The legislative agenda that House Speaker Robert DeLeo outlined Wednesday, a day after Governor Patrick’s final State of the Commonwealth address, was good as far as it went. Noticeably absent was expansion of the bottle law, which invites a voter referendum to do what the Legislature has not done.
In his address to the House, the speaker endorsed an increase in the state’s minimum wage, which the governor supports and the Senate has already backed in approving a bill that increases the minimum wage to $11 a year over three years and ties subsequent increases to inflation. Mr. DeLeo, however, said the wage hike must be accompanied with unspecified business-friendly changes to the state’s unemployment system. Business leaders have floated the idea of requiring workers to be employed for 20 weeks rather than the current 15 to be eligible for benefits, which is a negotiable item. A proposal to reduce the duration of unemployment benefits from 30 weeks to 26, however, would be unfair at a time when so many residents, through no fault of their own, have joined the ranks of the long-term unemployed.
Mr. DeLeo endorsed passage of stricter gun controls, which Governor Patrick has been advocating for a couple of years. None of the provisions threaten legitimate gun owners, including the strongest provision closing the gun show loophole by requiring that purchasers undergo background checks and limiting access to high-powered ammunition needed only by criminals and terrorists.
The state’s bottle law has not been updated in three decades, but efforts to include water and juice drinks and nonalcoholic, noncarbonated beverages routinely die quietly in committee, in spite of the supposed support of legislators. The Massachusetts Food Association, beverage companies and chain supermarkets oppose the expansion, as they have for years, and their money evidently buys influence with leadership. Residents, however, likely realize that these bottles are better recycled than tossed along roadsides and into streams, and lawmakers should get ahead of a November ballot referendum and expand the bottle law.