By Bob Katzen
The House approved a bill that extends the authority for remote participation for all public bodies and the authority for representative town meetings to meet by remote means through March 31, 2023.
Other provisions authorize the use of electronic communication technology in real estate property closings by attorneys; require landlords, when sending tenants a notice to quit for nonpayment of rent, to include information regarding the tenant’s legal rights; require all public notices be posted to a website; require that the meeting of a state public body must have at least one of its members physically present at all meetings; and permit notary publics to select a tamper-evident technology for notarial acts with electronic record.
“This legislation makes permanent the flexibility permitted under the Open Meeting Law during the COVID-19 State of Emergency while keeping with the Open Meeting Law’s objectives of transparency, convenience and access by the public,” said Rep. Tony Cabral (D-New Bedford), the chair of the Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight. “The ability to participate remotely has significantly increased and promoted access and participation in our democratic process throughout the commonwealth. 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.”
Advocates for the bill include the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Boston Center for Independent Living, Common Cause Massachusetts, Disability Law Center, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, MASSPIRG, New England First Amendment Coalition, and New England Newspaper & Press Association.
Those groups released a joint statement. “We applaud the Legislature for consistently appreciating the importance of remote access to public meetings,” read the statement. “Across the commonwealth, remote access to public meetings has significantly increased public participation in state and local government, and has lowered longstanding barriers for people with disabilities, people with limited access to transportation and people with work and family obligations.”
The Senate has already approved its own version of the measure and a House-Senate conference committee will likely craft a compromise version.