- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

BOSTON (AP) - Massachusetts should regulate non-compete clauses intended to discourage employees from quitting to work for a competitor, state House Speaker Robert DeLeo told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

The Democrat said his plan would limit non-compete agreements to 12 months and require that employees be told if they’ll be asked to sign an agreement before accepting a job.

Critics of the agreements say they stifle competition by preventing workers at technology firms from quitting their jobs to take their skills to other companies. Supporters say employers who spend money training and educating employees have legitimate concerns about workers going to a competitor.

“Our legislation will strike an appropriate balance on non-competes, and create a more desirable environment for both employers and employees,” DeLeo told the business group.

Under the House plan, DeLeo also said non-compete clauses could not be used against lower-wage workers.

Camp counselors, for example, should not be forced to sign an agreement that would prohibit them from working at another camp the following summer, DeLeo said.

Former Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick urged lawmakers in 2014 to back a proposal designed to discourage non-compete agreements in the private sector.

“This is an issue that we didn’t dream up,” Patrick said then. “It came to us directly from the tech community.”

At the time DeLeo opted not to pursue Patrick’s proposal.

DeLeo also pledged to spur the state’s economy through legislative support for innovative industries including big data and offshore wind power.

DeLeo said big data is the next step in the state’s tradition of discovery and invention. He said the House will fund a $2 million Big Data Innovation and Workforce Fund to promote the use of big data and analytics through partnerships between the public and private sectors.

DeLeo said energy plays a major role in business decisions, making affordable, reliable and clean energy critical for the economy. A House energy plan includes a competitive procurement process for hydroelectricity and development of offshore wind power.

DeLeo said the Massachusetts’ coastline provides “unrivaled offshore wind resources.” He said it’s encouraging that the federal government’s auction of offshore leases has attracted interest locally and internationally.

“This resource has the additional benefit of creating local jobs,” DeLeo said. “We have the opportunity to launch a new industry that is successful in other parts of the world, right here at home.”

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has urged lawmakers to pass legislation to encourage the use of Canadian hydropower in Massachusetts.

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Associated Press writer Mark Pratt contributed to this report.

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