This alert today from the Massachusetts Municipal Association with a summary of the onslaught of legislation just passed before the legislative session ended at midnight last night -
Friday, August 1, 2014
LEGISLATURE ENDS ITS FORMAL SESSIONS
Lawmakers Work Past Midnight to Complete Action on Major Bills
The Following Bills Were Passed Last Night and are on the Governor’s Desk:
• Economic Development Bill
• Gun Violence Reduction Bill
• Local Housing Authority Reform Bill
• Environmental Bond Bill
• Water Infrastructure Finance Bill
• Solar Net Metering Bill
• Information Technology Bond Bill
• MMA Analyzing “Shift Swapping” Collective Bargaining Bill
With a midnight deadline looming on Thursday night, members of the House and Senate worked past that time into the early hours of Friday morning to enact dozens of bills, including several major pieces of legislation that had been the subject of extensive negotiation between the branches. The Legislature’s rules set July 31 as the last day for formal sessions and roll call votes. From August 1 until a new Legislature is seated in January 2015, the House and Senate can only meet in “informal” sessions to consider issues that have unanimous support and do not require recorded roll call votes.
Among the dozens and dozens of bills that received attention and action this week, six major bills passed that will impact cities and towns, and the MMA is analyzing a seventh bill that would add “shift swapping” to collective bargaining. These measures are on the Governor’s Desk and will require his signature in order to become law.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT BILL PROVIDES SOLID TOOLS FOR CITIES AND TOWNS
MMA Succeeds in Preserving Local Zoning and Permitting Authority for Wireless Antennas
Final Bill Omits the Proposal to Eliminate the Cap on Local Liquor Licenses
The final compromise economic development bill passed by the Legislature includes $10 million for Brownfields remediation, expands the successful I-Cubed infrastructure program and increases eligibility for the Economic Development Incentive Program, increases tax credits for the Housing Development Incentive Program from $5 million to $10 million and creates and capitalizes the Transformative Development Fund at $16 million for Gateway Cities, and retains broad eligibility standards for MassWorks grant funding.
In a major victory for the MMA and local officials, the Legislature rejected language that would have allowed the telecommunications industry to site wireless antennas in virtually any location regardless of local zoning. This provision, which was included in the House bill and was not in the Senate version, was held in conference and did not become part of the final bill. Thank you for your calls and letters to your legislators to maintain the fundamental right of local control of land use.
Unfortunately, the final compromise economic development bill passed by the Legislature does not lift the cap on the number of liquor licenses each municipality may issue, despite the strong support of the MMA and municipal leaders for this important economic development tool for local governments. The Governor and Senate supported this important measure, but the House opposed it. The MMA will continue fighting to return liquor licenses to local control in the next legislative session. The bill did include changes reported in the media to allow Boston to appoint its own licensing board, and to add a limited number of licenses in Boston, provisions that originated in local legislation filed by the City.
Click here for a copy of the economic development bill
AN ACT RELATIVE TO THE REDUCTION OF GUN VIOLENCE
Final Bill Includes Major Program Expansions in Local School Districts
Discuss the Potential Impact with Your Superintendent as Soon as You Can
The media attention on the compromise gun violence legislation passed by lawmakers focused on the provision to allow police chiefs to go to court to prevent “unsuitable” individuals from accessing a firearms identification card for rifles and long guns. However, the bill also contains a number of sections that apply to public schools and would add new responsibilities at the local level. We urge you to immediately discuss the implications of the new mandates and programs in the gun control bill with your school superintendent to determine how the measure could impact your public schools and local budgets.
The law contains a Safe and Supportive Schools (S3) framework, which supporters claim will foster a “safe, positive, healthy, and inclusive whole-school learning environment.” DESE is required to develop guidelines and regulations outlining how the program should be implemented locally. Cities, towns and school districts are not mandated to accept and implement the program, because the law stipulates that S3 must first be adopted by a vote of a school committee, and is subject to local appropriation.
The legislation does require that each school district must have at least one school resource officer and that each school possess a two-way radio communication device for use in communicating solely with police and fire departments in the event of an emergency, although these requirements are both subject to local appropriation. The MMA successfully advocated for the inclusion of language limiting potential legal liability for districts in both sections.
Under the bill, each school is required to create a mental health plan for its students, families, teachers, and administrators. DESE is charged with developing the guidelines and requirements for implementation. There is no state funding, and the program is a new mandate on cities, towns and school districts. The MMA requested that this provision be held in conference because it is an unfunded mandate with major complexity, but the language remained in the final bill. Similarly, each school must also provide suicide prevention training of at least 2 hours every 3 years for all licensed school personnel. The MMA was successful in sponsoring language to limit legal liability for districts on both of these new requirements.
Click here for a copy of the gun violence prevention bill
HOUSING AUTHORITY REFORM
A compromise housing authority reform measure passed by the House and Senate would require the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to create a comprehensive training program focused on proper management for all housing authority board members. Further, DHCD will be responsible for creating a performance-based monitoring program for all housing authorities. The bill establishes a program based on best practices in collaborative capital, maintenance, and repair planning, with participation required for those housing authorities with under 500 state-aided units. An annual plan will be required of each housing authority for submission to the state. Each housing authority must contract with an external auditor, but must not use the same auditor for more than 5 consecutive years without a waiver. DHCD will develop a voluntary regional public housing innovation program open to up to 4 regional housing authorities, with the goal of achieving innovative models for public housing development and management. DHCD will also implement a centralized waitlist for state-aided public housing within a year.
Click here for a copy of the housing authority bill
$2.2 BILLION ENVIRONMENTAL BOND BILL
The Legislature enacted a sweeping $2.2 billion environmental bond bill that includes a broad range of resources that cities and towns can access, if the Administration releases the funds under its capital plan. The initiatives include: $49 million for dam removal and repair; $120 million for coastal infrastructure projects; $111 million for urban parks; increases in conservation tax credits to facilitate local land preservation; and a provision sponsored by Sen. Richard Moore to require DEP to report to the Legislature on the costs created by the new Sustainable Water Management Initiative (SWMI) regulations.
Click here for a copy of the environmental bond bill
WATER INFRASTRUCTURE FINANCE BILL
The Legislature’s water infrastructure finance bill would add $50 million to the state revolving loan fund administered by the Water Pollution Abatement Trust (now renamed the Clean Water Trust). Currently, the SRF program is capped at $88 million a year, and the bill would raise the program up to $138 million. In the past, the WPAT did not release all available funds, and this legislation requires the state to release at least 80% to cities and towns. Further, the program will provide subsidized loans and/or principal forgiveness to more communities due to the increased capacity. The bill also includes, at local option, the ability for communities to assess up to a 3% property tax surcharge to raise funds for water infrastructure related projects. Unfortunately, the final bill did not include “water banking,” an innovative funding mechanism that would allow communities to create additional capacity for economic growth by charging fees to fund necessary water and sewer infrastructure improvements for new developments. The Senate included water banking in its version of the bill, but the House, under pressure from the development community, balked and with time running out in the session, the measure did not remain in the bill. The MMA will continue to prioritize this important tool.
Click here for a copy of the water infrastructure finance bill
SOLAR NET METERING BILL
Cities and towns have been very successful in promoting important solar energy projects, so successful that municipalities are now being stalled because of the statutory limit in the amount of solar energy that can be returned to the grid or sold to the utilities. The statutory cap on “net metering” needs to be lifted in order to make additional solar projects viable. Municipalities, environmentalists and solar developers joined forces to remove the cap on solar net metering, but some large utilities resisted strongly. In the end, the Legislature passed a compromise bill that would offer a temporary solution by raising the net metering cap by enough to allow those municipal projects that have been stalled to now go forward. However, it is expected that this problem will re-emerge next year, which will renew calls for a permanent solution.
Click here for a copy of the solar net metering bill
MMA ANALYZING “SHIFT SWAPPING” COLLECTIVE BARGAINING BILL
With breakneck speed, the Legislature acted in the final hours of the session to pass S. 1218, Sen. Ken Donnelly’s bill that would make shift swapping a subject of collective bargaining under Chapter 150E of the General Laws. The bill was strongly supported by the fire unions, and had been lodged in the Senate Ways and Means Committee until the last day of the session. The bill simply includes “employee and employee exchange of tours” in the list of items subject to collective bargaining under section 7 of Chapter 150E. The MMA is analyzing the potential impact, and expressing its concern over the measure with the Governor’s office.