Final Decision on Employer Health Care Assessment

The employer assessment issue- a major concern of MNN’s in recent months- has been resolved. Governor Baker signed into law an assessment that is targeted, smaller than the original proposal, and does not unfairly penalize nonprofits whose employees receive health insurance from other non-public sources. It is coupled with unemployment insurance rate relief in 2018 and 2019.
The details of the assessment include:
  • A January 1, 2018 effective date with a sunset 2 years after implementation.
  • For employers with 6 or more employees, an increase to a fee they already pay, the employer medical assistance contribution (EMAC), of $26 per employee annually.
  • For employers with 6 or more employees who have employees on MassHealth or ConnectorCare, an additional charge of up to $750 for each employee receiving those benefits (the assessment is calculated at 5% of the first $15,000 of annual pay).
  • Two years of unemployment insurance relief, estimated to save employers a total of $344 million in 2018 and 2019.
The assessment represents a substantial improvement from the original health care penalty proposed by the Baker Administration in January that would have cost many employers as much as $2,000 per employee on spousal, parental, veterans or Medicare coverage.
In the months that followed, MNN worked with members, other employer associations, and state officials to identify better options. MNN ensured that the perspectives of Massachusetts nonprofits were front and center, cognizant that nonprofits operate on thin margins and are frequently being asked to do more with less. For more information on the assessment, click here. Please direct your questions to Director of Government Affairs Tonja Mettlach.

How does the State Income Tax Affect Nonprofits?

In 2008, several conservative taxpayers associations advocated for a repeal of Massachusett’s 5.3% income tax. This repeal would have cost the state $11 billion in tax revenue.

While it would have had a very negative impact on nonprofits, many of which heavily rely on state funds, it would have had a more dramatic impact on education, infrastructure, social services, and all other publicly-funded sectors of the economy, and likely would have led to an increase in property and sales taxes.

With the lobbying efforts of the MNN and our drive to communicate the importance of public funds to the general public, over two million Massachusetts citizens turned out to vote against the repeal, defeating the motion in a landslide victory. Despite the warnings of the repeal’s advocates, the income tax level has remained steady, and the public sector and social service industries remain very important parts of the state’s economy. The nonprofit sector alone employs 14.6% of Massachusetts workers, more than the entire public sector, and total employment in the health and education services make up nearly a quarter of the entire workforce.

How does the lobbying law apply to nonprofit communications?

  • Question: I am employed by a non-profit organization to work as an advocate for developmentally disabled persons. I work directly with my clients helping them, among other things, to get housing and medical treatment, and helping them with daily life activities. My organization also encourages our clients to talk with legislators about their challenges or to advocate for more treatment resources. In some cases, I may accompany my clients to meetings and help them prepare what to say. Sometimes I may also say a few words but only to help my clients express their views when they unable to speak at the meeting or are having a difficult time expressing their views. The preparation for these meetings takes more than 25 hours in any six-month period. Do I have to register?
    • Answer: Yes, unless your communications are limited solely to helping your client express his or her views, in effect, like a translator or interpreter. If you were also to advocate on behalf of mentally ill persons generally or your organization you would have to register as a lobbyist, again assuming your advocacy and any related strategizing is more than “incidental”.
  • Question: I work for an advocacy group for the mentally ill. An employee in the Department of Mental Health (DMH) telephones and asks how one of the providers under contract to DMH is doing. The purpose of the call is to help DMH determine whether to renew that provider’s contract. Do I need to count that time as “lobbying” to determine whether I exceed the 25 hour trigger?
    • Answer: Yes, unless the DMH employee’s request and your response is in writing. By definition, executive lobbying includes “any act to communicate directly with a covered executive official to influence a decision concerning policy or procurement.” If the purpose of the call were to help determine whether to continue a specific procurement contract the time spent would have to be counted toward the 25 hour trigger. The law, however, provides for a specific exception if the information is provided “in writing in response to a written request for specific information by an officer or employee of the executive branch.” If you do not wish this time to count toward the 25-hour threshold, you should ask that the officer or employee submit a written request to you for this information and to reply in writing.

How does the New Lobbying Legislation Apply to Research, Writing & Strategizing

  • Question: I work for an environmental non-profit organization as a researcher. I review and analyze data and write reports for the organization for many different purposes. Sometimes, my organization uses my research or reports as the basis for drafting legislation or environmental regulations. I also occasionally write op-eds about my research and give briefings to the general public. I do not write to or talk with legislators or regulators about my research and reports or otherwise engage in lobbying for my organization. The organization has a registered lobbyist who does that work. Do I have to register as a lobbyist?
    • Answer: No. Regardless of how much time you spend preparing, or how much you are paid for, your research or reports that are used by others in connection with legislation or you are not considered a lobbyist and, therefore, do not have to register. Why? Because you have not had “at least 1 lobbying communication with a government employee.’ If you never have a lobbying communication with a government employee about the research or other issues for your employer, you will not have to register as a lobbyist.If you did have a lobbying communication with a legislator or other government employee about legislation drafted by the organization, you would have to register as a lobbyist unless, during a six-month reporting period, your lobbying activities are “incidental,” i.e. you engage in them for less than 25 hours and are paid less than $2,500 for the hours you work on lobbying. Your research and report writing, as well as any strategizing, would be considered as lobbying activities if they were “performed in connection with or for use in an actual communication with a government employee.”

How does the new lobbying law pertain to Board Members?

  • Question: I am a member of the board of directors of a non-profit organization that advocates for civil rights and equity issues. Board members are unpaid and volunteer their time. Many of the board members write, meet or call legislators and engage in other legislative lobbying to promote the organization’s agenda. Do the board members who contact legislators or engage in legislative lobbying have to register as a legislative agent or lobbyist?
    • Answer: No. Volunteer board members of a non-profit organization do not have to register as a lobbyist. The lobbying law does not consider someone to be a legislative agent or lobbyist unless the person is “compensated or rewarded” for engaging in lobbying activities. It does not matter, therefore, how many hours unpaid volunteer board members lobby for their non-profit organization. If they are not paid to lobby, they are not legislative agents and they do not have to register.
  • Question: I serve on an unpaid, volunteer board of a non-profit organization. Sometimes we hold board meetings during the workday. Board members, who are employed, attend on their lunch hours or use personal time from their employers to attend board meetings. For example, I am a legal secretary and another member is a banker. My employer has a written policy while the banker’s employer has a customary practice that allows employees to participate in community service during the day. Does merely attending board meeting during the day mean we are paid by our employer to attend board meetings and therefore have to register?
    • Answer: No. Although some or all of the board members of a non-profit organization may be employed by other organizations or businesses, such employment does not make them lobbyists. This is because they are not being paid, or as the statute says “compensated or rewarded” for their service on the non-profit organization. Moreover, such employment does not make them a lobbyist even if the organization and its lobbying activities are of concern to their employer’s business unless there are other factors involved.
  • Question: I am a member of the board of directors of a non-profit organization that advocates for civil rights and equity issues. Board members are unpaid and volunteer their time. Many of the board members write, meet or call legislators and engage in other legislative lobbying to promote the organization’s agenda. Do the board members who contact legislators or engage in legislative lobbying have to register as a legislative agent or lobbyist?
    • Answer: Yes, you are compensated for purposes of the lobbying law. Although you are not compensated by the non-profit for your service as a board member or its lobbying activities, your service on the board and your lobbying are part of your usual professional responsibilities. You will, therefore, have to register as a legislative agent unless your lobbying activity is “incidental” for purposes of the lobbying law. Lobbying activities are presumed to be incidental if, during a six-month reporting period, you
      • (a) engage in lobbying for no more than 25 hours and
      • (b) are paid no more than $2,500 for such lobbying.

What happens if I don't register or report for the new Massachusetts Lobbying Law?

Late reports for the new Massachusetts Lobbying law are subject to a $50 per day late fee up to 20 days and $100 per day thereafter. These fines may be waived for good cause. The law also sets up a new civil enforcement procedure in the Secretary’s office modeled after the enforcement process conducted by the State Ethics Commission. If the Secretary finds, after a hearing, that a person has violated the law, the Secretary may ordered the person to cease and desist, suspend or revoke his or her license to lobby, and/or impose a fine of up to $10,000. The Secretary’s decision may be appealed to superior court, and if the court finds against the Secretary, the petitioner may be entitled to limited attorney’s fees. The lobbying laws may also be prosecuted criminally by the attorney general or district attorney if there criminal intent. Criminal fines are also up to $10,000 and up to 5 years in prison.

What needs to be reported under the new Massachusetts Lobbying Law?

The current provisions of the Massachusetts Lobbying Law were retained and augmented. As before Chapter 28, agents must report: all campaign contributions; all lobbying expenditures itemized if they exceed thirty-five dollars or more in any day.

“Such itemized accounting shall include, but not be limited to, specific expenditures for meals, gifts, transportation, entertainment, advertising, public relations, printing, mailing and telephone; and shall also include the names of the payees and the amount paid to each payee and shall further include the names of the candidate or political committee to whom or to which the contribution was made, and the amount and date of each contribution. When such expenditure is for meals, entertainment or transportation, said expenditure shall be identified by date, place, amount, and the names of all persons in the group partaking in or of such meal, entertainment or transportation. No expenditure shall be split or divided for the purpose of evading any provision of this section.’

Additionally, the law amended by Chapter 28 now requires the agent to report:

(1) the identification of each client for whom the legislative or executive agent provided lobbying services;
(2) a list of all bill numbers and names of legislation and other governmental action that the executive or legislative agent acted to promote, oppose or influence;
(3) a statement of the executive or legislative agent’s position, if any, on each such bill or other governmental action;
(4) the identification of the client or clients on whose behalf the executive or legislative agent was acting with respect to each such bill or governmental action;
(5) the amount of compensation received for executive or legislative lobbying from each client with respect to such lobbying services; and
(6) all direct business associations with public officials.

Lobbyists may not give more than $200 per candidate per year for state or local elections.

The disclosure shall be required regardless of whether the legislative agent or executive agent specifically referenced the bill number or name, or other governmental action while acting to promote, oppose or influence legislation, and shall be as complete as practicable.

What are the 11 exemptions to the Massachusetts Lobbying Law?

These exemptions are only applicable to executive lobbying.

They are:

  1. a request for a meeting, a request for the status of an action or any similar administrative request, if the request does not include an attempt to influence a covered executive official;
  2. an act made in the course of participation in an advisory committee or task force;
  3. providing information in writing in response to a written request for specific information by an officer or employee of the executive branch or an authority, including, but not limited to, statewide constitutional officers and employees thereof;
  4. an act required by subpoena, civil investigative demand, or otherwise compelled by statute, regulation or other action of the executive branch or an authority, including, but not limited to, statewide constitutional offices;
  5. a communication made to an officer or employee of the executive branch or an authority, including, but not limited to, statewide constitutional officers and employees thereof, with regard to: (1) a judicial proceeding or a criminal or civil law enforcement inquiry, investigation or proceeding; or (2) a filing or proceeding that the executive branch or an authority, including, but not limited to, statewide constitutional offices, is specifically required by statute or regulation to maintain or conduct on a confidential basis; if such executive branch or authority, including, but not limited to, statewide constitutional offices, is charged with responsibility for such proceeding, inquiry, investigation or filing;
  6. an act made in compliance with written agency procedures regarding an adjudicatory proceeding, as defined in section one of chapter thirty A, conducted by the agency, or similar adjudicatory or evidentiary proceedings conducted by any department, board, commission or official not governed by chapter thirty A;
  7. a petition for action by the executive branch or an authority, including, but not limited to, statewide constitutional offices made in writing and required to be a matter of public record pursuant to established procedures of such executive branch or authority, including, but not limited to, statewide constitutional offices;
  8. an act made on behalf of an individual with regard to that individual’s benefits, employment or other personal matters;
  9. a response to a request for proposals or similar invitation by an officer or employee of the executive branch or an authority, including, but not limited to, statewide constitutional officers and employees thereof, for information relevant to a contract;
  10. participation in a bid conference;
  11. an appeal or request for review of a procurement decision.

What is the definition of a legislative agent and an executive agent?

This information pertains to the new Massachusetts Lobbying Law.

  • Legislative agent“, a person who for compensation or reward engages in legislative lobbying, which includes at least 1 lobbying communication with a government employee made by said person.
    • The term “legislative agent” shall include a person who, as part of his regular and usual business or professional activities and not simply incidental thereto, engages in legislative lobbying, whether or not any compensation in addition to the salary for such activities is received for such services.
    • For purposes of this definition a person shall be presumed to be engaged in legislative lobbying that is simply incidental to his regular and usual business or professional activities if he: (i) engages in legislative lobbying for not more than 25 hours during any reporting period; and (ii) receives less than $2,500 during any reporting period for legislative lobbying.
  • Executive agent“, a person who for compensation or reward engages in executive lobbying, which includes at least 1 lobbying communication with a government employee made by said person.
    • The term “executive agent” shall include a person who, as part of his regular and usual business or professional activities and not simply incidental thereto, engages in executive lobbying, whether or not any compensation in addition to the salary for such activities is received for such services.
    • For the purposes of this definition a person shall be presumed to engaged in executive lobbying that is simply incidental to his regular and usual business or professional activities if he: (i) engages in executive lobbying for not more than 25 hours during any reporting period; and receives less than $2,500 during any reporting period for executive lobbying.

What is the new Massachusetts lobbying law?

Chapter 28 of the Acts of 2009, “AN ACT TO IMPROVE THE LAWS RELATING TO CAMPAIGN FINANCE, ETHICS AND LOBBYING” is the most sweeping change in the ethics and lobbying laws in decades. Changes in the lobbying sections will have widespread impact in the advocacy community.

The term legislative lobbying and executive lobbying are defined in the new law more specificity than in the past. Prior to the change, lobbying was not separately defined, but in other sections was referred in very broad terms such as “any act to promote, oppose or influence legislation, or to promote, oppose or influence the governor’s approval or veto thereof.”
Here is what the new law says:

  • Legislative lobbying,” any act to promote, oppose, influence or attempt to influence legislation, or to promote, oppose or influence the governor’s approval or veto thereof including, without limitation, any action to influence the introduction, sponsorship, consideration, action or non-action with respect to any legislation; provided further, that legislative lobbying shall include acts to influence or attempt to influence the decision of any officer or employee of a city or town when those acts are intended to carry out a common purpose with legislative lobbying at the state level; and provided further, that legislative lobbying shall include strategizing, planning and research if performed in connection with or for use in an actual communication with a government employee; provided, however, that “legislative lobbying” shall not include providing information in writing in response to a written request from an officer or employee of the legislative branch for technical advice or factual information regarding any legislation for the purposes of this chapter.
  • Executive lobbying,” any act to promote, oppose, influence, or attempt to influence the decision of any officer or employee of the executive branch or an authority, including but not limited to, statewide constitutional officers and employees thereof, where such decision concerns legislation or the adoption, defeat or postponement of a standard, rate, rule or regulation promulgated pursuant to any general or special law, or any act to communicate directly with a covered executive official to influence a decision concerning policy or procurement; provided further, that executive lobbying shall include acts to influence or attempt to influence the decision of any officer or employee of a city or town when those acts are intended to carry out a common purpose with executive lobbying at the state level; and provided further, that executive lobbying shall include strategizing, planning, and research if performed in connection with, or for use in, an actual communication with a government employee; and provided, further, that “executive lobbying” shall not include providing information in writing in response to a written request from an officer or employee of the executive branch or an authority for technical advice or factual information regarding a standard, rate, rule or regulation, policy or procurement for the purposes of this chapter.

Note that there are 11 exemptions to the executive lobbying. These exemptions were in previous law and apply to executive branch lobbying only.

In short, the definition of lobbying – in both the legislative and executive branches is quite broad. It is a broader category than who needs to register and informs both the question of who needs to register and what needs to be reported.

NOTE: This interpretation of the law, based on our extensive involvement with its passage, has no legal authority. Under the statute, the Secretary of the Commonwealth (the Secretary) has primary responsibility to enforce and interpret the law. This document is not intended as a substitute for seeking oral advice, or requesting an advisory opinion, from the Secretary pursuant to M.G.L. c. 3, s. 41. Furthermore, in the interest of clarity this memo does not delve into all of the legal nuances of the law, yet another reason to seek advice.