this. The governor, Senate president are on board. The Speaker says he still has questions about what the impact of a delay might be. So, this is something we're going to be watching closely for this week, as it has a potential big impact on employers around the state.
The governor is on board with a delay, or on board with a July 1 start?
Actually both. He says that he wants a delay. He supports a delay because businesses have asked for a delay. But, he also says that his administration is ready to roll, if need be. They have done the work to prepare to roll this program out and if there is no delay, the new Department Of Paid Family Medical Leave will be ready to go.