Senators Try to Tack Fantasy Sports, Tax Credits, Alcohol Laws onto Economic Development Bill
Massachusetts senators are poised to consider 283 amendments as they debate an approximately $915 million economic development bill on Thursday.
The bill, H.2423, considered a must-pass piece of legislation before the session ends July 31, has become a vehicle for lawmakers to tack on local projects and consider policy changes that never made it through the legislative process this session.
In the House, 183 amendments were introduced, although only a small number were actually adopted. In the Senate, proposed amendments relate to everything from tax credits to daily fantasy sports to brewery laws.
A group of associations representing technology-related businesses, including the Massachusetts High Tech Council, MassChallenge Boston and others signed a letter urging support for an amendment sponsored by state Sen. Ben Downing, D-Pittsfield, that would create a commission to explore regulating daily fantasy sports and clarify that daily fantasy sports are legal. Daily fantasy sports are online games based on the performance of real athletes.
Similar language was included in the state budget, but Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed it, arguing that the issue had already been studied. One of two major daily fantasy sports companies, DraftKings, is based in Massachusetts.
“These simple provisions, while maintaining our state’s strongest-in-the-nation consumer protections, offer DraftKings the certainty it needs to continue as a long-term employer and innovator in Massachusetts,” the business leaders wrote.
The legal status of daily fantasy sports has been cast into doubt in other states, due to prohibitions against online gambling. The business leaders worry that if Massachusetts does not explicitly clarify that these games are legal, DraftKings could move elsewhere.
“Massachusetts has an opportunity to continue to foster a supportive, stable ecosystem for tech companies, and show that we can implement smart regulations and laws that attract talent and make it easier for startups to launch and grow their business,” they wrote.
Another amendment up for consideration was filed by state Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, to provide tax credits for small Massachusetts-based high-technology businesses that locate in Gateway Cities. Lesser proposed the tax credit in January 2015, but it never made it through the Legislature.
“My legislation would help our entrepreneurs in Springfield, Chicopee, Holyoke, Pittsfield and other Gateway Cities get access to much needed investment, allowing them to grow their businesses and hire workers locally.”
— State Sen. Eric Lesser
“We know that future job growth will be tied to high-tech industries and entrepreneurship,” Lesser said. “Unfortunately, too much of that growth has been highly concentrated in one area. My legislation would help our entrepreneurs in Springfield, Chicopee, Holyoke, Pittsfield and other Gateway Cities get access to much needed investment, allowing them to grow their businesses and hire workers locally.”
An amendment proposed by state Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, D-Leominster, would let the state lottery explore releasing online games. Treasurer Deborah Goldberg has said this is something her office is interested in looking at, to make sure the lottery stays competitive and continues to raise money in a world of changing technology.
Several proposals would change alcohol laws. For example, state Sen. Ryan Fattman, R-Webster, wants to allow craft beer and wine to be sold and served at wine stores or craft beer shops that have adjoining restaurants.
There likely will be debate over whether to continue banning alcohol sales on Memorial Day, whether to establish a tax credit for live theater productions and whether to establish a fund to aid families of murder victims.
State Sen. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, wants to cap annual tuition increases at public colleges and universities at the rate of inflation.
State Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, introduced an amendment to require employers to accommodate the needs of pregnant women, a policy that was introduced as a separate bill but never passed the Legislature. Other amendments would change state zoning laws.
Many of the amendments are earmarks for local projects.
Overall, the economic development bill includes spending for infrastructure projects, workforce training and various grant programs related to economic development.
The version of the bill proposed by the Senate Ways and Means Committee would also increase the earned income tax credit, which is given to middle- and low-income working families. It would partially pay for the expansion by applying the existing 5.7 percent hotel room tax to home-sharing services like AirBnb and by only allowing full-year Massachusetts residents to claim the earned income tax credit.
AirBnb said it supports the measure. “With the introduction of this innovative legislation, the commonwealth of Massachusetts could gain as much as $20 million annually in additional tax revenue from the growing community of home sharers. We’re pleased that the state’s residents and working families will now be able to reap the full financial benefits of the sharing economy,” said AirBnb spokeswoman Crystal Davis.