Massachusetts Legislature Passes Bill to Provide Immediate Relief to Municipalities and Others During the Ongoing COVID-19 Crisis

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Today, the House and Senate passed a bill to provide necessary relief to municipalities, taxpayers, restaurants, and state authorities impacted by the COVID-19 crisis and State of Emergency declaration.

The bipartisan legislation extends the state income tax filing deadline for residents; addresses disruptions in municipal tax collections and permitting; and allows licensed restaurants to sell certain alcoholic beverages with food take-out and delivery orders, among other provisions.

"I am heartened by the bipartisan and collaborative process that went into advancing this bill to help the hardworking people of Massachusetts," stated Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “Our cities and towns, restaurants and taxpayers need relief now more than ever, particularly as we continue to follow proper social distancing guidelines to curb the spread of COVID-19. I would like to thank my Senate colleagues, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and my legislative partners in the House for their work on this critical piece of legislation."

“Our communities, our small businesses, and our residents live the disruptive and compounding effects of this rapidly evolving public health crisis daily, so the Legislature acted again today to provide some relief,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D – Winthrop). “By easing local permitting measures, extending the state’s tax deadline, and providing restaurants an opportunity to increase revenue, we are helping cities and towns, businesses, and individuals throughout the Commonwealth. Thank you to Chair Michlewitz and Chair O’Day and Senate President Spilkaand our colleagues in the Senate for their partnership on these important issues.”

“Whether it’s protecting local communities’ ability to govern during a time of crisis or providing much needed relief to restaurants and taxpayers, we must do what we can to support those facing hardship during this unprecedented time,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “With tonight’s passage of this bill, the Legislature is collaboratively acting to meet this challenge and confront the urgent needs facing our Commonwealth related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“By passing this relief package today, we are providing much needed administrative and economic relief for our small businesses, our cities and towns, and the taxpayers of the Commonwealth,” said Representative Aaron Michlewitz, Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on Ways & Means (D-Boston). “I know I speak for all my colleagues in the Legislature when I say we are prepared to offer all the assistance we can as we tackle the day to day effects of COVID-19.”

“This legislation responds to a number of vitally important needs; it allows cities and towns across the Commonwealth to execute fundamental governance procedures including budgeting and permitting, it adds mechanisms to empower food and beverage providers to meet consumer needs, and it aligns our tax schedule with the federal extension,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R- Gloucester). “It is the product of bicameral and bipartisan collaboration fueled by our ardent efforts to support those impacted by this pandemic.”

“The municipal relief bill passed by the Legislature and now on the Governor’s desk contains many important provisions for our communities, our taxpayers, and our restaurants,” stated House Minority Leader Representative Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading). “It is another step, in what will be many, that we need to take to navigate the state through these extraordinary times.”

The major provisions of the bill are as follows:

Tax Deadline Extension. The bill provides immediate relief to taxpayers and extends the 2019 state individual income tax filing and payment deadline from April 15 to July 15 due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. The extension of the tax filing and payment deadline to July 15 is consistent with the federal government and provides additional flexibility to filers during this crisis.

Restaurant Service. The bill includes immediate economic relief to restaurants and other establishments that are licensed to sell alcohol for on-premises consumption to sell wine and beer with food takeout and delivery. This change would restore a crucial source of revenue to restaurants and other food establishments.

Municipal Governance. This legislation also immediately addresses several challenges affecting municipal functions and operations during the COVID-19 State of Emergency. The bill:

Allows extensions for property tax exemption and deferrals from April 1 to June 1, 2020;
Modifies the permitting process to ensure flexibility for applicants and status hearing processes;
Allows annual town meeting to be delayed beyond June 30, 2020;

Enables a town moderator or person designated as such to reschedule town meetings for up to 30 days, and to do so multiple times if needed;
Permits municipalities to utilize retired employees and lifts pension-related hour restrictions for employees who return to work as it relates to COVID-19 response; and Prohibits essential services provided by the city or town from being terminated as a result of a missed or late payment.

The bill also makes several adjustments to the municipal budgeting process so that cities and towns can continue to meet their fiduciary responsibility and provide resources for their residents.

The bill, which is the latest action by the Legislature to address the COVID-19 public health crisis and its effects on Massachusetts, now heads to the Governor.