By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- The details of House Speaker Robert DeLeo's proposal to raise the minimum wage and reform the state's unemployment insurance system will be released on Thursday, according to a senior House Democrat who plans to bring a bill before his committee for debate.
Rep. Thomas Conroy, the co-chair of the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, said on Tuesday that the minimum wage and UI reform bill, which was outlined by DeLeo during a speech last week, will be ready for a committee vote on Thursday at 3 p.m. when an executive session has been scheduled.
"You're going to find out more on Thursday. We've been trying to keep this quiet. I'm not going to comment right now," Conroy told the News Service when asked about specific details that might be included in the bill.
Conroy said committee members have talked about "as many of the potential issues as we possibly could have," including a separate minimum wage for teenagers, exemptions from the minimum wage, reducing the duration of unemployment benefits from 30 weeks to 26 weeks, and changing the benefit eligibility rules.
DeLeo, in a speech last week to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, outlined his preference for a phased-in hike in the minimum wage from $8 an hour to $10.50 by mid-2016 and reforms of the unemployment insurance system to shave costs for businesses.
In addition to freezing unemployment insurance rates this year to protect employers from a spike in premiums, DeLeo called for adjustments to the ratings table to lower the unemployment insurance tax burden on most employers and switch from a one-year to a three-year average that he says will "shield" companies from short-term fluctuations in payments due to employment trends.
DeLeo said the House bill, for which he gave no timetable for action, would also address public employees and seasonal employees by closing "loopholes" for school-based employees and retirees who receive both pensions and UI benefits.
Many business leaders reserved their judgment of DeLeo's proposal until they could read the details.
"There's going to be a little bit of debate within the committee, I think, which will be fun and interesting and we'll see what happens," Conroy said on Tuesday after the Labor Committee voted to recommend 26 bills to the House and Senate for approval.
Some of that possible debate among members of the committee was previewed on Tuesday when Rep. Keiko Orrall, a Lakeville Republican, tried to protect two bills (H 1743/H 1782) relating to the creation of a teenage minimum wage from being sent to a study, effectively killing their chances for passage.
"I just think that there needs to be more flexibility given to our business owners with regards to seasonal employment and those who are teenagers," Orrall said.
Sen. Daniel Wolf, the co-chair of the committee, voted against Orrall's motion and said he opposed the creation of a lower minimum wage for teenagers, and speculated that the issue could be debated as the minimum wage bill moves through the legislative process. The panel rejected Orrall's motion and sent the two bills to study.
Rep. Kenneth Gordon, a Bedford Democrat, also said he opposed a teen minimum wage. "It troubles me to provide a different accommodation based on someone's age," he said.
The Labor Committee also voted to send 26 bills to a study, and voted to extend the deadline for reporting on the remaining legislation in committee, such as unemployment insurance reform proposals.