By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives' votes on one roll call from the week of June 10-14. There were no important roll calls in the Senate last week.
UNIFORM COMMERCIAL CODE (H 28)
House 152-0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill updating many laws, known collectively as the Uniform Commercial Code, that govern commercial transactions in the Bay State. The code is routinely adopted by most states and is aimed at enabling firms doing business in multiple states to conform their practices to one set of uniform laws. That makes it easier and more appealing to businesses that otherwise would have to deal with a patchwork of different laws in each state. The last time the code was updated was 2001.
Supporters said that without updating the code, the state would become "business unfriendly" by having different commercial laws than most other states. They argued the result would put the state and businesses, both large and small, at risk of losing revenue.
(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)
Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes.
ALSO ON BEACON HILL
TAX BREAKS -- The Revenue Committee held a hearing on legislation providing reimbursement to state workers or retirees who are same-sex married couples that under the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) are ineligible for federal health insurance tax benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex married couples (H 2672). Other bills on the agenda included providing a tax credit for businesses that hire mentally ill or disabled people (S 1335) or veterans (S 1336); exempting all active-duty military personnel from paying the state income tax (H 2528); providing an income tax exemption of up to $15,000 for military personnel stationed outside the United States (S1326); and providing up to a $500 tax credit for persons over 55 who buy hearing aids (H 2736).
HIKE MINIMUM WAGE (S 878) -- The Committee on Labor and Workforce Development held a jam-packed hearing on several bills including one that would raise the minimum hourly wage from $8 to $11 over three years. The wage would rise to $9 the first year, $10 the second year and $11 in year three. The measure also provides that once the wage reaches $11, it would be automatically raised annually to reflect increases in the Consumer Price Index. The most recent hike in the minimum wage was approved by the Legislature in July 2006, when it raised it from $6.75 to the current $8. Last year a similar bill raising the wage to $11 was shipped off to a study committee where it died.
Supporters testified that the hike would give Massachusetts workers the highest minimum wage in the nation and help thousands of low-wage earners. Opponents argued that the hike would result in higher prices that would be passed along to the consumer. They noted this would hurt many small businesses and efforts to stimulate job growth.
BAN STYROFOAM PACKAGING (H 2087) -- The Public Health Committee heard testimony on a bill banning the commercial sale and use of any Styrofoam and other polystyrene containers. Styrofoam is the Dow Chemical Company's brand name of polystyrene. These containers are the familiar white plastic foam ones that supermarkets, and fast food and other restaurants use to package and serve food and drinks. Supporters testified that this material is not biodegradable and is bad for the environment. They also noted the hazardous chemical styrene leaches out of the mug and into the drink. Opponents said the ban goes too far. They argued that leaching is at very low levels that do not have any impact on our health.
Other bills on the committee's agenda include expanding to all restaurants the current law that requires restaurants with more than 25 seats to have on the premises a device to remove food lodged in persons' throats or an on-duty employee trained in a manual removal method (H 1890); prohibiting the use of latex gloves and products by all food handlers (S 1132); banning the use of artificial trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, in all restaurants (H 2007); requiring restaurants that offer a children's menu to provide at least one diaper-changing area on the premises (S 1043); banning sales of high-caffeine energy drinks to anyone under 18 (H 2040); and prohibiting state and local departments of public health from regulating the serving of food brought to potluck dinners sponsored by a group of individuals or nonprofit organization (H 1997). Supporters say some local boards of health have gone too far by attempting to regulate this time-honored harmless tradition. Opponents say there is real danger of diners getting an illness and noted people have been sick and even died from the food at these events.
REGULATE MICROWAVE OVENS (S 113) -- The list of bills on the Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure's hearing agenda included a measure establishing regulations on microwave ovens including prohibiting any oven from being large enough fit a small child or animal; requiring ovens to be equipped with a motion sensor designed to detect a living person or animal and immediately turn off the cooking mechanism and mandating that each microwave be registered and equipped with a locking device.
Other provisions allow only one microwave oven per residence; prohibit any residence with a regular oven from also having a microwave; and ban anyone under the age of 18 from operating a microwave oven.
Other bills on the agenda prohibit any florist business from listing a local telephone number in a phone directory if calls are routinely forwarded to a non-local number and the listing does not give the true physical address of the business (H 226); require travel agents to provide customers with information on the potential health and safety risks of any overseas travel (H 205); and license and regulate talent casting agents working in the state's entertainment industry (H 197).
"He told me he's trading in his Mustang for a 15-seat passenger van and he has to go to Laconia today to pick it up. It's for all the grandkids."
Sen. Bob Hedlund (R-Weymouth) on a recent conversation with former Gov. Mitt Romney.
"We understand that doing this for a week can't come close to the struggles low-income families have week after week."
Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz, who is spending a week living on $94.50 of food for him, his wife and daughter, in order to feel what it's like to live on food stamps.
HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK'S SESSION? During the week of June 10-14, the House met for a total of five hours and 5 minutes while the Senate met for a total of one hour and 52 minutes.
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