The Senate on June 10 passed a bill that would extend various pandemic-era policies beyond the June 15 end of the COVID-19 state of emergency.

The bill is now with the House, where leadership began polling members early Monday morning on a House Ways and Means version of the bill (H. 3872), with an eye to take it up for vote on Tuesday.

The MMA has been urging legislators to act quickly on legislation to extend certain allowances that are tied to the state of emergency, particularly the ability to hold public meetings remotely. The MMA is also asking legislators to make certain allowances permanent.

With the state of emergency set to end at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, many local boards are scrambling to figure out how to conduct meetings this week, given that public meetings have to be noticed 48 hours in advance.

The Senate bill (S. 2472) would do the following:
• Allow a public body to have remote participation by all members in any meeting of a public body without a physical quorum of the body present at the meeting location, through April 1, 2022
• Allow select board to prescribe the number of voters necessary to constitute a quorum at any town meeting, either representative or open, held through Dec. 15, 2021
• In towns with a representative town meeting, allow the moderator to request that town meeting be held through remote participation, through Dec. 15, 2021
• Allow absentee ballots for anyone taking precautions related to COVID-19 through Dec. 15, 2021
• Allow any eligible voter to vote early by mail for any regular or special municipal or state preliminary, primary or general election held on or before Dec. 15, 2021
• Allow for municipal opt-in early in-person voting for any regular or special municipal preliminary, primary or general election held on or before Dec. 15, 2021
• Allow certain licensed establishments to sell alcoholic beverages for off-premise consumption through March 1, 2022
• Allow a city or town to approve a request for expansion of outdoor table service, including in the description of a licensed premises to permit outdoor alcohol service, through April 1, 2022
• Allow a notary public to perform notarial act using electronic video conferencing in real time through Dec. 15, 2021
Finally, through adoption of an amendment during debate, the bill would allow for an extension of a waiver of restrictions on hours worked by retired public employees, though Dec. 15, 2021.

The MMA sent a letter to House members on June 10 supporting proposed temporary extensions while also urging consideration of making some of the policy changes permanent.

“The abrupt end of the state of emergency … will create a number of major transition challenges for government and businesses,” the MMA wrote. “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.”

While awaiting legislative action, the Attorney General’s Office today posted a guidance update relative to the open meeting law.

“The Legislature is actively considering bills that would extend most or all of the provisions from the Executive Order regarding remote meetings,” the guidance reads. “Unless and until such legislation is enacted, public bodies must hold meetings with at least a quorum of the public body members physically present at a meeting location which is open and accessible to the public. The Attorney General encourages public bodies to also provide the public with an option to view meetings remotely.”

Written by