The Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce (AACC) Board of Directors has approved a legislative agenda for 2017, taking positions on five bills introduced/filed in January. The bills in question address solar incentives, non-competition clauses, zoning, independent contractor status and workers’ compensation.

    “This is a new component of our long-standing practice of advocating for our member businesses at all levels of government, “said AACC Executive Director Tim O’Brien. “While the Chamber cannot and should not attempt to take a position on every bill, we feel it’s appropriate to do so when we believe we can make a strategic difference on behalf of our members.”

    Peter Vickery, chair of the AACC Governmental Affairs Committee, added, “Our board decided to take positions when there are new policies in the hopper that might affect our membership, or when there are initiatives that other chambers statewide have identified as key.  In those latter cases, we weigh in as allies to help achieve critical mass.”

    The five bills, a brief summary of their key elements and the AACC position on each follows.

    A.    Solar Incentive Regulations The Department of Energy Resources (DOER) is developing a statewide solar incentive program to encourage the development of solar renewable energy. The first draft of the regulations would prohibit siting of ground-mounted solar projects on farm land, forest land, core habitats and critical natural landscapes, thereby excluding too many potential sites.

    AACC position: AGAINST The AACC Board voted to adopt this stance because we believe the regulations need greater flexibility for ground-mounted solar project in farm and forest areas. Solar energy is a positive for the Commonwealth and more potential sites offers more opportunity for solar installations.

    B.    Non-competition Agreements In Massachusetts non-competition agreements are already unenforceable for several occupations, including lawyers; physicians; nurses; psychologists; social workers; financial advisors; and broadcasters.

    AACC position: AGAINST The AACC Board voted to adopt this stance because we believe rendering all non-competition agreements between employers and employees (and independent contractors) void and unenforceable would impede the efforts of small businesses to protect their intellectual property. It would be better to address concerns regarding non-competes via narrowly-drawn, occupation-specific legislation. For small businesses – especially start-ups  - intellectual property is vital and helps ensure growth. Anything that undermines the ability to protect intellectual property inhibits new business initiatives. We want the Amherst area to be known for supporting intellectual property, and in turn attract businesses which are built upon innovation.

    C.    Zoning Previous attempts at a comprehensive revision of the zoning laws have eliminated Approval Not Required (ANR) process, prevented variances from automatically running with the land, and allowed municipalities to impose ad hoc development impact fees, and mandate “inclusionary zoning.”

    AACC position: AGAINST The AACC Board voted to adopt this stance because we believe any bills to rewrite the zoning laws should avoid these shortcomings. Zoning regulations impact the very fabric of how we determine what is built and where.

    D.    Independent Contractor Test The Internal Revenue Service uses an 11-factor test for determining whether an individual is an independent contractor.  In contrast, Massachusetts law uses a three-factor test that make it very difficult to hire people as independent contractors. Consistency with the federal test would not reduce protection for employees and would remove an unnecessary barrier to growth and provide a clearer, more predictable, test for employment classification.

    AACC position: AGAINST The AACC Board voted to adopt this stance because using the 11-factor test would benefit companies that work on a national or international level, keeping Massachusetts competitive with other states. Specific to Amherst, the Chamber seeks to make it easier for businesses to hire the talent it needs to grow. The unduly-restrictive three-factor test doesn’t help that to happen.

    E.    Workers Compensation Current law allows employees/members of entities that do not have to maintain Workers Compensation to make claims under policies held by entities that do have to maintain Workers Compensation coverage.

    AACC position: AGAINST The AACC Board voted to adopt this stance because this bill rewards free-riding, with some small businesses subsidizing others.  We seek a level playing field. Companies which have to buy WC should not have to “carry” those which are not so compelled. The Legislature should address the inequity of the current law.