Minimum Wage, Paid Leave Questions Proposed for Massachusetts' 2018 Ballot

Proposed questions being offered for next year's state ballot would gradually raise the minimum wage in Massachusetts to $15 an hour and require that workers have access to paid family and medical leave from their employers.

Raise Up Massachusetts planned to announce on Monday it was launching a signature drive for the two initiative petitions. The same group is behind a third ballot question that would impose a so-called "millionaire tax" on the state's wealthiest earners, with the additional revenue earmarked for education and transportation improvements.

Groups hoping to place questions before voters in November 2018 must submit their proposals to the state attorney general by 5 p.m. Wednesday. It is the first of several deadlines that sponsors of initiative petitions face over the next 15 months.

The Legislature in 2014 approved a three-step increase in the state's hourly minimum wage from $8 to $11, the highest along with Washington among U.S. states. The proposed 2018 ballot question would raise the Massachusetts minimum wage in annual $1 increments starting in 2019 until it reaches $15 an hour in 2022.

"Nobody should be paid so little they can't afford basic necessities, and no one should have to choose between working at the job they need to pay the bills and caring for themselves or the family they love in a time of crisis," Deb Fastino, co-chair of Raise Up Massachusetts, said in a statement.

Under the paid leave proposal, workers could take time off to care for a seriously ill or injured family member, or a new baby, for up to 16 weeks. During that period they would receive 90 percent of their average weekly wages, with a maximum benefit of $1,000. Workers recovering from their own injuries or illnesses could receive up to 26 weeks of paid medical leave.

The benefits would be paid through employer contributions made to a new Family and Employment Security Trust Fund that would be administered by the state. Employers would be allowed to deduct up to 50 percent of their contributions from worker wages.

California, New Jersey and Rhode Island are the only states currently with laws requiring paid family and medical leave, with a New York law set to take effect Jan. 1, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The minimum wage and paid leave questions, should they reach the ballot, are likely to face pushback from major business groups, including the 4,000-member Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

"AIM opposes efforts to mandate a $15 per hour minimum wage and paid family leave," said Chris Geerhan, the organization's executive vice president of marketing and communications. "Both represent simplistic, one-size-fits-all approaches that will irreparably harm the economy without solving the income issues they are meant to address."

Attorney General Maura Healey must first certify that each proposal complies with constitutional guidelines for initiative petitions. If certified, sponsors must then collect a minimum of 64,750 signatures of registered voters by Nov. 22.

The "millionaire tax" proposal, which would impose a 4 percent surtax on the portion of an individual's annual income that exceeds $1 million, has already secured a spot on the 2018 ballot by garnering sufficient votes during two successive legislative sessions.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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