The Honorable Lori A. Ehrlich, House Chair
The Honorable John J. Cronin, Senate Chair
Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government
State House, Boston

(Delivered Electronically)

Dear Representative Ehrlich, Senator Cronin and Distinguished Members of the Committee,

On behalf of cities and towns across the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing to express our strong support for H. 2194 / S. 1356, An Act Further Addressing Challenges to Municipal Governance Caused by the COVID-19 Emergency, and H. 2210 / S. 1334, An Act Relative to Remote Town Meetings. We support these temporary extensions, and also support permanent extensions as well.

The abrupt end of the state of emergency on June 15 will create a number of major transition challenges for our local governments. The most immediate and urgent issues that must be addressed are enactment of an extension of the ability to conduct public meetings and hearings remotely and an extension of the ability to hold Town Meetings remotely, both of which will expire on June 15 without further action from the Legislature.

Many localities have closed public buildings, repurposed meeting rooms to provide safer distancing for municipal staff, or have longer-term ventilation concerns that have yet to be addressed. Further, with many residents yet to be vaccinated, and immuno-compromised officials and members of the public unable to achieve full protection from the coronavirus, it is imperative that we continue the remote meeting option for local government. Many cities and towns already have public meetings, hearings and Town Meetings scheduled or are preparing for such sessions after June 15. Without immediate action either temporarily or permanently extending this allowance, communities will be forced to snap back to pre-pandemic rules in order to conduct essential business. Simply put, cities and towns are not positioned to implement these changes without widespread disruption.

While we support these temporary extensions, we urge you to consider making these changes permanent. With your support, Massachusetts can act on the innovations and lessons learned during the past 14 months, and use them to improve government operations, transparency, and public engagement to ensure a swifter recovery for our communities. We would like to see permanent extensions of the following: the option for public bodies to conduct remote or virtual meetings, allowance for remote Town Meetings that is also extended to Open Town Meeting communities, election provisions such as the option to vote by mail and to move municipal election and caucus dates during emergencies, and expedited permitting for outdoor table service and take-out alcoholic beverages.

The MMA has attached further language building upon the temporary framework offered in the above-referenced bills. These provisions are designed to lead our communities forward into a permanent new era of open, transparent and efficient governance and would make permanent the option to hold meetings of public bodies remotely, make permanent the ability to hold remote Town Meetings, and allow municipal election and caucus dates to be moved during emergencies. We respectfully ask that you report out this language favorably.

Thank you very much for your support of cities and towns during the public health emergency, and for your interest in addressing these very important local government matters as we transition to a post-emergency state. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to have your office contact me or MMA Senior Legislative Analyst Brittney Franklin at 617-426-7272 or at any time.


Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO

MMA legislative language to make permanent the option to hold meetings of public bodies remotely, make permanent the ability to hold remote Town Meetings, and allow municipal election and caucus dates to be moved during emergencies