BOSTON — The governor's office is filing a municipal relief package giving broad leeway to communities and school districts to extend deadlines and fees and bring back retired first-responders.
"It's amazing the details of how government works but when in a crisis like this, these adjustments need to be made, so that it can continue to work," Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said at Tuesday's COVID-19 briefing.
The emergency legislation would allow municipalities to bring retired firefighters and police back on board by suspending the cap on hours and compensation for pensioners.
"We've heard a lot about front-line workers -- your police, your fire, your emergency responders," Polito said. "Because they are always there on the front line, they're being impacted by the virus."
The measure would provide some relief for departments that have been disrupted because they have personnel out for isolation or recovery from the coronavirus.
It would also freeze permit deadlines because boards are unable to meet and hold public hearings and extend any approved permits during the state of emergency.
No permit would be automatically granted, approved or denied because a board was unable to meet during the required time; allows applications to be filed electronically; and extends the hearing requirement on a permit application until 45 days after the end of the state of emergency.
Municipalities will be able to extend tax deadlines for property tax exemptions and deferrals, and waive late payment fees for fourth quarter bills normally due May 1. They can also shift the due dates to June 1.
School districts will be able to delay submissions of action and three-year school improvement plans to address achievement disparities under the Student Opportunity beyond April 1 and allow regional districts to suspend their vote on a fiscal 2021 budget.
"We all know that our schools have been out of class, learning, for over a week," the lieutenant governor said. "And we at the same time, working with the department, know that we need to give schools flexibility about how they can work with the Student Opportunity Act."
Suspended votes would require the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to certify an amount sufficient for the operation of the district, until a budget can be adopted.
With high school graduation only a couple months away, the legislation would permit the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on the commissioner's recommendation, to modify or waive Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System requirements and testing.
The administration is also trying to support restaurants that have been forced into takeout service by allowing them to sell alcohol with meals. This would only apply to limited amounts of beer and wine in original containers and only in combination with food. Other states, such as Vermont, already allow alcohol to sold with takeout during the emergency.
Law enforcement would be able to obtain electronic signatures for search warrants and criminal complaints rather than appear in person in court and the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority would have the deadline for its budget process to be extended.
"It seems like every day, there are new ways that we can determine how to approach this to serve the people of this commonwealth, and to respond, to react and do what's necessary to keep the people of this commonwealth safe," said Polito, later adding, "we know that we will all do better when we work together. And I just want to thank everyone for their understanding and their diligence to take this seriously on your part."
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March 28 COVID-19 Briefs: Public Parks Push Passive Use
Group Games Banned in Public Parks
Communities including North Adams have been removing hoop rims to discourage youth congregating at public parks.
Reminder that playgrounds and sports facilities are closed during the state of emergency. Walking paths, fields and benches are still open but group activities and sports such as basketball are prohibited. Playground equipment is not being sanitized and should be used. Remember to maintain social distancing of 6 feet or more.
North Adams Administrative Officer Michael Canales said the hoop rims were removed from parks including Noel Field and UNO because young people were gathering there.
"Right now parks only for passive recreation," he said. "We removed the rims because even if they're passing a basketball between them, they're making contact through the ball. ... We want them to socially distance."
North Adams has installed large signs at the parks reminding residents of the rules but Canales acknowledged it has been difficult to enforce at the skate park.
The online tool developed by Buoy Health allows users to enter information about symptoms they may be feeling and directs them to resources that are available to them, like testing for the novel coronavirus, if it is recommended.
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The state has found itself bidding against other states as well as the federal government in trying to find materials, particularly personal protective equipment desperately needed by medical facilities and first-responders.
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