Movement On Minimum Wage, Unemployment Insurance In Mass. Legislature

After Senate President Therese Murray worried that procedural delays could make the prospect of advancing a combined minimum wage and unemployment insurance bill take weeks, the bill flew through the Senate Thursday in a couple of hours, passing 34-5.

The vote sets up a dynamic where House and Senate leaders can finally get their proposals before a conference committee to come up with a consensus bill that will not be subject to amendment.

The House could appoint its negotiators as early as Monday, when its next session is planned.

While noting “it seems like years ago” that a minimum wage bill and unemployment insurance reform were flagged as legislative priorities, Sen. Dan Wolf (D-Harwich) urged his colleagues Thursday to focus on process and quickly re-approve the bill. Wolf said the goal is to get closer to helping an estimated 94,000 people he said earn the minimum wage in Massachusetts.

“We do not need to have a Groundhog Day on these issues,” said Wolf, co-chairman of the Labor and Workforce Development Committee.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said the substance of the bill was fair game.

“It’s important that we do consider the substance today,” Tarr said, urging senators to rethink portions of the bill that are “more onerous” to business.

Senators turned down a Tarr amendment substituting new language for the bill and calling for a $9.50 an hour minimum wage by 2016.

The Senate favors a gradual increase to an $11 an hour minimum wage while the House wants to ramp it up to $10.50. The Senate, unlike the House, also wants to index the minimum wage to inflation.

While Tarr called for changes to the bill, he said early in Thursday’s session that the bill’s advancement to conference committee is what “we all anticipate will be the likely result of what happens here today.”