Lawmakers Wade Through Sea Of Pending Bills At Statehouse

posted by BOB SALSBERG and STEVE LeBLANC Associated Press - 

BOSTON (AP) - Massachusetts lawmakers cast votes Wednesday for an August sales tax holiday and several other measures as they began what loomed as a hectic final week of legislative action.

The Senate and the House face a July 31 deadline to complete work on dozens of major bills that have lingered until the closing days of the 2017-18 session.

The Senate voted 31-6 on Wednesday to add to an economic development bill a proposal to suspend the state's 6.25 percent sales tax on most consumer items during the weekend of Aug. 11-12. The House has also approved a sales tax holiday but it can't be officially scheduled until the two chambers settle differences over the broader legislation, and the eventual compromise is signed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.

Legislation signed by Baker last month mandates that the tax holiday, popular with shoppers and retailers, be scheduled each summer beginning in 2019 but left open the question of whether one would occur this summer. The last time a sales tax holiday was held in Massachusetts was 2015.

The Senate version of the economic development bill also includes a proposal to limit the use by private companies of non-compete clauses that are meant to restrict the ability of workers to jump to rival firms.Sen. Jason Lewis said the provision represents a compromise between those who support non-compete clauses and those who want them abolished completely.

"It will enable meaningful, significant reform to non-competes and will help many workers and families in Massachusetts and encourage more innovation in our state, while at the same time respecting the legitimate concerns that have been raised by some in our employment community," said Lewis, a Winchester Democrat.It wasn't immediately clear if the House would agree to the non-compete provision.Both chambers on Wednesday voted to accept compromise versions of bills aimed at better protecting consumers against data breaches, and requiring enhanced civics education in public schools.

Other major legislation remained the subject of closed-door negotiations between the Senate and House, including a measure calling for the regulation and taxation of short-term rentals such as those offered through Airbnb.

Several bills have already reached Baker's desk in recent days. The governor planned on Wednesday to sign a measure that would impose a $2 fee on all car rentals in Massachusetts, raising $10 million that would go toward municipal police training programs. Wednesday also marked the final full day that Worcester Democrat Harriette Chandler serves as president of the Senate. 

She took over that post after former Sen. Stan Rosenberg stepped down as president in December amid an ethics investigation related to sexual abuse allegations against Rosenberg's husband, Bryon Hefner.Hefner has since pleaded not guilty to criminal charges.

Sen. Karen Spilka, an Ashland Democrat who chairs the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee, is expected to be elected president of the chamber by her colleagues on Thursday.Chandler said she does not believe changing leadership during the final frenzied days of the legislative session will be disruptive.

"I know I have a capable successor who just happens to be a woman as well ... and I think she will pick up right where I left off," said Chandler, who had made clear she did not want to hold the president's job beyond the current session. She planned to deliver a final address to senators later Wednesday.

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