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Facing deadline, City Council makes moves on immigration, wetlands, taxes

A measure to create an office of inspector general at the city level failed by a 9-4 vote, though City Council president Andrea Campbell said later that she would propose the measure again in the next term, which begins in January.
A measure to create an office of inspector general at the city level failed by a 9-4 vote, though City Council president Andrea Campbell said later that she would propose the measure again in the next term, which begins in January.Pat Greenhouse/File 2019/Globe Staff

Talk about getting business done before the holidays.

In a marathon meeting Wednesday, the Boston City Council approved new measures to protect immigrants, tax high-end real estate deals, shield wetlands, and build climate change resiliency — a final push to enact legislation before the body’s two-year term ends at the close of this month.

A measure to create an office of inspector general at the city level failed by a 9-4 vote, though City Council president Andrea Campbell said later that she would propose the measure again in the next term, which begins in January.

Campbell first proposed creating an independent investigator for the city in September, after federal authorities charged a City Hall employee with bribery, a scandal later tied to the Zoning Board of Appeal.

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She said Wednesday she was disappointed with the council vote, but overall was “proud of this body and the work we have done in this legislative session.” Wednesday’s meeting was her last as council president; by council rules, she cannot serve two consecutive terms.

“I’ve always said this council works extremely hard as a legislative branch of government, and we’ve demonstrated . . . we have great ideas and ways to move the city forward across pressing issues, and that won’t change going forward,” she said.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh said through a spokeswoman that he supported the council votes.

The council created the city’s first Wetlands Protection Act, which would give the Boston Conservation Commission more say in reviewing the environmental effects of development, at a time when the city is seeing expansion in all of its neighborhoods.

The council also passed a home-rule petition that would allow the city to levy a tax of up to 2 percent on all real estate transactions of $2 million or more, including homes and apartment and office buildings. The measure needs the approval of the Legislature. If passed, it would allow the city to generate tax revenue from it’s booming real estate market, to contribute to affordable housing development.

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Councilor Lydia Edwards, the lead sponsor, had initially proposed a tax up to 6 percent but compromised to reach an agreement with the Walsh administration, amid concerns about the tax’s effect on development and the housing market.

At 2 percent, the tax would have raised $169 million a year, on average, over the last decade, according to a recent city report.

“We are in a housing crisis. The pain in our community is actually getting louder . . . as the rents go up,” Edwards said Wednesday. “Those who generate wealth in our community should be part of the resolution.”

City Councilor Frank Baker, who opposed the home-rule petition, said the city should not be looking to tax developers who are investing in and looking to improve city neighborhoods. “It’s 2 percent of someone else’s money,” he said.

The measure passed 10-3.

City Councilor Josh Zakim pushed forward revisions to the city’s 2014 Trust Act, which was meant to prohibit Boston police from enforcing federal immigration laws, amid concerns that police officers had been assisting Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in matters, which are a civil offense.

Zakim said the new law “codifies” what he called the “spirit of the Trust Act,” which looks to build trust between local immigrants and Boston police. It does that, he said, by giving undocumented immigrants confidence they can confide in police without fearing deportation.

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Immigrant rights advocates welcomed the new law but said it could still go further to dissuade police from engaging in immigration matters.

“We must — and can — do more to make Boston safe and welcoming for everyone,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Boston needs to set clearer rules for when local police will work together with federal immigration officials, and when they won’t.”


Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com.