Beacon Hill Roll Call, Dec. 12 to 16, 2016

Published: 12/21/2016 8:01:40 PM

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

This week, with the end of the 2016 session only days away, Beacon Hill Roll Call, in the third and final in a series of special reports, looks at some of the bills that were approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker in the 2016 session. All but one of the new laws in this week’s report were approved by the House on a roll call vote but by a voice vote in the Senate.

DISCLOSE TOP FIVE DONORS (H 543)

House 146-10, Senate 34-6, approved a new law that requires the names of the top five contributors who donate over $5,000 to a super Political Action Committee (PAC) and other groups or political committees to be listed on all campaign billboards and mailers. Prior law required the listing of the top five donors only on television, Internet and print ads.

Super PACs are created to help candidates and are often run by the candidate’s former staffers or associates who use the PAC to fund positive ads about the candidate and/or negative ads against the candidate’s opponents. There is a limit on how much money can be donated to a candidate’s own election committee but super PACs can legally accept unlimited donations. The new law was in effect for the 2016 election.

Supporters say the new law increases transparency and allows more voters to see who is funding these influential PACs. They say it shines the light on this “dark” money.

Opponents say the new law does not go far enough on several counts to make true campaign finance reforms. They note it still allows unions to contribute excessive money to campaigns.

(A “Yes” vote is for the new law. A “No” vote against it.)

Rep. Stephen Kulik Yes

Rep. Paul Mark Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps
Lee Yes

Sen. Benjamin Downing Yes

Sen. Stanley Rosenberg Yes

ALLOW MORE CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS (H 542)

House 151-0, (no Senate roll call) approved a new law that allows donors to contribute the maximum $1,000 twice per year to a candidate who runs for the Legislature in a special election and a regular election in the same year. Prior law only allowed donors to give a maximum of $1,000 in any calendar year. The new law was in effect for the 2016 election.

Supporters say it is unfair for a candidate who runs in a special election and then runs for re-election in the same year to be limited to $1,000 per donor for the entire year. They argue that prior law gave an advantage to some candidates who were only running in the regular election.

(A “Yes” vote is for the new law.)

Rep. Stephen Kulik Yes

Rep. Paul Mark Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps
Lee Yes

NEWSPAPERS MUST PUBLISH PUBLIC NOTICES ONLINE (H 1566)

House 153-0, (no Senate roll call) approved a new law that requires newspapers that are paid to publish official state and local public notices in the paper’s print edition to also include them on the paper’s website at no additional cost. In addition, the new law requires papers to include the notices, at no extra charge, on a new statewide website, created and operated by a joint venture of Massachusetts newspapers.

Supporters say that readership of print copies of newspapers is down. They argue the addition of the papers’ websites and a new statewide website results in many more people seeing these important notices.

(A “Yes” vote is for the new law.)

Rep. Stephen Kulik Yes

Rep. Paul Mark Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps
Lee Yes

REGULATE UBER AND LYFT (H 4570)

House 142-15, (no Senate roll call) approved a new law that regulates Uber, Lyft and other Transportation Network Companies (TNCs). The new law establishes a new division within the Department of Public Utilities, funded by the companies themselves, to oversee the licensing of the companies and drivers, enforcing penalties and all other issues. A key provision requires drivers to pass two annual background checks — an internal one by the company and one by the state.

Under the new law, a driver’s record cannot contain any crimes of violence, sexual abuse, drunken driving, hit and run, felony robbery or felony fraud. In addition, anyone with one major traffic violation or four minor traffic violations within the past three years would be ineligible to drive.

The new law also requires TNCs to pay a tax of 20-cents per ride into a new Municipal Transportation Infrastructure Trust Fund. The fund distributes some of the money to provide financial assistance to small businesses operating in the taxicab, livery or hackney industries and some to cities and towns to address the impact of TNCs on municipal roads, bridges and taxis.

Another provision prohibits surge pricing in weather emergencies and requires drivers to carry certain levels of auto insurance.

Supporters say these new regulations were compiled after extensive input from both the TNCs and taxi industries. They say the new law fosters growth and competition while protecting consumers.

Opponents are divided into two groups. Supporters of Uber and Lyft say the regulations hurt the consumer by limiting consumer choice and restricting competition. Supporters of the taxi industry say the regulations are minimal, do not level the playing field and will do nothing to help cab drivers who have seen much of their business taken away by these new companies.

(A “Yes” vote is for the new law. A “No” vote is against it.)

Rep. Stephen Kulik Yes

Rep. Paul Mark Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps Lee Yes

ENERGY (H 4568)

House 157-1, (no Senate roll call) approved a new law requiring utilities to competitively solicit and contract for 1,200 megawatts of clean energy generation including onshore wind and solar supported by hydropower and standalone onshore wind and solar. It also allows the procurement of 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind. The new law establishes a commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program that enables commercial and industrial property owners across the state to finance comprehensive energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades that are repaid through a property tax assessment on their building.

Supporters say the bill provides power without pollution and will diversify the state’s energy portfolio and replace some of the power the state will be losing from dirtier sources that will eventually be shut down. They note that the offshore wind requirements will enhance a new industry in Massachusetts, help the economy and create jobs.

The lone opponent did not offer any arguments.

(A “Yes” vote is for the new law. A “No” vote is against it.)

Rep. Stephen Kulik Yes

Rep. Paul Mark Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps
Lee Yes

HOME IMPROVEMENT CONTRACTORS (H 4022)

House 151-0, (no Senate roll call) approved a new law allowing a home improvement contractor to pay his or her registration fee to the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation using a credit card. The contractor is also responsible for paying any transaction fees charged by the credit card company. Prior law allowed these fees to be paid only by check.

Supporters say this pro-small business bill costs the state nothing while expediting this process and bringing this payment system into the 21st century.

(A “Yes” vote is for the new law.)

Rep. Stephen Kulik Yes

Rep. Paul Mark Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps
Lee Yes

Also up on Beacon Hill

REQUIRE REAL ESTATE APPRAISERS TO BE LICENSED (H 4766) — The House gave initial approval to a bill that would require that all real estate appraisers be licensed or certified. The bill would not repeal a current law that allows unlicensed individuals like real estate brokers, salespeople, certified public accountants and business brokers to give their opinions on the value of a property to a consumer as long as the opinion is not referred to as an appraisal.

Supporters said that Massachusetts is one of a handful of states that allow unlicensed individuals to provide appraisals for non-bank transactions including estate settlements, divorces, litigation and tax abatements. They explained that the bill would close that loophole and require that all appraisers possess the appropriate appraisal education and experience.

REQUIRE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES TO RELEASE TAX RETURNS — Sen. Mike Barrett, D-Lexington, plans to file legislation for the 2017-2018 legislative session that would require presidential candidates in major party primary elections and the General Election to submit specific years of their tax returns to the Secretary of State in order to have their name put on the ballot. Primary candidates would have to provide their three most recently filed returns and General Election candidates their five most recent. The secretary of state would be required to make the returns public.

Barrett said that until Donald Trump refused to release his tax returns, every major party candidate for president for almost four decades has released his or her tax returns. “Many Americans just assumed that the stature of the Office of the President ensured the observance of certain practices that are unwritten but responsible and well-established, one of which is the disclosure by candidates of recent tax returns and, by extension, possible conflicts of interest,” Barrett said. “The 2016 election shattered this confidence. I hope we can come together to rebuild it.”

UNDER 18 MUST TAKE SNOWMOBILE SAFETY COURSE (S 2515) — The Senate approved and sent to the House a bill that would prohibit anyone under age 18 from operating a snowmobile unless he or she has successfully completed a minimum six-hour snow vehicle safety and responsibility course.

Exemptions in the measure allow some individuals to operate a snow vehicle without completing the safety and responsibility course if they are over 14 and operating on their family’s own land, accompanied by an adult who has taken the safety course or under the supervision of an instructor.

Supporters said that snowmobiling can be a dangerous sport for untrained individuals and noted that over the years, thousands of people have been killed or injured in snowmobile accidents. They argued that alcohol, high speed, unfamiliar terrain and lack of formal training all contribute to these tragedies.

They said this new education requirement would bring Massachusetts in line with similar laws already in effect in Vermont and New Hampshire and will save lives and prevent serious injuries.

INSURANCE FOR SELF-STORAGE RENTAL UNITS (H 4765) — The House approved a bill that would allow owners of self-storage facilities to offer renters insurance to cover the loss of or damage to the customer’s belongings that are stored at the facility. The measure also requires that employers provide their workers with training to teach them about the ins and outs of this type of insurance. The insurance would be provided through a third-party insurance company.

Supporters said the Bay State should join the 20 other states that allow and regulate this practice. They noted it will protect the consumer and make it easier to buy this type of insurance. They said that most customers are under the false impression that their homeowner policy already covers their storage room or that the owner carries insurance for the customer.

The Senate has approved a different version of the proposal and the House version now goes to the Senate for consideration.

$11.4 MILLION TO CONVERT STREETLIGHTS TO LED TECHNOLOGY — The Baker Administration announced that $11.4 million is available in grants for cities and towns to convert traditional streetlights to the more efficient LED ones.

“Converting municipally owned streetlights into energy-efficient LEDs will help cities and towns across the Commonwealth realize thousands of dollars in annual energy savings while reducing emissions,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “LED streetlights help reduce energy usage during peak demand times, lessening the burden on our regional electric grid and reducing costs for all ratepayers.”

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton added, “By converting tens of thousands of streetlights from traditional bulbs to highly efficient LEDs, the Commonwealth and our municipal partners will take another important step towards meeting our Global Warming Solutions Act emissions reduction goals.”




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