Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is expected to file legislation Tuesday to extend certain COVID-19 emergency measures that are set to expire on June 15 when the State of Emergency is rescinded.
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 coronavirus patients.
"Massachusetts is leading the nation in the vaccination effort and that progress is enabling the Commonwealth to return to normal," Baker said in a statement. "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."
Here's a look at the emergency measures that will be extended:
Special permits for expanded outdoor dining
The bill will grant municipalities authority to extend special permits for restaurants offering outdoor dining issued under the State of Emergency through Nov. 29, 2021. 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.
Temporary suspension of open meeting law requirements
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 Tuesday will extend these provisions related to the Commonwealth’s Open Meeting Law until Sept. 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 through reliance on electronic streaming and similar measures.
Billing protections for coronavirus patients
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.
Other than requiring face 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%. The gathering limit will also be rescinded.
Before June 15, the Baker Administration said it plans to take additional steps to permit the continuation of targeted public health measures beyond the end of the State of Emergency, including the mask requirements announced last week.