Filtered by category: Legislative Issues Clear Filter


AUG. 2, 2016 • BY JON HURST
As is often the case, the recently concluded formal session of the Legislature featured some wins—mostly in the defeat of costly employer measures—but some losses, primarily the continuation of existing discriminatory policies, which either result in lower sales, or higher costs for local sellers.

One important win was the passage of a measure to keep the state’s innovative Small Business Health Insurance Cooperatives operating and serving employers of 50 and under. RAM operates one of the existing three co-ops in the state, and thanks the Legislature--in particular the House of Representatives--for recognizing the costly, discriminatory and unfair application of health insurance rates under federal ACA rules. In the Economic Development bill passed Sunday, an important section sponsored by Representative Kate Hogan (D-Stow) allows for new financial incentives to use wellness and provider transparency tools through small business cooperatives. In reaction to double digit premium increases for small employers following the passage of “RomneyCare,” the Legislature in 2010 authorized group purchasing through non-profit cooperatives with upfront premium discounts. Yet, those savings are evaporating under preemptive ACA requirements on state rate setting. The ACA required phase out of state rating factors, means no upfront premium flexibility remains to award employees for using wellness programs, or to shop around for the low cost, high quality healthcare providers—common practices for large employers. The new state legislation moves upfront premium incentives to the end of the insurance contract period in the form of rebates, which remains legal under federal rules. The section also encourages the Baker Administration to seek an Innovation Waiver from the federal government under the ACA to seek more flexibility and fairness for Massachusetts small businesses and their employees. Without rate flexibility and consumer financial incentives, small business health insurance premiums are more accurately labeled healthcare taxes.

Health insurance is a mandate which disproportionately disadvantages those who work for small businesses; and the cooperatives reform will help create more fairness. However, RAM is disappointed over the loss of two vital initiatives designed to ease other government imposed competitive discrimination, as they relate to the sales tax and to Blue Law restrictions.

For only the second time in the last twelve years, no Sales Tax Holiday was authorized for this August, meaning local sellers and our economy will lose hundreds of millions in sales to internet and New Hampshire competitors which enjoy 365 days a year of tax free sales. Those two days recover a remarkable amount of tax sensitive sales from consumers looking for a reason to invest their dollars locally. With accelerating mobile commerce growth—much of it untaxed—the 6.25% sales tax disparity is threatening the very future of our Main Streets and retail jobs in the Commonwealth. Government is picking winners and losers in the marketplace, and our losers are our local stores and employers.

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JUL. 19, 2016 • BY JON HURST

Statement of Jon Hurst, President, RAM, on the loss of the Sales Tax Holiday:

It is very disappointing to hear that our elected leaders are walking away from the Sales Tax Holiday, an important consumer event that incentivizes hundreds of millions of dollars in spending here locally in the Commonwealth. The MA Sales Tax Holiday has for years allowed local sellers to recapture sales to tax sensitive consumers that would otherwise be lost to New Hampshire or tax free online sites.

With New Hampshire on our border, and a very tech-savvy consumer base – who increasingly is using their Smartphone to buy tax-free in just a few screen swipes – the consumer incentive to take advantage of the Sales Tax Holiday has been vital to keeping billions of dollars in the local economy.

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JUL. 7, 2016 • BY JON HURST

Ask any small business owner what they need to be successful, to compete with big companies, to thrive alongside the new “innovation economy,” and to compete with smartphone sellers and they will likely tell you two things – higher sales and lower costs. And that is what RAM is pushing for in order to really help Main Street under the Economic Development bill making its way through the Legislature.

The following three issues are the best ways for state government to deliver on those higher sales and lower costs for our Main Street employers.

A 2016 Sales Tax Holiday

The Sales Tax Holiday (STH) has become an important event on the Massachusetts retail calendar and recognizes that consumer spending represents 70% of our economy. The key question is where do our consumers spend their money—locally, or in Silicon Valley or in NH? The Sales Tax Holiday is pro-consumer, pro-Main Street, and pro-retail employee. Consumers love it, and our Main Streets need it. Results have shown that during the STH weekend MA picks up hundreds of millions of impulse buys and recovered vital sales that would normally go to non-taxed locations in New Hampshire or online.

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The theft of property valued under $1,500 would become a misdemeanor in Massachusetts under a proposal passed in the Senate and now pending before the House. MA would follow the lead of 26 other states that have adjusted their felony thresholds, yet the five-fold increase proposed in MA exceeds the average threshold level of those states, which stands at $1,000.

While research conducted by the Pew Institute claims that there has been no increase in property crime in those states where a higher felony threshold has been adopted, retailers and law enforcement in California have begun to tell a different story.

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Over the past few years, an increasing number of Massachusetts cities and towns, roughly twenty or so at this point, have taken steps to regulate plastic bags. Early on, some communities adopted measures requiring plastic carry out bags to be of a certain thickness (mils), banning anything thinner than the standard they set in their ordinance or by-law.

Taking the issue a step further, an ordinance took effect last month in the City of Cambridge that prohibits so called, single-use plastic bags with handles at the point of sale, and instituted a mandatory minimum $0.10 charge for any bag that is provided to a customer, such as a paper, compostable or reusable bag. Now a statewide bill, H.4168, An Act to reduce plastic bag pollution, has advanced out of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, that includes the mandatory $0.10 charge for any bag provided, but also bans outright ALL plastic bags – including the reusable plastic bags they’ve been telling us to use for years!

When did the plastic bag become Public Enemy Number One?

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MAR. 31, 2016 • BY JON HURST

They said it would get rid of the free riders, require personal responsibility, and therefore prevent unfair cost shifts. They said it would mean lower costs as the newly insured would stop using high cost and unnecessary emergency rooms and instead go to the proper setting for the proper care. They said it would help our local hospitals by better managing federal Medicaid money, which in turn would help stop unfair cross subsidies from commercial payers to providers covering government funded patients. They said it would create more competition, choices, defined contribution options and lower costs for small businesses and their employees through a state exchange.

And so on April 12, 2006 Chapter 58, or “RomneyCare” was signed into law; to be essentially copied—but also in too many ways to be preempted by the ACA (ObamaCare) four years later.

It is important on this 10 year anniversary to look at the political promises of both RomneyCare, and then the national version ObamaCare, and to determine the outcomes. In truth, none of the above promises have been achieved; but rather the consequences have created huge cost increases for small businesses, while enriching the largest providers and pharma companies. And looking back at the big money interests behind the efforts on both Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill, are we really surprised?

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MAR. 14, 2016 • BY JON HURST

Maybe crime really does pay. At least it would under legislation recently passed by the Massachusetts Senate which increases the felony threshold contained in a number of our property crime statutes from $250 to $1,500. It allows fraudsters to run up $1,499 in charges on your credit card and thieves to steal or destroy up to $1,499 of your personal property with no risk of receiving meaningful repercussions. It also emboldens professional and sophisticated criminals who treat theft as a low risk, high reward activity due to our already weak criminal laws. It essentially decreases their cost of doing business while increasing the price you pay for consumer goods.

Annually, the Massachusetts retail industry loses an estimated $750 million in stolen merchandise, potentially worth $46.8 million in lost sales tax revenue. A cost shared by you in the form of higher prices—approximately $400 per household. The majority of these losses are attributed to organized crime rings using proceeds to fund other criminal activities including drug trafficking, arms dealing and even terrorism.

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JAN. 28, 2016 • BY JON HURST

For many years now, RAM has asked our state leaders to reform costly and anti-competitive laws which hurt our local employers and benefit out of state and new technology competitors. The antiquated Massachusetts Blue Laws prevent higher sales, and make it far more costly to serve your customers, meaning less operating hours, slimmer margins, and higher prices. We asked the prior Governor to fix the discriminatory Sunday premium pay requirement, and didn’t get it. Last year, I served on the Baker Administration’s Economic Development Planning Council and specifically asked for this reform.

Today the Baker Administration filed their Economic Development bill without the requested retailer Blue Law reform, and even more surprising and disappointing was the fact that the online sellers—like Amazon—did get a clarification in the bill that they don’t need to adhere to the Blue Law requirements.

Millions of Massachusetts taxpayer dollars have been given to Amazon by the state to locate warehouses in the Commonwealth, and now Governor Baker has proposed to clarify that Amazon is not a retailer, and therefore not required under the Blue Laws to pay time and a half on Sundays. Not included was an equal reform or exemption for real Massachusetts retail employers on Main Street or in struggling malls. To say RAM is disappointed in the Baker Administration is an understatement.

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The following letter to the editor appeared in the Boston Herald's January 22nd print edition. It was prepared in response to a previously published Herald Op-Ed discussing the inherent flaws of the "Fight for $15" campaign. In addition to the general concerns identified in the Op-Ed, the LTE shines a light on two major outliers in Massachusetts wage law which would result in additional costs to the reatil industry in the event a $15 minimum wage proposal proved successful.

$15 mandate goes too far

The Herald is correct in saying that “the ‘Fight for 15’ campaign is flawed” (“Wage protest on radar,” Jan. 19). Presented as a grassroots social movement, this union-led campaign is designed to accomplish through one-size-fits-all legislation what its leaders could not accomplish at the negotiation table. This approach ignores the negative economic impact to small employers — our primary engine for new job growth — who will struggle to afford new labor costs. The result will be fewer job opportunities for the very workers the campaign claims to support.

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Last summer I paid a considerable sum to have my house painted by a local, North Shore painting contractor. But the money was worth it, and I was pleased not only with the quality of the work, and but also with the fact that the contractor bought all the paint from our local RAM member, mom & pop hardware store. The local economy benefited, as did the taxman because the contractor didn’t take the trip to NH or go online to buy that large quantity of paint in order to avoid the 6.25% sales tax. But it got me thinking, where is the tipping point that pushes a contractor or a do-it-yourselfer to decide to take that ride north of the border to avoid higher, government imposed costs?

Being debated in the Massachusetts Legislature is a bill (S2052) that may indeed be that tipping point which pushes sales away from our local hardware and paint stores. Written by big paint manufacturers trying to pass the buck to consumers on the cost to fund their industry’s product collection and recycling program, this new tax on top of the state sales tax will push the cost differential between a Massachusetts and New Hampshire store for a gallon of paint to around $4 per gallon.

Although a few other states have passed this industry model bill being peddled by paint manufacturer lobbyists, I wonder if those manufacturers have stopped to consider what the very detrimental impact will be on their Massachusetts retailer customers, which must deal every day with the competitive pressures of non-taxed sellers. The reality is that just as consumers can easily avoid the sales tax by a quick drive or a few strokes of the smartphone, so too will they be able to avoid this paint tax.

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On December 22, 1982, Governor Ed King signed a bill into law to allow retail stores to open on Sunday. The law required that most retail employees also be paid time and a half wages for voluntary work on Sunday. The minimum wage in 1982 was $3.35. Music fans were shopping in record stores for Michael Jackson’s newly released album, Thriller, on cassette tape.

Times have changed. The economy has changed. There are almost no record stores left and cassette tapes are obsolete. Yet, the Sunday premium pay law lives on. With the Massachusetts minimum wage set to increase to $10.00 on January 1, the minimum wage on Sunday for a 16 year old cashier will be $15.00 an hour, while across the border in New Hampshire the minimum remains at $7.25. By 2017 it will increase to $16.50. Sundays in retail have become unaffordable in Massachusetts.

Retail is the only industry in the Commonwealth required by law to pay a Sunday premium. No other sector – hospitality, government, health care, entertainment – is required to do so, and only one other state, Rhode Island, shares this requirement.

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Massachusetts employers still struggling to comply with and adjust to the negative impact of the new Paid Sick Leave Law could be facing yet another, similarly egregious and costly, employer mandate at the 2016 ballot should proponents of a recently filed initiative petition (15-35) mandating employee scheduling standards prove successful. The measure, which has been described by many in the employer community as one of the worst pieces of legislation ever written, requires certain businesses to pay one to four hours of additional pay to employees whose schedule is changed within 14 days of a scheduled shift. In doing so the proposal would follow an ever growing and increasingly troubling trend of government intrusion into the employer-employee relationship and general business operations, resulting in significant costs to employers and unintended consequences for employees.

Unfortunately, the true impact and cost of the proposal are unknown due to poor drafting which fails to clearly identify those subject to its requirements. While the proponents claim that the law only applies to fast food restaurant and retail stores with 75 or more state-wide employees, the ambiguous and conflicting provisions of the measure allow for expansion to all employers, including public employers, through regulation or judicial interpretation. The proposed scheduling requirement itself is bad enough, however the uncertainty of not knowing if the law will apply to one’s business is particularly troublesome—especially due to the tie in to the Massachusetts Wage Law which allows for a private right of action and the possibility of treble damages. Inadvertent exposure to such liability as the result of imprecise lawmaking is simply unacceptable.

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Before you go running to the mall to take advantage of the sales tax holiday in Massachusetts on August 15th and 16th, consumer experts advise that you do your homework to evaluate the sales being advertised and understand the nuances of the law.

“Just because you can save 6.25 percent on a purchase, doesn’t mean that this is the best time to buy that big ticket item,” explained Edgar Dworsky, founder of “You have to compare prices to be sure you are getting a good sale price to start with, and then saving the sales tax on top of that is an added bonus.”

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AUG. 12, 2015 • BY JON HURST

During the last week of July, the Massachusetts Legislature overwhelmingly passed the 11th sales tax holiday held over the past 12 years. For that action, countless mom and pop retailers are very grateful. The holiday represents a state version of Small Business Saturday, in which our public policy leaders create real consumer incentives, and send a very strong message to our residents that it matters where they spend their dollars. And in these days of unlimited shopping options—including countless tax free sites right on our smartphones combined with price comparison applications--the state incentive is far more important today than it was in the first year, 2004.

If the Sales Tax Holiday helps your sales and traffic and that of your local retail community, please be sure to thank your local legislators for this important economic investment. It is vital for the future that they know it is important to you and your customers.

The sales tax holiday this year was more controversial than in past years due to rhetoric from the opposite ends of the political spectrum. On the right, there were arguments that the two days are nothing more than “crumbs” to small businesses and to taxpayers. To those opponents, I say if you are starving, you will take the crumbs.

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JUL. 7, 2015 • BY JON HURST

As the calendar moves past Independence Day weekend and the state budget gets finalized, the question is now being asked by stores and consumers alike on whether Massachusetts will enjoy a weekend of tax-free shopping this August. If authorized, a 2015 Sales Tax Holiday would be the eleventh in the last twelve years. Stores and Main Streets would be packed with consumers enjoying both the 6.25% tax savings on items up to $2,500, along with the sale prices many stores would be offering.

Starting with the first “Sales Tax Holiday” held in 2004, shoppers have embraced this late summer event providing Massachusetts Main Street retailers, and the state’s economy, with a much needed economic boost at an otherwise very slow time. Eighteen states normally authorize sales tax holidays, but none as successful as the Massachusetts event. And with the incredible growth of smartphone/mobile commerce just over the last couple of years, this state incentive is becoming even more important to keep hundreds of millions of dollars in our state rather than lose sales to tax-free internet sellers. While virtually all of our elected leaders agree that the sales tax holiday is good politics, some question if it is good policy. Here’s why it is:

Consumers Vote With Their Dollars: Past sales tax holidays have created a December-like weekend in what would normally be empty stores and Main Streets. And a May, 2015, poll by Opinion Dynamics showed that 72% would be Very Likely or Somewhat Likely to shop locally instead of in New Hampshire or on the Internet if the Legislature and Governor re-authorize future sales tax holidays. The consumer represents 70% of our economy, and consumer spending has a multiplier effect that determines whether new jobs and investment will be made by wide variety of employer sectors. The Sales Tax Holiday is truly an economic stimulus of the most effective form.

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The following frequently asked questions have been prepared by Morgan, Brown & Joy partner Tracy Boland to provide employers guidance as to how to comply with the new Paid Sick Leave law. Members are advised to refer to these materials when creating their new sick leave policy. Members are also reminded that RAM is working on an updated model employee handbook which will include language pertaining to the requirements of the Paid Sick Leave Law. We hope to have the handbook available early next week. In the meantime please feel fre to contact the RAM office directly with any questions ro concerns.

Massachusetts Attorney General Issues
Final Regulations Governing Earned Sick Time

On Friday, June 19, 2015, the Massachusetts Attorney General released the final Regulations governing the application of the Earned Sick Time law that voters approved last November. These Regulations are intended to provide guidance – beyond the terms of the law itself – as to the practical application of the law.

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A top priority for RAM early in this legislative session is a return of the Sales Tax Holiday (STH) in 2015. Legislation was filed on our behalf at the beginning of this session to establish August 15-16, 2015, as a Sales Tax Holiday weekend. RAM staff has been laying the groundwork, discussing the issue with legislators over the past few months, and recently contracted with a consultant to study the overall economic impacts of the Sales Tax Holiday. It is our belief that this study will show the positive added economic benefits to the Commonwealth that result from a tax free weekend and this will further support our lobbying efforts. We are requesting that all RAM members, particularly those who have benefited from past holidays, click here to take this brief confidential survey to assist in the data collection for the study.

Also, RAM recently paid to add a question regarding consumer interest in future tax free weekends to a broader statewide poll. That question and the results are here:

If the Massachusetts Legislature and Governor re-authorize future Sales Tax Holidays, how likely will you be to participate by shopping nearby and keeping your consumer dollars local instead of buying online or in New Hampshire:

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Yesterday Attorney General Maura Healey announced her decision to issue safe harbor from the Massachusetts Paid Sick Leave Law for employers with existing paid time off policies. The safe harbor provides qualifying employers a six-month transition period before they must bring their policies into compliance with the requirements specified in the law. A copy of the announcement can be found here.

In order to be eligible to take advantage of the safe harbor provision an employer’s policy must be

in place as of May 1, 2015,
provide at least 30 hours of job protected paid time off during the 2015 calendar year, and
available to all workers—full-time and part-time; employers that currently have a policy for full-timers but not part-timers may add part-timers to the existing policy to qualify.
Employers taking the safe harbor will still have to bring their policies into compliance with the requirements of the law by January 1, 2016. Employers not meeting these criteria are required to adopt and implement a compliant policy by July, 1 2015.

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Safe Harbor Update and Model Employer Notification Poster

In May, Attorney General Maura Healey announced her decision to issue safe harbor from the Massachusetts Paid Sick Leave Law for employers with existing paid time off policies. Yesterday, in response to growing concerns from the employer community, the AGO issued an update providing further guidance as to how employers are to comply with the safe harbor provision. The AGO’s clarification may make the safe harbor a viable option to more employers than originally anticipated.

The safe harbor provides qualifying employers a six-month transition period before they must bring their policies into compliance with requirements specified in the law. An employer is eligible to take advantage of the safe harbor if:

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APR. 3, 2015 • BY JON HURST

For more than a decade since the debate and passage of Chapter 58—or “RomneyCare”—RAM has made it a top priority to seek health insurance marketplace equality and legal fairness for small businesses and their employees. Numerous state reforms created opportunities for that fairness in premiums, including the passage of legislation authorizing small business cooperatives. But a combination of overbearing and preemptive federal rules under the ACA, as well as an explosion of state health insurance mandates have created the most costly and unfair market, and economic stifling environment for small businesses in recent memory. The bottom line is that the employees of small businesses are in effect second class consumers under the law and in the market for health insurance. The unfair levels of cross subsidies, the rising premiums, and the inequality in choices in coverage are little understood, yet are very real and very discriminatory.

RAM’s annual member survey of premiums for 2015 showed an average increase of 11%, and that is on top of an identical 11% increase last year. Those levels of increases simply are not occurring for big business or big government risk pools. No one can convince me that the employees of small businesses are less healthy than those receiving taxpayer supported coverage, or those working for big, self-insured employers. It is time to educate our state and federal leaders to this discrimination and this threat to our small businesses. Small employers compete every day for both customers and employees with big business. It is one thing for government to say small businesses must provide insurance, and their employees must purchase insurance. But to do that and then require far more expensive and extensive coverage than what exists for others means that we have a government rigged system.

Please take a few moments to click here and review the results of our annual survey, and join RAM in educating your state and federal elected officials on this most urgent of cost issues.