Legislators to focus on small business at Feb 22 Florian Hall hearing

Next week Dorchester will be the seventh stop of a legislative committee’s “listening tour” focused on small businesses. The Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business, co-chaired by state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Lower Mills), will meet at Florian Hall on Feb. 22 starting at 4 p.m.

“The goal is to get out there, meet with the small businesses, and listen to the issues that they’re facing in light of the economy and how we can support them,” Forry said.

The Dorchester stop on the tour comes as Gov. Deval Patrick has proposed strict limits on small business health insurance rate increases, keeping premium increases below 3.2 percent of medical inflation costs. Their premiums have tended to increase between 8 percent and 12 percent annually over the last five years. “This is aggressive, but we have to give small businesses some economic breathing room until we can implement the kind of payment reform that will curtail costs across the health care system,” Patrick said in his announcement.

The plan has drawn criticism from Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker, a former health insurance executive. According to the State House News Service, Baker has said Patrick should instead focus on public disclosure of health care costs.
Rep. Forry said she supported Patrick’s plan. “It is a good thing,” she said. “We can tweak this legislation instead of having to file our own.” She said she expected to hear from small business owners about Patrick’s proposal at the Feb. 22 “listening tour” stop, but added that her committee will be holding a separate hearing on the proposal sometime next month.

She said the committee will also likely hear from small businesses about the effect of the state’s health care reform law and the mandate to provide health insurance to employees, which some employers say they cannot afford.

The committee, co-chaired on the Senate side by Sen. Michael Moore (D-Worcester), will also tour a tofu manufacturing plan in Dorchester and several other local small businesses before convening the meeting at Florian Hall.

Lawmakers whose districts include swaths of Dorchester are well-represented on the committee. Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Jamaica Plain) is the Senate vice chair while Rep. Martin Walsh (D-Savin Hill) is the vice chair on the House side.

“During the past year I’ve had the opportunity to talk with many small business owners throughout the district,” Chang-Diaz said in a statement. “Their input is so valuable in shaping our understanding of how the state can best invest in their growth and bring good jobs to the neighborhood. I’m so glad we can bring the whole committee to Boston to hear this input directly from the business owners who are living it.”

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.