State lawmakers on Tuesday night struck a deal and shipped Governor Charlie Baker legislation to restore the lapsed authorization for remote public meetings, to-go cocktail sales, and town meeting flexibilities, while leaving the future of other pandemic-era policy adaptations for later negotiations.
Baker’s COVID-19 state of emergency ended at 12:01 a.m., Tuesday, without a law passed to prevent the expiration of certain orders and legislation linked to the declaration.
After the Senate passed a post-emergency bill last week, the House approved an amended version on a 146-14 vote Tuesday afternoon, and both branches held their sessions open for the rest of the day to work out a deal.
An agreement on some of the bill’s provisions emerged around 7 p.m., when a conference committee led by Ways and Means chairmen Senator Michael Rodrigues and Representative Aaron Michlewitz filed a partial report with the Senate clerk’s office.
“We remain committed to working with the House in the near term to resolve the additional policies that did not make it . . . into today’s conference report,” Rodrigues said before the Senate took up the compromise. “Given that the state of emergency has already expired, this partial report is especially necessary to ensure critical policies remain in place.”
Approved by the Senate just after 8 p.m. and in the House about 20 minutes later, the bill (S 2475) would allow remote meetings of public bodies until April 20, 2022, and it includes language drawn from a Representative Alice Peisch amendment that says if the law does not take effect until after the emergency’s end, “a public body may provide for remote meetings as specified in this section and any action taken thereof shall be ratified, validated and confirmed as if this section had been in place.”
It also temporarily reinstates remote permissions for representative town meetings, nonprofit member meetings, notary services, and reverse-mortgage loan counseling, along with eviction protections, flexibilities for assisted living residences, and the ability for medical assistants, podiatrists, phlebotomists, and certain military personnel to administer COVID-19 vaccines.
In a compromise between the Senate’s date of March 1, 2022 and the House’s July 31, 2022, the bill would permit to-go beer, wine, and cocktail sales by restaurants through May 1, 2022. It includes House language requiring that takeout and delivery drinks be sold at the same prices as those consumed on-site.
Special permits for expanded outdoor dining, which would otherwise expire in 60 days, would be valid until April 21, 2022 under the bill.
Baker was not expected to sign the bill until Wednesday, at the earliest, according to a senior administration official.