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Business opposition halts progress on Safer Alternatives Bill

Posted on Aug 2, 2010
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MA State House” title= At midnight on Saturday night, July 31st, the buzzer went off on the “formal session” part of the 2009-2010 legislative session in Massachusetts.  Unfortunately, the Safer Alternatives Bill as not among the lineup of bills that were passed this time around.

Anyone who has been watching or reading the news in Massachusetts in recent weeks has heard about the stalemate in the legislature as the House, the Senate and the Governor debate casino gambling.  It’s tempting to take the easy way out and grumble about how the casino bill held up everything else, and that’s definitely true for many bills, but for the Safer Alternatives Bill, that’s not really the whole story.

A complete story must include the fact that the chemical industry is a powerful lobbying force, and has managed to whip up significant business opposition to this bill, and to many others like it across the country.  They’ve waged a campaign based on myths and fear about what this bill would purportedly do to the economy in Massachusetts.  These myths have been circulating for years, but in the wake of the country’s economic crash, there was more fear of business opposition than ever. 

However, at AHT we know that the idea that deregulation helps the economy is just not true.  In fact, recent research has shown that effective regulations can enhance business efficiency and competitiveness and stimulate innovation, despite the often-heard argument that government regulations burden the economy. 

Professor Nicholas Ashford, PhD, JD, Professor of Technology and Policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has said, “Regulation can be an important tool—maybe the most important tool—both to stimulate radical and environmentally superior technology and to yield economic benefits to innovating firms.”

In fact, regulations that benefit public health or the environment can often drive companies towards lower cost technologies that they hadn’t considered before.  (To learn more about how the Safer Alternatives bill could benefit the Massachusetts economy read our factsheet on this topic.)

In addition to the confusion about the economic effects in general, there was also the question of funding for the Safer Alternatives program.  In the bill filed by Senator Steven Tolman and Representative Jay Kaufman, the program would be funded by fees placed on businesses who use or sell products containing the highest hazard chemicals.  AHT argued that most of these companies would have been out of state ones who import products into Massachusetts, but that point largely fell on deaf ears. There was essentially no willingness at all to put any fees on any businesses for fear of the opposition that it might generate.

That concern was one of the ones that kept the bill held up in the Environment Committee for most of the session.  The bill was given a favorable report by that committee in late June, but that was already 18 months into the 19 month legislation session, so we were not left with much time to convince Speaker DeLeo and Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Murphy that this would be a good thing to pass.

Unfortunately, these fears and myths won the day this session as the House leadership never saw fit to report the bill out of the Ways and Means Committee and bring it to a vote.

One piece of good news this session was that a bill to prevent deadly fires caused by dangerous floor finishing chemicals did pass and was signed into law by Governor Patrick.  The floor finisher’s bill, which was endorsed by AHT, bans the sale and use of wood finishers or lacquer sealers that ignite at temperatures below 100-degrees Fahrenheit. The effort to get this passed was spearheaded by AHT’s coalition member MassCOSH.

So that’s it for this session, but in the fall, we’ll be building support for the 2011-2012 session, and we’ll need your help.  This year’s elections will be a great time to talk to all candidates for legislative seats about the bill and build their support.  Stay tuned for that, and for news and actions needed on other AHT campaigns as well.