Gov. Baker Files Legislation to Extend Certain COVID-19 Emergency Measures
BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker has filed legislation to extend certain emergency measures currently in place via executive orders that are set to expire on June 15 when the Commonwealth’s state of emergency will be rescinded. Most restrictions, including limitations placed on businesses, will be rescinded effective May 29 as Massachusetts nears the goal of vaccinating 4 million residents.
This 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 time to transition. Extending these measures, which were instituted by executive order, requires legislation.
To allow public bodies to safely meet during the pandemic and ensure public access to meetings, Baker 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. The bill filed by Baker this week will extend these provisions related to the Commonwealth’s open-meeting law until Sept. 1, which will allow additional time to consider possible permanent changes to the open-meeting law to provide for greater flexibility in conducting open meetings through reliance on electronic streaming and similar measures.
The bill will also grant municipalities authority to extend special permits for restaurants offering outdoor dining issued under the state of emergency through Nov. 29. Under an executive order issued in 2020, 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 adopted in an executive order 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 Jan. 1, 2022, at which time recently passed federal legislation that included protections for both emergency and non-emergency cases will become effective. Earlier this year, Baker signed legislation establishing surprise-billing protections for patients for non-emergency services.
“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.”
Last week, Baker announced that all industries will be permitted to open on May 29. 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 also be rescinded.
Before June 15, the administration plans to take additional steps that will permit the continuation of targeted public-health measures beyond the end of the state of emergency, including the mask requirements announced last week.