Legislative Wrap-Up: NAIOP Fights for Industry Through Final Hours of Session

MAStateHouse_GrayIn the early hours of August 1, Massachusetts legislators adjourned a busy two-year legislative session in which lawmakers introduced 4,861 bills in the House and 3,128 bills in the Senate. NAIOP Massachusetts and its Government Affairs Committee members worked tirelessly to represent the interests of the commercial real estate development industry. NAIOP applauds the leadership of the “big three” – Governor Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, former Senate President Harriette Chandler, newly elected Senate President Karen Spilka, as well as committee chairs and legislators who pursued a wide-ranging agenda. For the remainder of 2018, the legislature will meet in informal session, but during those sessions bills need the unanimous approval of the limited number of members attending to be approved. Any member of the legislature can prevent a bill from advancing simply by objecting.

While NAIOP advocates on hundreds of bills, here are the must-know highlights of the 2017-2018 legislative session and what they mean for CRE:

Railroad Right of Way Reform Passes in Economic Development Bill
In a win for NAIOP Massachusetts’ advocacy, the economic development bill approved by the House and Senate reforms the current railroad right of way statute (MGL 40/54a) that has created uncertainty and delays for projects on former railroad rights of way. The language in Section 10 of H. 4868 removes the confusing “land appurtenant to” language from the review process; directs MassDOT to establish guidelines, timeframes, and a determination of inapplicability option for unimpacted land; and brings certainty to landowners and lenders while protecting properties of importance to the Commonwealth’s future transportation needs. The final language was based on a stand-alone bill filed at the request of NAIOP by Rep. Joe Wagner and was the result of years of discussions between NAIOP, MassDOT and the legislature. The economic development bill also includes $250 million for the MassWorks program and $75 million for workforce skills capital grants, as well as many other bond reauthorizations designed to spur economic development.

VERY special thanks to Secretary Pollack, Rep. Wagner, Rep. Strauss, Sen. Boncore, Sen. Lesser, legislative leadership, and NAIOP members for their work on this issue. The bill is now before Governor Baker and is expected to be signed very soon.

Flawed Zoning Bill Defeated
NAIOP and all real estate groups in the state, as well as the Mass Municipal Association, opposed H. 4397.  The bill was a top priority for planners and environmental groups and contained anti-growth concepts including eliminating the Approval Not Required (ANR) process, reducing the scope of zoning “freeze” protection under current law only to the particular subdivision plan that is submitted rather than to the “land shown on the plan,” authorizing the use of impact fees without limitation, and mandating inclusionary zoning without incentives. NAIOP educated lawmakers on the numerous provisions of the bill, which would have hindered housing production in Massachusetts.  We are very pleased this very flawed bill did not advance.

Housing Production Bill Left on the Table
NAIOP strongly supported H. 4290, which was filed by Governor Baker and given a favorable report by the Joint Committee on Housing.  That bill allowed cities and towns to adopt zoning best practices by a simple majority vote, rather than the current two-thirds supermajority.  This would have been allowed in situations where the zoning change encouraged more concentrated development including the adoption of 40R “Smart Growth” districts or starter homes, reduced parking requirements, allowing accessory dwelling units, and reducing minimum lot sizes.  The bill was supported by a broad coalition of business groups, the Massachusetts Municipal Association, and the real estate industry.  We are disappointed that the bill did not receive a vote.  Governor Baker has encouraged the legislature to move the policy during informal session (now through December).  NAIOP will continue to work with the Administration and the legislature to promote policies that encourage the production of housing.

Vicarious Liability Bill (Wage Theft) Does Not Pass
NAIOP was part of an 18-member coalition of business groups opposing flawed wage theft legislation containing vicarious liability for businesses that employ entities that commit wage theft (S. 2546). It would have targeted innocent, law-abiding businesses and held them responsible for the actions of other businesses. This would have applied stop work orders and penalties to the lead company who would have had no way of knowing about such a violation.  The Senate passed the bill, but it was not taken up in the House.  NAIOP, which served on a working group with legislators and the proponents of the bill (labor interests), will continue to advocate for fair and balanced solutions to wage theft that go after those who are breaking the law, while opposing proposals that target law abiding businesses.

Balanced and Effective Approach to Climate Change Passes
NAIOP supported the environmental bond bill and climate change resiliency legislation (H. 4835), which passed both chambers and is now before Governor Baker for his signature. It directs state agencies to draft a comprehensive climate adaptation plan and evaluate the Commonwealth’s adaptive capacity to respond to climate change. The Plan will be updated every five years, ensuring a focus on climate change resiliency beyond the current Administration. NAIOP was strongly opposed to other climate change legislation (CAMP – S. 2196)  that would have required “all certificates, licenses, permits, authorizations, grants, financial obligations, projects, actions and approvals issued by a state agency or state authority” to be consistent to the maximum extent practicable (MEP) with a plan.  NAIOP opposed the language because “consistency” would have been open to interpretation and the term “maximum extent practicable” was not defined and therefore set the stage for legal challenges against projects.  We are pleased that the final environmental bond bill does not include this language and NAIOP looks forward to working with the Administration to develop this important plan.

Housing Bond Bill – Brownfields Tax Credit Extended
Earlier in the session, Governor Baker signed the Housing Bond Bill (H. 4536), which included one of NAIOP’s top legislative priorities – a 5-year extension of the Brownfields Tax Credit. The bill authorized $1.8 million in new capital spending for the production and preservation of affordable housing with an extension of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and an increase in the annual allocation to $25 million. For more information, read our blog post, Brownfields Tax Credit Extension Signed into Law.

NAIOP is grateful to Senator Rodrigues for his leadership on this issue and applauds the housing bond bill conference committee members (Reps. Honan, McGonagle, Hill and Sens. Boncore, Keenan, O’Connor) for championing the Brownfields Tax Credit, which increases housing, creates new employment, and enhances local and state tax revenues by restoring blighted properties to productive use.

Community Benefit District Legislation Falls Short of Approval
Legislation (H.4546) that would have authorized Community Benefit Districts did not receive final procedural support in the legislature after initial approval in the House and Senate. Community Benefit Districts (CBD) impose assessments on property owners, in addition to property taxes, to fund supplemental services. A CBD may be established only if the property owners in the district who sign the petition to create the CBD will pay more than 50 percent of the yearly assessment. Like last session, NAIOP opposed the CBD framework based on the issue that it would impose additional fees on property owners who may not have supported the creation of the district in the first place. Many other advocacy groups and legislators recognized the potential problems with the CBD framework and stopped the bill from becoming law.

Water Banking Fees Defeated
NAIOP strongly opposed Act Providing for the Establishment of Sustainable Water Resource Funds. House Bill 2116 would have provided communities with the authority to create water banks – essentially an impact fee that unfairly targeted new development and focused on environmental mitigation and water conservation measures rather than water infrastructure upgrades or capacity issues.

Job Site Roster Bill Defeated
Senate Bill 1019, An Act relative to transparency in employee benefits reporting in private construction, would have affected projects with 10 or more residential units or commercial projects of 5000 square feet or more by requiring that a roster of employees and independent contractors on a jobsite be publicly posted.  The legislation required a certificate of compliance with no mechanism for applications and issuance, and no timeframes.  Given the extremely fluid nature of a job site, combined with the project delays and costs associated with this legislation, compliance with such a requirement would have been nearly impossible.

Special thanks to all NAIOP members who provided input and expertise on the wide range of issues NAIOP pursued this session. NAIOP will now begin drafting its legislative agenda for the 2019 – 2020 session by meeting with members to determine how to best advance the goals of the industry.

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