Who is a member?
Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
On behalf of cities and towns across the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing to emphasize the urgent need for final enactment of legislation BEFORE June 15 to extend remote meetings in cities and towns across the state. We recognize that the timeline is short, as you await Senate action on a package of temporary extensions within S. 2467, An Act Relative to Extending Certain COVID-19 Measures Adopted During the State of Emergency, which is being debated today.
The abrupt end of the state of emergency at 12:01 a.m. on June 15 will create a number of major transition challenges for government and businesses. The most immediate and urgent issue that must be addressed is enactment of an extension of the ability to conduct public meetings and hearings remotely. We ask that you work with your colleagues in the Senate to fast track the passage of the extension for remote meetings of public bodies, so that provision can become law before June 15.
On March 12, 2020, the Governor used his state-of-emergency powers to issue an executive order suspending certain provisions of Section 20 of MGL Chapter 30A, allowing cities and towns to conduct meetings remotely. This was necessary because the existing state statute is woefully inadequate, does not allow remote participation in meetings unless a physical quorum is present, and reduces the ability of officials who are participating virtually to fully engage. Nearly overnight, cities and towns adopted new technology and software platforms and created a new and remarkably successful remote meeting experience for municipal leaders and the public.
Communities do not want to snap back to the overly confining pre-pandemic rules, and most are not in a position to do so quickly. Remote meetings have engaged more residents than ever before and have significantly increased transparency and insight into government operations and decision-making. 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 immunocompromised 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 for public health purposes.
With scores of councils, boards and commissions in place in each of our 351 cities and towns, there are nearly 10,000 municipal entities that rely on remote meetings and virtual platforms to conduct everyday business in much greater public view than ever before. If June 15 comes without an extension of the ability to continue remote meetings, there will be countless canceled meetings, delayed public hearings and widespread disruption.
While we support the temporary extensions in S. 2467 and other bills, we urge you to consider making these changes permanent. With your support, Massachusetts can act on the innovations and lessons learned during the past 15 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 firstname.lastname@example.org at any time.
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO