Other News

New Lobbying Law May Affect Nonprofit Schools, Colleges

The new Massachusetts lobbying law, which took effect January 1, made substantial changes to the state’s ethics, conflict of interest, campaign finance, lobbying and open meeting laws and could have a major impact on nonprofit schools and colleges.

Under the new law, Chapter 28 of the Acts of 2009, the definition of lobbying now includes not only face-to-face or direct communication with government officials and legislators, but also strategy, planning and research in connection with a direct communication with a government official.

As a result, certain institutions that have government relations employees, outside consultants, lawyers or vendors who spend substantial time on government relations but do not directly interact with state and local governments may be required to register with the Secretary of the State.

The new lobbying law expands the definition of a lobbyist by stating that executive lobbying and legislative lobbying shall include “strategizing, planning and research if performed in connection with or for use in an actual communication with a government employee.”

Under the old law, anyone who spent fewer than 50 hours and received less than $5,000 in compensation during any six-month period was not considered a lobbyist. This was known as the safe harbor for “incidental lobbying.”

The new lobbying law narrows definition for the safe harbor. It states that anyone who spends fewer than 25 hours and receives less than $2,500 during each six-month reporting period is not presumed to be a lobbyist. But if someone either spends more than 25 hours or receives more than $2,500 in any six-month period, the safe harbor does not apply. He or she is considered a lobbyist and must register with the Secretary of the State.

In addition, the new law expands the definition of lobbying to include, “acts to influence the decision of any officer or employee of a city or town when those acts are intended to carry out a common purpose with lobbying at the state level.”

As a result, MANS&C Legislative Counsel John J. Spillane advises heads of school and employees of nonprofit schools and colleges to keep track of the time they spend dealing with state and local officials. If their activities fall outside the protections of the safe harbor, they should register as lobbyists. Spillane advises MANS&C.

The new lobbying law stipulates that registered lobbyists must now provide the following information: • The identity of each client

  • A list of bill numbers or other governmental action that the lobbyist agrees to promote, oppose or influence
  • The identity of each client on whose behalf the lobbyist is acting
  • The position on each bill or governmental action
  • Compensation received from each client
  • All direct business associations with public officials

Prior to registering and then annually, legislative and executive agents also must complete an in-person or on-line seminar offered by the Secretary of the State.

Upon written request, the Secretary of the State is authorized to issue advisory opinions on the application of the new law to an individual’s particular activities. This opinion may be used as protection against any subsequent civil or criminal prosecution.

For more information about the new lobbying law, go to the Secretary of the State’s Web site, http://www.sec.state.ma.us/.

Private Schools Must Comply with Strict New Idling Regulations

New regulations governing the amount of time buses and other vehicles may idle on school grounds were released recently by the Registry of Motor Vehicles. The new rules, which apply to all public and nonprofit schools, are designed to improve and protect campus air quality.

The regulations restrict unnecessary idling on or within 100 feet of school property, regardless of whether school is in session. They also apply to athletic fields and playgrounds used for school purposes or functions and owned by a municipality or school district, as well as their adjacent parking lots.

Motor vehicles are prohibited from idling within 100 feet of school air intake systems unless alternative locations “block traffic, impair student safety or are not cost effective.” Schools must make reasonable efforts to post signs identifying all active air intake systems.

The regulations allow idling when the physical configuration of a school requires a queue of vehicles to actively discharge or pick up students.

In cold weather, school buses that are waiting to discharge or pick up passengers may idle to heat the interior once the interior temperature is less than 35 degrees. In hot weather, air-conditioned buses may idle to cool the interior once the temperature inside reaches 80 degrees if it is not practical or possible to open windows or park in the shade. In both cases, idling is restricted to three minutes in any 15-minute period.

Vehicles other than school buses must follow the same temperature guidelines, but are restricted to one minute of idling every 15 minutes.

School buses or other commercial vehicles also may idle to operate flashing signal lamps or signal arm devices, if necessary, and to operate defrosters. The regulations also allow idling when it is required to cool down or warm up turbo-charged diesel engines.

Buses or commercial vehicles that carry students with temperature- sensitive disabilities may idle to operate heaters or air conditioners in order to maintain “a reasonable interior temperature.” Idling also is permitted to operate lifts or other equipment needed to load, unload or transport people with disabilities.

An owner or operator of a vehicle who violates the regulations faces a fine of $100 for the first offense and $500 for any subsequent offenses. State and local police are charged with enforcing the regulations.

The Registry of Motor Vehicles will notify bus drivers about the new regulations during the drivers’ annual certification process. School bus companies are required to inform drivers about the idling law when they are hired and at least every year after that.