Mail-in voting, outdoor dining, protections for tenants, healthcare initiatives among measures extended
BOSTON (06/10/21) – Today, the Massachusetts State Senate passed a bill which would extend a slate of measures instituted in Massachusetts during the State of Emergency stemming from COVID-19. If signed into law, this bill would result in the included measures being temporarily extended beyond the State of Emergency’s expiration on June 15, 2021.
“This bill represents responsible and proactive action by the Senate to ensure that important safeguards remain in place after June 15th,” said Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington), Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “The effects of this public health crisis are not over; we must continue to protect the public’s health and well-being. This bill maintains the rapid availability of our strong health care workforce and provides financial support to those most impacted by the pandemic, like those who struggle to secure adequate childcare as in-person work resumes. I thank Senate President Spilka, Chair Rodrigues, and my senate colleagues for their speedy and thoughtful effort in addressing these matters.”
Many of the extended measures deal with elections and public meetings. Under the bill, mail-in voting would be extended in Massachusetts until December 15, 2021, giving voters flexibility and more opportunity to participate in upcoming fall elections. With municipal approval, early in-person voting could be extended through the same date. In addition, public bodies subject to the open meeting law would be able to continue holding meetings remotely until April 1, 2022. Similarly, remote town meetings would remain an option for Massachusetts municipalities through December 15, 2021, and quorum requirements for town meetings would be eased. Nonprofits and public corporations would be able to hold meetings remotely until December 15, 2021.
Also included in the bill are measures relative to restaurant operations. The legislation would allow municipalities to approve and extend permits for outdoor dining through April 1, 2022. Restaurants would also be permitted to offer alcoholic beverages, including mixed drinks, for off-site consumption with the purchase of food until March 1, 2022.
The bill also extends certain protections afforded to tenants during the pandemic. Among these is the requirement that a ‘notice to quit,’ including information on tenants’ rights as well as methods for seeking legal and financial assistance, be served to tenants prior to an eviction. Such notices will continue to be required until at least January 1, 2023. Furthermore, the legislation would extend hardship protections to persons facing eviction by continuing the court practice of offering temporary continuances to tenants who have filed applications for rental assistance, thereby preventing unnecessary evictions in cases where tenants are unable to pay rent due to COVID-19-related financial hardship. This statutory requirement would have expired on June 15, 2021 and instead will be extended until April 1, 2022.
In an amendment adopted during debate, the bill would ensure that a lack of access to childcare will not prohibit someone from collecting unemployment benefits or from continuing to access those benefits. This practice— initiated during the pandemic and otherwise set to expire on June 15, 2021—will continue until federal unemployment protections expire in September 2021.
Finally, the Senate extended several measures to ensure that a sufficient workforce and access to necessary healthcare services remain to address the needs of the Commonwealth during the continuing public health emergency. In a move which fulfills the Senate’s stated commitment to supporting telehealth’s inclusion as a healthcare option for Massachusetts residents, a requirement that certain in-network telehealth services be reimbursed at the same rate as equivalent in-person services would be extended until at least December 15, 2021.
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives.