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Gov. Baker Signs Major Bills That Emerged At Close Of Legislative Session

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Governor's press office
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   Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has been on a bill-signing spree. He has now put his signature to five major bills that passed the legislature in the final days of formal sessions last month. One of these is intended to make local government more efficient by cutting red tape and giving cities and towns more autonomy.

    Baker described the municipal modernization bill he signed Tuesday as “weed whacking.” The legislation runs 200 pages and has over 125 sections that streamline procedures and update obsolete regulations impacting the state’s 351 cities and towns.

   After signing it in front of an audience of municipal officials, Baker told reporters the law’s provisions bring about comprehensive and significant changes in the relationship between the commonwealth and its municipalities.

   " And we should all remember that it is the most comprehensive update in state and municipal finance and operations in probably 50 years," said Baker.

   A lot of the changes to improve government efficiency were suggested by municipal officials in meetings with Lt. Gov. Karen Polito. 

   " It gives more control over cities and towns across our commonwealth to make their decisions and streamline the control our state has over local government," said Polito.

   Some of the reforms include allowing cities and towns to issue citations electronically, change speed limits on local streets without state approval, and give tax breaks to veterans and senior citizens with just a local vote.

   The limit municipalities can spend to purchase goods and services without a public vote on a procurement contract was increased from $10,000 to $50,000.  There are new incentives for workforce and middle-income housing development.

   Municipal leaders said the changes will free up a lot of time spent writing reports and filling out forms and that, in theory, should save local taxpayers money, according to Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz.

" To the extent that we can do our work more efficiently and be given more local control, I think that ultimately is a savings," said Narkewicz.

         He regrets that a provision to give localities more control over liquor licenses was left out.

  " I think it is a really important issue for a community like Northampton that has a thriving entertainment-restaurant economy," he said.

The number of liquor licenses available in a city or town is subject to a population-based cap that can only be lifted by a vote of the state legislature.

" This is a prime example of an out-dated and cumbersome process that really inhibits businesses," said Narkewicz.  " I have businesses in my community that are thriving and want to expand. They come to me and say ' can I get a license?' and right now we are not able to give them a license because of this one-size-fits-all quota system."

The change in liquor license control was included in the version of the municipal reform bill filed by Baker. It was stripped out of the final bill that emerged from a legislative conference committee.

The other major bills Baker has signed are about economic development, energy policy, regulating the ride-sharing industry, and pay equity in the workplace.

 

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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