Gov. Charlie Baker

The Baker-Polito administration filed legislation today with provisions to provide relief to municipalities and school districts related to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

The administration states that the bill “is designed to provide flexible solutions for local officials across the Commonwealth as the challenges of the COVID-19 epidemic disrupt the normal process of administering local government.”

The legislation would:
• Empower the commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education to delay beyond April 1 the requirement in the Student Opportunity Act that school districts submit three-year, evidence-based plans aimed at closing achievement disparities among student subgroups.

• Authorize the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, upon the recommendation of the commissioner, to modify or waive the requirements of the competency determination for high school graduation.

• Authorize the commissioner to modify or waive the requirement for the Commonwealth’s annual statewide student assessment, known as the MCAS.

• Provide flexibility to regional school districts in case they are not able to approve their fiscal 2021 budgets by the statutory deadline, and allow the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to certify an amount sufficient for the operation of the district until a budget can be adopted.

• Provide cities and towns with flexibility on tax collections in order to allow residents more time to pay taxes without incurring penalties. Municipalities would be allowed to waive late-payment penalties for fourth-quarter tax bills and change their tax bill due date and extend the deadline for property tax exemptions and deferrals from April 1 to June 1.

The bill includes a number of modifications to the local permitting process, including:

• Providing that no permit is automatically granted, approved or denied because a local permitting authority does not act within a time period required by law.

• Providing that any permit that is currently valid will not lapse or expire during the state of emergency, and suspending any time limitation on such permits during the emergency.

• Allowing applications for permits to be filed electronically, so as to eliminate the need for in-person filing.

• Suspending any requirement that a hearing on a permit application be held within a certain period of time until 45 days after the end of the state of emergency.

The administration is also proposing a method that would allow municipalities to use retirees during the current state of emergency, so that municipalities can tap qualified workers when their workforces may be disrupted. Currently, retirees collecting a pension are limited in how many hours they may work and the compensation they can earn. The administration’s proposal would lift those restrictions for calendar 2020 for work done during the emergency.

The bill would allow for electronic signatures on search warrant applications and criminal complaints that are necessary in light of the current public health emergency.

Finally, restaurants and other establishments that are licensed to sell alcohol for on-premises consumption would be allowed to sell wine and beer for takeout and delivery subject to certain conditions.

Link to Legislature’s website for text of the bill (HD. 4974)