State Reps. Sean Garballey (D-Arlington) and David Rogers (D-Cambridge) joined their colleagues in the State House in passing legislation expanding options for both mail-in and early voting for the 2020 state primary and general elections.
They also voted to supportnlegislation that provides more tools to the restaurants of Massachusetts in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. More below.
The voting bill seeks to increase voter accessibility as legislatures and voters continue to navigate the pandemic with social distancing as the new normal.
"Expanding early voting options and integrating voting by mail will help increase participation in our elections and vastly improve our democratic process," said Garballey in a June 8 news release. "I was pleased to be able to work with my colleagues on this essential legislation. Making sure that ballots postmarked by Election Day are counted and shortening the voter registration deadline from 20 days currently to 10 days prior to the election are two aspects of the legislation I worked on profoundly improves the legislation."
"The passage of this legislation reflects the Legislature’s commitment to protecting public health while preserving our precious democratic process. An Act Relative to Voting Options in Response to Covid-19 will expand the ability to vote early or by mail. This change, a step never taken before in Massachusetts, aims to make sure that everyone can vote safely on Sept. 1 and Nov. 3 by mail or in person. It is a really important step and another example of the Legislature responding to this challenging time," said Rogers.
The legislation, H.4768, includes several provisions that will provide more flexibility in registration and voting while prioritizing social distancing recommendations and voters' health and well-being.
Highlights from the bill include:
- Secretary of the Commonwealth will mail vote by mail applications to all registered voters' mailing addresses for the primary and general elections
- Those that apply for a vote by mail ballot will be mailed a ballot from their town or city clerk.
- Postage for applications and ballots will be prepaid
- Allows the Secretary of the Commonwealth to promulgate emergency regulations for in-person voting to adhere to public health recommendations, including social distancing, masks or face coverings, PPE, sanitizers, etc.
- Allows city and town clerks to deposit mail-in ballots into a tabulator or ballot box prior to Election Day
- Accommodations such as phone and electronic application submissions will also be made available.
H.4768 also provides that ballots postmarked by Election Day (Nov. 3) will still be received by town and city clerks until Nov. 5 and shortens the voter registration deadline to 10 days prior to the election. In addition, the bill permits the use of an electronic polling book for the 2020 elections as well as all future elections. Cities and towns must also evaluate and report any change to a polling place should the change result in a disparate impact on the basis of race, national origin, disability, income or age.
The bill goes to the Senate.
Support for Commonwealth’s restaurants
Reps. Garballey and Rogers also joined their colleagues in the House to pass legislation that provides more tools to the restaurants of Massachusetts in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The legislative package adopted June 8 aims to assist a sector that has been hard hit by Covid-19. The measures passed are intended to help restaurants weather the economic crisis in the wake of the pandemic. The package eases outdoor dining restrictions, expands alcohol delivery options to include mixed drinks, extends takeout options to February 2021, waives interest on late meals tax payments and caps the amount that can be charged on food delivery service.In 2019, the House created the Restaurant Promotion Commission, which is being repurposed as the Restaurant Recovery Commission. The bill builds on the House’s general focus on restaurants and previous action to permit alcohol delivery with meals as well as its focus on restaurants as an anchor on main streets.
"As we transition back to an open state, we must still make sure proper safety precautions are in place. Easing restrictions on outdoor seating and allowing cocktails to go will allow establishments and customers to benefit," said Garballey. "This sector has faced a great deal of uncertainty during this pandemic, and changes like these will hopefully lift more of the burden for struggling restaraunts."
“As we work to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the Legislature is responding to its devastating impact on the restaurant industry. Arlington’s many great restaurants are an important part of what makes Arlington such a wonderful place to live and this bill will provide assistance on multiple fronts. I have talked to a number of restaurant owners striving to survive in this incredibly challenging environment. I am happy to see this bill pass, and glad to be a part of helping Arlington restaurants rebuild!” said Rogers.
- Streamlines the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) approval process for restaurants to establish outdoor seating by waiving the approval of these licenses. Instead, it only requires restaurants to notify and place on file with the ABCC their outdoor seating plan;
- Temporarily suspends some relevant local zoning laws on outdoor seating if cities and towns wish to do so;
- Waives interest and late penalties for restaurants on their meals tax payments until December 2020;
- Allows restaurants to include cocktails to-go with take-out food until February 2020;
- Caps commissions on on-line restaurant delivery at 15% across the board so that these apps can continue to operate without placing an undue burden on our restaurants.
The bill goes to the Senate.
This news announcement was published Saturday, June 13, 2020.