Tag Archives: legislation

Guess who’s hiding again? Oregon Republicans hoping to squash a climate bill.

When it came time to vote on a bill to limit greenhouse gas emissions in the Oregon Senate on Monday, the Republican state senators’ chairs were empty. All of them except state Senator Tim Knopp of Bend had run away from Salem in an attempt to kill Oregon’s cap-and-trade bill. Again.

That left Democrats one senator short of the 20 they need to hold a vote, effectively putting the state government on pause. If signed into law, the legislation would make Oregon the second state in the country after California to adopt a cap-and-trade program. But that would require bringing Republicans back to Salem.

It’s the third walkout by Oregon Republicans in 10 months: the first for a business tax to raise money for Oregon schools, and the second for the vote on the cap-and-trade bill last June, which ended up lacking enough Democratic support to pass.

“Frankly, the entire world is watching,” Governor Kate Brown said in a news conference on Monday. “We need to get this done now. The votes are there to pass it straight up.”

Brown said she had “bent over backwards” to make compromises with the Senate Republicans. “They’re adults,” she said. “They need to come back to the building. They need to do the jobs they were elected to do. And instead, they’re taking a taxpayer-funded vacation.”

There are still two weeks left of the 35-day legislative session — and if one of the senators comes back, it’ll be enough to hold a vote.

The Senate Republicans have been threatening to walk out for weeks, arguing that Democrats were refusing to compromise with them on the cap-and-trade bill, which is opposed by some odd bedfellows. The logging industry argues that it would raise fuel costs, threatening a compromise the industry had made with the state’s environmental groups. Climate activists with Portland’s Sunrise Movement oppose the cap-and-trade policy, arguing that it isn’t strict enough.

Despite Oregon’s reputation as a green state, a fact sheet from the Northwest-based Climate Solutions shows that it’s falling behind on taking steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Though other states have passed policies to put a price on carbon, raised fuel standards, and committed to a timeline for running on totally clean electricity, Oregon is not among them. If the state government doesn’t do something soon, according to Climate Solutions, Oregon won’t be able to meet its own emissions goals for 2020.


Guess who’s hiding again? Oregon Republicans hoping to squash a climate bill.

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Fight over Puerto Rico funds puts Senate disaster aid package on hold

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Because it’s a day that ends with y, the government is still balking at providing much-needed disaster aid to Puerto Rico. Two bipartisan disaster aid bills failed to make it out of the Senate this week over disputes about how much relief to give the U.S. territory, which is still recovering from the destruction wrought by Hurricane Maria nearly two years ago.

On Monday, senators took test votes on two competing measures. The Republican-led faction of the Senate pushed for a $13.45 billion legislation package, which included $600 million for the island’s Nutritional Assistance Program a.k.a food stamps. (Puerto Ricans living on the Caribbean island are four times more likely to be considered food insecure than people stateside.) Democrats thought the bill didn’t go far enough, instead opting to support a House-passed relief bill, which gives hundreds of millions of dollars more for Puerto Rico than the GOP version.

Each bill would have been a massive disaster aid package for victims of flooding, wildfires, tornadoes, and hurricanes across the country, not just aid for Puerto Rico. The Democratic version does not include funding for the historic flooding that swept through the Midwest in mid-March, as the measure was completed and passed in January before the spring storms, but Dems say they are open to adding it.

But neither piece of legislation got the green light to advance to a full floor vote, meaning disaster victims across the country are stuck waiting for much-needed aid. Delays have already led to Puerto Rico’s food stamp program being cut by 25 percent.

“It is the responsibility of the federal government to stand with all American communities in crisis, and we must do so now,” Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, told NPR. “The needs are pressing. The people are waiting.”

President “[I’m] the best thing to happen to Puerto Rico” is not helping the situation. He took to Twitter on Tuesday to blast (and grossly exaggerate) the amount of aid the federal government has already given to the island and (falsely) claim that Puerto Rico has received more disaster relief than many U.S. states.

The rant was very on-brand for the insult-hurling, paper towel-throwing president. Back in January, Trump reportedly told members of his staff that he doesn’t want “another single dollar” going to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

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Fight over Puerto Rico funds puts Senate disaster aid package on hold

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Inside the bill that set the ‘strongest clean energy requirement in the nation’

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This story was originally published by CityLab and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Washington, D.C., is positioning itself on the climate policy fast track. The District of Columbia city council voted unanimously last week to approve an expansive climate bill requiring utility providers to generate 100 percent of their energy supply from renewable sources by 2032. If D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser signs the legislation as expected, the provisions will put the nation’s capital on a faster, formally pledged timeline toward cutting utility emissions than any U.S. state. (Hawaii and California have both pledged state-wide goals of 100 percent renewable energy for electricity by 2045.)

While several smaller cities have already reached similar 100-percent renewable energy targets, Washington, D.C., is by far the largest city to make such a commitment. And that’s not all that’s in the bill. Together, the provisions were dubbed the “strongest clean energy requirement in the nation,” by Mark Rodeffer, D.C. Sierra Club chapter chair.

So what’s in D.C.’s bill? And what can the rest of us learn from it, at a time when cities and states are racing to fill the gap left by federal regulators to slow climate change?

What the bill regulates: Electricity and some transportation

D.C.’s new bill is intended to dramatically decrease emissions from one of the most common sources, electricity, by ratcheting up the requirements on utility providers. D.C.’s current law already mandates that utility providers derive 50 percent of their energy supply from renewable sources by 2032, with 5 percent carved out for solar. The new bill doubles these figures to 100 percent renewables by 2032 with 10 percent solar by 2041.

Buildings account for 74 percent of D.C.’s carbon emissions. And the bill also establishes a separate program to set benchmarks for energy efficiency for the largest buildings in the city, those with more than 10,000 square feet of gross floor area. The specific standards, however, have not yet been set. According to Cliff Majersik, the Institute for Market Transformation executive director who worked on the bill, D.C. will become the first U.S. jurisdiction “to require a broad swath of existing buildings to improve their whole-building energy performance.”

The bill also tackles another major contributor of emissions: transportation. While the bill won’t do anything to regulate residents’ private transportation choices, it will regulate the city’s own contributions: By 2045, all public transportation and privately owned vehicle fleets in D.C. will have to produce zero emissions.

How would the bill be implemented?

The burden falls on utility companies to meet benchmarks for renewable electricity — or pay a price. Every year, the city sets renewable energy standards for companies to hit that increase incrementally until they reach 100 percent in 2032. What happens if companies don’t meet those standards? The city requires electricity suppliers to to make compliance payments into D.C.’s Renewable Energy Development Fund.

There are other guaranteed revenue sources to fund other parts of the bill. Utility companies serving D.C. are already required to collect fees from customers who use natural gas and electricity. These fees are put toward a fund for D.C.’s energy efficiency efforts. But this bill temporarily raises those per-unit rates and creates a new fee on home heating and fuel oil to raise even more money for energy efficiency. (D.C. residents who make under a certain income, with the amount dependent on household size, will still be eligible for utilities discounts.)

Helping low-income residents transition to clean energy

Some of the revenue from increased fees will be used to help low-income communities adapt.

“Communities that have done the least to cause climate change [are] disproportionately bearing the burden of climate change,” Judith Howell, a member of the labor union 32BJ SEIU, said in a statement. “Working people in the U.S. and around the world will be extremely vulnerable to those changes.”

Thirty percent of the additional revenue will be put aside for programs like weatherization and bill assistance for low-income households, as well as job training in energy efficiency fields. At least $3 million annually will also be allocated toward energy efficiency upgrades in affordable housing buildings.

The criticism that watered down one requirement for utilities

In November, local energy company Pepco ran some misleading ads on Facebook urging D.C. residents to “act now” and “act boldly” to achieve a “sustainable vision.” When users clicked through to a petition, what it was asking was that its customers oppose a provision of the bill requiring Pepco to use long-term contracts for renewable energy.

WAMU’s Jacob Fenston wrote in November:

“Pepco wants residents to sound off on one small piece of the legislation: a requirement that Pepco purchase renewable energy under long-term contracts. According to the DOEE analysis, this provision would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent by 2032.”

Majersik told CityLab that the long-term contract provision Pepco opposed was stripped from the bill, but may be proposed as part of a new bill in 2019. Ultimately, Pepco supported the revised bill and released a statement calling the legislation an “important step toward advancing the cause of clean energy.”

Among the primary supporters of the bill was the D.C. Climate Coalition, which included over 110 advocacy organizations, faith groups, unions, consumer advocate organizations, and D.C. businesses.

Camila Thorndike, D.C. campaign director at the CCAN Action Fund said in a press release: “With the passage of this bill, we’re taking the power back from President Trump and taking control of our energy future.”

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Inside the bill that set the ‘strongest clean energy requirement in the nation’

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Utah sobers up from climate denial

The flamboyantly conservative state of Utah — home to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, an all-Republican government, and the Utah Jazz — now officially recognizes climate change, thanks to a bunch of kids.

Seven high-school students stood behind the desk of Gov. Gary Herbert this week as he signed the climate change resolution they’d championed. The resolution acknowledges the existence of climate change, calls for cutting carbon emissions, and states that ratcheting down carbon need not “constrain the economy nor its global competitiveness.”

The students started their push for this legislation back in 2010, after Utah lawmakers passed a resolution calling on the federal government to stop efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions until there was more evidence that climate change was a thing.

The students then found an ally, Rebecca Edwards, a Republican representative in the state House, who introduced their resolution. After two years of lobbying, it passed by a wide margin.

Grist has been writing about Republicans who want to act on climate change for years now. The problem has been that members of the eco-right often get voted out of office if they take too strong a stand. Conservative media outlets have long argued that climate action is a liberal plot to expand big government, and now that idea is baked into the orthodoxy of the Republican base. But the Republican party is changing. It’s not enough for lawmakers to listen to aging Rush Limbaugh “dittoheads.” They also have to consider their younger constituents, who are twice as likely to accept that humans are causing climate change as Republican boomers.

Millennial Republicans aren’t exactly hardcore climate hawks, though: just 36 percent think that climate change is mostly our fault, while 59 percent say it’s having an effect on the United States, according to a Pew poll.

The Utah resolution matches that sentiment. It doesn’t single out humans as culprits and emphasizes the potential for competitive markets and innovation to curb emissions. That’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn (excuse me, Utah) pretty darn good for a start.

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Utah sobers up from climate denial

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Look at These Republicans Celebrating a Bill That Will Gut Health Care for Millions

Mother Jones

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President Donald Trump stood alongside House Republicans in the Rose Garden Thursday to applaud the narrow passage of legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare. The bill, also known as the American Health Care Act, aims to effectively gut health care coverage for millions, cut Medicaid funding by 25 percent, and allow states to deny coverage for a slew of pre-existing conditions.

“As much as we’ve come up with a really incredible health care plan, this has brought the Republican party together,” Trump said. “We’re going to get this finished.”

While there were a handful of female lawmakers present, many on social media pointed to the overwhelming presence of white men on hand to celebrate a bill that seeks to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood and make pregnancy significantly more expensive:

The setting also appeared somewhat premature, considering the Rose Garden has been historically reserved to mark bill signings. (The American Health Care Act is still subject to a Senate vote.) Still, Trump and Republicans on hand struck a triumphant note.

“Thanks to the leadership of President Donald Trump, welcome to the beginning of the end of Obamacare,” Vice President Mike Pence said, prompting loud applause.

Earlier Thursday, cases of beer were reportedly spotted entering the Capitol, as it became clear Republicans had secured enough votes to ensure the bill’s passage. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), fresh out of foot surgery, also returned to Congress to cast his vote. Many on social media derided his appearance:

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Look at These Republicans Celebrating a Bill That Will Gut Health Care for Millions

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Democrats Introduce Legislation Targeting Trump on Conflicts

Mother Jones

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Congressional Democrats filed new legislation on Monday in both the House and Senate that would force Donald Trump and future presidents to obey the same strict conflict-of-interest laws governing other federal officials.

In 11 days, Trump is poised to enter the White House with unprecedented conflicts. His public disclosures of his personal finances show interests in hundreds of businesses, billions in assets, and more than $700 billion in debts—including entanglements with foreign investors and lenders. Trump has said he will only step back from overseeing the businesses he owns, but he has so far declined to divest any of his assets (or the debts attached to them), citing the fact that federal conflict-of-interest laws exempt the president and vice president. The legislation introduced by congressional Democrats would remove this exemption and categorize a violation of conflict-of-interest regulations as an impeachable offense.

Democrats have hammered Trump over his conflicts, but with little Republican support they have so far failed to get much traction. The new legislation will face similar hurdles—Republicans are unlikely to allow the measure to even come to a vote—but it could serve as a pressure point on Republicans who have been dodging the issue.

“The only way for President-elect Trump to truly eliminate conflicts of interest is to divest his financial interests by placing them in a blind trust,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the lead Democrat sponsoring the Senate’s version of the bill. “This has been the standard for previous presidents, and our bill makes clear the continuing expectation that President-elect Trump do the same.”

In addition to requiring the president to transfer his conflict-causing assets into a blind trust overseen by an independent trustee, the bill would prohibit presidential appointees from working on any issue that would benefit the financial interests of the president and the president’s immediate family. In Trump’s case, such a provision could block his appointees from matters ranging from Justice Department settlement talks with Deutsche Bank (Trump’s biggest lender) to foreign policy decisions involving countries, such as Turkey, where the Trump Organization has business interests. The legislation also folds in a measure, previously sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), that would require the sitting president and nominees of the major parties to publicly release their tax records.

Watchdog groups that have been calling for Trump to take action applauded the legislation.

“A second-grader could see that the only solution to this pervasive problem is for President-elect Trump to sell off the family business,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Because there is no sign he intends to do this, it is incumbent on the Congress to force him to do so. That’s why immediate passage of Senator Warren’s legislation is desperately needed.”

Read the full version of the Presidential Conflicts of Interest Act legislation here.

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Democrats Introduce Legislation Targeting Trump on Conflicts

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Virginia Republicans Are Going to Introduce a 20-Week Abortion Ban for the Third Time

Mother Jones

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In the fight over reproductive rights, 20-week abortion bans stand out as one of the most successful legislative measures pursued by anti-abortion advocates. In all, 18 states have enacted a version of the legislation since 2011; three of them have seen their 20-week bans overturned in court because they banned abortions before a fetus could survive outside the womb and were in violation of the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade. Earlier this month, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed a 20-week abortion ban into law shortly after vetoing a “heartbeat bill” that would have banned abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

Now, as the year comes to a close, emboldened Virginia legislators have begun their push to pass their version of the controversial—and likely unconstitutional—measure.

Last week, Virginia delegate David LaRock, a two-term Republican, pre-filed HB1473, known as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act. The bill will officially be introduced when the state Legislature begins its new session in January. LaRock introduced similar legislation during two previous sessions but has been unsuccessful in his attempts to ban late-term abortions.

As with previous versions of the bill, HB1473 would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a cutoff earlier than the “fetal viability” standard established by Roe v. Wade. Anti-abortion advocates argue that the ban is necessary because a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, a claim that has not been confirmed by research. The bill would not make allowances for a woman’s mental health or fetal abnormalities, or in instances of rape or incest, and offers exceptions only in cases that threaten the life of the mother or pose a “serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.” When a late-term abortion is performed, the bill stipulates that a physician “terminate the pregnancy in a manner that would provide the unborn child the best opportunity to survive.”

If passed, the bill would punish physicians providing unauthorized late-term abortions with Class 4 felonies, making them subject to prison time and a fine of up to $100,000. The bill also allows for “civil remedies,” giving a woman who receives an abortion or the biological father of the terminated fetus the ability to seek punitive damages against physicians who perform abortions in violation of the act.

The 20-week abortion ban is the latest restriction proposed in a state that already has some of the toughest anti-abortion laws in the nation. Virginia currently requires that women seeking abortions receive information encouraging them to carry pregnancies to term, mandates an ultrasound before the procedure, requires minors to receive consent from their parents prior to getting an abortion, and limits health plans covering abortion under the state’s Affordable Care Act exchange.

The Virginia GOP’s intensified effort to end late-term abortions is likely an opening salvo in the fight over the future of abortion access in the state. With the current Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, unable to run for a second term due to state law, anti-abortion advocates see next year’s gubernatorial election as a key opportunity to put an ally in office.

Virginia’s state Legislature won’t begin its new session until January 11, but reproductive rights advocates are already preparing for a long fight. “Bans on abortion at different points in pregnancy affect every woman’s ability to make decisions that are best for her, her health and wellbeing, and her family,” noted Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, in a letter sent to the candidates vying to replace McAuliffe. In a press release accompanying the letter, the reproductive rights group called the proposed ban a “dangerous and unconstitutional measure,” adding that it “would put politicians in the middle of Virginia women and families’ personal decisions about pregnancy and cut off access to safe medical care.”

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Virginia Republicans Are Going to Introduce a 20-Week Abortion Ban for the Third Time

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At Least a Few Republicans Want to Protect Undocumented Immigrants Who Came Here as Kids

Mother Jones

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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says he is preparing legislation intended to protect some undocumented young people whose parents brought them to the United States as minors.

The legislation would extend the legal rights gained under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a 2012 Obama policy that allows the hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who have signed up to legally work in the United States and be exempted from deportation. The November election has created much consternation among those currently protected. During the campaign, President-elect Trump said he would kill DACA, and immigrant advocates now worry that his administration could take the personal information DACA recipients submitted to the Department of Homeland Security while applying and use it to locate and deport.

“The worst outcome is to repeal the legal status that these kids have,” Graham told Politico Wednesday. “Whether you agree with them having it or not, they’ve come out of the shadows.”

The legislation would be pretty straightforward: “It’s going to be basically if you have legal status today, you’ll continue to have legal status,” Graham said. As Politico writes:

Graham said he is working with both Democrats and Republicans, and named Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) as one GOP supporter of the forthcoming legislation. While lawmakers are discussing the proposal now, actual legislation won’t be rolled out until the new Congress next year, Graham said. A spokesman for Flake said the senator is discussing “potential paths forward” in dealing with the DACA issue with several colleagues.

In the past, Graham has been less open to the plight of young undocumented people. In 2010, he said proponents of the DREAM Act, a bill that included, among other things, a path to citizenship for some of the kids in question, were “wasting their time.” The bill has been introduced several times since 2001 but has never made it past Republican opposition. “We are not going to pass the DREAM Act or any other legalization program until we secure our borders,” Graham said at the time.

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At Least a Few Republicans Want to Protect Undocumented Immigrants Who Came Here as Kids

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Obama Just Signed a Bill of Rights for Sexual-Assault Survivors

Mother Jones

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President Barack Obama on Friday signed into law the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act, a sweeping piece of legislation that guarantees specific rights for people who have been victimized by a sexual assault.

The measure focuses on collecting and preserving rape kits, the forensic evidence collected in a medical examination after a suspected sexual assault. Police enter the DNA collected from rape kits into state and national databases, sometimes identifying and solving other crimes in addition to the initial rape case. Rape kits—more than 100,000 of them, as of 2014—have often languished for years in police warehouses and crime labs, going untested due to a lack of funds and, some argue, contempt for victims. The new law is the first at the federal level to address these problems, protecting survivors’ access to the initial forensic medical examination and instituting measures to ensure evidence of rape is appropriately preserved and tested.

Survivors can no longer be charged fees or prevented from getting a rape kit examination, even if they have not yet decided to file a police report. Once the medical examination is completed, the kits must be preserved, at no cost to the survivor, until the applicable statute of limitations runs out. Survivors will now be able to request that authorities notify them before destroying their rape kits, and they have the right to request that the evidence be preserved. Once the kit is tested, they’ll also have the right to be notified of important results —including a DNA profile match and toxicology report.

Survivors must also be informed of these rights, regardless of whether they decide to pursue legal action against an assailant. The law also creates a task force to examine how well the new regulations work.

The act was spearheaded by Rise, a nonprofit led by Amanda Nguyen, who became an advocate after her rape almost three years ago when she learned that her rape kit would be destroyed by the state of Massachusetts within six months unless she filed repeated “extension requests.”

“The system essentially makes me live my life by date of rape,” Nguyen told the Guardian in February.

Nguyen then contacted Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who began working with her to craft the bill, eventually introducing it in February. “Beginning today, our nation’s laws stand firmly on the side of survivors of sexual assault,” Shaheen said in a statement Friday. “I hope that these basic rights will encourage more survivors to come forward and pursue justice.”

The act passed unanimously in the House last month and by voice vote in the Senate last week. Obama signed the bill on Friday, two weeks after the White House launched a new effort to combat sexual assault for the youngest survivors—those in K-12 schools.

This story has been updated.

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Obama Just Signed a Bill of Rights for Sexual-Assault Survivors

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Massachusetts Just Took a Big Step Toward Closing the Wage Gap

Mother Jones

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The Massachusetts Legislature unanimously passed the strongest equal pay law in the country during a rare weekend session on July 23, and it is waiting for Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s signature.

Sen. Karen Spilka, a co-sponsor of the bill, told the Boston Herald that the measure “finally put a nail in the coffin of the gender pay gap.”

Massachusetts’ businesses have nearly two years to implement the requirements. On July 1, 2018, employers will be required to pay all employees the same wage for the same or “comparable” positions, regardless of gender. Comparable work is defined not by a job title or description, but instead by the nature of the work, which requires “substantially similar skill, effort and responsibility…performed under similar working conditions.” Employers will also be barred from asking for a salary history from prospective hires—although job candidates can still volunteer that information during the hiring process. This will make Massachusetts the only state with such a requirement.

Other states have also passed versions of equal pay legislation in recent years. California passed a law at the end of last year that required employers to compensate men and women who hold the same jobs equally. At the time, it was heralded as the toughest equal pay law in the nation. New York passed a package of bills that went into effect at the beginning of this year that prohibited pay secrecy and considering gender when settling wages.

According to a joint press release from the Massachusetts House and Senate, the bill allows for pay to vary only “if the difference is based on a bona fide merit system, seniority, a system that measures earnings based on production or sales or revenue, differences based on geographic location or education, training or experience reasonably related to the particular job.” However, seniority cannot be used if the disparity between the length of time two employees have been on the job includes a pregnancy or family-related leave.

Some Boston businesses were early opponents of the legislation. The Boston Globe reported that after the Boston Chamber of Commerce expressed support for the measure, the Associated Industries of Massachusetts called it “counterproductive,” saying it feared the bill would bring on “unbridled litigation.” The Massachusetts High Technology Council said it was “misguided.”

The bill’s sponsors argued that women make up almost half the state’s workforce, but white women are paid on average about 82 percent of male earnings. Often a woman’s salary history can be misleading because the systemic pay gap makes her wages over time lower than those of her male counterparts. The cycle of income inequality for women gets reinforced when a woman’s current salary is based on her past salary instead of on the responsibilities of the job.

“Every worker in the state of Massachusetts—regardless of their gender—deserves to be paid fairly for their work,” said Shilpa Phadke, senior director at the Women’s Initiative at the Center for American Progress, in a statement. “The provisions included in this bill provide concrete steps to help dismantle the gender pay gap by providing greater pay transparency and encouraging employers to take a more active role in identifying and addressing pay disparities.”


Massachusetts Just Took a Big Step Toward Closing the Wage Gap

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