Massachusetts Senate president urges vote on transgender rights bill


BOSTON >> Speaking over the din of clinking coffee cups and silverware at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg told the crowd of business types that they have more in common with the Senate than they may realize.

"I want to thank the Chamber for agreeing with the Senate on so many agenda items that we are pursuing in this legislative term on the Senate side," Rosenberg said.

Rather than use the Chamber breakfast speech as a vehicle to make a major announcement, Rosenberg instead highlighted the slew of similarities between his Senate — often regarded as a haven for liberal ideology — and the Chamber, a business-minded institution not known for direct political activism.

In the first year under new CEO James Rooney, the Chamber has been more vocal with it view of things on Beacon Hill and has been willing to break ranks with other business advocacy organizations on hot-button issues.

Notably, Rosenberg and the Chamber agree on the transgender anti-discrimination legislation that has been pending before the Judiciary Committee for most of the 2015-2016 session.

The legislation (H 1577/ S 735) would provide protections for transgender people using public accommodations, and would allow them to use public bathrooms and restrooms associated with their gender identity rather than their anatomical sex.

Though the bill remains in the committee, Rosenberg said the Senate plans to debate the issue "probably in May, at worst in early June." House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who like Rosenberg supports the bill, has been surveying members of the House to discern whether a gubernatorial veto could be overridden before deciding whether to bring the bill to a vote.

The Chamber made waves last September when it joined companies like Google, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Eastern Bank in supporting the anti-discrimination bill.

"Fairness and equality are essential to good business in Massachusetts," Rooney said in a statement last September. "As an association with a wide-range of business members, we can't emphasize enough how vital it is to our state's business climate and economy that we support inclusivity and provide clear legal protections for all."

The support of the Chamber, influential companies in the region and Boston's major sports franchises, Rosenberg said, shows that passing the bill into law is "the right thing to do."

"If so many employers and so many business here and elsewhere, including our newest most welcome new addition to the Boston business landscape, GE, can endorse public accommodations and stand against discrimination, you know it's the right thing to do," he said.

Rooney's Chamber and Rosenberg's Senate also have common ground on pay equity for women, an issue that has split some in the business community.

A woman working full-time in Massachusetts earns about 81 percent of what a man who works full-time earns, according to the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization for Women. Annually, the wage gape manifests itself in a combined total of $12.2 billion in lost wages, the organization said.

The Senate on Jan. 28 unanimously passed a bill (S 2107) to further define "comparable work," outlaw employers from forbidding employees to discuss their salary with other employees, increase the fine for pay equity violations from $100 to $1,000, and require employers to post a notice to employees of their rights under the act.

While other business groups have warned the bill could open companies up to more litigation, the chamber is among the headlining supporters of the legislation, noting its status as "the leading business organization for professional women in the Boston region."

Rosenberg's breakfast speech also touched on the ways state government and the business community can do more together to advance common goals like improving the public transportation system and developing highly skilled workers.

Rosenberg stressed the importance of both business and government looking out for the middle class and dealing with income inequality in Massachusetts.

"To have a world-class middle class, we have to see the economic systems respond to the needs of those families," he said. "If we're going to move forward and we're going to bring this commonwealth up to where it needs to be in terms of providing a living wage and having our families be supported ...we have to address the wealth gap and wage inequality within our system."

Rosenberg said Senate leaders have discussed three variations of a bill that would boost the minimum wage to $15 per hour for certain workers, and he again promoted a proposed constitutional amendment adding a 4 percent surtax on incomes above $1 million as a means for increasing investments for public transportation and education.


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