BOSTON (State House News Service) – With little discussion, the House on Thursday passed legislation further extending some pandemic-era policies and reshaping how citizens will be able to access public meetings.

The House’s 20-page policy extensions bill differs dramatically from the Senate’s three-page version of extension legislation. Most significantly, the Senate approved extending policies dealing with remote or virtual participation and the ability for assisted living nurses to provide basic health services to residents until Dec. 15, 2023 but the House bill would limit the extensions to March 31, 2023.

The House bill also includes provisions specific to notaries public and real estate property closings that were not in the Senate bill. Rep. Antonio Cabral said notaries public will be allowed to continue operating as they have since the pandemic started and that the House bill includes new language and “some reforms in that process” that would take permanent effect after the pandemic-related extension expires.

Before passing the bill on an unrecorded voice vote, the House adopted a Cabral amendment that he said would make hybrid meetings — in which both meeting participants and public observers can attend either in person or remotely — a permanent feature for local, regional and state bodies. He said the House bill, with his amendment, “makes permanent the flexibility permitted under the Open Meeting Law during the COVID-19 state of emergency while keeping the law’s goals of access and transparency.”

“There is no reason to move backwards from this new era of public access. Now that we have experienced the benefits of remote access to public meetings, we cannot go back,” Cabral said.

For local and regional public bodies, at least one-third of the members would have to be physically present at the meeting location for the others to participate remotely but the requirement for state bodies would be that just one member of the body is physically present at the meeting location. Cabral said audio-only meeting access would not be allowed and that video would be required.