Gov. Charlie Baker today signed a highly anticipated bill passed late yesterday by the House and Senate to help municipalities with operational challenges resulting from the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The law loosens certain requirements and deadlines in state law, particularly in the area of enacting municipal budgets. The law contains many provisions of two bills that had been filed by Gov. Charlie Baker on March 15 and 24.

The act has an emergency preamble, so it takes effect immediately. The Division of Local Services has provided a guidance bulletin on the provisions of the law.

The following is a summary of the law:

Town Meeting Delay Beyond June 30: Allows Town Meetings to be delayed beyond June 30 if the Governor has declared a state of emergency related to public health or safety. (Section 1)

Recess and Continuance of Town Meeting: Allows the town moderator to recess and continue an already-called Town Meeting during (and until five days after) a public health, safety or weather emergency for up to 30 days, renewable for up to 30 days at time during the emergency, but not to a date more than 30 days following the rescission of the state of emergency. If a town does not have a moderator, the Select Board may recess and continue Town Meeting accordingly. A public safety or public health official designated by the Select Board shall submit a report to the Attorney General providing justification for the recess and continuance. These changes are effective as of March 10, 2020. (Sections 2, 3 and 4)

Adoption of Temporary Fiscal 2021 Budgets: If Town Meeting is unable to adopt an annual budget by June 30 due to a declared emergency, the Select Board shall notify the director of accounts at the Division of Local Services, and the director may approve expenditures from any appropriate fund or account of an amount sufficient for the operations of the town during the month of July of not less than one-twelfth of the total budget approved in the most recent fiscal year, pursuant to a plan approved by the Select Board, with such authority continuing for each successive month that the emergency prevents the adoption of a budget by Town Meeting. (Section 5)

Use of Free Cash and Undesignated Fund Balances: If a town is delayed from adopting an annual budget due to the COVID-19 emergency, the DLS’s director of accounts may authorize the town to appropriate (for use in fiscal 2021) from the available undesignated fund balance or free cash certified by DLS as of July 1, 2019, including undesignated fund balances in enterprise funds or special revenue accounts. (Section 6)

Amortization of Fiscal 2020 Deficits: Allows cities and towns to amortize its fiscal 2020 deficit resulting from the COVID-19 emergency over fiscal years 2021 to 2023, to be funded in equal or more rapid installments, such amortization to be adopted prior to setting the fiscal 2021 tax rate. (Section 7)

Use of Revolving Funds: Allows cities and towns that are unable to adopt their fiscal 2021 annual budget due to the COVID-19 emergency to expend amounts from revolving funds not to exceed the authorized expenditure in fiscal 2020. The legislative body shall vote on the total amount to be expended from each revolving fund when the annual budget is adopted. (Section 8)

Tolling Required Action on “Chapter” Lands: Suspends the time period that municipalities are required to act, respond, effectuate or exercise an option to purchase Chapter 61 forest land, Chapter 61A agricultural land, or Chapter 61B recreational land until 90 days after the governor’s March 10, 2020 emergency declaration is terminated. (Section 9)

Option to Delay Property Tax Due Date to June 1: Allows the municipal chief executive to delay the due date for municipal property tax bills to June 1. (Section 10)

Option to Waive Interest and Penalties for Late Payments: Allows the municipal chief executive to waive the payment of interest and other penalties on late payments that were due after March 10, 2020, and paid before June 30, 2020, for any excise, tax, betterment assessment, water or sewer bill, or other charge added to a tax. (Section 11)

Non-termination of Services to Residents Due to Late Payment: Cities and towns shall not terminate an essential service of a resident, including water, trash collection or electricity, for nonpayment of taxes or fees due on or after March 10, 2020, and paid after the due date but before June 30, 2020, if the nonpayment resulted from a demonstrated inability to pay due to the COVID-19 outbreak or the March 10, 2020, emergency declaration by the governor, provided that the inability to pay shall include a demonstrated financial hardship of a resident, including but not limited to loss of employment, serious illness or death of someone within the home. (Section 11)

State Income Tax Deadline Delayed: Postpones the deadline for filing Massachusetts state income tax returns and payments from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020. (Section 12)

Sale of Alcohol by Take-Out Restaurants: Allows restaurants licensed to sell alcoholic beverages on-premises to sell sealed containers of alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption as part of take-out food transactions. (Section 13)

Facilitating Return to Service by Retirees: Allows state and municipal employees to return to work for the state or a municipality regardless of mandatory retirement ages or a statutory limit on hours worked and earnings received, to help with workforce needs. Those on disability retirement are not eligible. (Section 14)

Remote Meetings for Shareholder Corporations: Allows public corporations (private shareholder entities) to hold annual or special meetings of shareholders remotely for up to 60 days after the termination of the March 10, 2020, state of emergency. (Section 15)

Provisions for Nonprofit Corporations: Allows nonprofit entities (incorporated under Chapter 180) to conduct or postpone necessary business and meet remotely for up to 60 days after the termination of the March 10, 2020, state of emergency. (Section 16)

Tolling Municipal Requirements on Permits and Quasi-Judicial Public Meetings and Hearings (“constructive approval”): Tolls required municipal actions on permits until 45 days after the termination of the COVID-19 emergency, and no permit shall be considered granted, approved or denied, constructively or otherwise, due to the failure of a permit-granting authority to act within timelines that would otherwise be in effect. This section also clarifies that permit-granting authorities may conduct meetings and public hearings remotely during the COVID-19 emergency, consistent with the Governor’s March 12 Executive Order regarding the open meeting law. This section also applies to the conduct of public meetings, public hearings or other actions taken in a quasi-judicial capacity by all local boards and commissions during the emergency declaration by the governor. (Section 17)

Download text of H. 4617