Second anti-boycott bill in the works

The Jewish Advocate   March 2, 2016

By Brett M. Rhyne
Advocate staff

According to several sources close to Beacon Hill, legislators are preparing a second bill targeting companies that engage in boycotts of Israel.

“I know a bill is in the works,” said Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead). She did not know who was crafting it, however.

Rep. Steven Howitt (R-Seekonk) introduced HD4156, “An Act relative to pension divestment from companies that boycott, divest, and sanction the State of Israel” to the House Rules Committee on Oct. 1, 2015. It has languished in the joint House-Senate Public Service committee since Oct. 31.

As previously reported by The Jewish Advocate, with the exception of Howitt, the bill’s main sponsor, there are no Jewish legislators among the 24 cosponsors of HD4156.

Sen. Cynthia Creem (D-Newton) suggested the reports of a second bill being crafted on Beacon Hill to address BDS might explain Jewish legislators’ hesitance to embrace HD4156.

“Most people are taking a wait-and-see approach,” she said. “They’re waiting to see the other bill before making a decision on which one to support.”

Creem, the assistant majority leader, said she did not know which legislators were working on the second bill or what its content would be.

“There are other people working on this,” she said. “It may be the same or different from the current bill, I don’t know.”

“They’re trying to work on it,” said Rep. Frank Smizik (D-Brookline).

According to one Jewish legislator, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston is working with Howitt to revise his bill. The council frequently works with legislators on issues related to the Massachusetts Jewish community.

Howitt did not respond to an interview request before press time.

Council Executive Director Jeremy Burton declined to comment on HD4156, or whether the JCRC was working to amend Howitt’s bill or craft new legislation. He referred to a written statement issued Feb. 24, which notes the council supports “additional, binding, legislative action that would utilize the economic influence of our Commonwealth’s government to reject the BDS campaign.”

The statement makes it clear that the council has not yet endorsed any one bill. It notes, “We continue to work with our bipartisan legislative partners to identify and advance the best legislative approach that is appropriate for our Commonwealth.”

Ehrlich, who is Jewish, said she did not cosponsor HD4156 because, “Steve’s bill was sprung on us without much conversation. It was a late file, and so we had only a short time to look it over and decide if we wanted to cosponsor it.”

Ehrlich also compared HD4156 to a law passed in 2010, whereby the state divested all pension funds from companies doing business in Iran. The JCRC also worked to craft and ensure the passage of that legislation.

The Iran bill, Ehrlich said, outlined specific duties of the state treasurer. HD4156 did not do so, and relied on a non-governmental third party to determine which companies boycott Israel. She said she hoped a new bill would “give clearer direction to the treasurer.”

Ehrlich emphasized support for Israel is “overwhelmingly bipartisan,” thereby alluding to another reason why the JCRC and Jewish legislators might not want to embrace HD4156: partisan politics.

Howitt is the lone Jewish Republican in the Legislature. In this overwhelmingly Democratic body, a bill has a far greater chance – some would say its only chance – of becoming law if introduced by a Democrat.

This may explain why HD4156 has languished in the Joint Committee on Public Service – chaired by Sen. James Timilty (D-Walpole) – since its arrival there Oct. 28.

Ehrlich noted according to Joint Rule 10, if the bill does not move by March 16, it is dead. It may have a better chance of passing during the next legislative session, in the fall, or even next January.

“It’s less than a year,” she said.