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Public Policy

MAPD offers periodic updates to its members regarding land use public policy in the Commonwealth.

Our work is led by our Legislative Liaison, D. Anthony Fields, AICP.

The following update is provided through September 2013:

September 2013 Legislative Update

State Legislators have returned from their August recess. (By the way, November 20th is the target date to start their Christmas break.) Only 73 bills had been passed into law through the beginning of the month. 59 of these bills were home rule petitions affecting individual cities and towns or individual persons. Temporary budgets and a final budget, and some limited transportation finance were the only significant actions, with more debate about specific taxes in support of the budget and the need for more transportation dollars expected.

Among the issues expected to headline the fall session are gun control, welfare reform, minimum wage, oversight of compounding pharmacies, an Indian casino in southeastern MA (currently focused on Taunton), and a long term transportation bond bill.

A hearing for 58 bills on guns and firearms safety was held September 13th. A hearing on 13 variations of amendments to the bottle bill was held on September 17th. An Act Updating the Bottle Bill (S1588, H2943) is the leading bill to expand the current bottle deposit law to include non-carbonated beverages like sports drinks, bottled water, and iced tea. This is a long standing priority of our colleagues at Mass Audubon.

The $911 Environmental Bond Bill, officially titled “An Act providing for the preservation and improvement of land, parks, and clean energy in the Commonwealth” (H3332), was the subject of a hearing on September 18th with the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. The proposed bill is the source of funding for a wide variety of environmental programs, including open space acquisition, park maintenance, and improvements for coastal infrastructure.

Governor Patrick’s proposal to regionalize housing authorities had its final hearing with the Joint Committee on Housing on October 1st in the Gardiner Auditorium. 4 other bills affecting housing authorities were also on the agenda.

Also regarding affordable housing, the Joint Committee on Housing will hear 34 bills on 40B on October 22nd at 10:00 a.m. in Room B-2.

Zoning reform is not gaining much media attention, but Representative Kulik coordinated a successful meeting with Speaker DeLeo at the end of August for H1859, “An Act promoting the planning and development of sustainable communities”. Energy is now focused on getting the wording of the bill finalized and released from committee. If released with an “ought to pass” recommendation, planners’ and supporters’ help will be sought to call, mail, email, text, and/or visit with your individual representatives (perhaps both for where you live and where you work if different) seeking support of the bill. Our campaign allies in the world of public health hosted Healthy By Design on October 9th at 1:00 p.m. at the State House. The featured speaker was Mark Fenton, walking and alternative transportation planning advocate (and former planning board member from Scituate).

More special elections have been completed to fill vacancies in the House, all 3 races won by Democrats. In Fall River, Carole Fiola replaces David Sullivan who had resigned to become Executive Director of the Fall River Housing Authority. In Worcester, Daniel Donahue replaces John Fresolo who resigned amid ethics allegations. In Dorchester, Dan Cullinane replaces Linda Dorcena Forry, who had earlier won the Senate seat vacated by Jack Hart.

Speaking of special elections, the race to fill the 5th Congressional seat formerly held by now Senator Ed Markey was Tuesday, October 15th. Several forums have been held among the candidates, the most recent being an environmental forum in Arlington on September 26th. Remember that there was redistricting in 2012, so the communities now included in the 5th District include Arlington, Ashland, Belmont, Cambridge (in part), Framingham, Holliston, Lexington, Lincoln, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Natick, Revere, Sherborn, Southborough, Stoneham, Sudbury (in part), Waltham, Watertown, Wayland, Weston, Winchester, Winthrop, and Woburn.

On the medical marijuana front, 158 of the 181 initial applications have been given approval to keep moving forward. DPH will eventually whittle this number down to 35 or less, a lot depending upon how the applicants succeed in their discussions with local communities about locating specific facilities. A handful of communities have adopted new regulations to accommodate Registered Marijuana Dispensaries, but at least 115 communities have adopted temporary moratoria.

33 initiative petitions were filed with the Attorney General in August. 28 have been certified to move forward for potential inclusion on the 2014 ballot. Two relate to the bottle bill, submitted by MassPIRG. A petition to repeal the casino gaming law was rejected. Among the others are 8 variations on limiting hospital operating margins, 4 variations to repeal the computer technology tax, 4 variations of a Patient Safety Act, and the usual proposal to reduce the income tax. Opponents of 40B Comprehensive Permits did not file a petition this year.

Released this month is a report entitled “The Massachusetts Return on Investment in Parks and Open Space”, prepared by the Trust for Public Land. The report is an economic analysis of the state funding programs for parks and open space and their impact on jobs and the economy. The report suggests that every $1 invested in parks and open space returns $4. Hopefully the Legislature takes note.