While the state top labor group urged senators to leave an unemployment insurance system reform bill unchanged, the head of the state's largest retailers group said Thursday he was disappointed in the bill and that it would not lead to net savings for businesses. "It's a redistribution of taxes. It's not a reform," said Jon Hurst, head of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. Hurst said his disappointment was enhanced because the bill had been promoted as a way to deliver savings to businesses and address cost competitiveness concerns as lawmakers proceed with plans to raise the state's $8 an hour minimum wage. Hurst said an increase in the wage base subject to unemployment insurance taxes would hurt small businesses in particular. The Massachusetts AFL-CIO headed into Thursday afternoon's Senate debate urging members not to make any changes to the bill "that would hurt current or future unemployed workers." The bill (S 2001) would freeze rates this year for the taxes businesses pay to compensate unemployed workers, and create a new grading system where the businesses that lay off the most workers pay more than they currently do, while the more stable employers pay less than they currently do. Some have called for limiting the duration of benefits as a means of lowering the costs to employers. "The Massachusetts AFL-CIO believes that this legislation represents a balanced approach to ensuring a stable UI financing system," Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steven Tolman wrote to his former colleagues in the Senate on Thursday. "The reforms included in this bill prove that we can structure our complex UI system in a way that saves businesses money, establishes a consistency and predictability that better allows businesses to plan over multiple years, and proves that it is not necessary to cut benefits or change eligibility in order to make the system more affordable and more accommodating to employers." Tolman noted votes on the bill "may be considered Labor Votes." The Senate previously passed a bill that would increase the minimum wage to $11 per hour over three years. During debate, Republicans, who argued the bill did not make substantial reforms, were unable to advance their amendments, with proposals falling on party line votes. The bill's supporters said the state needs to stand firm on benefits given the uncertainty over support for the unemployed in Washington. - A. Metzger, M. Norton/SHNS


After the House voted Thursday to expel Rep. Carlos Henriquez in connection with his assault and battery conviction, an aide to Speaker Robert DeLeo confirmed to the News Service that DeLeo does plan to order a special election to fill the Fifth Suffolk House seat. In arguing for expulsion, several lawmakers said Henriquez, because he is serving a six-month jail term that began in January, is not able to represent his district or cast votes, a handicap especially given upcoming state budget deliberations. A DeLeo aide said a special election date will be selected after consulting with Secretary of State William Galvin, the state's chief elections overseer. Rep. Russell Holmes (D-Mattapan) told the News Service Wednesday that he believed Henriquez would run if his seat were put up for election this year. Before the expulsion vote, Rep. Angelo Scaccia asked whether the House would seat Henriquez, after expelling him, should he win a future election. After Speaker DeLeo declined to answer that question, Rep. Garrett Bradley (D-Hingham) said the decision on seating Henriquez would be up to the House. - M. Norton/SHNS


Rep. Bradford Hill, a Republican from Ipswich, returned to the House chamber for the first time Thursday since undergoing a bone marrow transplant to treat cancer in November. Hill, a bit thinner, said he feels good. First diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2008, he was extremely private about his cancer, with only a handful of his colleagues and constituents aware. He made his battle with the disease public when he needed to recover at home for almost two months. He has to limit his exposure to the public. In January, he began voting on roll calls from his office. Hill, 46, is serving his eighth term in the House. - C. Quinn/SHNS