FY25 State Budget Discussion Heads to Conference

The MA House of Representatives moved forward with its own version of the FY25 state budget in April, with the House following Governor Maura Healey’s lead in authorizing an online and cashless lottery, but largely holding the line on any additional significant outside policy changes. House members filed 1,495 amendments to the proposed budget, which were dispensed with during debate in the last week of April. Regarding the amendments, RAM weighed in on proposals prohibiting the intentional release of helium balloons (support), restricting the sale of diet pills (oppose), reforming treatment of injured workers under workers compensation laws (oppose), and taxing synthetic nicotine products (oppose). Ultimately, each of those amendments were rejected, but the lottery provisions were included in the final budget bill passed by the House.

Apart from the annual budget debate, the House and Senate did also agree in late April on a final supplemental budget bill that addressed drinks-to-go and outdoor dining, the once temporary COVID-era policies that had expired on April 1st. The new law received quick approval from Governor Healey and allows for a permanent expansion of expedited permitting for outdoor dining and allows for cocktails-to-go, but not beer and wine.

Senate budget debate followed in May, where the final adopted version of the bill did not allow for an online lottery, but it did include the authorization for debit card use. With both branches having acted, a six-member House and Senate conference committee will now meet to come to a resolution on a final compromise FY25 budget to send on to the Governor for her review. The new fiscal year starts on July 1st.

Labor Bills Remain in Play

RAM continues to push for the passage of legislation which would provide employers with a right to cure for certain violations of the state Wage Act. The bill, H.4443, An Act clarifying the process for paying the wages of dismissed employees, would require claims for non-payment of wages upon termination of employment to be proceeded by a demand letter and 15-day opportunity to cure. The bill was filed in reaction to a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision which adopted a strict liability standard for imposing treble damages under the state Wage Act as it pertains to payment of wages to terminated employees. This ruling conflicted with 20 years of lower court precedent allowing for mitigation of damages so long as the wages owed were paid prior to the employee filing a claim. The bill received a favorable report from the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development and is now pending before the House Committee on Ways and Means.

Other labor issues still in play heading into the end of session include legislation increasing the eligibility threshold for receiving overtime compensation, prohibiting the use of credit reports in employment or hiring decisions, establishing victims of domestic abuse as a protected class and requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations, amending the Earned Sick Time Law to include pregnancy loss and domestic violence as qualifying events for taking leave, and bills to increase the minimum wage to $20.

Committee Releases Data Privacy Bill

The Joint Committee on Advanced Information Technology, the Internet and Cybersecurity recently released a redraft of the Massachusetts Data Privacy Act. In addition to establishing a comprehensive consumer data privacy framework, the language also includes provisions governing the treatment of biometric and geolocation data and requiring data brokers to register with the state. RAM remains very concerned with the bill’s inclusion of a private right of action for violations, the lack of a right to cure, the significant statutory penalties, and provisions that do not adequately protect retailer loyalty programs.

Duplicate versions of the bill have been referred to the Ways and Means Committees of both the House and Senate. RAM intends to continue active discussions with legislators on those areas of the bill that impact the retail industry.

Environmental Legislation Under Review

The Legislature continues to review a number of environmental bills of concern to the retail industry. Legislation to ban all single use plastics, including plastic bags, straws, food service containers, and more is pending before the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. Other bills that seek to reduce commercial waste and establish various extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws covering paint, mattresses, plastic packaging and more, remain before the House Committee on Ways and Means.

In opposing these bills, RAM asserts that Massachusetts is not an island, and that consumers can and will buy whatever they want from anywhere they want at any time. Product bans raise costs and simply force consumers to seek out the products they desire from competing sellers across state lines or online.

RAM Partners with NRF on Amicus Brief to the MA SJC regarding the Wiretap Act

The MA Supreme Judicial Court recently heard oral arguments in a pair of cases considering whether the use of certain commonly used website software constituted a violation of the state wiretap law. Similar class action lawsuits have been making their way across the country. In advance of oral arguments, RAM partnered with NRF to submit an amicus brief outlining the impact to the retail industry should the court find that such software violates the wiretap act.