Recent Legislative Updates

June 2018

UCANE Weighs in Again on Lingering Questions Surrounding Paid Family and Medical Leave Proposals

The Massachusetts legislature has been busy this legislative session trying to avoid having certain policy matters go straight to the ballot in November. One of those matters is the issue of paid family medical leave. House Bill 2172/House Bill 3134/Senate Bill 1048, Acts Establishing a Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program, would create a family and medical leave insurance program under the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. The new program would be funded by “to be determined” employer contributions. Employees will apply to the fund for benefits. While setting staggered implementation periods, an employee could receive 50% salary replacement levels as early as 2019 with the level increased to 90% by January of 2021. Such calculations will be adjusted accordingly based on the consumer price index for the greater metropolitan Boston area. Proponents of the legislation have also established a track for bringing the matter directly to voters in November of this year through a ballot question – something the Massachusetts legislature is working to avoid.

Given the breadth and reach of these legislative proposals, UCANE has again expressed concern that the legislation presents a myriad of challenges. Accordingly, UCANE has followed up its initial letter of last summer with new correspondence, sent at the end of May, to seek answers to lingering questions surrounding the proposals. In particular, UCANE has asked the Chairmen of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development to consider the importance of the following:

•Clearly Defining “Wages” and “Benefits”. Any definition of “wage” and “benefits,” as well as the mechanism for the provision of these items, should be clearly defined so that employers understand exactly what they are required to provide an employee who avails himself or herself of this program.”

•Reasonableness of Benefits Provided. The provision of “wages” and “benefits” must also be reasonable to avoid creating an incentive for individuals to “game the system”… Consider reducing the proposed “wage” and “benefits” proposed under these bills to more closely align with existing programs within the Commonwealth and proven, viable family and medical leave programs implemented in other states.

•Recognition of the Proposal’s Impact on Construction Businesses. It is our sincere hope that the Committee will consider, specifically, what the impact of any “family and medical leave” proposal will have on seasonal employees and employers. Construction companies will not shirk their responsibilities to be good employers, but what works for a company which employs a generally consistent, year round workforce may not work for a company that sees large employee growth during heightened times of work and then significant reduction immediately thereafter.

•Staggered Implementation of Any New Program. Many construction projects are multi-year projects that have been bid and awarded much earlier. To that end, please consider staggering the implementation date of any proposed projects so that contractors currently engaged in multi-year contracts do not suffer previously unexpected costs that may lead to financial loss.

The Massachusetts legislature has convened a working group of proponents and opponents to the paid family and medical leave initiative in the hopes of reaching a compromise before the end of formal legislative sessions on July 31. Twenty-one states currently have pending legislation for paid leave laws, in addition to the five states and District of Columbia that have paid family leave laws already. A compromise is likely to emerge on this issue before the end of formal sessions to avoid a costly, and potentially divisive ballot question campaign.

Baker-Polito Administration Releases Funding For Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness

According to a press release from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA), the Baker-Polito Administration announced over $5 million in grant funding to 34 cities and towns across the Commonwealth for projects to improve their resilience to climate change through Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Program Action Grants. This is the second phase of the grant and designation program, which builds on Governor Baker’s Executive Order 569, as well as other administration-led state and local partnerships and is intended to build on outcomes from a state-funded and community-driven comprehensive assessment of municipal climate change hazards. The 34 Action Grant awardees, representing about 10 percent of municipalities across all regions of the Commonwealth, were announced by Lt. Governor Karyn Polito as part of a tour of a project site in Peabody.

Funding for the MVP program has been more than $7 million over two years to help communities prepare for climate change and build resilience. To participate in the MVP program, communities first apply for Planning Grants, which are used to complete a community-based workshop process to identify key climate-related hazards, vulnerabilities, and strengths, and prioritize next steps to address climate change impacts. Upon successful completion of the planning process, municipalities are designated as a “Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program community.” Designated MVP communities can then apply for MVP Action Grants to implement key priorities and projects identified through the planning process. These projects include follow-up vulnerability assessments, design studies, local bylaws and ordinances, redesigns and retrofits, natural infrastructure and storm protection, and education and outreach.

The program is led by an experienced Project Coordinator from the town with a core team of town staff and volunteers representing town planning departments, emergency managers, conservation commissioners, economic councils, the business community, and other key stakeholders. There are currently 156 MVP communities across the state, representing 43 percent of the state’s municipalities.

The MVP Action Grants were open to all municipal governments in Massachusetts in FY18 that have received MVP designation. Projects that proposed nature-based solutions or strategies that rely on green infrastructure or conservation and enhancement of natural systems to improve community resilience received higher scores.

As part of the Baker-Polito Administration’s commitment to combat and prepare for climate change, Governor Baker recently also filed legislation to authorize over $1.4 billion in capital allocations for investments in safeguarding residents, municipalities, and businesses from the impacts of climate change, protecting environmental resources, and investing in communities. The legislation would put into law essential components of Governor Baker’s Executive Order 569, which established an integrated strategy for climate change adaptation across the Commonwealth, including the MVP program and the Statewide Hazard Mitigation and Adaptation Plan. The funding available through these grant programs builds upon the Baker-Polito Administration’s ongoing efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

To identify which communities will receive funding to complete the planning process, please visit: https://www.mass.gov/news/baker-polito-administration-awards-climate-vulnerability-preparedness-funding-to-82

Massachusetts Senate Passes FY19 Budget Proposal

The Massachusetts Senate passed its FY19 budget proposal at the end of May. The $41.49 billion budget for FY19, according to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, “targeted investments to create opportunities and ensure access to the tools that individuals, children, and families need to succeed in the economy and in their communities.” The Senate budget also limited the use of one-time revenue sources and directed $88.5 million to the state’s Stabilization Fund.

Of particular interest to UCANE, there were a number of appropriations relative to the Commonwealth’s ability to address underground infrastructure, including but not limited to:

•Funding for the administration of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) was $24,712,344. The House budget proposal included greater funding for the MassDEP at approximately $29 million.

•Funding for the contract assistance line-item, 1599-0093, was $63,383,680 in both the House and Senate. This line-item supports the work of the Clean Water Trust in its efforts to fund water infrastructure projects throughout the Commonwealth.

•Funding for the Underground Storage Tank (UST) program under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 21J was set at $8 million – the same amount appropriated by the House. The UST program pays for the replacement of single lined fuel tanks to double lined fuel tanks for eligible entities. There is currently a large backlog of unpaid claims.

•The Commonwealth Rate Relief Fund, which was funded at $1.1 million in the House FY19 budget, was not included in the Senate budget proposal.

The House and Senate will now reconcile their differences in a Conference Committee report before submitting a proposed FY19 budget to the Governor towards the mid-to-latter part of June. UCANE will be submitting letters of support for higher appropriations, where applicable, for the aforementioned items.

U. S. EPA: Charles River is Getting Much Cleaner

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that it had given the Charles River a grade of “A-” for bacterial water quality in the river during 2017. This is only the second time the river has earned a grade as high as an “A-,” with both occurring in the past five years.

The EPA grade for water quality in the lower Charles River is based on bacterial sampling conducted by the Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA) over the 2017 calendar year. CRWA collects monthly water quality samples at ten monitoring sites from the Watertown Dam to Boston Harbor. In 2017, the Charles was meeting the state’s bacterial water quality standards for boating 95% of the time, and for swimming 72% of the time. This is the 23rd year the EPA has issued a Charles River Report Card.

The Charles River grade is determined by comparing the amount of time the river meets water quality standards to the certain criteria. An “A” score means that the Charles River “almost always met standards for boating and swimming” while a “B” score would mean that it “met standards for almost all boating and some swimming.”

The lower Charles River has improved dramatically from the launch of EPA’s Charles River Initiative in 1995, when the river received a “D” for meeting boating standards only 39% of the time and swimming standards just 19% of the time. The water quality improvements are due to significant reductions in the amount of Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) discharges to the river over the past 24 years, as well as enforcement of water quality standards and removal of illicit discharges. Illicit discharges often consist of cracked and leaking sewer pipes or improper sewer connections to the storm drain system.

According to the EPA, an updated Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit for Massachusetts, which takes effect in July 2018, will encourage further progress to reduce harmful amounts of nutrients contained in stormwater runoff. The new MS4 permit will build upon past work, and update stormwater management efforts across Massachusetts, better protecting rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, and wetlands across the Commonwealth.

For more information on how the EPA and partner organizations are addressing water quality in the Charles River, visit: www.epa.gov/charlesriver.

MassDEP Issues Public Water System Award to 71 Communities and Regional Water Systems

To correspond with National Drinking Water Week, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) announced the 71 recipients of the annual Public Water Systems Award during a ceremony at the Massachusetts State House in May. Each year, MassDEP honors the state’s many dedicated drinking water professionals, while acknowledging certain noteworthy accomplishments that involve excellent water service among the 776 existing water systems.

MassDEP uses the week of May 6 to 12, “National Drinking Water Week” to highlight its work with drinking water utilities to make sure that the water delivered to consumers meets all federal and state standards and is clean and abundant. As reported by the MassDEP, tasks facing public water systems continue to be extremely challenging as drinking water infrastructure in many communities is aging and presents daunting resource demands.

Awards were given to 58 public water systems in the four different categories of non-transient, non-community, small community, consecutive, and medium and large community water systems. The award winning systems are rated as having excellent compliance with state and federal drinking water regulations, without any violations in the past five years. Systems that have won for three consecutive years are not eligible, but are issued a letter of commendation.

“Non-transient Non-community Systems” are non-residential water systems that serve at least 25 people over six months or more, such as schools, factories, and office buildings from their own private wells. “Consecutive Systems” serve residential communities that receive some or all of its water from one or more wholesale public water systems. “Medium and Large Community Systems” serve residential communities with a population of 3,301 to 49,999 (for Medium) and more than 50,000 (for Large).

A list of award winners may be found at: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/2018-public-water-system-awards.

MassDOT Releases Updated Five Year Capital Improvement Program

As reported by the State House News Service, Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) personnel recently outlined the Commonwealth’s $17.2 billion capital spending plan for the next five years. The capital plan includes spending a total of $9.2 billion, including $928 million for highway pavement, $1.4 billion for highway construction, and $180.6 million for the construction of multi-use paths. For the MBTA, which represents approximately $8 billion of the capital budget, the plan includes $938 million for track, signal, and power upgrades, $416 million for bridge and tunnel work, and $1.2 billion for the Green Line Extension over the next five years.

The new five-year plan is $234 million larger than the capital investment plan for fiscal 2018-2022. Federal funding makes up $4 billion of the revenue sources for MassDOT projects over the next five years and $3.6 billion for MBTA projects. Among the priority areas the updated plan addresses include:

•Reliability. The proposed plan maintains the strategy to invest first in the reliability of the transportation system, followed by modernization and, as a final priority, expansion. For the 2019-2023 plan, emphasis has shifted to modernization of our assets with our programmed investments. Reliability and Modernization combined to account for over 78% of MassDOT’s investments.

•Municipal Intake Tool. A new tool was launched in 2017 to help municipalities initiate Highway Division projects to be considered for investment by MassDOT or their respective Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). This tool streamlines and improves what used to be a paper-driven process, which required substantial manual entry of data. The tool will continue to be improved and will be expanded to other MassDOT Divisions, including the MBTA.

•Aligning the CIP and STIP. MassDOT adjusted its planning periods to ensure the development of timelines within this Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) and the State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) were aligned so that all applicable investments are identified in each document. According to the CIP report, it is important for the CIP to more accurately reflect regional priority projects identified by the MPOs to reflect a true partnership.

MassDOT has made the capital improvement plan available online for ease of viewing. The report can be found at: https://arcg.is/1iriTf. Visiting the aforementioned link provides additional information about public participation by clicking on the “Participate” tab.