Monday, July 30, 2018

Boston City Council Looks At Young Women, Lobbyists, Salaries, Wetlands & More

City Councilor-At-Large Michelle Wu publishes notes from Boston City Council meetings. The Boston City Council considered the following items and more at their June 27 and July 11, 2018 meetings (NOTE: Next City Council meeting will be August 1, 2018):

Wetlands Protection Legislation: I filed a hearing order regarding the local wetlands protection legislation to examine the policies and resources available for the development and implementation of local wetlands ordinance. Urban wetlands are an effective land use for alleviating the effects of climate change, particularly managing flooding and reducing the urban heat island effect. They also provide important ecosystem services, such as water filtration, wildlife habitat, and pollution sequestration, including carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. A total of 198 municipalities within the Commonwealth have enacted local wetlands ordinances, and those, such as Arlington, that have included consideration of climate change in their regulations, have effectively provided better protection against flooding and heat island effects. The matter has been assigned to the Committee on Environment, Sustainability & Parks for a hearing.

Archaic Statutes Targeting Young Women: The Council voted to adopt Councilor Pressley’s resolution to urge the House Committee on Ways and Means and Governor Baker to, respectively, pass bill S.2260 “Act negating archaic statutes targeting young women” and sign it into law. She noted that with Justice Anthony Kennedy’s announcement of his retirement from the court, the President and his administration can nominate a new Supreme Court judge, upending a delicate pro-choice majority. The lawsuits seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade, which provided access to safe and legal abortion care, are moving through the lower courts. There are several archaic statutes still on the books in Massachusetts that limit access to birth control and abortion and pose new threats to women’s reproductive freedom should the federal government overturn Roe. Bill S.2260 would repeal archaic laws targeting women, including the laws that could be used to criminalize abortion.

Salary Increases: The Council voted 11-2 (Councilors Pressley & Zakim in the minority) to pass the Mayor’s ordinance amending salary categories for certain city employees, including elected officials, following the recommendations of the City of Boston Compensation Advisory Board. The Mayor’s salary will be increased from $199K to $207K, to take effect after the next Mayoral election, and Councilors’ salary will go from $99,500 to $103,500, to take effect after the next Council election. Although I still believe that elected officials should not set their own salaries and therefore we should have a fully independent board set the amounts without a Council vote, this year’s process was as close as practically possible to an independent review in the near term. The Compensation Advisory Board retained an independent consultant to analyze classification and compensation from cities across the country, and the board voted unanimously to present this recommendation to the Mayor. The increases will not take effect this term, but now have been passed with plenty of time for anyone to run for these positions with the new compensation. You can view the committee’s report here.

Lobbyist Registration and Regulation: The Council voted (through a voice vote; Councilor Baker opposing the Home-Rule Petition) to pass an ordinance that I filed with Councilors Flaherty and Campbell to require lobbyist registration and disclosure, as well as an amended home-rule petition originally filed by the Mayor. The goal of the legislation is to ensure transparency by requiring registration and disclosure of lobbying activities, to create fairness and consistency by applying the same rules across the board, and to reinforce public trust in government by guaranteeing convenient, timely access to information about attempts to influence the government’s decisions. Mayor Walsh had previously filed a Home-Rule Petition based on state lobbying regulations and the Administration wanted to preserve fines of up to $10,000 and criminal penalties mirroring the state. My co-sponsors and I believed that we could most effectively implement lobbyist registration and disclosure requirements not through a home-rule petition, which would involve waiting for the uncertainty and longer timeline of state approval but through a city ordinance more tailored to municipal decision-making and that could be implemented immediately. The ordinance also removed thresholds in the home-rule petition that exempted lobbyists from disclosure and registration if making less than  2500 during the reporting period or if engaging in fewer than 25 hours of lobbying per reporting period, focusing instead on what counts as lobbying whether paid or unpaid, regardless of how many hours per month.More and more decisions affecting parties with significant financial interests are coming through City Hall on a regular basis (e.g. short term rentals, cannabis industry licensing, development and zoning decisions, and more). We believed it was most important to set the rules through city law now, even at the city’s standard fines of $300 per violation per month, then seek heightened penalties through a simplified home-rule petition. The ordinance additionally refined the definitions of the types of activities categorized as lobbying to match city business, and increased the frequency of disclosure from twice a year to quarterly. The provisions of the ordinance will take effect 180 days after the Mayor signs the legislation, giving some time for the Clerk’s office to set up systems for registration, access, and enforcement.

Upcoming Hearings (Livestream)

Tuesday, 8/7 at 2PM: Hearing on vacant affordable housing units and improving access to those units in the City of Boston (Housing & Community Development)

For complete notes on Boston City Council meetings, visit MichelleForBoston.com or sign up to receive these notes automatically.      

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