MMA Legislative Package

The MMA Board of Directors has approved a slate of 21 local government bills recommended by the MMA’s five policy committees to be filed for the 2017-18 legislative session.
 
The slate of bills for the session includes 10 new proposals, including measures that address comprehensive zoning reform, local-option alcohol and gas excise taxes, charges for net-metering recipients, retiree health insurance contribution rates, the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board, the use of rights of way by utilities, the purchase of utility poles, and seat belts on school buses.
 
All bills filed for the session will be assigned to a legislative committee sometime after the session convenes in January. Public hearings for many bills will be held in the spring and early summer.
 
The MMA legislative package represents just a few of the hundreds of bills affecting local government that will be filed for the new session. MMA policy committees and staff will be evaluating these bills and preparing testimony and working with other local government groups on a wide range of bills over the two-year session.
 
The following are the MMA bills, listed by policy committee:
 
Fiscal Policy Committee
 
Local-option excise on alcohol for substance abuse prevention and public health programs (new)
The MMA bill would allow cities and towns to adopt a sales tax of up to 2 percent on the retail sale of alcoholic beverages, including sales in bars, restaurants, package stores and other non-pouring establishments. Approval would be by vote of the local legislative body. The revenue would be dedicated to help pay for local substance abuse and other public health programs.
 
Payments in lieu of taxation (refile)
The MMA bill would allow cities and towns, upon local acceptance, to require certain tax-exempt charitable organizations to make payments in lieu of taxation to host cities and towns equal to 25 percent of what they would pay if the property were not exempt. The bill would require cities and towns to adopt bylaws or ordinances to provide for agreements between the municipality and organizations that may provide for exemptions from payment, consideration of community benefits as payment, and administration of payments.
 
Local-option fuel excise for transportation and stormwater infrastructure programs (new)
The MMA bill would allow cities and towns to adopt a local-option tax on sales of gasoline and diesel fuel of up to 5 cents per gallon that would be collected in the same manner as the state excise. Approval would be by vote of the local legislative body. The revenue would be dedicated to help pay for local transportation programs (infrastructure and services) and stormwater programs.
 
Local-option meals tax (new)
The MMA bill would increase the local-option sales tax on meals from 0.75 percent to 1.5 percent. Approval would be by vote of the local legislative body. The revenue would continue to be for the municipal general fund.


 
Policy Committee on Energy and the Environment
 
Identifying financial impacts of proposed environmental regulations (refile)
The MMA bill would establish a mechanism for identifying and describing the costs, benefits and financial impacts of proposed environmental rules and regulations before they take effect. The bill would require a much more detailed analysis than currently available in the rule-making process and would require the state to provide a cost-benefit analysis for every dollar expended.
 
Sustainable water resource funds (refile)
The MMA bill would clarify and strengthen the authority of cities and towns to establish water, stormwater, and wastewaste utility fees in order to protect municipal public health and meet federal Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act requirements and other state and federal environmental requirements.
 
Minimum reliability contributions from net metering recipients (new)
Net metering legislation enacted last session allows utility companies to submit proposals to the Department of Public Utilities for a monthly minimum reliability contribution to be included on electric bills for those that receive net metering credits, subject to the review and approval of the DPU. The MMA bill would exempt municipalities that receive net metering credits, low-income and community solar ratepayers from any monthly minimum reliability contribution.


 
Policy Committee on Municipal and Regional Administration
 
Municipal control of liquor licenses (refile)
The MMA bill would give the municipal legislative body the authority to set the number of liquor licenses available in the municipality. The licensing board or other local body responsible for issuing licenses would still control the granting of such licenses. Communities across the Commonwealth are seeking more municipal authority over the number of liquor licenses they may issue, largely for economic development purposes, and this proposal would eliminate the need to go to the Legislature for a home rule petition to gain more licenses.
 
Commission to study the administration of veteran’s benefits (refile)
The MMA bill would create a special commission to study the administration of benefits offered to veterans under Chapter 115 of the General Laws, including which benefits are offered, how they are administered, and the role of local veterans’ service officers. This special commission would be charged with developing recommendations to ensure an effective and efficient system for both veterans and municipalities.
 
Marketing prioritized development sites (refile)
The MMA bill would require the Massachusetts Office of Business Development to create and maintain, either independently or through a partnership with an external entity, a statewide searchable database of developable land and vacant sites, with listings submitted at no cost by local officials. This database would create a more comprehensive online marketing portal than currently exists for all locally prioritized sites across the state, giving each city and town the equal opportunity to submit prioritized development sites for inclusion.
 
Promoting local economic development (refile)
The MMA bill would create a program to provide funding or other opportunities, such as technical assistance, to municipalities or regions that maximize opportunities for economic development planning and growth by meeting a series of criteria. These criteria would include a self-assessment of economic potential and the identification of unique strengths and assets. This bill would borrow the conceptual structure of the Green Communities program, which provides funding opportunities for municipalities that reduce energy use and improve efficiency, and would be administered through the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.
 
Local impacts of enacted legislation (refile)
The MMA bill would require the Executive Office, upon signing legislation, to attach a fiscal note specifying the local impacts of the legislation.
 
Local planning and zoning (new)
The MMA bill would update elements of the state’s planning and zoning laws in order to give local governments more tools to address development and housing challenges. It would grant municipalities statutory authority to enact inclusionary zoning requirements, development impact fees, and site plan review, and offer alternate dispute resolution. The bill would also create a local option for changing the quantum of the vote for zoning ordinances and bylaws and for granting special permits, as well as providing for modest “approval-not-required” (ANR) reform.


 
Policy Committee on Personnel and Labor Relations
 
Retiree Benefits Trust Fund (refile as modified)
The MMA bill would add two seats to the State Retiree Benefits Trust Fund Board, one municipal seat and one “schools” seat. Municipalities and regional school districts both have the option to invest Other Post-Employment Benefits funds in the SRBTF, which is overseen by the State Retiree Benefits Trust Fund Board. This proposal would ensure the municipal and regional school district perspectives are recognized on the SRBTF Board.
 
Civil Service (refile as modified)
The MMA bill would recognize that Civil Service is an antiquated system and allow for the revocation of the statute at local option without approval by the Legislature. The bill would require the city or town to provide documentation to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Service that outlines the local policy or policies that would replace the Civil Service statute.
 
Health insurance contributions by retirees (new)
The MMA bill would eliminate the extension of the moratorium placed on increases of retiree contribution rates for health insurance premiums in municipalities that used the 2011 municipal health insurance reform legislation to implement plan design changes. The moratorium was intended to be a three-year freeze, but has been extended by two years twice, in 2014 and 2016. This bill would roll back the latest extension. Additionally, the bill would clarify the applicability of the moratorium only to cities and towns implementing plan design changes for the first time. The moratorium would not apply in the second and subsequent rounds of plan design changes.
 
Municipal unemployment insurance reforms (refile)
The MMA bill would extend “reasonable assurance” to employees who work on behalf of the school system but are paid through the municipal budget. This would ensure that employees couldn’t collect unemployment insurance benefits when school is not in session. This bill would also address the issue of retirees collecting both unemployment benefits and a pension from the same public or private employer, by reducing unemployment benefits by an amount equal to 65 percent of the employee’s weekly pension.
 
Structure of the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board (new)
The MMA bill would modify the membership of the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board. Currently, the only stipulation for membership is that no more than two members can be from the same political party. Party affiliation, however,  is not an adequate proxy for an individual’s leanings either toward management or labor. This bill would require that the three members include a management representative, a labor representative, and a neutral party.


 
Policy Committee on Public Works, Transportation and Public Utilities
 
Municipal authority in public rights of way (new)
The MMA bill would give municipalities increased authority over utilities that operate in public rights of way. The bill would specify that, if utilities delay the relocation of poles and wires, municipalities have the authority to move poles and wires, and may charge utilities for nonperformance. The bill would give municipalities the ability to assess fees and levy taxes on utilities that operate in the public right of way and give municipalities the ability to pass local bylaws or ordinances related to the licensing and permitting of utilities in the right of way.
 
Municipal purchase of utility poles (new)
The MMA bill would give municipalities and public utilities the right to purchase utility poles from investor-owned utilities at a price the takes into account depreciation in value of the utility poles.
 
Seat belts on school buses (new)
The MMA bill would require that all school buses in the Commonwealth be equipped with seat belts within five years. The bill would give municipalities the authority to pass a local ordinance requiring seatbelts on all school buses that operate within the municipality at an earlier implementation date.
 

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