The Honorable Michael J. Rodrigues, Chair
The Honorable Cindy Friedman, Vice Chair
Senate Committee on Ways and Means
State House, Boston

(Delivered Electronically)

Dear Senator Rodrigues, Senator Friedman, 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 S. 2452, An Act to Temporarily Extend Certain Measures Adopted in the State of Emergency, and S. 27, An Act Relative to Extending COVID-19 Accommodations for Municipalities in Elections and for Representative 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.

We also support the language in S. 2452 allowing for the chief executive or local licensing authority to extend any approval granted to permit or expand outdoor table service or outdoor alcohol service originally granted under previous executive orders. However, this language would exclude cities and towns that for one reason or another did not act on this flexibility last year. In many cases, cities and towns may have paused a lot of their usual permitting activity and focused efforts on immediate issues. Now, as restrictions are being lifted and businesses are reopening, we do not wish to penalize these cities and towns by restricting their ability to utilize this flexibility. We respectfully ask that this extension be granted to those cities and towns that have not yet acted, as well as to those who have already granted approval to expand outdoor table service or outdoor alcohol.

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.

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
Executive Director & CEO