Reporter's Notebook: Lots of traffic heading to the Corner Office

Bills big and small trundled through State House halls this week with growing intensity as the clock ticked down to midnight Tuesday and lawmakers heaved legislation onto the governor’s desk.

Bills on access to auto repair information and health care cost control were batted between chambers before they were sent to the Corner Office as was an economic development bill that creates a sales tax-free weekend for Aug. 11-12.

Those weren’t the only ones: The Senate and House passed “right to know” legislation for temporary workers that was sponsored by Sen. Jack Hart and Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry. The House last week voted, 123 to 28, to support of the bill, which requires staffing agencies to provide written details to temporary employees.

“After more than a year of meetings with a diverse coalition of stakeholders, including workers’ advocates, representatives of the staffing industry and relevant state agencies and task forces, we have a comprehensive piece of legislation that strengthens temporary workers’ right to critical information about their employment while also minimizing the burden on employers,” said Forry, who chairs the House side of the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business. “A temporary worker will now know what wages they can expect, what safety equipment they might need, and who to call if they become injured on the job.” She added that the bill, which had been a top priority with labor groups, will allow the information to be a provided in a “variety of forms.”

In a related statement, Tim Sullivan of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO said, “The fact that a worker in the state of Massachusetts can put in a day’s work and never see a dime because they don’t know the name of their employer is embarrassing. Perhaps more embarrassing is the fact that this form of wage-theft can be prevented by providing workers with a simple piece of paper that includes some basic information about their job, yet our laws do not require temp agencies to provide one.”

Republicans said the bill was unnecessary, since there are current laws on the books that can be enforced. “I know the chairwoman has put a tremendous amount of work into this bill and has changed it drastically since day one, but it still comes down to let’s enforce the laws,” said George Peterson, a representative from Grafton. “Let’s not set up a new regulatory structure that will put additional burdens on businesses that are doing the right thing, and let’s go after those that aren’t doing the right thing and protect these temporary workers. We have the laws to do that now. If we can’t enforce the rules and regulations and laws we have now, do you think we’re going to be able to enforce this? I don’t think so.”

The fate of other bills remained unclear as the Reporter went to press. A bill filed by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, who represents parts of Dorchester and Mattapan, would require the state to set up a website and post quarterly performance numbers in order to track diversity hires and local job creation efforts. The legislation passed in the Senate on Tuesday.

“This bill addresses one of the greatest frustrations I hear from constituents: public construction projects are happening in their neighborhoods, but the jobs for these projects are going elsewhere,” Chang-Díaz said in a statement. “This bill uses the power of sunlight to make sure our communities are benefiting from the projects our taxpayer dollars are paying for by creating greater accountability on every project from start to finish.”

According to Chang-Diaz’s office, the bill has the support of Mayor Thomas Menino, City Councillors Ayanna Pressley and Tito Jackson, the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, and the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, among others.

On the House side, Rep. Carlos Henriquez’s first bill gained the support of his colleagues. First proposed to him by a Boston University student, Henriquez’s bill caps check-cashing fees with a set maximum. If the bill becomes law, Massachusetts would come in as the 27th state to regulate check-cashing, according to Henriquez’s office, which noted that there are 145 check cashers across the Bay State, including ones in Boston, Brockton, Lawrence, Lowell, New Bedford and Springfield.

Formal sessions ended this year at the end of July in order to provide lawmakers with time to campaign for elections in September and November. Bills can still move through the branches, but they can be stopped if deemed controversial. A new legislative session starts in January.

Quote of Note: Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren
Less than 100 days stand between voters and Nov. 6. With lawmakers beating feet from Beacon Hill to their respective districts, the intense gaze of political observers will turn to the state’s marquee race: U.S. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Wrentham) vs. Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren (D-Cambridge). Perhaps the best preview of the next several months provided so far is from Jim O’Sullivan, former Reporter news editor and State House News Service reporter, and now at the National Journal in Washington:
“Warren challenges a reporter’s diction during interviews, taking issue with descriptions of her criticism of Brown as ad hominem. Brown cuts in on a reporter quoting Warren’s criticisms of him, interjecting, ‘Blah, blah, blah, blah.’ ”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out updates to Boston’s political scene at The Lit Drop, located at dotnews.com/litdrop. Material from State House News Service was used in this report. Email us at newseditor@dotnews.com and follow us on Twitter: @LitDrop and @gintautasd.