Senator Rebecca L. Rausch, Senate Chair
Representative James J. O’Day, House Chair
Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government
State House, Boston

Dear Senator Rausch, Representative O’Day and Committee Members,

On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association appreciates the opportunity to offer comment on H. 4572, An Act to Address Challenges in Town Governance Resulting from COVID-19. The bill would provide towns with flexibility in scheduling Town Meetings and approving, financing and managing local budgets for next year as the COVID-19 outbreak increasingly restricts local decision-making procedures. This legislation is urgently needed, and we ask you to enact it as quickly as possible.

We have drafted proposed amendments that we think would provide additional necessary flexibility and clarity to the bill. The amendments were sent to Committee staff yesterday. There are many issues related to municipal budget approval and finance that are not included in H. 4572 that will have to be added to this bill as time permits, taken up in subsequent legislation, or addressed through Executive Order or state agency rulings. We very much appreciate the decision of the Committee Chairs to seek comment from municipal officials and other interested parties. The responses that we have seen and are still reviewing generally support the proposed amendments and add new issues for consideration.

Below is an overview of proposed amendments submitted by the MMA and the Massachusetts Municipal Lawyers Association (MMLA).

• We propose that Section 2 be amended by suspending the operation of local bylaws and charter provisions that would have the effect of limiting the expanded recess and continuance of Town Meeting provided in this section.

• We propose that the bill include a new section (Section 2A) that would allow the Town Moderator to declare more than one recess and continuance, and for the recess to be for 60 days rather than the 30 days now allowed.

• In Section 4, we propose that the authority of the town to seek approval to implement a spending plan for the new year be made by the Select Board (rather than the municipal Treasurer) and that interim spending be implemented pursuant to a plan approved by the Select Board. We also propose to eliminate the restriction that spending must be for “essential” purposes.

In addition, we ask you to rapidly act on legislation to put a stay on state-imposed timelines on local permits, licenses, hearings and other such actions (the so-called “constructive approval” issue), as well as statewide legislation to give towns and cities the ability to postpone local elections during this public health emergency without having to do so through hundreds of individual petitions to the state court system.

Thank you for your consideration of our comments. We are available to talk to you and your staff on any of these items or other suggestions that have been submitted to the Committee.

Sincerely,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO