Flame Retardant Bill Dies on Baker’s Desk
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON —Gov. Charlie Baker will not sign into law a ban on certain chemical flame retardants in household goods, he told lawmakers Friday afternoon, citing concerns with the bill sent to him on the final day of the 2017-2018 legislative session.
The House and Senate sent Baker the bill on New Year's Day, a move that was cheered by environmental advocates and firefighters who spent years pushing for passage, but which also made the bill subject to a pocket veto and precluded any opportunity for the governor to return it with an amendment or for lawmakers to override a veto.
Supporters of the bill (H 5024) had said the chemicals they sought to ban are unnecessary and can pose health risks to children and firefighters.
The 12,000-member Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts pushed for the bill's signing and officials there said that while disappointed, they plan to keep advocating for the legislation.
"This legislation was originally introduced six years ago by the late Senator Ken Donnelly who tragically lost a battle to occupational cancer, and we will continue to fight for this law in the name of people like Senator Donnelly and the many other firefighters we have lost to this disease," Richard MacKinnon Jr., president of the firefighters group, said in a statement to the News Service.
Baker said he would have returned the bill with an amendment if the Legislature had still been in session, but since a new term is now underway, he does not have the option. At the end of each two-year session, bills on the governor's desk die if not signed by the governor within 10 days.
"Massachusetts can be a leader in this area, but the specifics of the bill that emerged during the last hours of the legislative session limit its potential effectiveness," Baker wrote in a message to lawmakers. "A deliberative process involving all stakeholders and an implementation schedule that takes into account the realities of manufacturing and distribution practices are key components to any legislation. I look forward to working with the bill sponsors and stakeholders on a revised form of this legislation in the current session."
The Senate passed a version of the bill in May of 2018, and the House approved its bill on Dec. 28.
The bill, according to Baker, would make Massachusetts the only state "to ban certain flame retardants in car seats and the non-foam parts of adult mattresses, products already subject to federal flammability requirements."
He also took issue with the June 1 implementation date, saying it gave manufacturers less of a window to comply than the year of lead time in an original version of the bill.
"The resulting disruption to what is available to consumers in Massachusetts would likely have a disproportionate impact on families with lower incomes who are less able to afford more expensive alternatives," Baker wrote.
Industry groups including the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association and the American Chemistry Council were opposed to the bill, as were car seat and mattress manufacturers.
On New Year's Day, Decker said she believed Baker would be "eager" to sign the bill.
"I think our bill is very strong, it speaks to the needs of firefighters, it speaks to keeping children safe, and it speaks to respecting how we can continue to manufacture and allow businesses to thrive," she said then. "All that is possible with this bill. It really is the best of what good public policy looks like. It would be confounding for the governor not to stand with children and the lives of firefighters who stand with us every day."
Decker posted to Twitter Friday afternoon that she was "deeply disappointed" with Baker's move.
"Gov. Baker has chosen to stand on the side of the trade industries and NOT with the thousands of firefighters, children, and mothers who are at risk every day of cancer and other deadly health risks as a result of the toxic flame retardants that are in our furniture and household goods. MA had the opportunity to lead," the Cambridge Democrat wrote in a series of posts. "Instead, the Legislature will have to begin this process again over the next two years. Our first responders, our children, and our pregnant mothers deserve better."
Rep. Tommy Vitolo, a Brookline Democrat, responded to one of Decker's tweets about the flame retardant bill, writing, "I found a bill to co-sponsor."
Lawmakers have until next Friday to file bills for consideration this session, which will then be assigned to committees and eventually undergo public hearings.
House lawmakers have until Feb. 1 to round up lists of bill cosponsors.
In a statement, Environmental League of Massachusetts President Elizabeth Henry said backers "hope to see this legislation arrive back on the Governor's desk in short order during the new session," and Elizabeth Saunders, state director of Clean Water Action, said they "will work with the legislature to make sure that this becomes law before another 2 year session is over."
Baker had largely stayed mum about his thoughts on the bill, telling reporters earlier in the week only that he was still reviewing it.
Asked Friday afternoon, less than a half hour before his plans for a pocket veto were disclosed, if he would sign it, Baker said he had spent the week talking to people on both sides and had "a lot of work to do just to figure out how it differed from the bill that originally popped last summer and making sure that we engaged with the various affected parties on it before we made a decision."
--Katie Lannan, State House News Service