Recent Legislative Updates

April 2018

House Passes Short Term Rental Legislation; UCANE Supports Language Creating Cape and Islands Water Protection Trust

At the end of March, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed legislation to regulate and tax the short-term rental industry. The bill, which would require the Massachusetts Department of Revenue to maintain a short-term rental registry, record the name of each host and the address of each unit they offer, and give the Department the authority to charge a “reasonable fee” for registration, is geared towards online host facilitators like AirBNB and HomeAway. Under the legislation, rentals would be taxed at levels ranging from 4 percent to 8 percent, depending on how many units a host offers. Residential hosts renting two or fewer units would be taxed at 4 percent, investor hosts with three to five units would have a 5.7 percent tax, and professionally managed hosts renting six or more units would face an 8 percent tax per rental, under the bill.

Cities and towns would have the option to impose local excise taxes of up to 5 percent for residential hosts, 6 percent for investors, and 10 percent for professionally managed hosts. Communities that opt for the local tax would need to adopt ordinances or bylaws requiring any residential units offered as short-term rentals first undergo a safety inspection, the costs of which would be charged to the host.

Of interest to UCANE members, half of the local tax collected from professionally managed hosts would need to be dedicated to “programs addressing either local infrastructure needs or low- and moderate-income housing programs.” Perhaps more interesting, Representative Sarah Peake, joined by the rest of the Cape Cod and Islands delegation, filed an amendment to create the Cape and Islands Water Protection Trust and implement an additional 2.75 percent excise for use towards meeting the Cape and Islands $ 4 billion – $6 billion water infrastructure funding gap. In supporting the legislation, UCANE wrote to House members that “[t]his amendment underscores the need for partnership in developing a regional solution to Cape Cod and the Islands’ water infrastructure needs. Probably more than any other region in the Commonwealth, Cape Cod’s sole source aquifer, geographic configuration, and extensive inter-municipal nitrogen pollution creates the need for a regional entity to oversee the region’s water infrastructure needs.”

The Massachusetts Senate is expected to take up its version of the short-term rental legislation in early April.

Baker-Polito Administration Unveils Latest Round of MassWorks Grants

According to a press release from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, the Baker-Polito Administration made a $3 million MassWorks Infrastructure Program grant award to North Reading for the Water Infrastructure Improvements project. The award, which will support the redevelopment of the former J.T. Berry State Hospital site, will leverage more than $7.5 million in local funding and create the potential for more than $160 million in private investment.

The MassWorks Infrastructure Program makes grants available to municipalities for public infrastructure projects that generate additional private sector investment. This award will allow the town of North Reading to replace water mains and construct a new pump station to meet the current and future needs of North Reading.

In particular, the town of North Reading sold the property to Pulte Homes through a partnership with the Commonwealth, through the Open for Business initiative, an effort to help municipalities create value through their real estate portfolios. The sale and infrastructure upgrades, in coordination with efforts to rezone the site as a 40R Smart Growth District and designating it as a 43D Local Expedited Permitting Site, will result in the construction of a new, 450-unit housing development, Martins Landing.

The project is also consistent with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council’s MetroFutures Plans, and may unlock an additional 250-units of housing and up to 43,000 square feet of new retail space.

The MassWorks Infrastructure Program provides a one-stop shop for municipalities and other eligible public entities seeking public infrastructure funding to support housing production, economic development, and job creation. Since 2015, and including this year’s awards, the Baker-Polito Administration has awarded over $274 million to 134 projects in 106 communities throughout the Commonwealth, spurring the development of over 2 million square feet of commercial and retail space, over 7,000 immediate housing units, at least 7,000 square feet of new public space, and 1,200 new hotel rooms and commercial/retail space.

Governor Files $1.4 Billion Environmental Bond Bill

The month of March saw Governor Baker file 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, An Act Promoting Climate Change Adaptation, Environmental and Natural Resource Protection and Investment in Recreational Assets and Opportunity, provides numerous environmental bond authorizations and commits certain components of Governor Baker’s Executive Order 569, which established an integrated climate change strategy, into law. The legislation will also codify the Baker-Polito Administration’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness grant program, which has now enrolled over 20% of communities across the Commonwealth in an effort to plan for, and build resilience to, climate change.

In an effort to meet a variety of environmental needs throughout the Commonwealth, the legislation allocates significant funds for communities to continue their environmental stewardship programs. Among the allocations:

· $125 million for community investment grant programs for municipalities, regional planning agencies, and other eligible entities;

· $25 million for tree planting and forest land protection programs. In addition to the grant programs administered by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA);

· $50 million for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Complete Streets Program, which provides funding to communities to provide safe and accessible options for all travel modes – walking, biking, transit, and vehicles;

· $170 million will be used to fund improvements and repairs to dams and seawalls, and to implement diverse coastal resiliency strategies;

· $50 million will provide planning and action grants to communities through the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Program; and

· $60 million will be invested in implementing the Commonwealth’s Integrated State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan.
The legislation also includes over $270 million to support environmental programs at the MassDEP and other agencies ranging from air and water quality monitoring to hazardous waste cleanup and the restoration of rivers, wetlands, streams, and lakes. This includes the $60 million necessary for the Commonwealth’s Clean Water Trust to continue its strong partnership with cities and towns in developing water infrastructure projects. To protect the Commonwealth’s maritime industry, the bill includes a proposal to allow the Department of Fish and Game to update decades-old fines and penalty schedules for marine fisheries violations, including doubling non-criminal fines and increasing criminal penalties.

In an effort to improve other government functions, the bill amends the Mass. Gen. Laws to improve agency operations, empower municipalities, and increase recreational opportunities. It would also improve the Division of Marine Fisheries’ ability to enforce marine fishery laws, protecting Commonwealth fisheries by updating decades old criminal and civil fines and penalties. The Department of Conservation and Recreation and Division of Fisheries and Wildlife would be authorized to provide discounted parks passes and fishing and hunting licenses for veterans.

To read more about this legislative filing, please visit: www.mass.gov/doc/an-act-promoting-climate-change-adaptation-environmental-and-natural-resource-protection-and/download

Significant Changes for the Massachusetts Senate in the 2019-2020 Session

On the basis of the month of March alone, the next legislative session will be very different for the Massachusetts Senate. Ashland Democrat Senator Karen Spilka, the current Chairwoman of the Senate Wats and Means Committee, announced that she has the votes to become the next Senate President – a full nine months before Senators were expected to choose their next leader. According to various media reports, Senator Spilka has the support of 25 of her colleagues, including, Senator Sal DiDomenico, one of the other leading contenders for the position.

Although Senate President Harriette Chandler had asked Senators to leave wrangling for the position until later in the session, a number of Democrats continuing lining up votes as has occurred in both the Senate and House of Representatives in previous leadership battles. Senator Chandler, who did not seek the position for next term, has worked hard to keep the body focused on policy and legislation, not politics. Other contenders for the position of Senate President included Senator Eric Lesser, Senator John Keenan, Senator Eileen Donoghue and, although he did not campaign for it, Senator Mark Montigny.

In addition to the prospect of a new Senate President, the Massachusetts Senate will lose three more of its members next session. Senator Donoghue, who represents the City of Lowell, was recently selected City Manager for the Commonwealth’s leading gateway city. With Senator Donoghue assuming the City of Lowell’s top appointed position, no special election will be held to replace her before the regularly scheduled biannual elections. Senator Donoghue, who graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1976 and received her law degree from Suffolk University Law School in 1979, was elected to the Lowell City Council in 1996.

In addition, Senator Kathleen O’Connor-Ives of Newburyport announced that she will not seek re-election for the next legislative session. A passionate legislator known for her commitment to constituent issues, Senator O’Connor Ives noted that the growing demands of her family played a consideration in her decision. Senator O’Connor-Ives has held elected office since she won a seat on the Newburyport City Council in 2007. Elected to the Senate in 2012, O’Connor-Ives is the Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Post-Audit and Oversight.
Combined with the departures of Senators Jim Timilty, Tom McGee, Jen Flanagan, Ken Donnelly, and, eventually, Barbara L’Italien, who is seeking Congressman Niki Tsongas’s seat due to her own decision to not seek re-election, the Massachusetts Senate will have soon close to a quarter of its body change-over.

News in Brief

Governor Signs OSHA Expansion Act. As drafted, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act gave states the option of applying its safety standards to public employees. With a new law, Massachusetts joins the slim majority of states that provide at least OSHA-level protections for public employees – whether in municipal, county or state employment. The legislation, championed by the Massachusetts Coalition of Occupational Safety and Health (“MassCOSH”), will apply to the full-time equivalent of 86,800 state workers and 341,721 municipal employees. According to MassCOSH, between 2005 and 2016, 52 municipal workers were fatally injured at work in Massachusetts.

Representative Cantwell Leaving Legislature. After 10 years in office, Representative Jim Cantwell announced his resignation at the end of March to join U.S. Senator Ed Markey as his State Director. As a State Representative, Mr. Cantwell had been active in policy discussions around ways to reduce opioid addiction, nuclear plant regulation, international climate change goals, and the national flood-insurance program. A graduate of Boston College and Boston College Law School, Representative Cantwell worked for former Congressman William Delahunt. He also served as a Selectman in his hometown of Marshfield and as a Norfolk County prosecutor.