There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call continues a series of reports on how local legislators in 2017-2018 voted on roll calls raising, lowering, or creating new taxes.

This week: Part two of a two-part series of reports on Senate members’ votes on tax-related proposals.

Regulation And Taxing Of Short-Term Rentals (H 4841)—Senate 30-8, approved a bill that extends the state’s current 5.7 percent hotel and motel tax and up to a 6 percent local option room occupancy tax to short-term rentals offered by Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO while leaving the regulation of these rentals including registration, licensing, and inspections up to local cities and towns.

The measure also allows local cities and towns to impose a local impact fee of up to 3 percent on operators who rent out two or more professionally-managed short-term rental units within a municipality.

Other provisions create a central state registry of short-term rentals and require that a city or town dedicate no less than 35 percent of revenue generated from the new local option fee to either affordable housing or local infrastructure needs.

The measure was approved by both branches and sent to Governor Charles D. Baker Jr., who offered amendments to it. The Legislature never acted on the amendments and the bill remains in limbo.

(A Yes vote is for the bill.)

Sen. Julian Cyr—Yes

Sen. Vinny deMacedo—Yes

21-Day Exemption (S 2381)—Senate 11-26, rejected an amendment that would exempt from the new short-term rental tax people who rent out their unit for 21 or fewer days per year.

(A Yes vote is for the 21-day exception.)

Sen. Julian Cyr—Yes

Sen. Vinny deMacedo—Yes

Ban Discrimination In Short-Term Rentals (S 2381)—Senate 37-0, approved an amendment that prohibits discrimination in short-term rentals based on race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, genetic information, ancestry, or status as a veteran.

(A Yes vote is for the amendment.)

Sen. Julian Cyr—Yes

Sen. Vinny deMacedo—Yes

Increase Deeds Excise Tax From $20 to $50 (S 4)—Senate 38-0, approved an amendment raising the state deeds excise tax from $20 to $50. The deeds excise tax is paid by the seller of a property and funds the state’s Community Preservation Act Trust Fund that “matches” the money raised by local cities and towns, which are allowed to impose a surtax on real estate sales to fund projects like affordable housing, preservation of historical resources, and open space.

(A Yes vote is for the hike.)

Sen. Julian Cyr—Yes

Sen. Vinny deMacedo—Yes

Hike Car Rental Tax By $2 To Fund Police Training (H 4516)—Senate 36-0, approved a bill imposing a $2 tax on car rentals to fund municipal police training.

(A Yes vote is for the $2 tax to fund police training.)

Sen. Julian Cyr—Yes

Sen. Vinny deMacedo—Yes

Sales Tax Holiday (S 4)—Senate 14-24, (on May 22, 2018) rejected and then 31-6, (on July 25, 2018) approved an amendment allowing consumers to buy most products that cost under $2,500 during a two-day weekend sales tax holiday in August without paying the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax.

(A Yes vote is for the amendment. A No vote is against it. Both roll calls are listed below. The first one is on 14-24 rejection. The second one is on 31-6 approval.)

Sen. Julian Cyr—No/Yes

Sen. Vinny deMacedo—Yes/Yes

Allow Neighborhoods To Band Together And Form A District (H 4546)—Senate 22-15, approved a local option bill allowing a city or town to authorize the creation of community benefit district that would permit owners of contiguous property in a city or town to form a district and require property owners to pay for additional services, improvements, events, and other projects and activities within the district. The districts would be operated by a nonprofit board.

(A Yes vote is for the bill. A No vote is against it.)

Sen. Julian Cyr—Yes

Sen. Vinny deMacedo—No

Regional Transportation Taxes (S 1551)—Senate 27-10, approved an amendment that would allow cities and towns, with the approval of local voters on a ballot question, to increase taxes on payroll, sales, property, fuel, or vehicle excise tax. The funds could be used only for transportation-related purposes including maintaining, repairing, planning, operating, improving, and constructing public transportation and transit systems, including roads, bridges, bikeways, and pedestrian pathways.

The measure allows a city or town to act on its own or join other cities and towns to form a regional alliance and pool the revenue.

(A Yes vote is for the amendment. A No vote is against it.)

Sen. Julian Cyr—Yes

Sen. Vinny deMacedo—No

Also Up On Beacon Hill

Credit Reports (H 4806)—The House approved a new version of a bill that would prohibit consumer reporting agencies like Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion from charging fees for freezing and unfreezing a person’s credit information. Under current law, companies can and have charged up to $5 per freeze or unfreeze.

A freeze makes the report inaccessible until the consumer unfreezes it. Since banks and other lenders require access to the borrower’s credit report before giving a loan, this greatly reduces identity thieves from getting a loan or credit in another individual’s name.

The proposal gained momentum following the 2017 crisis when, from May to July, the personal information including names, Social Security numbers, addresses, driver’s licenses, and credit card numbers of 145 million Americans was stolen from Equifax’s systems. Equifax didn’t reveal the breach until September and consumers lost valuable time to act.

Other provisions of the bill prohibit businesses from obtaining a consumer’s credit report without obtaining written, verbal, or electronic consent from the consumer; and improve notices and consumer information the companies are required to give.

“I am pleased the House moved legislation forward today that will help protect Massachusetts consumers from security breaches,” said Rep. Tackey Chan (D-Quincy), House chairman of the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. “We have worked hard to ensure that consumers have access to the resources needed after a breach occurs, while also making sure that the commonwealth is in step with federal data security regulations.”

Protecting Non-English Speakers In Criminal Proceedings—The groups Lawyers for Civil Rights, Centro Presente, and the Brazilian Worker Center have joined forces and filed a brief to challenge possible bias against non-English speakers in criminal proceedings. The brief argues that, in cases in which a defendant requires an interpreter, the court should be required to ask potential jurors about their biases against non-English speakers and immigrants during the jury selection process.

“Establishing procedures to guard against bias in criminal proceedings is essential to ensuring a fair judicial process and a trial based on evidence rather than prejudice,” said Oren Nimni, staff attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights.

Flagger Reform Of 2008 Fails To Achieve Significant Savings

According to a report “Whatever Happened to Flagger Reform?” by the Bay State’s Pioneer Institute’s Greg Sullivan and Michael Chieppo, the 2008 law that allows flaggers, instead of police officers, at some construction sites, has not generated any substantial savings, which was the primary intent of the law.

Massachusetts is one of a handful of states that requires that the “prevailing wage”—used to establish hourly pay rates on public construction projects—be set at a level at least equal to rates established by collective bargaining agreements with organized labor in the area. Currently on federally-funded projects, flaggers are paid $43.44 per hour, a rate that is the 13th highest in the nation.

“The catch-22 is that since Massachusetts law sets pay at the highest collectively bargained rate in a geographic area, rates for civilian flaggers are effectively set by the rate paid to police performing flagger duties,” Mr. Sullivan said.

Business Telephone Listing (H 184)—On July 20, 2017, the House gave initial approval to a bill that would prohibit a business from listing a local telephone number in a phone directory if calls are routinely forwarded to a non-local number and the listing does not give the true physical address of the business. The measure has been stuck in the House Bills in Third Reading Committee since its approval more than a year ago.

Supporters say the measure would prohibit businesses from misrepresenting their location and fooling people into thinking an out-of-town company is in their town.

Food Allergy Plan In Schools (S 2365)—On March 22, 2018, the Education Committee recommended that the House approve a bill that requires all schools to develop a Food Allergy Management and Prevention Plan to address food allergy safety and training. The plan would apply to all members of school staff including teachers, administrators, school nurses, cafeteria workers, custodians, bus drivers, and athletic coaches. The bill was sent to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which has sat on it since then.

Supporters say the requirement will prevent allergic reactions and save the lives of young students.

Last Week’s Session

Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time that the House and Senate were in session each week. Many legislators say that legislative sessions are only one aspect of the Legislature’s job and that a lot of important work is done outside of the House and Senate chambers. They note that their jobs also involve committee work, research, constituent work, and other matters that are important to their districts. Critics say that the Legislature does not meet regularly or long enough to debate and vote in public view on the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been filed. They note that the infrequency and brief length of sessions are misguided and lead to irresponsible late-night sessions and a mad rush to act on dozens of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of an annual session.

During the week of November 26 through 30, the House met for a total of one hour and 19 minutes and the Senate met for a total of one hour and 24 minutes.

Monday, November 26: House 11:01 AM to 11:09 AM; Senate 11:10 AM to 11:17 AM.

Tuesday, November 27: No House session; no Senate session.

Wednesday, November 28: No House session; no Senate session.

Thursday, November 29: House 11:05 AM to 12:16 PM; Senate 11:08 AM To 12:25 PM.

Friday, November 30: No House session; no Senate session.

Copyright 2018 Beacon Hill Roll Call. All Rights Reserved.

(Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com.)

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