These last few days of the State’s legislative session saw a flurry of activity, with several legislative items having local impact. We caught up with State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz for a rundown on issues that could impact the neighborhood. Michlewitz represents the Third Suffolk District including the North End / Waterfront, South End and parts of Downtown Boston.
Here is a rundown on legislation passed by both the House and Senate, awaiting the Governor’s signature.
Ride-hailing “Uber” regulation passes – Rep. Michlewitz was the lead House conferree to regulate ride-hailing services, such as Uber, Lyft and Fasten. Legislators agreed to driver background checks, controlled by the State. This latter point is important and “first-in-the-nation”, according to Michlewitz, because it allows the State to oversee driver certifications without relying on the companies to do it. The legislation does not require fingerprinting. “I understand that taxi cab drivers started fingerprinting earlier this year, but driver identification has not been a problem,” added Michlewitz.
Uber and its competitors will pay a 20-cent per ride surcharge tax. The legislation is supported by the industry, but the tax aspect could be an issue for Governor Baker. Of the twenty cents surcharge tax, ten cents will go to cities meaning Boston will receive the largest share. Five cents will go to the State’s transportation infrastructure fund and five cents to fund taxicab technology improvements to help modernize their systems and create a level playing field. The ride-hailing companies will also receive access to Logan Airport and the convention center.
Short-term rental “AirBnb” tax fails – A bill to tax short-term rentals failed to gain enough support in the legislature. The 5.7% tax was to apply to AirBnb and Homeaway to fund the expansion of the earned income tax credit for working families. The industry supported the bill, which was focused on the tax but had no new regulation or enforcement controls.
Rep. Michlewitz said he favors greater regulation on short-term rentals. Specifically, the Rep. is concerned that “entire buildings in neighborhoods like the North End are being exclusively used as full-time hotels.” This removes apartments and condos from the housing stock, exacerbating Boston’s shortage. Michlewitz expects to introduce new legislation in an upcoming session.
Noncompete reform fails – The House and Senate failed to compromise on a bill to limit noncompetes, agreements that prevent employees from leaving to work for a competitor. Efforts by Boston’s startup and tech community on the measure have been unsuccessful. The Senate proposed limiting noncompete agreements to 3 months while the House was looking for 12 months. Both versions contained provisions whereby employers would pay at least some of an employees salary during the noncompete period. Rep. Michlewitz said he probably would have supported a compromise bill on the House side. Governor Baker also supported the House bill. Local technology companies believe limiting noncompetes would improve the economy by allowing employees to have more mobility options, making it easier for startups to find talent. Other tech-heavy states, like California, prohibit noncompete agreements.
Liquor license cap stays under State control – A controversial bill supported by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to lift the cap on liquor licenses failed to gain support at the State legislature. The Mayor’s Office previously took control of the licensing board, but the number of licenses will remain under State control.
Rep. Michlewitz opposes giving the City control of the number of liquor licenses and was part of the 14 member Boston delegation that signed a letter to that effect. “I am uncomfortable lifting the cap entirely, as the City wants, because my district is already oversaturated with liquor licenses,” said Michlewitz. “I understand and support the need for underserved communities to have more licenses, but whenever new licenses are released many of them end up being transferred to the North End. I also hear from my constituents about the problems of late night noise and public safety issues,” he added.
Veto overrides for local earmarks – The Legislature overrode Gov. Baker’s vetos of specific earmarks including these local funding initiatives: $100,000 to North End Health Center for substance abuse programs, $100,000+ to St. Francis House for job training and $50,000 for the ABCD Center for elderly services.
Sail Boston 2017 – The legislature overrode Gov. Baker’s veto for $500,000 in funding for Sail Boston 2017 where tall ships will visit in Boston Harbor next June. Rep. Michlewitz supported the override saying, “Sail Boston is an important economic driver for my district, especially along the waterfront and this funding will help make it successful.”
Energy Bill – House and Senate leaders passed a compromise energy bill allowing utilities to source electricity from wind and hydro-power sources, mostly from Canada (i.e., not Cape Wind). The bill will help the State achieve its greenhouse gas reduction goals, albeit with an associated rate increase to consumers. Utilities will also be able to continue passing on tariffs used to pay for natural gas pipelines in the State.
Transgender Equality – Earlier in the session, a bill to allow individuals to use public bathrooms based on gender identity rather than sex at birth was passed and signed by the Governor. An additional measure was passed to equalize pay and promote salary transparency.
Mass Cultural Council funding was restored by an override of the Governor’s veto. More than half of the $14.1 million budget was brought back to fund nonprofit arts and cultural groups. Locally, these organizations include the North Bennet Street School, Paul Revere House and Old North Church.
Other bills that did not make it across the finish line included prohibiting use of cell phone in cars, a proposal to raise the minimum legal sales age for tobacco products from 18 to 21, legislation creating a paid family and medical leave program for workers and a bill that would have authorized a sales tax holiday one weekend this summer.