Surrounded by lawmakers, labor leaders and ballot activists who pushed for a higher minimum wage, Gov. Deval Patrick on Thursday signed into law a three-step increase in the wage floor to $11 per hour by 2017. Under the law, the minimum wage will rise to $9 per hour on Jan. 1, 2015, up from the current $8 per hour. The bill also includes unemployment insurance reforms and an increase in the minimum wage for tipped workers from $2.63 to $3.75 per hour by 2017. Addressing ballot activists who packed Nurses Hall for the bill-signing, Patrick said, "Grassroots organizing that makes good things happen is on display again today. It wins every time." Patrick said the law will bring a "little relief to the working poor," who he said will "recycle" the money back into the economy. Advocates of the law say it will provide a 38 percent increase in wages to 600,000 workers. Opponents, including the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, say the increase will hurt small businesses. "This is a one-sided piece of legislation that largely ignores the pleas of the small businesses for balance, and instead ensures that Massachusetts will continue be one of the most expensive and difficult places to operate a retail business in the nation," Jon Hurst, president of Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said in a statement before the bill-signing.


"The failure to meaningfully address our frequently abused and loophole-ridden unemployment insurance system is especially frustrating. It is a missed opportunity that will hurt businesses of every size for many years to come." (Story Developing) - G. Dumcius/SHNS


The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday afternoon plans to revisit a House-Senate welfare reform bill that calls for new supports for public assistance recipients as well as a slate of reforms aimed at system integrity and fighting benefits fraud. The welfare reform bill was produced last week by a six-member conference committee that began its work on a consensus bill last year. Conference committee reports are not subject to amendment. During its only formal session scheduled this week, the Senate also plans to take up a borrowing bill authorizing more than $900 million in government technology investments, a bill banning creditors from requiring residential property owners to purchase flood insurance policies at amounts exceeding their outstanding mortgages, a $4.6 billion spending bill to keep government running in the absence of an annual budget accord, and a nurse staffing bill that was whisked through the House Wednesday night and which may spur sponsors of a 2014 ballot question to drop that effort as well as a separate question on hospital CEO pay. House budget chief Rep. Brian Dempsey said Wednesday that negotiators working on the fiscal 2015 spending plan hope to reach agreement shortly, possibly at the start of next week. The new fiscal year begins on Tuesday, and Gov. Deval Patrick will have ten days to review the annual budget bill once it reaches his desk. - M. Norton/SHNS


As it mails annual water quality reports to 850,000 homes in eastern Massachusetts, the MWRA this year is encouraging residents to drink tap water, highlighting the quality of water it draws from the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs and touting lower costs, when compared to bottled water. According to the MWRA, the water it provided in 2013 met every federal and state drinking water standard and tests taken during the year yielded "excellent" water quality results. The water authority on Thursday promoted the completion and startup of its new ultraviolet disinfection facility in Marlborough as the latest measure aimed at further improving water quality. "UV light is essentially a more potent form of natural disinfection from sunlight enabling MWRA to inactivate the most difficult to kill pathogens - which could potentially be in the source water - without the use of additional chemicals and any associated disinfection by-products," the authority said in a statement. "In just a few short years, water treatment has gone from chlorine with its taste and odor issues, to ozone and now ultraviolet - with no additional chemicals and no disinfection by-products," said MWRA Executive Director Fred Laskey. The authority announced that water samples from the Boston Water and Sewer Commission and the MWRA were among 31 entries in a taste test held at this month's American Water Works Association annual conference, and the entries placed first and second, respectively. - M. Norton/SHNS


Warning against allowing public outrage over a tragedy to push the system to "spiral out of control," authors of a report released Thursday called for a thoughtful, proactive approach to correct problems at the Department of Children and Families. "Often after a tragedy involving a child in a child welfare agency caseloads increase, and the number of children that are removed from their homes increases. At the time of this report, this is what is happening in Massachusetts," according to the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute report, which outlines five recommendations. The Child Welfare League of America, which was charged with probing DCF, said in May it lacked evidence to know for sure whether the death of five-year-old Jeremiah Oliver could have been prevented. CWLA Vice President Linda Spears said DCF should have known sooner that the Fitchburg boy was missing. The institute's report calls for investments in preventive and family stabilization services. According to the report, approximately 88 percent of the children in DCF's caseload require family stabilization and support services to remain safely with their families. The agency's budget has been cut by 13 percent since fiscal year 2009, a cut of more than $121 million adjusted for inflation, according to the report. The report calls for adequate funding to pay for preventive services at DCF and other agencies that serve at-risk and low-income children and families. Also, the institute recommends that DCF use, share and evaluate data effectively to figure out which services and interventions work; cultivate strong leadership in the agency and among its front-line social workers; and ensure that children in foster homes live in the least restrictive, most family-like setting possible. - C. Quinn/SHNS