STATE CAPITOL BRIEFS - THURSDAY, JUNE 19, 2014

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

GOVERNOR GETS MINIMUM WAGE, BIOSIMILARS, GAS LEAKS BILLS

The Senate on Thursday sent to the governor the Legislature's minimum wage and unemployment insurance reform compromise, along with a bill allowing pharmacists to substitute a "biosimilar" for another medical product. The minimum wage legislation raises it to $11 per hour by 2017, from the current $8 per hour, and would Massachusetts with the highest minimum wage in the country. The bill (S 2195) also increases wages for tipped workers to $3.75 from $2.63 over the same time period. The minimum wage for agriculture and farming employees will increase to $8, from $1.60. The unemployment insurance reform portion of the bill allows "stable" employers to pay lower rates and "negatively rated" employees to pay higher rates, according to Senate President Therese Murray's office. Separately, the Senate and House both enacted legislation allowing patients to access "biosimilars" after the products are cleared by the Food and Drug Administration and considered interchangeable. According to the FDA, "biosimilars" are similar to vaccines, allergenics, gene therapy and proteins, "notwithstanding minor differences." The bill (H 3734) requires pharmacists to notify the patient and prescribing practitioner if they substitute a "biosimilar" for another medical product. "We want to be a little ahead of the science. Usually we're trying to catch up to it," said Sen. Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge). Moore, who noted that "biosimilars" are not yet on the market, said that Gov. Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray and Sen. Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport) are headed to the BIO convention in San Diego next week. "I'm sure it'll meet with great applause," Moore said. Senate lawmakers also enacted a legislative compromise setting out a timetable for utilities to repair natural gas leaks (H 4164) depending on their severity. - G. Dumcius/SHNS

SENATE APPROVES CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTION, CHILD SEX ABUSE BILLS

Senate lawmakers on Thursday voted to expand requirements for carbon monoxide alarms in schools and restaurants and to extend the statute of limitations in civil child sex abuse cases. Senate President Therese Murray had previously pushed for a 2006 law requiring carbon monoxide alarms in homes, spurred by the death of a Manomet girl in 2005. The Plymouth Democrat said in a statement after the vote that the new bill, which requires schools to retrofit fire alarm systems to include carbon monoxide detectors within five years, is the "next step." Under the bill (S 2157), restaurants that are remodeling or under construction must include the alarms alongside their fire systems. The bill also creates a $7.5 million carbon monoxide trust fund for the cost of retrofitting public schools, and requires the Massachusetts School Building Authority to include plans for carbon monoxide detection systems in all of the projects it approves. "Too many lives are lost because of carbon monoxide poisoning and this is a common sense solution to protect the public," Murray said. After a unanimous House vote on Wednesday, the Senate also voted to extend the statute of limitations in civil child sex abuse cases (H 4126) from three years after a victim turns 18 to 35 years, giving an individual until they turn 53 to file a lawsuit. Retroactively, individuals who discover emotional and psychological harm later in life are granted an extension to 7 years after the discovery, up from 3 years. "Often, it takes time for victims to truly come to terms with their abuse, especially if the incident happened when they were children, and we should extend the window of opportunity that allows them to call for justice," Murray said in a statement. A spokeswoman for Gov. Deval Patrick did not respond to a request for comment on the bill earlier on Thursday. - G. Dumcius/SHNS

SHARK FIN BAN SWIMS THROUGH SENATE

Legislation banning the possession or sale of shark fins and permitting them to be removed only for taxidermy or scientific purposes cleared the Senate Thursday after passing the House in May. Saying the methods used to remove shark fins from the living animals only to discard the rest of the body into the water is cruel, Sen. Jason Lewis told his colleagues the legislation (H 4088) would "ensure that our Commonwealth ceases to be a part of the shark fin trade." Lewis said even though shark finning is banned by federal law, there are "more than a dozen" restaurants in Massachusetts that serve the delicacy. Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, who represents the fisheries on Cape Ann, joined Lewis in seeking to curb the "reprehensible" practice that he said goes against the values of the state's fishing industry. Lewis, who sponsored the bill earlier this session when he was a member of the House, said after the de-finned sharks are put back in the water they die of blood loss, starvation or predation, and said fin harvesting continues in international waters. The Animal Welfare Institute lists several restaurants in Boston's Chinatown neighborhood as well as eateries in East Falmouth and Quincy that serve fin. The bill exempts rays, smooth hounds and spiny dogfish from the legislation. The bill, which would go into effect this September and is only two votes away from the governor's desk, would prohibit the possession or sale of a detached shark fin, creating a punishment of between $500 and $1,000 per fin and up to 60 days imprisonment. Sen. Eileen Donoghue, of Lowell, and Lewis credited a young boy from Lowell who spent his first day of summer vacation in the Senate gallery, with the bill's success. - A. Metzger/SHNS

SENATE NAMES BCEC EXPANSION NEGOTIATORS

The Senate on Thursday named Sen. Stephen Brewer (D-Barre), Sen. Brian Joyce (D-Milton) and Sen. Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth) as conferees to negotiate with the House over a $1 billion norrowing bill for the expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. The House on Wednesday named its conferees to the bill (H 4111): Reps. Peter Kocot (D-Northampton), Stephen Kulik (D-Worthington), and Todd Smola (R-Warren). Not a single Boston lawmaker will negotiate the compromise. - G. Dumcius/SHNS

GAS TAX INDEXING OPPONENTS SAY THEY HAVE 26,000 SIGNATURES

Seeking a place on the November ballot, backers of the ballot initiative to repeal the law indexing the gas tax to inflation on Thursday said they submitted 26,000 signatures to city and town election officials. The deadline to turn in the final round of signatures, with 11,485 signatures required, was Wednesday at 5 p.m. Rep. Geoff Diehl (R-Whitman) said after the second-round signatures are handed over to Secretary of State Bill Galvin in early July, the campaign will be "moving into the education phase." Lawmakers voted last year to increase the gas tax by 3 cents to 24 cents per gallon and tie future increases to inflation. "Honestly, some people didn't know the indexing was happening," Diehl said of people who signed the petition. "They just thought the three cents was passed." Proponents of the gas tax hike and indexing it to inflation say the funds are needed for transportation infrastructure improvements. But opponents, including Republican lawmakers and activists, say lawmakers should have to vote on future increases, and indexing amounts to "taxation without representation." Former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan is serving as the ballot group's attorney. - G. Dumcius/SHNS

SHAHEEN LEADING BROWN BY 10 POINTS IN N.H. POLL

New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, holds a 10-point lead over Republican Scott Brown, who is fighting high unfavorable ratings as he seeks election in the state just north of the one he previously represented in Washington. The former Massachusetts senator who lost his seat to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Brown trails Shaheen 49 percent to 39 percent, with a 3.5 percent margin of error, according to the Suffolk University/Boston Herald statewide poll of 800 likely New Hampshire voters. In March, Shaheen led Brown by 13 points. The poll showed Brown is viewed favorably by 35 percent and unfavorably by 46 percent of those surveyed. Shaheen is viewed favorably by 52 percent and unfavorably by 36 percent. The poll also measured public opinion on Iraq. Forty-four percent of likely voters would support the authorization of air strikes and drone attacks, 34 percent are opposed and 21 percent were not sure. Pollsters found a "wide open" Republican presidential field. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were tied at 11 percent, ahead of several other potential candidates. When former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was added to the mix, he secured 24 percent and all of the other candidates were in the single digits. - M. Norton/SHNS

DeLEO DEFLECTS WHEN ASKED ABOUT "HANDS OFF" COMMENT

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, when confronted by reporters Thursday, declined to directly answer whether or not it is true that he said "hands off" the probation department budget, as one witness is expected to testify in the ongoing federal trial of three former probation department managers accused of mail fraud, bribery and racketeering. Prosecutors said Wednesday that former state Rep. Charles Murphy, who was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, will testify that DeLeo told him "hands off" the probation department budget during a fiscal crisis, and another witness will say DeLeo was given 10 hires by top probation brass in the new electronic monitoring (ELMO) department to "assist him in the speaker's race." On Thursday, DeLeo said only that he was cleared of any wrongdoing by the U.S. Attorney's office in the case. "The only thing I can say, you know this probation issue, from the beginning with the appointment of Mr. Ware to do an investigation of hires to the grand jury situation, this has been going on for four years now. There've been many different witnesses, countless hours of testimony, and with all of that, as far as I am concerned, you know, the U.S. attorney's office has stated there's been no impropriety or anything as far as I was concerned in terms of any involvement, again, in any impropriety in any of these matters." Prosecutor Fred Wyshak said he plans to call six additional sitting state representatives about that aspect of the case, all of whom are Democrats with current leadership positions and chairmanships. In 2008, DeLeo was involved in a battle with Rep. John Rogers of Norwood for votes to succeed House Speaker Sal DiMasi, who resigned in 2009 before being indicted and convicted for selling his office for kickbacks and bribes. -C. Quinn/SHNS

PRESIDENTS: UMASS TREATMENT CREATES "CLEAR INEQUITIES"

University of Massachusetts trustees voted this week to freeze tuition rates and fees on the system's five campuses in light of expected funding levels in next year's state budget, but the leaders of the state's other nine public universities are starting to worry they're playing second fiddle to UMass. In a letter to the House and Senate lawmakers negotiating the fiscal 2015 budget, the presidents of the nine schools requested a $15 million increase in funding so that they, too, could hold the line on costs for their students. "The proposed budgets create a clear inequity for our State University students who would face an increase in their fees while University of Massachusetts students would not," the college leaders wrote. The House budget increased funding for the universities by $8 million, while the Senate budget proposed level funding the campuses. Meanwhile, UMass stands to see a $40 million increase that trustees decided this week was sufficient to freeze student expenses. Students attending college at places like Salem State University or Bridgewater State University face increases of up to $800 for the upcoming academic year, according to the campus presidents. "Our State University students and their families are amongst those least able to absorb an increase in the cost of their education without taking on more student debt," the letter stated. House and Senate negotiators working to reach a budget accord have less than two weeks to strike a deal before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1. - M. Murphy/SHNS