Zoom meetings in danger


Email today from the Massachusetts Municipal Association –

Abrupt End of State of Emergency on June 15 Will Create Huge Challenges for Cities and Towns

 

Please Call Your Reps & Senators Today and Ask Them to Fast-Track an Extension of Remote Meetings and Hearings

 

The State of Emergency Ends at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, June 15. Without Enactment of an Extension BEFORE June 15, the Ability to Hold Public Meetings and Hearings Remotely Will Stop

 

June 10, 2021

Dear Osler Peterson,

Time is running short! While the Legislature is in the process of developing a broad package of provisions to extend important authority and flexibility put in place during the pandemic, it may take a while for the branches to reach agreement on all the details. The Senate is meeting today to debate S. 2467, which includes a number of very good provisions, yet that will leave lawmakers just a few days to reach final agreement on a complex package.

The abrupt end of the state of emergency at 12:01 a.m. on June 15 will create a number of major transition challenges for government and businesses. Clearly the most immediate and urgent issue that must be addressed is enactment of an extension of the ability to conduct public meetings and hearings remotely. Please call your Senators and Representatives and ask them to fast-track passage of the extension for remote meetings of public bodies before June 15. The other extensions are important, yet do not face the June 15 deadline.

Please share these key points with your legislators:

  • On March 12, 2020, the Governor used his state-of-emergency powers to issue an executive order suspending certain provisions of Section 20 of MGL Chapter 30A, allowing cities and towns to conduct meetings remotely. This was necessary because the existing state statute is woefully inadequate, does not allow remote participation in meetings unless a physical quorum is present, and reduces the ability of officials who are participating virtually to fully engage. Nearly overnight, cities and towns adopted new technology and software platforms and created a new and remarkably successful remote meeting experience for municipal leaders and the public.
  • 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. Many localities have closed public buildings, repurposed meeting rooms to provide safer distancing for municipal staff or have longer-term ventilation concerns that have yet to be addressed. Further, with many residents yet to be vaccinated, and immunocompromised officials and members of the public unable to achieve full protection from the coronavirus, it is imperative that we continue the remote meeting option for local government for public health purposes.
  • With scores of councils, boards and commissions in place in each of our 351 cities and towns, there are nearly 10,000 municipal entities that rely on remote meetings and virtual platforms to conduct everyday business in much greater public view than ever before. If June 15 comes without an extension of the ability to continue remote meetings, there will be countless canceled meetings, delayed public hearings and widespread disruption.
  • MMA is supporting the temporary extensions in S. 2467 and other bills and is urging lawmakers to make these changes permanent, including the option for public bodies to conduct remote or virtual meetings, allowance for remote Town Meetings that is also extended to Open Town Meeting communities, election provisions such as the option to vote by mail and to move municipal election and caucus dates during emergencies, and expedited permitting for outdoor table service and take-out alcoholic beverages.
  • This is the time to act! Massachusetts can embrace the innovations and lessons learned during the past 15 months, and use them to improve government operations, transparency, and public engagement to ensure a swifter recovery for our communities.

If you or your legislators have questions, please do not hesitate to contact MMA Senior Legislative Analyst Brittney Franklin at bfranklin@mma.org or MMA Legislative Director John Robertson at jrobertson@mma.org.

PLEASE CALL YOUR LEGISLATORS TODAY

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