Last week, the U.S. Attorney’s office indicted three former Probation Department employees for conspiring to create a phony hiring system that rewarded politically-connected individuals. These charges are extremely serious, and all Massachusetts elected officials need to consider the cultural, political, and legal realities of state government that led to this level of public deception – and ways those realities could be changed.
That same week, most legislative committees had to decide whether or not to advance many important bills that could improve the quality of life for the residents of Massachusetts. The differing fates of these often demonstrates the extraordinary amount of influence corporate interests have over which bills become law, and which die a quiet death at the end of each session.
Why do I mention these two seemingly unrelated news items in the same blog post? It’s because the problem of undue influence in state government goes far beyond who gets a job in the Probation Department. Unfortunately on Beacon Hill these days, corporate interests often hold the trump card over the greater public interest when it comes to passing – or blocking – legislation.
The opinions of business owners on pieces of legislation that might affect their industry are certainly important and worthy of consideration – but they shouldn’t be able to single-handedly kill a bill that has both strong public support and strong policy reasoning behind it.
Let me give you two examples:
An Act Establishing Earned Paid Sick Time would allow all employees in the Commonwealth the opportunity to earn sick time so they can take care of a sick child or spouse, or simply take a day to get better themselves without fear of losing income – or their job.
Employees would earn one hour of paid sick leave for every thirty hours of work, up to 56 hours of paid sick time for businesses with more than 10 employees. (Businesses with fewer than 10 employees would have to offer less time and/or unpaid sick time instead, depending on their size).
In Massachusetts, over 1 million workers are not able to earn a single paid sick day. As a result, workplaces are less healthy and stable, workers are less productive, and – most unfortunately – many workers are unable to properly care for themselves or their families when sick. In a recent poll, 74% of Massachusetts voters supported establishing paid sick leave in Massachusetts.
This bill would make a huge difference in the lives of millions of Massachusetts families and enjoys strong public support, and yet I am concerned that this bill will go no further this legislative session. This is because the bill is opposed by an array of powerful corporate interests, who will claim that this bill – that could very well save money in regained worker productivity and reduced turnover! – will impose a substantial financial burden on business owners.
I suspect that these same corporate lobbyists and business owners have never given themselves a pay cut when they have to leave work early to bring their child to the doctor or stay home because they have the flu. Yet they argue against extending this same right to lower-wage workers.
An Act Updating the Bottle Bill is another bill that received attention last week. This bill would apply the 5 cent bottle deposit to water, juice, and flavored drinks, expanding the fee beyond the current soda and alcohol products. The Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy decided to extend its review of the bill, which means it still has a chance of passing…but it remains an uphill battle.
The Bottle Bill is an excellent pro-environment and pro-community bill that also enjoys strong public support, yet has just as vigilant a group of corporate opponents slowing its passage. In this case, the Massachusetts Food Association, Polar Beverage, Ocean Spray, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and convenience stores are all opposing the bill, using the preposterous claim that adding 5 cents to a bottle on the consumer end (which can be redeemed, of course) will add to the “cost of doing business.” What about the cost in litter clean-up and trash disposal that our cities and towns face because water bottles and the like have no deposit incentive for people to recycle?
As a State Senator, I will be fighting hard to pass these two bills this session, while continuing to propose ways to reduce the outsized influence corporations have on our legislative process.
But a greater sense of outrage about these facts from the general public would go a long way towards upending the status quo, too. If the uncertainly over these two bills outrages you as much as it does me, I encourage you to become active in the movements to pass them:
Earned Paid Sick Leave: http://www.masspaidleave.org/
Bottle Bill: http://www.sierraclubmass.org/ubb/index.htm