2015-2016 Massachusetts Legislative Recap and Look Ahead

October 5, 2016

July 31st marked the informal end of the 2015-2016 legislative session, and lawmakers rushed to churn out veto overrides and landmark legislation before heading out for summer vacation and reelection campaigns in the lead up to November. In a final session that ran into the early morning hours of Monday, August 1st, Massachusetts legislators were able to compromise on major bills dealing with the ride-for-hire industry, economic development, and energy, but were unable to pass anything dealing with non-competition agreement reform.

Ride-for-Hire Regulation – The House and Senate were able to agree to a compromise bill regulating ride-for-hire services like Uber and Lyft. The bill requires a two-tiered background check system for drivers, but stops short of requiring fingerprinting, a provision strongly supported by the Commonwealth’s taxi drivers. The bill creates a path for the transportation network companies (TNC) to begin picking up at Logan Airport and the Boston Convention Center, which had not been allowed up to that point, and includes a 20-cent ride surcharge to benefit local infrastructure as well as state programs.

Renewable Energy – Just under the wire, the Legislature was able to pass a compromise energy bill that would require the state to purchase significantly more energy from renewable sources, especially offshore wind producers.  Advocates and industry representatives had a more ambitious agenda than was reflected in the eventual law, so expect this to remain an issue next session.

Economic Development – The $1 billion economic development bill passed in the waning hours of the session, and included funding for a wide array of projects such as improvements in infrastructure, investment in workforce development and low-income housing. The compromise bill, however, omitted several provisions that were included in original versions of the bill. Among those were a proposed tax on Airbnb and other home rental services, an expansion of the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) as well as language that would authorize the Massachusetts Lottery to expand mobile gaming.

No Deal on Non-Compete Agreements – Although the House and Senate both passed their own versions of legislation that would govern the use and applicability of non-competition agreements, the two bodies were unable to come to a final compromise in the closing hours of the session. Ultimately, it was the issue of so-called “garden leave,” which would require employers to pay former workers not to work, that prevented a final agreement. This perennial issue will surely come up again next session.

The 190th General Court will convene on January 4, 2017 for its next two-year legislative cycle.

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