recent State Updates

September 2021

  • Numerous Ballot Initiatives Potentially Headed to the 2022 Ballot

    The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (AGO) announced at the end of August that 17 ballot initiative proposals have met the requirements outlined in the Massachusetts constitution and may proceed to the next step in the process. The AGO certified the 17 petitions, including 16 proposed laws and one proposed constitutional amendment. The certified petitions cover 15 topics, as some petitioners submitted multiple petitions on the same subject. Thirteen (13) of the initiative petitions were rejected because they did not meet the requirements outlined in Article 48 of the Massachusetts Constitution.

    The initiative petition process is established by Amendment Article 48 of the Massachusetts Constitution as a way for people to propose laws and constitutional amendments for approval by voters. Initiative petitions first must be prepared by the petitioner, signed by at least 10 registered voters, and submitted to the AGO by the first Wednesday in August.  Generally, initiative petitions are filed in odd-numbered years to appear on the ballot at the next statewide biennial election (held in even-numbered years). The AGO then determines if the petition meets the state’s constitutional requirements and can be certified and usually announces which petitions are certified by the first Wednesday in September. 

    Among the petitions approved, the following matters are eligible for moving forward:

    - A petition initiative to define the classification of gig economy workers such as those who work for Uber and Lyft;

    -A petition initiative to allow for the sale of fireworks in the Commonwealth;

    -A petition initiative preventing the Commonwealth from entering into the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI);

    -A petition initiative allowing for “happy hour” in the state;

    -A petition initiative to ban hospital CEOs from receiving compensation from or serving on the board of a company that develops, manufactures, or sells medical devices or pharmaceutical drugs. 

    -A petition initiative to impose financial penalties on certain hospitals and create a fund to expand Medicaid reimbursement and maintain certain essential health services.

    Petitioners must now collect 80,239 signatures for their petition and file collected signatures with local election officials for certification 14 days before the first Wednesday in December. Signed petitions must then be filed with the Secretary of State’s Office by the first Wednesday in December. If enough signatures are collected, the measure is then sent to the Legislature in January of the next year. The Legislature can pass the measure, propose a substitute, or take no action.

    If the Legislature does not pass the measure as filed before the first Wednesday in May, the petitioner must then collect 13,374 more signatures and file them with local election officials for certification 14 days before the first Wednesday in July and with the Secretary by the first Wednesday in July. After enough signatures are filed, the measure is then placed on the ballot for the next statewide general election. The process for proposed constitutional amendments is different, requiring approval by at least 25 percent of two joint sessions of the Legislature before appearing on the November 2024 ballot.

    To review the Attorney General’s determination on each of the filed matters, please visit: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/ballot-initiatives-filed-for-the-2022-biennial-statewide-election-proposed-laws-and-2024-biennial-statewide-election-proposed-constitutional-amendments.

    Baker-Polito Administration Awards $21 Million in Climate Change Funding to Cities and Towns

    At the end of August, the Baker-Polito Administration announced it had distributed $21 million in grants to cities and towns through the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Program, representing a doubling of the program budget since last year. According to a press release from the Governor’s Office, this brings total awards through the MVP program to over $65 million to date. The grant program, which was created in 2017 as part of Governor Charlie Baker’s Executive Order 569, provides communities with funding and technical support to identify climate hazards, develop strategies to improve resilience, and implement priority actions to adapt to climate change.

    As of the latest round of funding, 93% of Massachusetts cities and towns, or 328 municipalities, are now enrolled in the MVP program. The program pairs local leadership and knowledge with a significant investment of resources and funding from the Commonwealth to address ongoing climate change impacts, such as inland flooding, storms, sea level rise, and extreme temperatures. Of these funds, $20.6 million was awarded to 66 cities, towns, or regional partnerships to implement projects that build local resilience to climate change in the Commonwealth’s fifth round of MVP Action Grant funding. Additionally, $400,000 was awarded to 16 towns to pursue a community led planning process to identify vulnerabilities to climate change and priority actions. When complete, these municipalities will be eligible for the next round of implementation funding.

    The most recent $21 million in awards will go towards MVP Planning Grants and Action Grants. Planning Grants support communities in working with a state-certified technical assistance provider to lead a community-wide planning workshop to identify key climate-related hazards, vulnerabilities and strengths, develop adaptation actions, and prioritize next steps. Results of the workshops and planning efforts inform existing local plans, grant applications, and policies. Communities are then eligible for competitive MVP Action Grant funding to implement priority on-the-ground projects. Projects are focused on proactive strategies to address climate change impacts and may include retrofitting and adapting infrastructure, actions to invest in and protect environmental justice communities, and improve public health, detailed vulnerability assessments or design and engineering studies, stormwater upgrades, dam retrofits and removals, culvert upgrades, drought mitigation, energy resilience, and projects that focus on implementing nature-based solutions such as wetland restoration and floodplain protection.

    To see the list of municipal awardees and projects funded, please visit: https://www.mass.gov/news/baker-polito-administration-awards-21-million-in-climate-change-funding-to-cities-and-towns.

    Boston Mayor Janey Announces New Commissioner of the City’s Environment Department

    The start of August saw Boston Mayor Kim Janey announce the appointment of Dr. Alison Brizius as Commissioner of the City’s Environment Department. In this role, Dr. Brizius is now responsible for supporting the Department in achieving its mission of enhancing environmental justice and quality of life in Boston by protecting air, water, climate, and land resources, as well as preserving and improving the integrity of Boston's architectural and historic resources. Dr. Brizius will assume the role previously held by former Commissioner Carl Spector, who retired after 16 years with the Environment Department.

    Dr. Brizius has extensive background in supporting the City of Boston in mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change. Dr. Brizius is currently the Director of Climate and Environmental Planning for the City of Boston, a position she has held since 2017. She manages the Environment Department's work on climate adaptation and resilience, greenhouse gas reduction, air and noise pollution, wetlands protection, parking freezes, and solid waste. Prior to her position with the City, Dr. Brizius was the Executive Director of the Center for Robust Decisionmaking on Climate and Energy Policy (RDCEP) at the University of Chicago, a multi-institutional interdisciplinary center founded to improve society's ability to respond to climate change and energy supply challenges. She received her Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Chicago.

    As Environment Commissioner, Dr. Brizius will oversee programs related to climate mitigation and adaptation, environmental protection, historic preservation, and other aspects of sustainability. Dr. Brizius and her colleagues in the Environment Department are responsible for steering the City of Boston toward the goals outlined in Boston’s Climate Action Plan Update, which outlines strategies to reduce carbon emissions and prepare for the impacts of climate change. Among related programs, the Environment Department includes the Air Pollution and Control Commission, the Conservation Commission, and the Boston Landmarks Commission. Dr. Brizius began her new role on Monday, August 2nd.

    On a related note, Mayor Janey also recently appointed Reverend Mariama White-Hammond as Chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space for the City of Boston. The Cabinet includes the Environment Department and the Parks and Recreation Department. As Chief, Rev. White-Hammond oversees policy and programs on energy, climate change, sustainability, building safety, historic preservation, and open space.

    For more information about the City of Boston’s Environment Department, please visit: https://www.boston.gov/departments/environment.

    Baker-Polito Administration Announces Funding to Assist Local Water Quality Management Efforts

    To address water quality impairments in local water bodies, the Baker-Polito Administration announced the award of $216,078 in grants to five projects across the Commonwealth to conduct nonpoint source assessment and water quality management planning work. The projects, selected this year by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), are based in the cities of Amesbury, Lawrence, and Methuen, and in the towns of Ashfield, Buckland, Hanover, Hawley, and Medway.

    The term “nonpoint source pollution” refers to contaminants that are carried to a waterway due to precipitation and stormwater runoff from the land or infiltration into the soil. Common types of nonpoint source pollution include phosphorus and nitrogen from lawn and garden fertilizers, bacteria from pet waste and waterfowl, oil and grease from parking lots and roadways and sediment from construction activities and soil erosion.

    The grants are funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through Section 604(b) of the federal Clean Water Act. Since 1998, DEP has funded 116 projects under the 604(b) Water Quality Management Planning program, totaling more than $5 million to address nonpoint source pollution problems.

    Projects receiving funding are:

    Spicket River Nutrient and Pathogen Reduction – $50,000 (City of Methuen). The city will partner with the City of Lawrence, the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, the Merrimack River Watershed Council, and GroundWork Lawrence to investigate and develop solutions for pathogen and nutrient impairments in the Spicket River. 

    Green Stormwater Infrastructure at Medway Middle and High Schools – $35,769 (Town of Medway). The town will partner with the Charles River Watershed Association to develop seven conceptual best management practices (BMP) design plans for future implementation at the Middle and High Schools to reduce phosphorus pollution to Chicken Brook and provide groundwater recharge. 

    Comprehensive Watershed Based Planning for a Sustainable Future – $70,540 (City of Amesbury). The city will develop a community-wide comprehensive plan of prioritized water quality restoration recommendations that can be used as a road map over the next 10 years, with a focus on climate change impacts, sustainability and long-term resiliency, and agricultural/backyard farming pollution abatement. Watershed-based plans will be developed or updated for the Powwow River and Lake Gardner, Back River and Lake Attitash watersheds. 

    North River Headwaters Bacterial Source Tracking – $21,269 (Town of Hanover). The town will partner with the North and South Rivers Watershed Association and the Massachusetts Bays National Estuary Program to conduct an iterative bacteria sampling program to determine sources of high bacteria counts identified during a previous sampling program in 2019, to conduct outreach to the community and determine solutions to restore water quality.

    A Healthy Watershed-Based Plan for Clesson Brook Watershed – $38,500 (Franklin Regional Council of Governments). The regional council – involving the communities of Buckland, Ashfield and Hawley – will develop this watershed-based plan for Clesson Brook, which is in the Deerfield River Watershed, to identify projects to protect the watershed and address current nonpoint source threats. A robust community outreach campaign will also be executed.

    To learn more about the Commonwealth’s nonpoint source assessment and water quality management planning work, please visit: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/grants-financial-assistance-watersheds-water-quality.

    News in Brief

    FY21 Revenue Collections Total $34.137 Billion; Exceed Estimated Benchmark. Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) Commissioner Geoffrey Snyder announced that preliminary June 2021 revenue collections total $3.687 billion as of August 3, 2021, which is $1.11 billion or 43.1% more than benchmark, but $1.139 billion or 23.6% less than the actual collections in June 2020. However, June 2020 actual collections were impacted by the extension of the Fiscal Year 2020 personal income tax filing deadline from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020. In addition, personal income tax collections received after the close of Fiscal Year 2020 were recorded as June 2020 revenue. Revenue collections for Fiscal Year 2021 were $34.137 billion, $5.047 billion or 17.3% above benchmark and $4.528 billion or 15.3% over the actual amount collected in Fiscal Year 2020. 

    Baker Administration Proposes Unemployment Insurance Fund Plan. Under legislation filed by Governor Charlie Baker, employers would see their long-term obligation to replenish the state's unemployment insurance fund cut by $1 billion. Given the aforementioned revenue surplus from fiscal year 2021, the legislation proposes to spend almost $1.57 billion in surplus tax collections – particularly where revenues exceeded expectations for the year by roughly $5 billion. The proposal to offset the cost of the unemployment benefits paid out over the course of the past 16 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic comes as the business community has been pressuring the Baker-Polito Administration and the Massachusetts legislature to use federal relief funding to pay down that long-term debt.

    Framingham Looking to Shore Up Water and Sewer Losses. The City of Framingham will need to spend an additional $2 million to address a deficit in the city's water and sewer enterprise funds. According to a report in the Framingham Patch, the City will use $6.35 million from a total $27 million total stimulus allotment to replace water and sewer fund revenue losses, but will need an additional $1.9 million from the stimulus pot. The additional deficit is likely due to lower usage related to the coronavirus pandemic. A consultant hired by the Framingham City Council said in May that the problems in the fund stems from outdated rates and years of inconsistent increases. 

    Boncore Announces Move to Major Trade Association. Senator Joe Boncore announced that he will be resigning his position as State Senator for First Suffolk and Middlesex and assuming the position of Chief Executive Officer for the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio). The resignation of the current Senate Chair for the Joint Committee on Transportation will set off a scramble for his seat in a special election. Senator Boncore, long thought of as a consensus seeker and constituent-oriented legislator, will share the leadership of MassBio with Ms. Kendalle Burlin O’Connell, who will continue as President and Chief Operating Officer of the trade association. State Representative Adrian Madaro and Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards are expected to compete for the soon-to-open Senate seat.

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