Home rule petitions take diverging paths on Beacon Hill

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A pair of home rule petitions that were approved by Canton voters in the last two town meetings have both made their way into the legislative pipeline, although only one of them has gained any traction at the state level thus far.

According to current legislative records, the two petitions — one that would permit Canton town elections to be held in November and the other requesting additional liquor licenses — were both filed as House bills by Representative Bill Galvin (D-Canton) and both have been referred to the relevant joint committees.

But while the first petition, which was approved at ATM 2014 and filed back on January 20, continues to languish in the committee on Election Laws, the latter petition appears to be on the fast track, moving from the floor of town meeting in May to a public hearing on Beacon Hill earlier this week. (Details of the proceedings were not available at the time the Citizen went to press.)

Officially, there are two liquor license bills pertaining to Canton: H3633, which would allow the Board of Selectmen to issue up to five additional licenses for the sale of alcohol to be consumed on the premises, and H3632, which would allow the board to issue up to two additional licenses for the sale of alcohol not to be drunk on the premises. Both were scheduled to be heard by the joint committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure on Tuesday, July 28.

Neither Representative Galvin nor state Senator Brian Joyce, who co-sponsored the three Canton bills on behalf of the voters, could be reached for comment. However, Senator Joyce did provide the Citizen with a copy of a letter he wrote to BOS Chairman John Connolly concerning the two liquor license bills. In the letter, Joyce pledges to “assist the town in achieving the goals expressed in [its] petition” while also suggesting an amendment to the bills that would make each of the seven newly issued licenses non-transferable.

According to Joyce, such a provision would give the Board of Selectmen greater control over the new liquor establishments and would serve to “level the playing field for existing and prospective small business owners seeking a license.”

As noted by Joyce in the letter, “Second-hand liquor licenses have become quite lucrative. An initial applicant may apply for a license and pay a small processing fee, often below $100. However, this same licensee can turn around and sell the license for a windfall, with almost no restrictions and with none of the proceeds inuring to the town.”

Joyce also noted that he made a similar recommendation several years ago to leaders in his hometown of Milton, and now the town includes it “as a matter of course” in every liquor license petition it submits to the legislature.

Generally speaking, liquor license petitions are quite common in Massachusetts, with no fewer than two dozen communities currently seeking at least one additional license, including the neighboring towns of Stoughton, Norwood, and Dedham.

Stoughton’s petition, which calls for six additional licenses (on premises), was reported favorably out of committee and passed the full House earlier this week. The city of Watertown, meanwhile, is seeking 15 additional licenses, and its petition was due to be heard on the same day as Canton’s.

As for the seemingly forgotten election petition, Galvin did file the bill (H3234) as promised at the start of the current biennial session; however, he has also gone on record stating his opposition to the measure, concluding that a dual election format would “outweigh the increased voter turnout.”

Galvin also told the Citizen in an interview last year that state lawmakers would be apt to take their time with it as it has the potential to affect every town in the commonwealth.

Currently, Massachusetts law mandates that all town elections must be held in the months of February, March, April, May or June. (The law does not apply to city elections.) The proposal by Canton, however, would allow the town to hold its elections on the “first Tuesday after the first Monday” in November — coinciding with state and federal elections in even-numbered years.

“This is a bill that’s going to have a far-reaching impact,” Galvin said at the time, “and that’s why it is more complicated than just a simple home rule petition.”

Galvin had also said at the time that the nature of the original town meeting vote (43-40) could prove to be “problematic” and that lawmakers may ultimately decide to send the issue back before Canton voters via a ballot question before agreeing to act on such a “major change.”

On the other hand, those who supported the measure, most notably lead sponsor Bruce Rohr, strongly believe that the vote should stand and that Canton should at least have a chance to try this democratic “experiment.”

Rohr said it was a minor miracle that it even passed in the first place, considering that it was widely panned by the town’s “political elite,” including four of the five selectmen at the time as well as Town Clerk Tracy Kenney.

“Everyone who stood up against it was an incumbent and had a reason to not want to change the status quo,” he said. “And all the people who stood up in support were regular people.”

Rohr said he would be disappointed, albeit not at all surprised, if the bill is quietly killed off in the coming months, and he has no plans to try again in the foreseeable future.

“I think it’s a one-shot thing, and if the political establishment wants to kill it they can kill it,” he said. “But they’re going against the will of town meeting.”

“It’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t go to November,” he added, “but they understand if it does go to November it’s a whole different ballgame.”

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avatar Posted by on Jul 31 2015. Filed under News, Town Government.
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