Author: jscutler

Legislature acts to safeguard unemployment benefits and freeze rates for businesses

Bill also gives small businesses tax exemption on federal relief funds

STATE HOUSE – The Mass. House and Senate have enacted comprehensive legislation to safeguard unemployment benefits, limit rate increases for employers, provide tax relief for lower income jobseekers, and exempt small businesses from state taxes on federal relief grants.  

“These measures will offer much need relief to workers, employers and small businesses. At the same time, we’re also taking critical steps to help safeguard our unemployment insurance system for the long term,” said Rep. Josh S. Cutler (D-Pembroke), House Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.

The legislation, which is now on Governor Baker’s desk, prevents a sharp spike in unemployment insurance rates that was set to hit employers this quarter. Absent any legislative action, the typical small business would have seen their average annual UI cost rise from $539 to $866 per employee. In addition to freezing the rates, the bill protects extended benefits for workers struggling to reenter the workforce due to the pandemic and exempts the first $10,200 in UI benefits for individuals with a family income at or below 200% of the federal poverty line.

“This is a comprehensive bill to help our economy recover from the pandemic. I’m grateful to Speaker Mariano, Chair Michlewitz and my legislative colleagues for putting forth a strong, bipartisan piece of legislation,” Rep. Cutler added.

Here are some further details on the legislation’s key provisions:

Unemployment Insurance Provisions

  • Freeze Employer Rates. Freezes unemployment rate schedule for 2021 and 2022, preventing an estimated 60% increase in average employer contributions. Creates a two-year excise charge to fund the Commonwealth’s required payments on interest accrued from Federal advances. This will result in a net reduction in employer UI costs.
  • Protect extended benefits. Allows the Commonwealth to continue to provide extended unemployment benefits through federally-funded program by amending statutory trigger.
  • Reduce financing costs.  Authorizes the Commonwealth to issue up to $7 billion in special obligation bonds, over a maximum of 20 years, for the purposes of meeting unemployment insurance (UI) trust fund obligations. Bonding option offers more flexible terms and likely lower borrowing costs.
  • Long-term solvency commission. Creates a special commission, co-led by Rep. Cutler, to study the long-term solvency of the UI trust fund and make recommendations to strengthen it. The commission, which will include a diverse array of employer and employee stakeholders, will report back by the end of this year.

Tax Relief Provisions

  • Tax Day Delay. Delays state personal income tax filing deadline to May 17, 2021
  • Tax Deductions.  The following are deducted from Federal gross income for the purpose of determining Massachusetts gross income for tax year 2020:
    • Loans forgiven through the paycheck protection program (PPP)
    • Economic Injury Disaster Loan advances
    • SBA loans paid off by the Small Business Administration under the CARES Act
    • PPP second draw loans or Shuttered Venue Operator grants
  • UI Benefits. People who received UI benefits during either 2020 or 2021 and whose family income is at or below 200% of the Federal poverty level can deduct up to the first $10,200 of their unemployment compensation from their state taxable income.
  • Tax Forgiveness. Eliminates the penalty for individuals who omitted to correctly pay income taxes on their unemployment benefits paid out in 2020.

New COVID relief bill to include tax relief to unemployed workers, rate freeze for businesses

Statement from Senate President Karen E. Spilka, Speaker of the House Ronald Mariano, Senate Ways & Means Chair Michael J. Rodrigues and 
House Ways & Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz

The Senate and House have reached agreement on a bill to help workers and employers jumpstart our nascent recovery as we begin to slowly emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. This agreement strikes a balance to ensure that businesses can continue to move forward while protecting those working hard to keep the economy going. Time is of the essence to bring this much needed relief to businesses and employees, and so we will act expeditiously to get this comprehensive bill to the Governor’s desk.

While businesses require our support to weather this economic storm, our employees need help too. We have agreed to provide targeted tax relief to unemployed workers whose income falls below 200 percent of the poverty line. We also recognize that many are navigating our Unemployment Insurance (UI) system for the first time, and so we have agreed to waive penalties for missed tax payments on UI benefits received in 2020.

To help protect employees on the front lines—and to help prevent the further spread of COVID-19—we are making sure all employees have access to paid leave if they are unable to work because they get infected with the coronavirus, are ordered to quarantine, or need to take time off to get the vaccine. In tandem with federal legislation, this state response will ensure employees have access to paid leave and employers are reimbursed for such costs. We believe this will provide a necessary and crucial safety net for the employees, especially essential workers, who have shown up every day to keep our economy and communities running throughout this public health crisis.

Finally, the bill will prevent increases in the UI rate schedule for 2021 and 2022, providing employers with needed stability and relief as the Commonwealth continues to recover. The agreement also allows for state borrowing, secured by a temporary employer assessment, to ensure the solvency of the UI trust fund. In addition to UI relief, to help many small businesses and employers who received PPP loans to stay afloat and save jobs, we have agreed to conform to the current federal tax code to exclude forgiven PPP loans from gross income for small businesses organized as pass-through entities.”


Rep. Cutler named chair of Labor Committee

STATE HOUSE – Rep. Josh S. Cutler has been appointed House Chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.

The Committee has purview over a broad range of labor and employment policy, including unemployment insurance, paid family leave, worker safety, worker’s compensation, collective bargaining, workforce training, and wage and hour laws.

“I’m honored to be appointed to this key post by Speaker Mariano and my House colleagues,” said Rep. Cutler. “These are critical issues in any year, but especially now as we work to recover from the pandemic, and in some cases reimagine the role of the workplace.”

The bi-partisan 17-member committee is comprised of both House and Senate members. As House Chairman, Rep. Cutler will help steer the committee as it reviews and shapes the hundreds of bills filed each session, and also play a leadership role on labor and employment policy in the Mass. House of Representatives. The Committee also maintains legislative and budgetary oversight authority over the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development and its various departments.

In previous sessions, Rep. Cutler served as vice-chair of the Small Business and Community Development Committee and the Children, Families and Persons with Disability Committee. He also chaired the WorkAbility Subcommittee last term focused on the issues of employment and workforce development for individuals with disabilities. 

Rep Cutler is an attorney, former small business owner, and currently a member of UAW Local 1981.


Powder Point Bridge TIP request letter

Rep. Cutler and his colleagues submitted the following request to MassDOT to request inclusion in the state’s Transportation Improvement Program, which unlocks federal transportation funding to help repair this historic bridge. (Copy of letter posted as PDF below)

Jonathan Gulliver, Highway Administrator
Massachusetts Department of Transportation
10 Park Plaza, Boston, MA 02116

Dear Administrator Gulliver,

RE: Request to add Powder Point Bridge (Duxbury) to Transportation Improvement Program

First opened in 1892, the Powder Point Bridge is an historical landmark that serves thousands of Massachusetts residents annually and provides vital recreational and public safety access to Duxbury Beach and Saquish. Measuring at 2,200 feet, Power Point Bridge is considered one of the longest wooden bridges in the country.

Ownership of the bridge was transferred to the town of Duxbury in 1941 and since that time the town has made significant investments to ensure safety and protect access. Following a closure in 1985, the town appropriated $3 million to reconstruct the bridge and replicate its historic wooden features, while improving pedestrian and wheelchair access.

Currently, the bridge is considered structurally deficient and in need of repair. The bridge has an approximate load capacity of four tons, far below the tonnage of an average fire engine. Large public safety vehicles are required to enter from the only other access point in the neighboring town of Marshfield, adding to the time required to respond public safety calls.

The town has been a good steward of the bridge, but now needs assistance from the Commonwealth. Accordingly, we respectfully request that the Powder Point Bridge be added to the state’s Transportation Improvement Program for the next available year of eligibility.

We would also like to take this opportunity to express our strong view that any design process must respect its historical significance as a wooden bridge and ensure ample opportunity for robust public input.

Some bridges are just elevated roadways that connect people from point A to Point B. Then there are iconic structures like the Powder Point Bridge that are far more historically significant.

Over the course of its rich history, the much-photographed Powder Point Bridge has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, featured in Hollywood blockbusters, and been the site of weddings and burials. This landmark bridge is truly a treasure for the entire South Shore and the Commonwealth and future iterations should reflect and honor that legacy.

We respectfully request that MassDOT work with the town of Duxbury as soon as feasible to allow for adequate time for public input, and to ensure that the Powder Point bridge be placed on the Transportation Improvement Program list as soon as possible.

Should you have any questions, do not hesitate to reach out to any of our offices.

Rep. Josh S. Cutler
Sixth Plymouth District

Rep. Kathleen LaNatra
12th Plymouth District 

Sen. Patrick M. O’Connor
Plymouth & Norfolk District                                

Powder Point Bridge TIP request

Legislature Passes Landmark Climate Change Bill

The Massachusetts Legislature today passed breakthrough climate legislation that overhauls the state’s climate laws, drives down greenhouse gas emissions, creates clean energy jobs, and protects environmental justice communities.

The bill, An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy (S.2995), sets a 2050 net-zero greenhouse gas emissions limit, as well as statewide limits every five years; increases the requirements for offshore wind energy procurement bringing the statewide total to 5,600 megawatts; requires emission reduction goals for MassSave, the state’s energy efficiency program; and, for the first time, establishes the criteria in statute that define environmental justice populations. The legislation also increases support for clean energy workforce development programs including those targeting low-income communities and improves gas pipeline safety.

“This legislation represents a major piece of climate legislation that will set the course of the Commonwealth for the next three decades,” said House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano (D-Quincy).  “Today we send a message loud and clear that Massachusetts will empower our environmental justice communities, achieve net zero emissions by 2050, continue to lead on offshore wind, increase equitable access to our clean energy programs, and create pathways to clean energy jobs for underserved and low-income communities.”

“Amid the unprecedented public health and economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m proud of the Legislature’s ongoing commitment to protecting our environment,” said former House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “The actions the House and Senate took today will keep Massachusetts on-track to lead the nation in clean energy and environmental policies. Thank you to Speaker Mariano, Chair Golden and my colleagues in the House for their commitment to legislation that will help to grow our clean energy economy, address environmental justice concerns, and bolster our efforts to address the effects of climate change.”

“This bill steps up the pace of our collective drive to contain climate change,” said Senator Mike Barrett (D-Lexington), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy.  “It’s the strongest effort of its kind in the country.  With the tools the Legislature assembles here, we’re constructing the response we need and providing a blueprint to other states.”

“It has been a pleasure to work with my House and Senate colleagues on the conference committee on this historic climate bill,” said Representative Thomas A. Golden, Jr. (D-Lowell), Chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy.  “I owe a special debt of gratitude to Speaker Mariano for his invaluable mentorship over my six years as House energy chair.  It is his long-standing recognition of Massachusetts’ opportunity to play a leadership role in offshore wind and his fearless commitment to push forward when others hang back that have led us to advance legislation as ambitious as the Next Generation Roadmap bill.”

“This bill continues our commitment to reducing harmful carbon emissions, and enacting policies of environmental equity. We have made sure to include enforceability and compliance rules, so we reach our net-zero goals,” said Senate Majority Leader Cindy Creem (D-Newton).  “I am so pleased that we also require public hearings on whether classifying biomass as renewable can actually be scientifically justified. And I am proud we will now regulate natural gas as the damaging fossil fuel that it is and strengthen policies to prevent gas leaks and encourage renewable geothermal alternatives.”

“As the birthplace of the offshore wind industry in the United States, Massachusetts sets an example to the nation for its leadership on climate policy and today’s action by the legislature further cements that legacy,” said Representative Patricia Haddad (D-Somerset). “The House, along with our colleagues in the Senate, took steps today to increase the use of renewable energy, cut greenhouse gasses and create clean energy jobs in Massachusetts. I thank Speaker Mariano, former Speaker DeLeo and Chair Golden for their leadership and work on these important issues.”

“This is an historic day for Massachusetts. We have long been one of the clean energy leaders in our country, but today, we’ve strengthened the foundation that we have built upon and chart a course that has been long discussed but never codified or fully implemented,” said Senator Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth). “Climate policy can’t wait – that’s why this bipartisan legislation sets aggressive and practical goals in the areas of emissions reduction, green energy, environmental justice, and grid modernization. I am proud to have served on this conference committee and thank my colleagues for their hard work and collaborative spirit in crafting this legislation.”

“The climate change bill takes a comprehensive approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, including recognizing how forests and other natural and working lands can be used to promote carbon sequestration and help Massachusetts reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050,” said House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading). “It also incorporates municipal lighting plants as partners in these efforts by setting greenhouse gas emissions standards and establishing an equal playing field for these facilities. I’m proud to have served on the conference committee that produced this historic bill which reaffirms Massachusetts’ role as a national leader on clean energy issues.”

The legislation includes, among other items, the following provisions.

  • Sets a statewide net zero limit on greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and mandates emissions limits every five years, as well as limits for specific sectors of the economy, including transportation and buildings.
  • Codifies environmental justice provisions into Massachusetts law, defining environmental justice populations and providing new tools and protections for affected neighborhoods.
  • Requires an additional 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind, building on previous legislation action and increases the total to 5,600 megawatts in the Commonwealth.
  • Directs the Department of Public Utilities (DPU), regulator of the state’s electric and natural gas utilities, to balance priorities going forward: system safety, system security, reliability, affordability, equity, and, significantly,reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Sets appliance energy efficiency standards for a variety of common appliance including plumbing, faucets, computers, and commercial appliances.
  • Adopts several measures aimed at improves gas pipeline safety, including increased fines for safety violations and regulations related to training and certifying utility contractors.
  • Increases the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) by 3 percent each year from 2025 – 2029, resulting in 40 percent renewable energy by 2030.
  • Establishes an opt-in municipal net zero energy stretch code, including a definition of “net zero building.”
  • Prioritizes equitable access to the state’s solar programs by low-income communities
  • Establishes $12 million in annual funding for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center in order to create a pathway to the clean energy industry for environmental justice populations and minority-owned and women-owned businesses.
  • Provides solar incentives for businesses by exempting them from the net metering cap to allow them to install solar systems on their premises to help offset their electricity use and save money.
  • Requires utilities to include an explicit value for greenhouse gas reductions when they calculate the cost-effectiveness of an offering of MassSave.
  • Creates a first-time greenhouse gas emissions standard for municipal lighting plants that requires them to purchase 50 percent non-emitting electricity by 2030 and “net zero” by 2050. 
  • Sets benchmarks for the adoption of clean energy technologies including electric vehicles, charging stations, solar technology, energy storage, heat pumps and anaerobic digestors.

The bill is now with the governor.

Mass. Developmental Disabilities Council to Honor Rep. Cutler as ‘Legislator of the Year’

STATE HOUSE – The Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council has unanimously selected Rep. Josh S. Cutler (D-Pembroke) as their 2020 Legislator of the Year. He will be honored at the group’s annual legislative reception to be held virtually this March.

The Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council (MDDC) is an independent state agency that supports people with developmental disabilities and their families. Their missions is to help create opportunities for individuals to lead successful lives in their communities, support inclusive education and greater employment opportunities.

Rep. Cutler, who currently serves as vice-chair of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, has led an effort to promote disability hiring practices and remove barriers to employment.

“I’m delighted to accept this award and grateful to the MDDC and other dedicated advocates for your efforts to promote workforce development for people who have developmental disabilities,” said Rep. Cutler.

In recognizing Rep. Cutler, the MDDC also noted his support for Nicky’s Law, bipartisan legislation to establish a statewide caretaker registry to protect individuals from serial abusers, and his efforts to establish a permanent a permanent commission on the status of persons with disabilities which was recently signed into law by Governor Baker. 

The Mass. Developmental Disabilities Council’s Virtual Legislative Reception on March 3, 2021.

Major win for PANDAS/PANS families as insurance coverage and DPH Advisory Council added to Health Care Bill!

I’m very happy to report that our legislation to provide health insurance coverage for PANDAS/PANS treatment has been included in the Health Care bill released a short time ago by the Conference Committee. That would be amazing enough by itself, but it also includes our amendment to create a PANDAS/PANS Advisory Council at the Mass. Department of Public Health.

These steps together represent a true breakthrough for thousands of Massachusetts families afflicted with this disease.

For those who are not familiar, PANDAS & PANS are related pediatric autoimmune disorders which strike previously healthy children, typically between the ages of two and twelve.The result can be devastating to the child, with acute and dramatic onset of symptoms like obsessive-compulsive disorder, extreme anxiety, angry rages, trouble sleeping, bodily tics, hallucinations, and more.

Children suffering from PANDAS/PANS frequently cannot attend school for extended periods and home life is profoundly disrupted. Emergency room visits are often needed due to sudden aggressive behaviors and psychiatric hospitalization may be required for severely afflicted children.

The impact on the family can also be devastating, both from an emotional and financial point of view. While mild to moderate cases can usually be treated successfully with antibiotics or anti-inflammatory therapy medications, more severe cases may require treatment known as IVIG therapy.

Sadly, even though this course of treatment is recommended by doctors and medical experts, most private insurance companies refuse to cover IVIG, or else engage in a protracted denial and appeals process. Tragically, this puts the child at risk of further decline and potential long-term disability as their brain inflammation remains untreated.

This puts families in a terrible position of paying out-of-pocket, which can run many tens of thousands of dollars. During our public hearing I heard stories about parents re-mortgaging their homes, maxing out credit cards and ending up more than $100,000 in debt just to make sure their kids get the proper treatment.

Health insurance is supposed to cover you when you get sick. But when it comes to PANDAS it was not.Today we took a major step forward to change that in Massachusetts. This will have ramifications not just here but across the county in the many states that do not yet ensure PANDAS health coverage.

I am grateful to all the House and Senate Conferees for including this language, and especially Majority Leader Ron Mariano.

Thanks to former colleague Paul Brodeur (now Mayor Brodeur) who originally filed the House bill. I was pleased to take the baton from him as lead House sponsor this term, but we certainly would not have gotten here today without his efforts. Also thanks to Rep. James Murphy, former Rep. Dan Cullinane who helped usher the bill through the various legislative hurdles. Former Rep. John Scibak was also one of the early PANDAS supporters in the House. Rep. Carmen Gentile filed a companion bill and Rep. Kate Lipper Garabedian ably succeeded Rep. Brodeur in advocating for the bill. Apologies to anyone I have missed!

The real champions here though are the parents and advocates who worked so hard to build awareness, raise support and collaborate to push this legislation forward. I recall back in my first term attending a meeting about PANDAS held at the Winsor House in Duxbury. This was one of the first times I learned about this issue and it has stuck with me ever since.

Making these kinds of changes can sound like a no-brainer, but it takes a lot of effort and coalition building, especially when you are talking about health insurance policy. A special shout-out to Jennifer Vitelli and Sheila Gauch who led this citizen effort. They were amazing and had help from a lot of good people too. None of this would have happened without their energy and drive.

Next steps? The Conference Committee report is expect to be adopted by the House and Senate, likely tomorrow and then head to the Governor’s desk. We of course will be urging him to sign this measure. I will provide a further update when we get to that step.

Photos: It’s a lengthy process getting to this point. Here are some photos from the journey along the way!