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Stories about Massachusetts

Massachusetts Supreme Court disqualifies app-based drivers initiative from November ballot

On June 14, the Massachusetts Supreme Court issued a ruling disqualifying the app-based drivers initiative backed by Lyft, Instacart, DoorDash, and Uber, from the November ballot. 

A lawsuit was filed in January against Secretary of State William Galvin (D) and Attorney General Maura Healey (D) by several app-based drivers and voters arguing that the initiative ​​should not have been approved for circulation because the petition violates the state’s constitutional requirement that subjects of an initiative are related or mutually dependent.

The court agreed with the plaintiffs. Justice Scott Kafker, who wrote the opinion for the court, said, “The petitions thus violate the related subjects requirement because they present voters with two substantively distinct policy decisions: one confined for the most part to the contract-based and voluntary relationship between app-based drivers and network companies; the other — couched in confusingly vague and open-ended provisions — apparently seeking to limit the network companies’ liability to third parties injured by app-based drivers’ tortious conduct.”

Conor Yunits, a spokesperson for Flexibility & Benefits for Massachusetts Drivers, the campaign behind the initiative, said, “A clear majority of Massachusetts voters and rideshare and delivery drivers both supported and would have passed this ballot question into law. That’s exactly why opponents resorted to litigation to subvert the democratic process and deny voters the right to make their own decision. The future of these services and the drivers who earn on them is now in jeopardy, and we hope the legislature will stand with the 80% of drivers who want flexibility and to remain independent contractors while having access to new benefits.”

Sponsors filed two versions of the initiative. Both versions of the initiative would have classified app-based drivers as independent contractors and enacted several labor policies. The versions are identical except Version A would have required paid occupational safety training before accessing a company’s platform or mobile application. The initiative was modeled after a 2020 California initiative that was approved by a margin of 58.6% to 41.4% but was later ruled unconstitutional by a county superior court. This ruling is being appealed.

Flexibility & Benefits for Massachusetts Drivers reported $17.8 million in contributions. The top donors to the committee were Lyft ($14.4 million), Instacart ($1.2 million), DoorDash ($1.2 million), and Uber ($1.1 million). The opposition campaign, Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights, reported $1 million in contributions.

There are two other ballot initiatives related to alcohol retail licensing and medical loss ratios for dental insurance plans that are collecting the second round of signatures needed to earn a spot on the November ballot. The second round of 13,374 signatures is due July 6. 

Between 2010 and 2020, an average of 29 ballot initiatives were filed for even-numbered year ballots in Massachusetts, and an average of three ballot initiatives made the ballot.

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Massachusetts officials announce $2.6 billion bond sale to replenish the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s (R) administration announced on April 15 that the state intends to issue $2.6 billion of bonds to help replenish the state’s unemployment trust fund and pay back $1.77 billion of federal loans to the fund. The state legislature in 2021 approved bond sales to help fund the unemployment trust fund.

The state’s unemployment trust contains $2.64 billion according to a report released April 15. Subtracting the federal loans and $372 million in employer credits from the balance brings the account total to under $500 million.

The state estimates the trust fund will grow to about $3.32 billion at the end of the year with the bond sales. The state expects to sell the bonds by the end of September 2022. Employers in the state will pay the bonds back through the COVID-19 Employer Relief Account tax passed last year.

Unemployment insurance is a joint federal and state program that provides temporary monetary benefits to eligible laid-off workers who are actively seeking new employment. Qualifying individuals receive unemployment compensation as a percentage of their lost wages in the form of weekly cash benefits while they search for new employment.

The federal government oversees the general administration of state unemployment insurance programs. The states control the specific features of their unemployment insurance programs, such as eligibility requirements and length of benefits.

For more information on Massachusetts’ unemployment insurance program, click here. For information about unemployment insurance programs across the country, click here.

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Massachusetts announces plan to waive up to $1.6 billion in non-fraudulent unemployment insurance overpayments

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s (R) administration announced on April 14 a plan to waive $1.6 billion in non-fraudulent unemployment insurance overpayment collections. The plan would offer waivers for some workers who claimed benefits during the pandemic but were asked to repay them because the state deemed them ineligible after the payment of benefits.

In total, the administration would write off $475 million in overpaid benefits related to insufficient identity verification. The state argued many of those overpayments involved cases of identity theft where affected claimants never received benefits.

The US Department of Labor (USDOL) also granted a partial blanket waiver for all Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) overpayments related to insufficient proof-of-work between the weeks ending Jan. 2 and March 20, 2021. The partial blanket waiver will cover about $349 million of overpayments.

The state is also planning to file emergency regulations to issue waivers for up to $782 million additional non-fraudulent state unemployment insurance and federal PUA overpayments not covered under the USDOL waiver. The state did not release details on who would qualify for forgiveness under the emergency regulations.

Unemployment insurance is a joint federal and state program that provides temporary monetary benefits to eligible laid-off workers who are actively seeking new employment. Qualifying individuals receive unemployment compensation as a percentage of their lost wages in the form of weekly cash benefits while they search for new employment.

The federal government oversees the general administration of state unemployment insurance programs. The states control the specific features of their unemployment insurance programs, such as eligibility requirements and length of benefits.

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Massachusetts officials announce bond sales to replenish the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund

Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workplace Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta announced on March 25 that the state intends to issue between $2 billion and $3 billion of bonds to help replenish the state’s unemployment trust fund. The move is aimed at relieving employers in the state of the full responsibility for paying down the trust fund’s debt through higher unemployment taxes after the state’s borrowing from the federal government increased during the coronavirus pandemic.

Further details regarding the bond sales are expected after April 15 when updated employer contribution projections, benefit payment estimates, and trust fund balance data become available.

Unemployment insurance is a joint federal and state program that provides temporary monetary benefits to eligible laid-off workers who are actively seeking new employment. Qualifying individuals receive unemployment compensation as a percentage of their lost wages in the form of weekly cash benefits while they search for new employment.

The federal government oversees the general administration of state unemployment insurance programs. The states control the specific features of their unemployment insurance programs, such as eligibility requirements and length of benefits.

For more information on Massachusetts’ unemployment insurance program, click here. For information about unemployment insurance programs across the country, click here.

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Massachusetts announces end of facial recognition requirement for unemployment insurance

The Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance announced Feb. 23 that it would suspend the use of facial recognition technology through ID.me as a way for unemployment insurance claimants to verify their identities. The department cited decreased claim volumes as the basis for the decision.

The change still allows claimants to verify their identities virtually through a live video chat with an ID.me representative. The live chat option does not collect biometric data.

Unemployment insurance refers to a joint federal and state program that provides temporary monetary benefits to eligible laid-off workers who are actively seeking new employment. Qualifying individuals receive unemployment compensation as a percentage of their lost wages in the form of weekly cash benefits while they search for new employment.

The federal government oversees the general administration of state unemployment insurance programs. The states control the specific features of their unemployment insurance programs, such as eligibility requirements and length of benefits.

For more information on Massachusetts’ unemployment insurance program, click here. For information about unemployment insurance programs across the country, click here.

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Campaigns supporting and opposing Massachusetts additional income tax amendment report $1.6 million in contributions

In November, Massachusetts voters will decide on a constitutional amendment that would create an additional income tax of 4% for income over $1 million, in addition to the existing 5% flat-rate income tax, and dedicate revenue to education and transportation purposes.

Raise Up Massachusetts, the campaign registered in support of the amendment reported $1.2 million in cash and in-kind contributions in 2021. The top donors to Raise Up Massachusetts include the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Massachusetts AFL-CIO, 1199 SEIU MA PAC, Omidyar Network Services LLC, and Jewish Alliance For Law and Social Action.

Coalition for a Strong Massachusetts Economy is registered in opposition to the amendment and reported $437,486.00 in cash and in-kind contributions. The top donors to the coalition include Robert Reynolds, Nino Micozzi, Jeffrey Markley, and Mark Casady.

The amendment is modeled after a 2018 initiative that was removed from the ballot after certification due to a lawsuit that ruled the initiative violated the constitutional requirement that subjects of initiatives be “​​related or mutually dependent.” Since the 2022 amendment is a legislatively referred constitutional amendment, it does not need to meet the same constitutional requirement.

In 2018, Raise Up Massachusetts and the Coalition for Social Justice raised $1.97 million in support of the initiative.

Opponents of the 2022 amendment filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court on Jan. 27 arguing that the ballot summary is misleading and the court should remove the amendment from the ballot. The lawsuit was filed by Christopher R. Anderson, president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, against Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) and Secretary of State William Galvin (D). In a statement, the Massachusetts High Technology Council said, “The promise of new public education and transportation spending is an empty one, because the amendment imposes no real limits on how the state legislature can spend the new tax revenues.”

According to separate reports from the Beacon Hill Institute, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and the Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts University, the additional tax could generate at least $1.2 billion in 2023.

In order to refer the amendment to the ballot, the state legislature needed to pass the measure with a simple majority ​​during two successive legislatures. This amendment passed in 2019 by a vote of 147 to 48 with five members absent or not voting and again in 2021 by a vote of 159-41. Both votes were largely along party lines with Democrats in the majority and Republicans in the minority.

Between 1996 and 2020, about 54% (22 of 41) of the total number of measures that appeared on statewide ballots were approved, and about 46% (19 of 41) were defeated.

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The committee behind a Massachusetts app-based driver initiative reported over $17.8 million in contributions

Massachusetts voters could decide on an initiative in November to classify app-based drivers as independent contractors similar to California’s 2020 Proposition 22.

Flexibility and Benefits for Massachusetts Drivers, the committee registered to support the app-based driver initiative, reported receiving $17.8 million in 2021. The committee’s largest donor was Lyft, which contributed nearly $14.4 million in cash and in-kind contributions. Other contributors included Instacart ($1.2 million), Door Dash ($1.2 million), and Uber ($1 million).

The campaign submitted over 200,000 signatures for two versions of the initiative in early December and was certified to the legislature by the secretary of state late last month. 

Both versions of the Massachusetts initiative would classify app-based drivers as independent contractors and enact several labor policies. The versions are identical except Version A would require paid occupational safety training before drivers could access a company’s platform or mobile application. 

There is one ballot measure committee, Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights, registered in opposition to the initiative. It reported over $1 million in contributions. The top donors to the committee include Omidyar Network, Massachusetts AFL-CIO General Fund, Local 103 I.B.E.W., Open Society, and The Grand Lodge – International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers.

On Jan. 18, opponents of the Massachusetts initiative filed a lawsuit with the Massachusetts ​​Supreme Judicial Court arguing that the initiative violates the state’s constitutional requirement that subjects of an initiative are “mutually dependent,” and therefore it should not appear on the 2022 ballot.

The initiative is modeled after California Proposition 22, which was approved by ​​58.63% of voters in 2020. However, it was ruled unconstitutional by an Alameda County Superior Court judge in 2021. The judge ruled that Proposition 22 unconstitutionally limited the power of the legislature and that it violated the state’s single-subject rule.

California Proposition 22 had the most expensive ballot measure campaigns in California’s history according to available records. The support reported $202.9 million in contributions, with Uber, Doordash, Lyft, InstaCart, and Postmates as top donors. The opposition reported $19.7 million in contributions, with unions as the top donors.

In Massachusetts, the power of initiative is indirect, which means the state legislature must consider the proposal before it appears before voters. The Massachusetts app-based driver initiative is one of three proposals that was certified to the legislature. One of the initiatives would change the number of alcohol retail licenses granted per establishment from no more than 12 in 2023 to no more than 18 by 2031 and prohibit in-store automated self-checkout sales of alcohol. The third initiative would establish a medical loss ratio for dental insurance plans at 83% and require the insurer to refund the excess premium to its covered individuals and covered groups.

If the legislature does not adopt the proposals by May 4, 2022, the campaigns will have until July 6, to submit an additional round of 13,374 signatures in order to qualify for a place on the November 2022 ballot.

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Special election primary to be held in Massachusetts Senate district

A special election primary is being held on Dec. 14 for the First Suffolk & Middlesex District of the Massachusetts State Senate. Anthony D’Ambrosio and Lydia Edwards are running in the Democratic primary. No Republican candidates filed. The general election is scheduled for Jan. 11, and the winner of the special election will serve until January 2023.

The seat became vacant on Sept. 9 when Joseph Boncore (D) resigned to become CEO of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council.

Heading into the special election, Democrats have a 36-3 majority in the Massachusetts Senate with one vacancy. Massachusetts has a divided government where neither party holds a trifecta. The Republican Party controls the office of governor, while the Democratic Party controls both chambers of the state legislature.

To date, 10 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2022 in seven states. So far in 2021, 66 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 21 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year. Massachusetts held 42 state legislative special elections from 2011 to 2020.

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State signature deadline for Massachusetts 2022 initiatives was Wednesday

Three initiative campaigns submitted more than the required number of validated signatures (80,239) to the Massachusetts secretary of state on Dec. 1. This means that the initiatives will go to the Massachusetts General Court. If the general court does not enact the initiatives, a smaller second round of signatures will be required to put the measures on the 2022 ballot.

The preliminary deadline to submit signatures for verification to local registrars before submitting them to the secretary of state was Nov. 17.

One initiative would classify app-based drivers as independent contractors and enact several labor policies related to app-based companies. One initiative would incrementally increase the number of alcohol licenses an establishment could hold and prohibit self-checkout sales of alcohol. The third initiative would enact a medical loss ratio for dental benefit plans of 83%.

Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work is sponsoring the app-based drivers initiative and reported submitting over 130,000 signatures to local registrars. The final number of certified signatures submitted to the secretary of state on Wednesday is unknown.

The Massachusetts Package Stores Association (MPSA) is sponsoring the alcohol retail licensing initiative and reported submitting 109,000 certified signatures to the secretary of state.

Dr. Mouhab Rizkallah filed the dental medical loss ratio question and reported submitting 104,000 validated signatures to the secretary of state. 

The power of initiative is indirect in Massachusetts, which means the Massachusetts General Court must consider any successful initiative petitions.

Once enough valid signatures are submitted, proposed statutory initiatives are presented to the legislature. Statutes may be adopted by the legislature by a majority vote in both houses. If a statute proposed by a valid initiative petition is not adopted, proponents must collect another, smaller round of signatures to place the initiative on the ballot. For the first round of signatures, the required number is equal to 3% of the votes cast for governor or 80,239 signatures. The second round total is equal to 0.5% of the votes cast for governor or 13,374 signatures.

Once the secretary of state certifies the initiative petitions to the state legislature, they have until May 4, 2022, to pass them or send them to the 2022 ballot. The deadline for the second round of signatures would be July 6, 2022.

Between 2016 and 2021, 109 initiatives were filed in Massachusetts. Of that total, 72 were cleared for circulation, and nine were certified for the ballot.



Belsito (D) defeats Snow (R) in Massachusetts House special election

A special general election was held for the Massachusetts House of Representatives 4th Essex District on Nov. 30. Jamie Zahlaway Belsito (D) won the special election with 2,504 votes, or 55.4% of the total, defeating Robert Snow (R).

Belsito is the first Democrat to win election to the district since 1858.

Special Democratic and Republican primary elections were held on Nov. 2. The filing deadline passed on Sept. 28.

The special election was called after Bradford Hill (R) resigned from office on Sept. 15 to be appointed to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. Hill represented the 4th Essex District from 1999 to 2021.

As of December, 66 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 21 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year. Massachusetts has held 45 state legislative special elections from 2010 to 2020.

Entering the special election, the Massachusetts House of Representatives had 129 Democrats, 29 Republicans, and one independent. A majority in the chamber requires 81 seats. Massachusetts has a divided government where neither party holds a trifecta. The Republican Party controls the office of governor, while the Democratic Party controls both chambers of the state legislature.

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