BOSTON (SHNS) – Remote participation at representative town meetings, more flexibility in municipal budgeting, and emergency educator licenses are among the measures in a local governance reform bill signed Friday by Gov. Charlie Baker to help cities and towns continue operations during the COVID-19 crisis.
The governor signed the bill, the latest legislative response to the pandemic, shortly after lawmakers wrapped up work on it on Thursday night.
Under the new law, communities can lower the quorum requirement for town meetings and people can participate in representative town meetings remotely, as the town of Lexington already has done, using technology to access meetings. Also, select boards and town moderators could hold town meetings outside their town boundaries if they determine that they can’t ensure public health and safety by holding a town meeting in their own town.
“There is no limitation on matters that may come before town meeting when the quorum is reduced, which had been a sticking point earlier in the development of the bill,” according to the Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA), which represents cities and towns.
Under the new law, the quorum threshold may not be less than 10 percent of the number that would otherwise be required.
On the election front, the new law allows local officials to push municipal elections that are scheduled to be held in June into July. The bill would also allow towns that hold municipal election caucuses to eliminate them this year and use nomination papers instead.
The new law also gives cities some breathing room on budgeting, enabling mayors to submit budgets to city councils within 30 days after the termination of the March 10 statewide state of emergency or July 31, 2020, whichever is earlier.
For fiscal year 2021, which begins July 1, municipalities under the new law are empowered to suspend the dedication of revenues to special funds and credit the revenues instead to the general fund. The law allows for appropriations from special funds for purposes not otherwise allowed, but requires consultation with local school committees if certain special education funds are proposed to be spent.
According to the MMA, the new law may also allow cities to adopt up to three one-month budgets.
The law (S 2680) gives Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley the power to issue emergency educator licenses.
“In the face of unprecedented challenges it is vital that we empower local communities to effectively govern during this time, and this bill builds on the legislature’s commitment to do just that,” Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport) said.