Amazon, Blue Laws And Sex Offender Tracking: The Week Ahead On Beacon Hill

Oct 2, 2017

A week after Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced he was courting the massive Amazon headquarters to come to his state, the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development will be addressing issues that could affect the giant retailer.

State House News Service reporter Matt Murphy talks about one piece of legislation that would require e-commerce warehouses and fulfillment centers to pay time-and-a-half on Sunday, just like brick and mortar retailers pay.

NEPR’s Carrie Healy: If this measure passes, will it scare Amazon away?

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: It’s an interesting dynamic... [T]he state and cities and towns are putting together individual bids to try and lure this HQ2, as they call it — the second Amazon headquarters — to Massachusetts, and as many as 50,000 new jobs.

Several years ago, Massachusetts gave an exemption to Amazon, which has some order-filling warehouses in Massachusetts. [It] gave them an exemption from the time-and-a-half law on Sunday, the old “blue law” that requires you to, you know, pay these workers extra.

And that was an exemption that was given to Amazon and other companies like it, but essentially it applied to Amazon. And I am sure that is something that Amazon is going to want to keep. But we haven’t heard a lot from leadership about changing that law.

So it’d be interesting to see feedback from the committee when the bill does get its hearing this week.

How hard would it be if somebody wanted to remove that “blue law”?

It would take another act of the legislature to go back on that, and basically force them to comply with the rules, just like most other retailers do.

Which kind of plays into what people like the retailers association have been crying foul about: that there are these brick and mortar Main Street stores competing on an uneven playing field with these internet giants, and they just can’t keep up.

It feels like Massachusetts lawmakers only just began holding formal sessions, and they only have about a month and a half left before they take another break.What are the highlights of what they have accomplished so far, and what's likely to be covered in the next six weeks?

Yeah, I mean, it’s been one of those very slow-to-get-going sessions. And I mean, it’s not unusual for the first year of a two-year session to be kind of staging time for the second year, when a lot of the action happens. But this year, I would say, has been particularly kind of quiet.

And apart from the pay raises that they enacted to start the year, and getting an annual budget done, very little of significant consequence has been accomplished.

Now, the Senate last week put out a template for its idea for criminal justice reform. I would expect to see some action on that this fall.

We’re hearing that the Senate is getting closer to a health care cost control bill, or at least looking at kind of constraining the growth in spending and Medicaid. That could be popping this fall.

But you know, I wouldn’t be surprised, given the looming November winter recess, to see some of this stuff punted until the new year.

Anything special going on in the House?

You know, the House has come back; they’ve done several hundred million dollars in overrides, restoring some of their priorities to the budget the governor vetoed. They’ve been a little less open about their agenda, I would say, than the Senate.

The speaker has said he wants to consider criminal justice reform. We’ll see if they act on the Senate bills that the Senate is putting out, and probably to act on first. And, you know, that’s — the House is more of a guessing game, I would say.

Back to the Senate, there was an audit released last week that found the state had lost track of hundreds of convicted sex offenders. And as a result, the Senate Republicans' Post Audit and Oversight Committee is likely going to hold a hearing into those lapses in that sex offender tracking and classification board. When do we expect to hear more news on that front?

Yeah, this letter was just written and sent to the Senate post-audit committee by the six Republicans in the Senate on Thursday. And we’ve not yet heard from the chairwoman of that committee, Newburyport Democrat Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives, whether or not she intends to pick up this issue. She does have a hearing scheduled for this week, where she’s looking into bus privatization.

So once they get that behind them, I could see them turning their attention to this. That auditor [Suzanne] Bump last week got a lot of attention. We’re talking basically: she found some 900 sex offenders who had not been classified in Massachusetts, and about 800 where the board — the sex offender registry board — did not have the most current addresses for these sex offenders, which I think grabbed a lot of attention up here, and could be something that sparks some action fairly quickly. But we are waiting to hear whether or not that hearing will take place.

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