Governor Charlie Baker filed legislation on May 26, to extend certain emergency measures currently in place via executive orders that are set to expire on June 15 when the State of Emergency will be rescinded. Most restrictions, including limitations placed on businesses, will be rescinded effective May 29 as Massachusetts nears the goal of vaccinating four million residents.
The legislation proposes to extend measures providing for a temporary suspension of certain open meeting law requirements, special permits for expanded outside dining at restaurants, and billing protections for COVID-19 patients. When the State of Emergency ends, these orders will expire, and temporarily extending these measures will allow for time to transition.
To allow public bodies to safely meet during the pandemic and ensure public access to meetings, the governor issued an Executive Order in March 2020 allowing these bodies to meet quorum requirements even if meetings were held remotely through electronic means as long as measures were taken to ensure the public with electronic access to the proceedings. Baker’s bill would extend provisions related to the Commonwealth’s Open Meeting Law until September 1, 2021, which will allow additional time to consider possible permanent changes to the open meeting law to provide for greater flexibility in conducting open meetings.
The bill will also grant municipalities authority to extend special permits for restaurants offering outdoor dining issued under the State of Emergency through November 29, 2021. Municipalities were permitted to use an expedited process to approve temporary permits for new or expanded outdoor dining and alcohol service. Without a legislative extension, special permits granted under the Governor’s Order will expire 60 days after the end of the State of Emergency.
The legislation will also extend a protection that prohibits medical providers from billing patients who have received COVID-related emergency and inpatient services for charges in excess of costs paid by their insurers. As filed, the protection would extend until January 1, 2022, at which time recently-passed federal legislation that included protections for both emergency and non-emergency cases will become effective.
“Massachusetts is leading the nation in the vaccination effort and that progress is enabling the Commonwealth to return to normal,” Baker said. “These temporary measures will help businesses and residents in this transition period, and I look forward to working on these and other issues in the week ahead with our partners in the Legislature.”
With the exception of remaining face-covering requirements for masks in public and private transportation systems, hospitals and other facilities housing vulnerable populations, all industry restrictions will be lifted at that time, and capacity will increase to 100% for all industries. The gathering limit will be rescinded.