Municipal “weed-whacking” bill wins unanimous support, if not interest, from House

Photo: Thinkstock

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JUNE 15, 2016…..Gov. Charlie Baker warned that his package of municipal government reforms was some of “the most boring weed-whacking stuff you ever saw in your life,” and the House on Wednesday seemed to agree.

The House passed a redrafted version of Baker’s bill (H 4397) unanimously, but debate on the bill and the 40 amendments members proposed was limited to two members offering introductory remarks on the bill and Rep. Shauna O’Connell speaking in favor of an unsuccessful amendment.

For much of the afternoon, only about 25 of the House’s 160 members were present while the House worked through amendments — adopting 13, rejecting two and seeing 25 withdrawn.

When only O’Connell’s amendment remained, she asked for a quorum roll call vote and the number of members present ballooned to 153. After taking roll calls for O’Connell’s amendment and the underlying bill, presiding Rep. Paul Donato announced there would be no additional roll call votes and most members left the chamber.

The redrafted version of legislation Baker introduced in December aims to modernize municipal finance and government, in part by streamlining oversight and incorporating technological advances.

“What this bill does is look at many aspects of municipal government administration and finance,” Rep. Stephen Kulik, vice chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in introducing the bill his committee redrafted. “I think as you go through it … you’ll find that it deals with procurement at the municipal level, purchasing procedures at the city and town level, it deals with such issues as retiree health insurance issues, it deals with the collection of revenue at the local level, assessing, tax issues, collection issues.”

Among the bill’s 109 pages and 218 sections is authorization for cities and towns to advertise municipal contracts on the state COMMBUYS system in addition to newspapers, a repeal of a law requiring the state to review the accounts of county treasurers, an increase in the amount that cities may appropriate to reserve funds from 3 percent to 5 percent of the tax levy of the preceding fiscal year, and an increase from 20 percent to 35 percent in the statutory limit on the amount of a residential exemption that can be granted if a municipality grants such an exemption as one of its property tax classification options.

The House redraft of the bill did not include the governor’s request to give cities and towns more authority over local alcohol licensing, an area where the Legislature often plays a role passing laws to grant additional licenses to individual communities.

Rep. James O’Day of West Boylston, who co-chairs the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government, said the bill “is going to make the lives of our local leaders much easier.”

The Massachusetts Municipal Association offered its “strong support” for the bill in an open letter to House lawmakers, saying that cities and towns around the state “eagerly look forward to using the provisions” of the bill.

“This comprehensive legislation contains over 200 provisions intended to improve the effectiveness of local government by removing obsolete state laws and updating existing statutes to allow for greater efficiency at the local level,” MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith wrote in the letter. “Taken together, these proposals will allow our communities to enhance their management systems and streamline many operations.”

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Copyright 2016 State House News Service

Comments are closed.