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As Session Closes, MA Lawmakers Approve Equal Pay And Energy Bills

The Massachusetts State House
Jim Levulis

Massachusetts lawmakers worked late into the night Sunday to hammer out legislation and send it to the governor before their session wrapped up.One of the five major pieces of legislation moved to Republican Governor Charlie Baker’s desk is an omnibus energy bill. Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier serves on the House Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change.

“The highlights for me are the requirements for procurement of the offshore wind and the large hydro procurement that we’re going to be doing,” Farley-Bouvier said. “So that’s going to make us less reliant on natural gas for our energy needs. The idea is to be able to bring down energy prices for commercial and residential customers.”

The Pittsfield Democrat says credits to make waste-to-energy facilities, like the Covanta site in Pittsfield, more economically feasible were included in the bill. In July, the company announced plans to close the facility in March. The group Environment Massachusetts applauded the bill’s push to bring offshore wind power to the Bay State, but says it falls short in other areas. In a statement, the group says the Senate version would have doubled the rate of growth of clean energy and prohibited the use of public money to pay for the construction of new gas pipelines, but those provisions were omitted from the final bill. Environment Massachusetts Director Ben Hellerstein addressed the issue during a July event in Pittsfield.

“One-hundred percent renewables is where we need to get to,” Hellerstein said. “Now is the time for us to take big steps, not baby steps in the right direction.”

The legislature also passed bills regulating ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, municipal modernization and economic development. Ahead of the last-minute scramble, lawmakers unanimously approved legislation requiring men and women be paid equally for comparable work. Senator Pat Jehlen, a Democrat from Somerville, sponsored the bill. She’s worked on pay equity for more than 10 years.

“It says that when you’re hiring someone you can’t ask about their previous salary history,” Jehlen said. “That is a practice which locks women into lower salaries for their whole career. It asks companies to perform self-audits of their pay practices because it will allow people to discover unintentional discrimination. If they do those self-audits and remedy any unintentional discrimination that they may have done then they can use it if anybody tries to sue them.”

Salary information can be offered voluntarily. Companies that don’t abide by the statutes are subject to lawsuits and fines. Supporters say women are currently paid on average about 82 percent of what their male counterparts make for comparable work in Massachusetts. The bill's supporters say Massachusetts would be the first state to adopt a provision defining what comparable work is. Jehlen says the bill gained support from the business community after advocates reached out to groups like the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

“They described some of the things that might be bonafide reasons that there would discrepancies in pay that would not be discriminatory,” Jehlen said. “For example: location, requirements of travel, bonafide merit, bonafide seniority. All of those are things that were added with their assistance.”

Governor Baker was scheduled to sign the bill Monday.

The legislature did not reach a compromise on a bill to restrict non-compete clauses in employment contracts. Such clauses restrict the ability of workers to leave a company and immediately go to work for or start a competing firm. The House passed a bill that would limit to 12 months the length of a non-compete clause. But the Senate went further, limiting the duration to just three months. Companies defend non-competes as necessary to protect trade secrets and intellectual property, but critics say they stifle innovation and entrepreneurship.

The legislature also overrode some of Baker’s vetoes including spending for combating opioid abuse and monies for the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Lawmakers also overrode the governor’s veto of a bill requiring insurance companies cover antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease for any length of time, when prescribed by a physician.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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