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Women’s to Men’s earning ratio in Mass at national average

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STATE CAPITOL BRIEFS – AFTERNOON EDITION – WEDNESDAY, FEB. 26, 2014

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

WOMEN’S TO MEN’S EARNING RATIO IN MASS. AT NATIONAL AVERAGE

Women working as full-time wage and salary workers in Massachusetts during 2012 had median weekly earnings of $840, or about 81 percent of the $1,040 median for their male counterparts, according to new federal data released Wednesday. Nationwide, women earned $691, also about 81 percent of the $854 median for men in 2012. The regional office of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the ratio of women’s to men’s earnings has increased in each of the last five years in Massachusetts. The data has been tracked since 1997 and the ratio hit its low point in Massachusetts since then of 74.8 percent in 2007. At $868, Connecticut had the highest median weekly wage for women in 2012, while median earnings were also above $800 per week in Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Female-to-male earnings ratios ranged from a low of 65.5 percent in Wyoming to a high of 86.8 percent in Arizona. California, at 86 percent, and Maryland, at 85.2 percent, were the other states with ratios above 85 percent. The data is based on a monthly survey of households conducted by the Census Bureau for the bureau. – M. Norton/SHNS

HOUSE PASSES NEWBORN SCREENING BILL

The House unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that would require a test on newborns that Rep. Denise Garlick said would be able to detect potentially deadly heart defects. The Centers for Disease Control estimates pulse oximetry screenings for congenital heart disease cost $15 per infant and take about 10 minutes. Before the 146-0 vote, Garlick told her colleagues they have a chance to save a life, and said “within hours” of similar legislation becoming law in New Jersey, the test saved a newborn. Massachusetts would become the 26th state with such a requirement, Garlick said. The bill (S 1919) directs the Department of Public Health to develop regulations governing the screenings. It cleared the Senate 37-0 on Nov. 14, and would only need enactment in both branches before reaching the governor’s desk to be signed into law. – A. Metzger/SHNS

DeLEO NOT SURPRISED BY PROBATION CASE WITNESS LIST

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray reacted differently Wednesday to news that they are among the large number of current and former state officeholders named as potential witnesses in the upcoming trial of former Probation Department chief John O’Brien. DeLeo told reporters Wednesday he’s prepared to answer questions when called upon, but that he has not been officially notified by authorities that he could be called to testify. “Whenever called upon, I will do as I always stood ready before, to answer any and all questions that people may have; and I stand ready to do the same thing,” DeLeo said. DeLeo also said he “can’t say I’m terribly surprised” at the other names on the list of witnesses. When asked about the witness list, Senate President Therese Murray told reporters she would not comment on the case. “That’s an ongoing investigation or trial, so I’m not going to comment,” Murray said. O’Brien is facing charges of rigging hiring at the state’s Probation Department. – M. Deehan/SHNS

REGULATORS OKAY MASS. UTILITY CONTRACTS WITH MAINE, N.H. WIND PROJECTS

State regulators issued an order Wednesday concluding that contracts between four major utilities and three renewable energy developers meet state cost and public interest standards under the Green Communities Act. The Patrick administration, which has pressed policies to support renewable energy, said 12 approved power purchase agreements for onshore wind facilities will provide enough energy to power more than 122,000 homes and represent the largest procurement of renewable energy in New England by Massachusetts utilities. By way of comparison, the agreements represent more than 409 megawatts of electricity, and Massachusetts currently has 103 megawatts of wind energy along with 463 megawatts of solar power installed. Unitil, NSTAR Electric, National Grid and Western Massachusetts Electric issued a joint statewide solicitation that led to the contracts with Iberdrola Renewables, Evergreen Wind II and Blue Sky West and their projects in New Hampshire and Maine. The state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs estimates the contracts will save ratepayers $853 million over their terms and feature a weighted average price of less than 8 cents per kilowatt hour. The contracts represent about 2.5 percent of total electricity sales for each utility. Department of Public Utilities Chair Ann Berwick said the contracts also “provide a hedge against volatile natural gas prices.” – M. Norton/SHNS

DeLEO PLANS TO FILL CHAIRMANSHIPS "RELATIVELY SOON"

House Speaker Robert DeLeo plans to name members “relatively soon” to vacated chairmanships created when several members left the House in recent weeks. DeLeo told reporters Tuesday afternoon he will name replacements. Vacancies exist at the top of several committees after a series of resignations. Former House Ethics Committee Chairman Martin Walsh was elected Mayor of Boston in November, taking former Judiciary Committee Chairman Eugene O’Flaherty with him to City Hall. Health Care Financing Committee Chairman Steven Walsh plans to resign soon to take the executive director’s job at the Massachusetts Council of Community Hospitals. Second Assistant Majority Leader Kathi-Anne Reinstein also resigned in January to take a position with the Boston Beer Company. “I’m trying to get people to see – make sure everyone’s gone before I start filling them up,” DeLeo said. Rep. Christopher Markey (D-Dartmouth) is the vice-chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Rep. Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) is the vice-chair of the Health Care Financing Committee. Joint Rule 10 Day is approaching for most joint committees, which means lawmakers by March 19 must make decisions on scores of bills that have been pending for months in committee. – M. Deehan/SHNS

HOUSE PASSES CHANGES TO ANTI-BULLYING LAW

The House nearly unanimously on Wednesday passed an update to the 2010 anti-bullying law. Education Committee co-chair Rep. Alice Peisch said the bill would require school districts to pay particular attention to certain demographic groups more likely to experience bullying. The bill requires school districts to consider, when developing a bullying prevention plan, that certain students could be targeted because of “race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, socioeconomic status, homelessness, academic status, gender identity or expression, physical appearance, pregnant or parenting status, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, developmental, or sensory disability, or by association with a person who has or is perceived to have one or more of these characteristics.” Reps. Marc Lombardo, James Lyons, Keiko Orrall and David Vieira, all Republicans, voted against the measure, which passed 143-4. The bill (H 3909) now moves to the Senate. The bill would also require schools, in their anti-bullying plans, to provide for notifying the parents and guardians of students who are being bullied, to advise them of their options. Peisch said the bill also codifies a practice whereby school districts are required to report bullying to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. "All students have the right to participate fully in the educational process, free from harassment and bullying. This bill provides added protections from bullying by enhancing accountability, data collection and clearly identifying the students who should be protected. We urge the Senate to join the House in supporting this critical measure," said Anti-Defamation League New England Regional Director Robert Trestan. – A. Metzger/SHNS

SOUTHERN NEW ENGLAND TV STATION OPENING NEW BEDFORD BUREAU

The city of New Bedford is trumpeting the opening of a news bureau in that city. According to Mayor Jonathan Mitchell’s office, WJAR/NBC 10 has contracted to lease space in the city’s downtown area, on the Pleasant Street side of the former Standard-Times building, after the city reached out in the summer of 2012 about the possibility of hosting a bureau. “NBC10 is the top-rated television news station in Southern New England and the opening of our New Bedford Bureau is an important opportunity to expand our coverage of local news in Greater New Bedford. New Bedford is an up-and-coming city and we are well-positioned to capture the most important stories affecting our viewers here,” Vic Vetters, president and general manager of NBC10-WJAR, said in a statement. Mitchell said praised the station’s coverage of the city and added, “I welcome their interest in providing viewers with more local stories.” – M. Norton/SHNS