House and Senate Pass Sweeping Economic Development Bill Bill includes provision honoring labor and workforce champion Ken Donnelly

BOSTON — Senator Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington) recently joined her legislative colleagues in passing a sweeping $1 billion Economic Development Bill, calling for targeted investments in workforce training programs and job creation through ambitious public infrastructure projects.

The bill authorizes millions of dollars in grants to workforce training programs and public infrastructure projects across Massachusetts, including:

  • $75 million in competitive grants for technical education and workforce training programs;
  • $250 million in bonds to the MassWorks Infrastructure Program that will support thousands of jobs rebuilding roads and bridges, restoring historic ports and completing community revitalization projects; and
  • $500 million in local economic development aid.

The technical education grants will provide funding for new lab equipment such as microscopes, robotics training kits and 3D printers in classrooms across the state, allowing for new programs in robotics and other high-tech vocational fields.

“With additional grants to support workforce training and education, more workers will have access to opportunities that will lead to good jobs in high-demand industries, further energizing our economy and strengthening our communities,” said Friedman, a member of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “This bill demonstrates the Commonwealth’s commitment to supporting our workforce and creating an economy that works for everyone.”

The legislation also includes an amendment Friedman advocated for that would rename the grants issued by the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund (WCTF) after the late Senator Kenneth Donnelly (D-Arlington) in honor of the work he did to advance workforce opportunities in the Commonwealth, specifically to those who are unemployed and often lack a pathway to economic stability.

The WCTF supports industry training partnerships with employers, community colleagues and community-based training providers to train and place unemployed and underemployed workers. A strong advocate for working families, Donnelly included funding for the WCTF as one of his top budget priorities each year he was in the Legislature. In addition, he sought to create a steady, more consistent stream of funding for the WCTF and proposed several different vehicles to ensure that this successful workforce training model would continue to grow and serve more workers in need of jobs.

“Senator Donnelly never gave up on this effort, nor throughout his career did he relax his constant and vocal support for working families,” said Friedman. “Because of the work he did to provide employment opportunities for our residents, it is a fitting gesture that we name the WCTF workforce training grants in Ken’s honor.”

In addition to workforce development, the bill also invests in the state’s cultural economy, promoting the arts and tourism industries. The compromise bill also establishes a two-day sales tax holiday this year, which will take place on August 11 and 12 ahead of the back-to-school shopping season.

Legislators also made two major reforms to practices that have disadvantaged smaller entrepreneurs and employees. First, the bill reforms the state’s non-compete laws, establishing conditions on the enforcement of noncompetition agreements to improve worker mobility and free employees to pursue their careers. Second, the bill includes new protections for entrepreneurs by enforcing a ban on making bad faith assertions of patent infringement, a practice known as “patent trolling.” Such claims entangle new small businesses in costly lawsuits that hamper the companies’ productivity and sap their early funds.

Looking ahead to future economic development opportunities and challenges, the House and Senate proposed new measures on cybersecurity and autonomous vehicles. In light of high-profile cyber incidents like last year’s Equifax breach, the bill authorizes $2.5 million in bonds to support the Massachusetts Cybersecurity Innovation Fund, investing in infrastructure needed to address threats and expand the employment pipeline.

In addition, the legislation tasks the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative with conducting a study and issuing recommendations on how to advance the state’s competitiveness in the autonomous vehicle industry.

The final bill, H.4732, was signed into law in August of 2018.