STATE CAPITOL BRIEFS - LUNCH EDITION - TUESDAY, MARCH 18, 2014

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

AS DEADLINE NEARS, MINIMUM WAGE AND UI BILL NOT READY

The Labor and Workforce Development Committee will meet Tuesday afternoon to vote on bills it has been vetting this session, but one that will not be ready for a vote is House Speaker Robert DeLeo's proposed increase in the minimum wage and reform of the unemployment insurance system. DeLeo, in a speech last week to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, outlined his preference for a phased-in hike in the minimum wage to $10.50 by mid-2016 and reforms of the unemployment insurance system to shave costs for businesses. DeLeo, however, said it could be a week or two before the details are written into a bill, and House Chairman Rep. Thomas Conroy pointed to Tuesday's executive session as a possible reveal date. However, an aide to the committee told the News Service that the minimum wage and UI bill will not be ready for a vote when the committee meets at noon, suggesting action could come later this week or next week. The Senate last year approved a bill to raise the minimum wage to $11 an hour and earlier this year passed unemployment insurance system reforms. Wednesday is the biennial deadline for legislative committees to make decisions on most bills.

BIZ LEADERS RAMP UP PRESSURE ON CHARTER CAP BILL

Continuing their campaign to raise or eliminate the cap on charter school enrollment, the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association released a letter on Tuesday morning signed by 154 business leaders urging the Education Committee to release a reform bill that would authorize additional charter schools in underperforming school districts.


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"The evidence shows that regardless of where a child comes from, education can help predict where they are going in life," the leaders wrote. "We are committed to a Massachusetts where all students are college- and career-ready, because that will help establish a sought-after, locally grown, talent pool to attract employers from around the globe." The letter was addressed to Education Committee co-chairs Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and Rep. Alice Peisch. House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray were also copied on the letter. The bills before the committee (S235/H 425) would eliminate the cap on charter enrollment in underperforming districts and give so-called Level 3 schools on the cusp of falling into underperformance new tools to change curriculums and make decisions regarding hiring. Chang-Diaz and some teachers union leaders have expressed concerns about charter school expansions siphoning money away from traditional public schools. The deadline for joint committees to vote on most bills is Wednesday, though committees may seek extensions. The Education Committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon, but it is not certain whether a charter bill will emerge for action. The letter was signed by business leaders from around the state, including Joshua Boger, founder and former CEO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Richard Burnes, general partner at Charles River Ventures and George Conrades, chairman of Akamai Technologies. - M. Murphy/SHNS

POLICE REACH ACCORD TO ACT ACROSS TOWN BORDERS

On-duty police officers in 51 communities will be empowered to respond to public safety emergencies in other participating jurisdictions under an agreement announced Tuesday by a police chiefs group. According to the Middlesex County Chiefs of Police Association, the Massachusetts Interagency Mutual Aid Agreement gives police chiefs "a formal method of requesting immediate mutual aid assistance from neighboring communities during a critical incident or crime in progress." It also authorizes an on-duty police officer to act if they observe a drunk driver or other unlawful behavior while traveling through another community. The agreement, which covers most of the communities on the Boston Marathon route, has been signed by 51 of the 54 communities in Middlesex County and police chiefs in Waltham and Winchester have submitted the agreement to municipal officials for a vote. Cambridge has not signed the agreement. The agreement has also been signed by officials outside Middlesex County, in Wellesley, Lynnfield, and Saugus. "Police officers are expected to always be police officers, and they should never have to put themselves or others in danger by hastily rushing to stop a reckless driver or wanted felon before the town line," Weston Police Chief Steven Shaw, president of the association, said in a statement. "Crime doesn't stop at the border, and this agreement will help ensure that criminals can't escape the law by escaping one community." The association said a 2013 court ruling cleared the way for communities to establish mutual aid agreements and address a 1990 Supreme Judicial Court ruling in which a drunk driving case was thrown out because a Natick police officer followed a speeding driver into Framingham. - M. Norton/SHNS

REPORT: COMMUNITY HOSPITALS STRUGGLING IN HEALTH CARE MARKET

Community hospitals are struggling financially as more patients visit more expensive teaching hospitals for routine care such as births, contributing the escalating cost of health insurance in Massachusetts, according to a new report. The report, published by Healthcare Equality and Affordability League (H.E.A.L.) and David E. Williams of Health Business Group, concluded that pricing disparities between health care providers are "compromising the viability of community hospitals in lower-income areas and making health care less affordable for middle and lower income families." H.E.A.L. was founded in 2013 by Steward Health Care System LLC and 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. The impact on overall health care costs from pricing disparities between larger teaching hospitals and smaller community-based providers has been a theme behind the cost containment debate in Massachusetts. The report recommends that the state's health care cost growth benchmark, established by the 2012 reform law, be set lower for high cost providers to help address the price differences in public and private sector reimbursements. H.E.A.L. also suggested that providers with a high percentage of Medicaid patients be compensated through higher Medicaid or commercial insurer reimbursement rates, and that the state implement a Medicaid accountable care organization to reward quality and cost containment. The report also recommends that insurance companies be encouraged to set up plans that reward members for using lower cost providers. - M. Murphy/SHNS

PATRICK MOVES TO OFFSET FEDERAL SNAP BENEFIT CUTS

Following a change in the rules incorporated in the new federal farm bill, Gov. Deval Patrick's administration announced on Tuesday that the state would be investing $3 million in additional home heating assistance for families to avoid the potential loss of up to $142 million in food stamp benefits for 163,000 families. Under the initiative, the Department of Transitional Assistance will be partnering with the Department of Housing and Community Development to provide at least $20 in heating assistance to eligible families through the H-EAT programs. The subsidy will qualify those families for an additional $80 in monthly Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits that might have been lost under new federal rules included in the farm bill that made qualifying for the SNAP benefits more difficult. "Reversing the cuts from the Farm Bill is a major step in helping Massachusetts families work toward economic stability," Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz said in a statement. "Any cut in benefit, no matter the size, has a real impact on low-income families, and this funding supports a program that makes a difference every day." Families previously qualified for the additional SNAP benefits if they received at least $1 in home heating assistance. The Heat and Eat program started in Massachusetts in 2007. - C. Quinn/SHNS