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Flurry of biz-related bills advance

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Thursday marked a busy day of committee meetings, with several important business-related bills on the docket. Here's a rundown of some of the most important bills we're watching:

• The so-called "Ban the Box" legislation, S-2586, was the subject of a hearing before the Senate Labor Committee, though the panel didn't vote on the measure. The bill would bar employers from asking about a job candidate's criminal history until a conditional offer of employment is made. The bill is also known as the "Opportunity to Compete Act."

• S-2466, the "Local Hospital Fee Pilot Program Act," was released from the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. It now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee. The bill would create a pilot program allowing certain local governments to impose a new fee on hospitals. Money collected via the fee would be used to gain federal Medicaid matching funds, which would be used to support safety net hospitals. Proponents see it as a win-win way to get more federal money. Opponents say they fear the imposition of a new "tax," particularly when local governments are struggling financially. They also worry much of the fee would go to the local governments and administrative costs, thus depleting the program's effectiveness.
• A bill to amend the state's Spill Act to exempt public sewage plants cleared the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. The bill, S-2094, would protect local sewage authorities from potential liability costs, but business groups and environmentalists alike have raised concern about the exemption.
• A bill to prohibit the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey from imposing cargo facility charges on users without a written mutual agreement was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee. The bill is S-2747. Proponents say the charge hurt the port's competitiveness.
• Small distilleries are a step closer to being able to apply for a new craft distillery license. Legislation to create the permit, S-2286, was released by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.
• Finally, the Senate Health Committee also released a Medicaid expansion bill. The legislation, S-2644, would expand income eligibility to non-elderly residents making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line.

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