January 1, 2017

On Beacon Hill: Minimum wage, marijuana, and the Legislature gets paid

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Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Legal marijuana advocates protest at the State House as Gov. Baker signed a law delaying the implementation of retail sales.

From State House News Service

BOSTON — The minimum wage rises to $11 an hour and the new public records law takes effect today [Sunday, Jan. 1]. Lawmakers are gearing up for their first pay raise in years, a 4.2 percent bump. And the curtain closes on the 2015-2016 legislative session Tuesday, the day before 190th General Court’s opening act.

The newly sworn-in lawmakers are expected to immediately re-elect House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, Wednesday. DeLeo is closing in on former House Speaker Thomas McGee’s record nine-and-a-half-year run as House leader from 1975 until 1985, the longest speakership under the state constitution.

The Winthrop Democrat took the reins of the House from former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi in January 2009, and will complete 10 years as House leader if he serves out his next two-year term as speaker. The all-time record, since the speaker’s office was established in 1644, dates to the Colonial era, when John Quincy held the gavel for 12 years.

Sam Doran (SHNS / file photo)

Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo

If past is prologue, Rosenberg will lay out policy priorities during remarks following his re-election to a second term as Senate president, and DeLeo will also make general remarks before delivering a full speech on his priorities later in January or early February.

State officials plan to release December revenue collection numbers by Thursday. If collections are strong enough, legislative leaders might follow through on their threat to restore funding for programs and services cut by Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker last month.

OFF THE TOP

  • MASS. LEGISLATURE AT ODDS WITH COUNTERPARTS: Democrats have firmly controlled the Massachusetts Legislature for decades, but are in the minority in that regard nationally. In their latest fundraising solicitation, Emily’s List noted Republicans will run both legislative chambers in 32 states and hold 33 governorships. Here, Democrats will maintain their 34-6 majority in the Senate and will hold a 125-35 advantage in the House after a net loss of one seat to the GOP. There are three new senators being seated next week and a dozen new representatives, mostly winners of open seats.
  • POCKET VETO COMES INTO PLAY: As is its custom, the Legislature has picked up the pace in the final weeks of the session, sending more bills to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk. Bills sent this late in the session face the prospect of a pocket veto if the governor doesn’t sign those bills before the new session begins.
  • CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION: The 2015-2016 General Court holds its final Constitutional Convention Tuesday, although no activity is anticipated. The convention will be the forum for a major tax debate in 2017-2018 that will determine whether Massachusetts voters get an opportunity in November 2018 to decide the fate of a proposal to add a 4 percent surtax on annual household incomes above $1 million.

Andy Metzger / State House News Service

Ellen Brown of Marstons Mills and the Northeast Cannabis Institute holds about $50 worth of legal “blue dream” marijuana in front of the State House Dec. 15.

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Baker OKs marijuana law delay; also first legislative raise in 8 years
  • Video: Legal pot advocates protest at State House
  • Looking ahead: Minimum wage turned up to $11; more accountability in public records
  • Relentless Healey campaign features shooting victim’s father

THE BIG DEAL

Baker signs law slowing legal pot progress

By Katie Lannan

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law pushing back the schedule for retail marijuana operations in Massachusetts by six months, a move announced Friday, Dec. 30, as about a dozen protesters gathered outside the State House to condemn the delay.

Whisked through the Legislature during sessions attended by a handful of lawmakers last Wednesday, the law extends deadlines set when voters in November approved the legalization and regulation of adult use of marijuana through a ballot question.

“Far from respecting the will of the voters, they don’t even respect the legislative process, the democracy, the laws in Massachusetts, or anything else, and for what?” said Andy Gaus, the press secretary for the cannabis law reform coalition MassCann/NORML.

The legalization ballot question passed on Nov. 8 with nearly 54 percent of the vote. Lawmakers soon after began expressing interest in altering aspects of the regulatory structure set under the law and suggesting a need for additional time to do so.

While the provisions that took effect Dec. 15 — allowing possession, use, home-growing and gifting of marijuana by adults 21 and over — remain unchanged, the first retail marijuana licenses now must be issued by July 2018, instead of January 2018.

State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg will have until Sept. 1, 2017, to appoint members to a new Cannabis Control Commission, and the commission will have until March 15, 2018, to put initial regulations in place.

Lawmakers plan to create a committee to draft additional marijuana legislation, which legislative leaders said they hope to pass within six months.

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker

“The Baker-Polito Administration has been clear that it shares the Legislature’s desire to thoroughly prepare for launching an entirely new industry distributing a controlled substance and is committed to adhering to the will of the voters by implementing the new law as effectively and responsibly as possible,” Baker spokeswoman Lizzy Guyton said in a statement.

Baker and House Speaker Robert DeLeo opposed legalization, as did most members of the 200-person Legislature. Senate President Stan Rosenberg said he voted for the ballot question but has criticized some of its provisions, including the 3.75 percent tax rate and the home-grow limit of 12 plants per household.

Joseph Gilmore, who leads the UMass Boston Chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said he was not surprised to see the delay instituted. He said postponing legal sales would send buyers to the black market instead.

“I knew that they were against it from the beginning, but we still have to fight for what we voted for,” Gilmore said.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Legal pot advocates decry law delay

LOOKING AHEAD

Minimum wage increase arrives today

Nearly half a million of the lowest-paid workers in Massachusetts will receive their third annual pay increase as the minimum hourly wage reaches $11 today, Jan. 1.

In 2014, when the minimum wage stood at $8 per hour and as activists mobilized to bring a minimum wage referendum to the state ballot, lawmakers passed a bill increasing the minimum wage one dollar per year over the next three years. Since July 2009, the federal minimum wage law has been $7.25 per hour.

The same Raise Up Massachusetts coalition that successfully pushed for the last minimum wage increase has begun beating the drum for a $15 per hour state minimum wage.

Raise Up Massachusetts reported there are nearly 500,000 “low-wage workers” due for a pay raise starting today. The group also noted the state’s low unemployment rate, which at 2.9 percent in November was at its lowest level since January 2001.

The law will also increase the minimum wage for tipped workers, such as waiters, to $3.75 per hour, up from $2.63 in 2014. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the minimum wages in New York City, Washington, D.C., and in California are scheduled to reach $15 per hour.

In New England, Rhode Island has a $9.60 minimum hourly wage; the minimum wage is scheduled to rise to $10.50 in Vermont, to $10.10 in Connecticut, and eventually to $12 in Maine in 2020. New Hampshire has no state minimum wage.

Public records law strengthened

Many provisions of the public records law Gov. Baker signed in June take effect today, when municipalities and state agencies will be required to have a records access officer in place and new deadlines and fee structures will be in place.

Terageorge/Wikimedia Commons

Worcester must have a public records officer in place and observe new access rules as of Jan. 1.

The records access officer will coordinate responses to public records requests and must provide public records in an electronic format when available. Agency officers will need to post copies of commonly requested records — including budgets, public meeting minutes, final opinions and annual reports — on a searchable website, and municipal officers will need to post records online if feasible.

Officers will have 10 business days to provide a requested record and will be able to charge up to $25 an hour for employee time to respond to a request at certain thresholds: for agencies, more than four hours of work, and for larger municipalities, more than two hours of work. Towns with fewer than 20,000 residents can charge for the first two hours of employee time.

If an agency or municipality fails to comply with the new law, requestors can file an appeal with the state supervisor of records, who will have 10 days to issue a determination. Requestors who prevail in a court action against an agency or municipality can be awarded attorney fees or costs by the court.

A new supervisor of records will usher in the new law, after Shawn Williams, who held the post for five years, left to become Boston’s records access officer. Mayor Marty Walsh announced Williams would become the city’s first director of public records. Rebecca Murray, who previously worked in the elections division of Secretary of State William Galvin’s office, is the new state records supervisor.

NOTED

#FirstDayHikes include Blackstone park in Uxbridge

The state Department of Conservation and Recreation celebrates New Year’s Day with “First Day Hikes” at seven parks across the state, part of a nationwide program by the National Association of State Park Directors. The program started in Massachusetts in 1992, according to a DCR flyer, before spreading to all 50 states in 2012.

This year’s locations are Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park in Uxbridge; Carson Beach and Dorchester Heights in South Boston; Walden Pond State Reservation in Concord; Breakheart Reservation in Saugus; Blue Hills Reservation in Milton; Nantasket Beach Reservation in Hull; and Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls. DCR directs hikers to “share your adventures” on social media with the Twitter hashtag #FirstDayHikes.

Nation begins 2017 with 2.2 million more citizens than last New Year

The U.S. population was projected to hit 324,310,011 on New Year’s Day, the Census Bureau announced last week, marking an 0.70 percent, or 2,245,347, increase since one year ago.

The bureau expected the world population today to reach 7,362,350,168, up 1.07 percent from a year ago.

Federal statisticians project a birth every 8 seconds and a death every 11 seconds in the United States this month. They also expect the net effect of international immigration to add one person to the population every 33 seconds.

The national population has risen 5.04 percent since the last federal census on April 1, 2010. Census figures will provide the basis for decennial redistricting efforts that will determine which states pick up seats in the U.S. House and which states lose them.

Check out the Census Bureau population clock

IN THE NEWS

Baker OKs 4.2 percent hike in lawmakers’ salary

BOSTON — For the first time in eight years, legislators on Beacon Hill will see an increase in their base salaries after Gov. Charlie Baker certified a pay raise of $2,515 for the 200 members of the House and Senate on Thursday, bringing their base pay up to $62,547.

Governors are required by the U.S. Constitution every two years to consider pay increases for lawmakers based on changes in median household income. Baker’s team determined that median household income in Massachusetts climbed by 4.19 percent between 2013 and 2015.

The governor, in a letter to State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, indicated that he used the American Community Survey, which is produced by the U.S. Census Bureau, to review changes in income across the state. Data from 2015 was the most recent available through the ACS, officials said.

Median household income in Massachusetts grew from $67,789 in 2013 to $70,628 in 2015, an increase of 4.19 percent.

Katie Lannan / State House News Service

Sen. Harriette L. Chandler, D-Worcester, (seen here in May 2016), welcomed the governor’s legislative pay raise.

Noting that lawmaker salaries had not been raised in eight years, Sen. Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester, said earlier last week it was “not a secret that people are hoping” Baker would authorize raises.

“Even a small increase would be very nice,” the Senate majority leader said.

Earlier this month, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said it “would only be fair” for lawmakers to get a raise. Referring to backlash directed at House Speaker Robert DeLeo for handing out staff pay raises before Thanksgiving, Rosenberg said of the expected pay raises for lawmakers that he believed there would “be an outcry about that, too.”

Many legislators earn more than the base salary, with extra income authorized based on leadership duties, including committee chairmanships. Additional stipends can range from $7,500 for a committee chairmanship to $25,000 for the Ways and Means chairpersons and $35,000 for the House speaker and Senate president.

The Legislature most weeks holds one formal session and for about seven months of the two-year session only informal sessions are held, which most lawmakers do not attend. Lawmakers also stay busy with committee work, their own legislative priorities, constituent services, and meetings in their districts.

Many lawmakers also hold outside jobs in the private sector to supplement their incomes.

The raises come as Gov. Charlie Baker and the Legislature grapple with continuing state budget problems. Baker this month slashed $98 million from the budget, drawing an outcry from lawmakers who claim the state can afford the spending.

— Matt Murphy [Michael Norton, Katie Lannan
and Antonio Caban contributed reporting]

Shooting victim’s father praises state AG Healey’s ‘courage’

The father of a 1992 school-shooting victim is appealing to donors on behalf of state Attorney General Maura Healey, urging support for what he described as Healey’s “courage and leadership in the fight to end violence.”

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Attoney General Maura Healey

In an email to Healey’s supporters Thursday, Greg Gibson of Gloucester wrote that guns like the ones that killed his son Galen “have torn families apart and terrorized communities” for decades.

Galen Gibson was one of two people killed in a shooting that also wounded four people at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington on Dec. 14, 1992.

“I haven’t been involved with a lot of politicians in my life, but when Maura Healey promised that she would enforce our state assault weapons ban, that meant a lot to my family and me,” Greg Gibson wrote in the fundraising appeal.

Healey’s July announcement that she would step up enforcement of the state’s 1998 assault weapons ban to focus on copies or duplicates of banned firearms was greeted with vocal opposition from gun-rights advocates, who argue she overstepped her authority and suppressed Second Amendment rights.

— Katie Lannan

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