Recent Legislative Updates

http://canadian-pharmacies.org/ Clomid June 2017

Senate Passes FY’18 Budget; Conference Committee to Reconcile Differences

Over the span of three days, the Massachusetts Senate dispensed with a little over 1,000 floor amendments and passed its version of the FY18 budget by a vote of 38-0. As with the House budget proposal, the Senate grappled with less revenue than expected and increased demands to fund MassHealth, pensions, and local aid. As stated within Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka’s remarks “[the] budget spends responsibly and maximizes state and federal revenue opportunities and efficiencies, recommending a total of $40.791 billion in spending, a 3.3% increase over FY17 spending. This spending recommendation is based on a projection of a $1.016 billion (3.9%) increase in tax revenue for FY18, as agreed upon during the Consensus Revenue process in January.”
Of particular interest to UCANE, there were a number of appropriations and amendments adopted to the budget proposal that improve the Commonwealth’s ability to address underground infrastructure, including but not limited to:

•Increased funding for the administration of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) by $1 million to $26 million. Additional funding for the DEP ensures that the administration of water infrastructure programs are not hindered by reduced staffing.
•Funding for the Underground Storage Tank (“UST) program under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 21J was set at $6.5 million. The UST program pays for the replacement of single lined fuel tanks to double lined fuel tanks for eligible entities.
•Additional language for the Clean Water Trust’s contract assistance line-item, making an important technical change to bring the budget language into conformity with Chapter 259 of the Acts of 2014 and more recent regulations to allow use of funds beyond only debt service to include principal forgiveness, interest rate reduction and other means of financial assistance was also included.
•The Commonwealth Rate Relief Fund was not funded, as per recent historical precedent, but has traditionally found its way into the final Conference Committee report.

An additional amendment effort is worth noting for UCANE members. Senator Julian Cyr and Senator Vin deMacedo, in the hopes of addressing Cape Cod’s water infrastructure needs, filed two amendments aimed at (a) creating a regional entity for tackling the region’s water infrastructure needs and (b) funding the water infrastructure needs through an optional 2.75% occupancy fee on short term rentals. While both initiatives were not adopted, it significantly raised the profile of water infrastructure needs; among Senate leadership. Expect to see this issue remain a priority matter for future consideration and potential action.

In terms of the final budget proposal to be sent to the Governor, a “Conference Committee” budget, negotiated between three Senate members and three House members, will be released for the Governor’s approval before July 1.

Senate Enters Employer Health Insurance Mandate Fray

One of the continuing issues that will be resolved in the Conference Committee report on the fiscal year 2018 budget is the issue of an employer assessment for paying for MassHealth’s expanding budget profile. Governor Baker originally proposed a $2,000-per-employee assessment upon companies at which at least 80 percent of full-time worker equivalents do not take the company’s offer of health insurance, and that do not make a minimum $4,950 annual contribution for each full-time worker. If 70 percent of a company’s employees accept company health insurance, the company would be assessed $2,000 per employee for the number of employees represented by the 10 percent difference. The Governor’s original proposal was met with stiff opposition from business groups throughout the Commonwealth.

Under the House proposal contained in its fiscal year 2018 budget proposal, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (“DOR”) may implement this employer assessment after engaging in a number of factor reviews. Specifically, the DOR, in consultation with the participating agencies, shall annually determine an appropriate employer contribution rate, an appropriate minimum qualified offer and an appropriate uptake rate. The DOR shall then assess an employer’s liability based on the determined employer contribution rate for those employers that do not meet the determined minimum qualified offer or the determined uptake rate based on the best available data. In determining an appropriate employer contribution rate, the DOR shall review and consider the following factors including, but not limited to: an employer’s contribution towards the minimum qualified offer; an employer’s number of employees; employee utilization of state and federal premium assistance and subsidies, including tax credits, or employees who receive MassHealth benefits; an employee’s state of residence; and employee access to other qualifying health insurance from a spouse, parent, veteran’s plan, Medicare, retirement, or disability. The House budget proposal requires the DOR to hold a public hearing to solicit feedback on any employer mandated assessment.

The recently passed Senate FY18 budget proposal also addresses this issue by giving the Baker Administration the choice of increasing the Employer Medical Assistance Contribution (EMAC) or creating a stand-alone quarterly assessment on employers. The Senate plan would raise $180 million from such assessments. (i.e. the Governor is hoping for $300 million for his assessment). The Senate proposal would also limit the duration of those assessments to two years. Under the Senate proposal, the Secretary of Administration and Finance must file a letter with the Legislature by August 1 indicating whether she will choose the EMAC or assessment option. Regulations must be published by November 1 and take effect January 1 of next year. If she chooses EMAC, which is a program which was created to provide health insurance to unemployed people, the rate would rise from .34 percent to .75 percent. If she establishes a separate employer assessment based upon whether or not an employer offers qualified health insurance and has a minimum uptake rate for that insurance, the secretary would have to consider the following in developing any assessment: (a) how much the employer pays toward the employee’s insurance; (b) how many employees they have; (c) whether or not their employees are Massachusetts residents; (d) how many employees are part-time and (e) whether or not their employees have access to health insurance through different private sources.

There have been no reported statements by either the Speaker of the House or the Senate President about which version of the employer mandate is likely to prevail in the Conference Committee report on the FY18 budget.

Baker-Polito Administration Files Unemployment Insurance Modernization Legislation

Governor Charlie Baker recently filed legislation to modernize the Commonwealth’s Unemployment Insurance program administered through the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA), including extending support to spouses of relocated military personnel and cost saving measures through electronic communications, expanding DUA’s ability to recoup fraudulently claimed benefits, and making it clear prison work-release programs are not means for qualifying for unemployment insurance upon release.

According to a press release from the Governor’s Office, the DUA, operated under the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, is responsible for managing the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program, which provides temporary income to Massachusetts workers who are unemployed through no fault of their own and are able, available, and actively looking for work. Recently, the UI program in Massachusetts has made an effort to reduce backlogs and wait times for decisions.

In particular, the Unemployment Insurance Modernization Legislation will:

•Support Relocated Military Families. The legislation corrects current statute to extend unemployment benefits to the spouses of relocated military personnel following a family member to a new legally-obligated duty assignment beyond commuting distance of their current job, recognizing the sacrifice families make for national defense.
•Implement Cost Saving Electronic Communications. Permits DUA to communicate via electronic means, and not just through the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), with claimants, 80% of which are already applying electronically. DUA anticipates postage budget savings of nearly 50% (FY16 Total: $1.1 Million, Projected Savings of Approximately $500,000) to be reinvested into language services, and additional cost and time savings for sending and processing. The provision includes opt-out means for those who lack reasonable access, or the ability to use electronic means, to continue using the USPS.
•Address Prison Work-Release Programs. The bill strikes current language and makes it clear in alignment with federal law, that inmates participating in work-release programs and still incarcerated are not eligible for unemployment benefits upon release. While inmates participating in these programs earn valuable experience and skills that prepare them for re-entry and reduce recidivism, current statute can limit employer participation and put them at risk of higher unemployment insurance taxes. Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, Texas and Vermont have enacted similar changes.
•Expand the Ability to Recoup Fraudulently Collected Benefits. The legislation lifts the ceiling for DUA’s weekly reclamation of fraudulently obtained benefits from 25% to 100% to enable DUA to recover fraudulently paid benefits more quickly. The change makes individuals who fraudulently collect unemployment benefits subject to the same potential offset penalty on future unemployment benefits as those who receive an erroneous overpayment through no fault of their own.

To review the proposed legislation, please visit: http://www.mass.gov/governor/legislationexecorder/legislation/modernize-the-administration-of-unemployment-insurance.html

House Passes Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

The Massachusetts House of Representatives recently passed House Bill 3680, An Act Establishing the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The legislation requires that employers provide pregnant women reasonable accommodations including “more frequent or longer paid or unpaid breaks, time off to recover from childbirth with or without pay, acquisition or modification of equipment, seating, temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, job restructuring, light duty, break time and private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk, assistance with manual labor, or modified work schedules.”

With 120 legislators co-sponsoring the legislation this year, the legislation was opposed by business organizations such as the Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) last session. During the intervening time between formal legislative sessions, AIM and the advocacy group MotherWoman worked on consensus legislation that balances the needs of pregnant women with the practical issues faced by employers.

Among the provisions in the legislation, the employer and employee shall engage in a timely, good faith, and interactive process to determine effective reasonable accommodations to enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the employee’s job. An employer may require that the documentation about the need for reasonable accommodation come from an appropriate health care or rehabilitation professional. An employee shall not be required to obtain documentation from an appropriate health care or rehabilitation professional for the following accommodations: (1) more frequent restroom, food, and water breaks; (2) seating; and (3) limits on lifting over 20 pounds. Written notice of the right to be free from discrimination in relation to pregnancy and related conditions, including the right to reasonable accommodations for conditions related to pregnancy or related conditions, pursuant to this subsection shall be distributed in a handbook or other means.

The legislation is expected to be passed by the Massachusetts Senate and then forwarded to the Governor’s desk for his approval. To review the recently passed legislation, please visit: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/190/H3680

United States Environmental Protection Agency Works to Improve Water Quality in Mystic Tributaries

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that it has entered into an agreement with the Town of Belmont, MA to address stormwater discharges of pollutants to the Mystic River watershed. While the Town has completed several rounds of sewer repairs over the past few years, recent EPA data indicated sewage from cracked and leaking sewers was making its way into the storm drain system and discharging to surface waters in the Mystic River watershed, including Winn’s Brook, Wellington Brook, and the Little River.

The agreement, in the form of an Administrative Order on Consent, requires the Town to submit an Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination Plan, assess its sanitary sewer system, and remove all illicit discharges to the system within five years. If removal within five years is not possible, the town must submit a schedule to EPA for approval.

According to a press release from the federal agency, this agreement is part of a larger effort by EPA New England, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and communities to improve water quality within the Mystic River watershed. Each year, EPA New England – in collaboration with the Mystic River Watershed Association – issues a Water Quality Report Card for the Mystic River Watershed. During the 2015 calendar year, tributaries feeding the Mystic River in Belmont including Winn’s Brook, Little River, and Alewife Brook received grades ranging from “F“ to “D+” based on poor bacterial water quality.

EPA used advanced monitoring techniques, such as the forensic analysis of selected pharmaceutical compounds commonly found in sewage, to identify illicit discharges of sewage to the storm drain system. This effort has allowed EPA to inform communities of exactly where illicit discharges are occurring so they can be addressed as quickly as possible.

As part of the Boston Harbor cleanup effort, EPA New England enforcement actions under the Clean Water Act have eliminated in excess of 37,000 gallons of sewage per day from discharging to storm drains in the Mystic River watershed, and have eliminated nearly 200,000 gallons per day of sewage discharging into the Boston Harbor watershed as a whole.
For more information about EPA’s Mystic River efforts, visit EPA’s web site at https://www.epa.gov/mysticriver