On Beacon Hill: SJC blocks Colorio-backed Common Core ballot question

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From State House News Service

ON THE AGENDA

Former Treasurer Robert Crane was honored at the State House.

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Former Treasurer Robert Crane was honored at the State House.

  • SJC deems Common Core ballot question ineligible
  • State Lottery forebear honored
  • Non-compete clauses get some competition
  • Trump protesters crash Boston fundraising stop
  • Renewable energy bill passes Senate
  • MBTA to absorb $30M reduction in state aid

TOP OF THE HILL

State Supreme Judicial Court blocks Colorio-backed Common Core initiative

A citizens-backed initiative petition that sought to end the state’s use of Common Core learning standards was improperly certified by Attorney General Maura Healey and is now ineligible for the November ballot, according to a Supreme Judicial Court ruling on Friday.

The decision “will prevent the proposed measure in the petition from being placed on the 2016 Statewide ballot,” the court said in a ruling written by Judge Margot Botsford.

“No emotions can express how disappointed we are with the decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court,” End Common Core Massachusetts campaign chairwoman and Worcester School Committee member Donna M. Colorio said in a statement.

Colorio called the ruling “disastrous” and “an example of big special interest money using intimidation tactics with scores of lawyers and public relations machines to do what is best for them and drown out the voices of the people.”

The petition sought to roll back the 2010 incorporation of the Common Core standards into the state’s curriculum frameworks and revert Massachusetts to its previous standards. It also would have set up a new review structure for learning standards and mandated that education officials annually release all state assessment test “questions, constructed responses and essays, for each grade and every subject.”

The court ruled that a section of the question requiring test item disclosure did not meet the requirement that petitions contain only subjects “which are related or which are mutually dependent” so that voters can decide on a unified statement of public policy.

“The SJC decision will not only save teachers and students from unnecessary upheaval, but also means cities and towns will not incur the significant costs that the ballot proposal would have created,” William Walczak, a plaintiff in the case and board chairman of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, said in a statement.

During oral arguments in May, Assistant Attorney General Juliana Rice had said the release of assessment items was related to the repeal of Common Core because the tests were an “implementation tool” that would show whether the chosen standards were taught in classrooms.

When the suit was filed in January, the End Common Core ballot campaign blasted the move as “a desperate ploy to stall the petition’s positive momentum.” In March, Colorio alleged that “the wealthy special interests behind Common Core are going to continue the frivolous lawsuits, misrepresentations of the ballot measure, and using money the buy their influence at the state and local level.”

— Katie Lannan (SHNS)


VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Bulger, Yaz, state leaders fete Lottery guru, ex-Treasurer Bob Crane

More than a century of experience in top statewide elected positions assembled in the treasurer’s office Tuesday, June 28, to bestow honors on longtime Treasurer Robert Crane, credited with creating the state Lottery during his 26 years at the post.

“Bob Crane is a bookie,” quipped William Bulger, president of the Senate from 1978 to 1996, who also led the room in the bygone Bay State political tradition of spontaneous song.

The ceremony for the 90-year-old seated in a wheelchair at the front of Treasurer Deborah Goldberg’s office even drew Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski, whose wife worked for Crane, according to the treasurer’s office.

John Driscoll, who stepped down as state treasurer in 1964 to become chairman of the Turnpike Authority, reflected on the opening he had given Crane, a Boston Democrat appointed and later elected that year with 1.39 million votes after winning a four-way primary.

“I made one hell of a mistake. I gave up the treasurer’s office,” Driscoll said to roars of laughter.

“You wouldn’t have liked it that much,” Crane replied. He said he and Driscoll went to high school and Boston College together.

— Andy Metzger


SAY WHAT?

“The use of non-competes has pervaded every sector of the economy and they are being used in increasingly egregious ways. The time has come to rein in their use and provide employees with information and a small measure of leverage.”

— Rep. Lori A. Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, the bill’s original sponsor

Tackling an issue that is particularly sensitive in the state’s high-tech sector, the Massachusetts House approved a bill Wednesday that restricts the use of non-compete agreements — clauses included in contracts to prevent employees from jumping ship and bringing their knowledge to competitors.

Drafted by the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, the bill (H 4323) would limit the length of non-compete agreements in most circumstances to 12 months, and prohibit employers from enforcing the agreements on minimum-wage workers, college students or employees 18 and younger.

“In a masterful balance, the bill before us not only deals with the most egregious applications, but also sets limits on how they can be used legitimately,” Ehrlich said.

Under the bill, non-compete agreements should be “no broader than necessary” to protect trade secrets and confidential business information and must be “reasonable in geographic scope.”

A “garden leave clause” guaranteeing that workers leaving a job be paid half of their salary for the duration of their restricted period would also be required in any non-compete agreement under the bill. The House adopted an amendment to the bill Wednesday that would allow for “a mutually-agreed upon consideration” as an alternative to salary payments if both sides agree.

The legislation also proposes to adopt the Uniform Trade Secrets Act to offer protections for proprietary business information and trade secrets.

— Colin A. Young (SHNS)


IN THE NEWS

Congressman Michael Capuano and Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley join protesters outside a Trump event in Boston.

State House News Service

Congressman Michael Capuano and Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley join protesters outside a Trump event in Boston.

Trump protesters rally outside Boston fundraising stop

Donald Trump’s Wednesday appearance at the Langham Hotel in Boston aimed to bring in campaign dollars for his presidential bid, though many elected Republican lawmakers were more focused on business before the House and Senate.

Massachusetts Republican Party Chairwoman Kirsten Hughes told the News Service on her way to the fundraiser she didn’t expect many Massachusetts elected officials, though she noted Rep. Geoff Diehl, R-Whitman, an early supporter of Trump, would likely be there.

The bombastic New York City real estate developer, poised to take the Republican presidential nomination in Cleveland next month, rescheduled an earlier fundraiser for a day when both the House and the Senate met in formal sessions. Many Republican lawmakers backed GOP presidential contenders who were defeated by Trump.

A lightning rod among some conservatives and most Democrats, Trump’s rhetoric has soured Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who said he won’t vote for any of the presidential candidates in November.

Trump won the Massachusetts Republican primary with 49 percent of the vote in March on his way toward a record-setting amount of Republican primary votes nationwide. Trump’s latest fundraising reporting showed that presumed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton eclipsed his campaign dollars.

Inside the fundraiser, former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr were in attendance, according to a person with knowledge of the attendees who requested anonymity. The person also confirmed Trump’s attendance. Around noon, Brown tweeted a photo of himself, his wife Gail Huff, Carr, auto magnate Ernie Boch Jr. and others.

Trump’s appearance in Boston’s Post Office Square drew dozens of protesters, including U.S. Rep. Michael E. Capuano, D-7th, and Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley.

“I don’t know how someone can claim to want to make America great again when the very people who have made America he vilifies — immigrants, people of color, women, the LGBT community, workers,” Pressley told the News Service before addressing the crowd.

While national polls have shown Trump struggling in Republican-leaning states such as Utah, Diehl has said Trump’s campaign could put Massachusetts into play, though the state is usually a reliable win for Democrats in presidential contests.

Vowing not to underestimate the Republican, Pressley said without hard work Bay Staters could be a “complicit accessory in our complacency in endorsing this vitriolic person. This isn’t a dream, some faraway dream. This is a nightmare that we are living.”

Capuano, a Somerville Democrat, told the crowd Trump’s foreign policy approach is “unbelievably stupid. You don’t go around the world poking people in the eye for no good reason.”

— Andy Metzger (SHNS)


Senate OKs renewable energy bill, setting stage for House talks this month

An energy bill passed 39-0 by the Senate Thursday evening would require the solicitation of long-term contracts for at least 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2027 as part of an effort to diversify the state’s energy mix and comply with greenhouse gas emissions reduction requirements.

Under the bill, energy distribution companies would also be required to purchase a minimum of 12,450,000 megawatt-hours of clean energy from hydropower and other clean-energy resources, including onshore wind, solar, anaerobic digestion and energy storage.

The bill doubles the annual rate of increase in the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, which requires utilities to obtain a minimum amount of their electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind.

Both supporters and critics of the bill (S 2372) described it as a significant step in energy policy, disagreeing over whether its provisions would leave the state in a better or worse position.

“This is a landmark bill defining Massachusetts’ clean energy future,” Clean Water Action advocate Joel Wool told the News Service. “The Senate today said very clearly that they want to choose wind turbines and other clean energy resources — offshore wind, local renewable energy in New England — over gas pipelines.”

The New England Power Generators Association blasted the bill as a “major leap in the wrong direction.”

“We are extremely disappointed and concerned about key provisions in this energy bill, which carves out nearly 50 percent of Massachusetts’ electricity market in the form of subsidized long-term contracts,” association president Dan Dolan said in a statement. “Not only will this lead to a dramatic increase in electricity costs for Commonwealth businesses and consumers, it will hurt local energy innovation and undermine billions of dollars in new investments being made here today.”

The bill’s supporters said Massachusetts has grown too dependent on natural gas to meet its energy needs and expressed hope for a boom in jobs in the renewable energy industry.

With several major differences between Senate bill and the version passed by the House (H 4385) earlier this month, the energy legislation will likely head to a conference committee, where lawmakers will try to strike a compromise between the two versions. The House bill would require utilities to solicit and enter into 15- to 20-year contracts for 1,200 megawatts of offshore wind and roughly 1,200 megawatts of hydropower.

— Katie Lannan (Michael Norton contributed reporting)


MBTA braces for $30M hit in expected state aid

Facing a $30 million reduction in the amount it expected from the fiscal 2017 state budget as anticipated sales tax revenues have been downgraded, the MBTA budget team plans to discuss the situation with its Fiscal and Management Control Board.

The authority’s roughly $2 billion budget for the fiscal year that began Friday was passed in April with $1.027 billion in sales tax revenue expected. At the time, MBTA Chief Administrator Brian Shortsleeve warned “the revenue picture could change on us quickly.”

In fiscal 2016, the T budgeted $986 million in a base minimum from sales tax revenues, and with the adjustment the T now expects $995 million, so even with the reduction in fiscal 2017 the T will receive about $9 million more from the consumer tax. The budget accord reached last week also calls for the delivery to the T of an additional $187 million. The T had planned to devote about $80 million of that to reducing its structural deficit and use the remaining $100 million for needed capital improvements.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo told the News Service Thursday that the $30 million reduction “makes it even more critical that the MBTA move expeditiously to reduce its operating expenses through ongoing efficiencies (OT costs are down), a headcount reduction, and flexible contracting.”

The MBTA Control Board has not yet scheduled its next meeting.

— Andy Metzger

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