Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Social Security Documents for the Blind

One of the priorities of the Social Security Administration (SSA) is supporting disabled persons who want to work. The SSA publishes a reference book entitled the Red Book which serves as a reference resource for disabled beneficiaries. Its correct subtitle is: A Summary Guide to Employment Supports for Persons with Disabilities under the Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income Programs. This book is published in Braille.

The book is written for advocates, counselors, educators, rehabilitation professionals, and others who want a working knowledge of the provisions, policies and services available to them. Among the chapter headings are:  What’s New in 2013; How Do We Define Disability; Returning to Work; SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) and SSI (Social Security Insurance) Employment Supports; Special Rules for Persons Who Are Blind and a Glossary.

One of the purposes of The Red Book is to assist people in moving from dependency to independency. The book is online in both English and Spanish. The Braille paper is a 2 volume set and it is available in the State Library with the call number: SSA1.2/15: EM 7 v. I 2013.

The SSA also publishes other Braille books such as: Your Ticket to Work; Understanding the Benefits; How Work Affects Your Benefits; Benefits for Children with Disabilities.Copies of these Braille books are available in the State Library.  They are also available on the Social Security website; in Braille, large print, audio CD and audio cassette tape.

Bette Siegel
Government Documents Librarian

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

An Act By Any Other Name: General vs. Special Acts

Patrons often contact the State Library wanting to know the difference between an act that is general in nature, and what is commonly called a “special act” (or “special law”).  Massachusetts acts are made up of both types, and it’s easy to be confused by this concept since they are published together in no particular order other than that in which they were passed during a specific year; however, prior to 1920, you will find that they were published in separate volumes.  It’s important to be able to recognize the difference between the two, as research methods can vary depending on the type in question.  Also note that the Massachusetts Acts and Resolves are commonly known under the umbrella term “session laws”, and you may see this term used throughout your research.

An act that is general in nature will most often apply to all Massachusetts residents (for example, laws regarding divorce in the state), or it may involve the organization and administration of the state government (for example, the state budget).  Also keep in mind that general acts are passed with the intent of permanence.  This type of act makes up the majority of the acts passed, and together they form the body of the Massachusetts General Laws (MGL) and all of its additions, amendments, repeals, etc. that the MGL has undergone since its codification.  In other words, each general act is codified into the MGL.  The MGL, like most existing bodies of law, is mutable and subject to continual changes that are effected by these general acts.

“Special acts” are acts that are more specific in nature.  They apply to a limited number, such as one person, one event, a specific city or town, etc.  Like general acts, they are subject to amendments brought about by subsequent acts; however they are not codified into any body of law.

A good way to distinguish between the two types of acts is to take a look at the language used and the subject matter at hand.  Good questions to ask are: What is the scope of the subject matter?  Is it specific, or does it apply to the Massachusetts community as a whole?  Does it affect the organization or administration of the state government?  Is it meant to be temporary?  Key language usually appears in the first couple sentences of the act.  Does it specifically state that the act is an amendment or insertion being applied to the General Laws?  If so, then it is a general act.  If you’re still not sure, Shephard’s Citations, which is available in the library, is a good resource to look at because it distinguishes between acts codified and not codified.

To make matters more complicated, sometimes an act can have both.  A great example of this is 1993 Chap. 71, a huge act concerning educational reform.  Many of the sections are general acts with references to the MGL, but look at section 70; section 70 is not codified in the MGL and is considered a “special” part of this act.

Special Act:  2009 Chap. 201. An Act Designating A Certain Traffic Circle In The City Of Lowell As The Micky Ward Rotary.

General Act:  1980 Chap. 63. An Act Establishing Town Meeting Day.

The State Library has digitized all of the acts from 1692 to 2009; later acts can be found on the legislature’s website.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Dept.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Minimum Wage Laws: Massachusetts in the Forefront in the United States

The issue of the minimum wage is very much in the news today, with both sides on the question of whether it should be raised giving a strong voice to their concerns.

The earliest such laws were not in the United States, but in Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain. In 1896, in Victoria, Australia, the “Factories Act” was amended and a “wage board” was created.  This board set basic wages for six industries and by 1904, it covered 150 different industries.

In 1894, New Zealand enacted the first actual minimum wage laws. In 1907, the British government reported on its investigation of the laws in Australia and New Zealand and in 1909, Winston Churchill, then President of the Board of Trade, introduced the “Trade Boards Act.” This act allowed for boards to set minimum wage standards.

In the United States, Massachusetts was the first state to enact minimum wage legislation. The initial acts concerned women and children only and were in reference to labor in the industries where the majority of workers were of course, female.  Page 17 of a “Report of the Commission on Minimum Wage Boards (House Bill 1697 of 1912)” speaks to the view of “Women in the workplace” at that time:

A Minimum Wage Commission was established in 1911 and started to publish “Bulletins” in January of 1914. The first bulletins of the Commission were reports on “Wages of Women in the Brush Factories in Massachusetts,”  “Wages of Women in the Corset Factories of Massachusetts,” and “Wages of Women in the Laundries of Massachusetts,” among others.  The emphasis on factory workers in these industries reflects the times and the employment of women.

During the 1920’s and 1930’s, there were many attempts to enact a federal law.  It was not until 1938, during the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, that such a law was enacted and stood up to challenges.   That law is called FLSA, the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Although the law only covered one fifth of the workforce at the time, it set an hourly wage of twenty five cents and banned oppressive child labor.
There have, of course, been many changes to the laws over the years.  On September 25th of this year, Governor Jerry Brown of California, for example, signed a law setting the minimum wage there at $10.00 per hour.  In Massachusetts, the rate is currently $8.00.

The State Library, located in the Massachusetts State House, is the perfect place to research the laws of the Commonwealth.   As one researches the state’s history, one will find time and again that Massachusetts has been first in the nation to study and tackle important legislation concerning not just wage equality, but many other issues.

Please visit us in the Massachusetts State House, Room 341.  Our website www.mass.gov/lib will give you information about our services and our holdings.

Pamela W. Schofield
Legislative Reference Librarian
State Library of Massachusetts