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New Ride-Sharing Regulations, Energy Bill Passed As Legislature Closes Session

BOSTON (CBS/AP) — Racing against a midnight deadline, House and Senate negotiators reached agreement late Sunday on major bills including the first regulations in Massachusetts on the popular ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft.

The flurry of last-minute activity, following a weekend of closed-door talks, also produced a bill that sought a dramatic increase in the state's reliance on offshore wind and other renewable energy sources.

The bill regulating the ride-hailing services creates a two-tiered system of background checks for drivers, the first conducted by the companies and the second by the state Department of Public Utilities.

Ride-hailing companies will also be charged 20 cents per ride. That money will be shared among the town or city where the ride originated, the state transportation department, and a fund to help the taxi industry.

Much of the discussion over the bill in recent months was centered on passenger safety and a desire of some lawmakers to level the playing field for the heavily-regulated taxi industry, which has been hit hard by competition from the app-based ride services.

Dropped from the final bill was a provision passed earlier by the House that would have temporarily barred Uber and Lyft from competing with taxi drivers at Logan International Airport and the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo said the measure would protect the innovative nature of ride-hailing services while offering greater consumer protection.

Adrian Durbin, a spokesman for Lyft, issued a statement in response to the bill, saying the company was "pleased that the Legislature came to an agreement on common sense legislation that sets high safety standards while keeping modern transportation options like Lyft available across the Bay State."

"This bill expands consumer choice and encourages innovation, and we urge Governor Charlie Baker to sign it into law when it reaches his desk," Durbin wrote in the statement. "The people of the Commonwealth have made it clear they want ridesharing, and we appreciate the thoughtful process the Legislature followed to ensure that safe and affordable transportation options are available across Massachusetts."

Those bills and others were speedily gaveled through both chambers with virtually no debate and before most rank-and-file lawmakers even had the opportunity to review compromise language contained in the measures. By rule, the Legislature was required to end its formal two-year session by midnight Sunday.

A top priority for Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and Democratic legislative leaders, the energy bill would require utilities to solicit long-term contracts with offshore wind farm developers to bring at least 1,600 megawatts of wind energy to Massachusetts in the next 10 years, while also encouraging delivery of larger supplies of Canadian hydropower and other renewables.

Supporters hailed the bill as a critical step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for climate change, and to replacing energy that will be leaving the New England electrical grid in the coming years, including the scheduled 2019 shutdown of the Pilgrim nuclear plant in Plymouth.

The measure would "authorize the largest procurement of renewable energy in the history of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," said Rep. Thomas Golden, a Lowell Democrat and lead House negotiator on the bill.

Advocates for renewable energy greeted its passage with mixed reaction, praising the push for offshore wind but expressing disappointment that lawmakers did not include even more aggressive quotas and dropped from the final bill a Senate-passed provision that would have barred electric companies from passing on to ratepayers costs associated with construction of natural gas pipelines.

Democratic Senate President Stan Rosenberg called the bill a "step forward" but not a "leap forward," and promised the Senate would revisit energy issues during the next two-year session starting in January.

George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, said the bill moves the state's energy portfolio away from fossil fuels by adding wind and hydro.

"The fight goes on for solar, greater energy efficiency and to stop more gas pipelines," Bachrach said.

Baker has 10 days to act on the bills sent to his desk in the frantic final hours of the session. In a statement early Monday, the Republican thanked the Democratic-controlled Legislature for passing what he called "several important pieces of legislation," adding to bills approved earlier in the session including one to address the state's opioid addiction crisis.

The rare Saturday and Sunday sessions to complete work that lawmakers began in January of last year came about after most activity on Beacon Hill ground to a halt for two weeks while some members attended their respective national party conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia.

Also approved in the final moments of the session was a $740 million economic development package, though without a Senate-backed provision that called for extending the state's hotel and motel tax to online lodging services such as Airbnb.

Legislators also voted over the weekend to override dozens of line-item vetoes by Baker from the state's $39 billion budget. Among the funding restored was nearly $8 million Baker had cut from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, amounting to a 55 percent reduction for the agency that provides grants to nonprofit cultural organizations.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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