On Nov. 13, the MMA Board of Directors approved a slate of 21 local government bills recommended by the MMA’s five policy committees to be filed for the 2019-20 legislative session that starts in January.

The slate of bills for the new session includes six new proposals, including measures that address charter school finance, renewable energy property tax exemptions, veterans’ benefit payments, public construction law, the right of first refusal timeline, and alternative delivery of infrastructure projects.

Each bill filed for the new 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, preparing testimony and working with other local government groups on a 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 (refile)
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.

Transparency and accountability in charter school finance (new)
The MMA bill would cap the basic “foundation” assessment on individual cities, towns and regional school districts used to finance charter school tuition payments at the statewide average required local contribution amount calculated under Chapter 70 (projected at $6,636 for fiscal 2019). This proposal would not change how tuition is calculated. Any tuition amount above the cap payable to a charter school would be funded through state appropriation.

Clarifying property tax exemptions for solar and wind renewable energy systems (new)
The MMA bill would clarify and limit the property tax exemption for solar and other renewable energy property to small renewable energy systems that generate not more than 125 percent of the energy needs of the residential property on which it is located. Larger systems would be subject to taxation, unless there is a PILOT agreement in place.

Local-option fuel excise for transportation and stormwater infrastructure programs (refile)
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 (refile)
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 receipts from the tax would continue to be for the municipal general fund.

Policy Committee on Energy and the Environment

Assisting municipal and district ratepayers (refile)
The MMA bill would establish a mechanism through which costs, benefits and financial impacts of proposed environmental rules and regulations must be identified and described before they take effect. The bill would require a much more detailed analysis than currently 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 wastewater 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.

Net metering (refile)
The state’s net metering legislation allows utility companies to submit proposals to the Department of Public Utilities for a monthly minimum reliability contribution (“MMRC”) 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 municipal ratepayers, low-income, community solar and small-scale 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 a municipality’s legislative body the authority to set the number of liquor licenses available each year. 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.

Payment of veterans’ benefits (new)
The MMA bill would streamline the state’s system for financing benefits paid to veterans consistent with sound direct payment practices adopted by other state agencies. A single state appropriation for payment of 100 percent of benefits directly to veterans would simplify the financing and administration of this important program with the Department of Veterans’ Services. This change would reform the current inefficient law, which requires cities and towns to separately try to predict and finance the needs of the Commonwealth’s veterans and adjust during the course of the year.

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. The bill would borrow the conceptual structure of the Green Communities program, which provides funding opportunities for municipalities that reduce and improve the efficiency of energy use, and would be administered through the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

Technical corrections to public construction law (new)
The MMA bill would make a technical correction to Chapter 149 of the General Laws (building construction) to bring it into alignment with changes made to Chapter 30 (public works construction) in the Municipal Modernization Act of 2016.

Extending the right of first refusal timeline (new)
The MMA bill would extend the right of first refusal timeline under Chapter 61A of the General Laws to provide a city or town with more time to determine whether or not they are able to purchase the agricultural or horticultural land from the landowner before sale.

Alternative delivery of infrastructure projects (new)
The MMA bill would provide an alternative delivery method to traditional project delivery systems. This would allow for greater private sector participation in the financing and delivery of projects, offering efficiency and innovation.

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.

Policy Committee on Personnel and Labor Relations

Membership on State Retiree Benefits Trust Fund Board of Trustees (refile as changed)
The MMA bill would add a municipal seat and a “schools” seat to the State Retiree Benefits Trust Fund (SRBTF) Board of Trustees. Municipalities and regional school districts have the option to invest in the SRBTF to meet other post-employment benefit (OPEB) liabilities. This proposal would ensure that municipal and regional school district perspectives are recognized on the board.

Revocation of Civil Service by local option (refile as changed)
The MMA bill would allow for the revocation of the civil service statute by local option without the approval of the Legislature. This bill would also require a city or town to provide documentation to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Service outlining the local policy or policies that would replace the Civil Service system in that municipality. The MMA bill would also allow cities and towns to address a veterans’ preference at the local level, and would exempt any municipalities that have already withdrawn from Civil Service through a home rule petition.

Municipal unemployment insurance reforms (refile)
The MMA bill would make teachers, professional and nonprofessional educational employees who work on behalf of the school system, but are paid through municipal budgets, ineligible to collect unemployment insurance benefits when school is not in session by extending them a “reasonable assurance” of employment. The bill would also reduce unemployment benefits by an amount equal to 65 percent of a retiree’s weekly pension for retirees collecting both unemployment benefits and a pension from the same public or private employer.

Structure of the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board (refile)
The MMA bill would modify the membership of the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board (CERB) to require that the three members include a management representative, a labor representative and a neutral party. 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 toward management or labor.

Policy Committee on Public Works, Transportation and Public Utilities

Municipal authority in public rights of way (refile)
The MMA bill would give municipalities increased authority over utilities that operate in the public right of way. The bill specifies that, if utilities delay in relocating poles and wires, municipalities have the authority to move them and may charge utilities for non-performance. 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 (refile)
The MMA bill would give municipalities and public utilities the right to purchase utility poles from investor-owned utilities at a price that takes depreciation into account.