The House just approved a major bipartisan bill to expand voting access in Massachusetts. No one should have to choose between risking their heath and exercising their constitutional right to vote and this legislation protects those rights and the integrity of our electoral process. There’s a lot to unpack here, but in summary the bill takes the following key steps:
1) Expands Early Voting option for the November general election for a period of 14 days (10/17 to 10/30) including two weekends;
2) For the first time adds an Early Voting option for the September Primary for a period of 7 days (8/22 to 8/28) including one weekend;
3) Provides for Early Voting by Mail by sending an absentee ballot request form with return postage to every registered voter before the state primary and again before the general election;
4) Establishes an online portal for registered voters to request an absentee ballot from their local town clerk;
5) Protects traditional in-person voting on Election Day with new safeguards and a streamlined process for checkout.
The legislation includes an amendment to make it easier for our town clerks to process early and absentee ballots. It also includes two other amendments I co-sponsored to ensure that voters with disabilities can request an accommodation from the secretary of state, and another to expand the time window for voter registration. These changes will encourage more resident to vote from the safety of their own home and will improve the ability of local election officials to deal with increase of early ballots. Federal funding will be available to help cover these costs so the burden does not fall on our cities and towns.
One final point, since I’m sure we will hear this refrain in some quarters. Voting by mail is not a new phenomenon. Americans have been voting by mail since before the Civil War. Indeed, the right is enshrined in our Massachusetts State Constitution (Amendments XLV & CV). Our current President votes by mail. I personally have voted by mail several times. I’m sure many of you have as well. Previously, casting an absentee ballot in Massachusetts required a voter to affirm one of three qualified reasons. The legislation approved by the House today removes that burden and makes the process much easier, whether you call it absentee voting or early voting by mail.
This bill now heads to the Senate for review, but I expect they will take up the issue quickly. Thank you to Election Law Committee Chairman John Lawn and all my colleagues who worked on this. Anytime we are talking about something as core as elections and voting rights there are lot of viewpoints to consider. This bill does a good job of balancing issues of access, integrity and safety, while protecting the foundational right of citizens to vote. I’m proud to support it.
The Mass. House has passed legislation that provides more tools to the restaurants of Massachusetts in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The legislative package adopted today 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 a 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.
“No corner of the small business sector has been more affected by the pandemic than our restaurants,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop) said. “I’m grateful to Chairs Michlewitz, Gregoire, Chan, McMurtry, Representative Day and my colleagues in the House for this bill which could make a real difference in preserving jobs in the Commonwealth.”
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic small businesses across the Commonwealth have been hard hit as we continue to fight this virus. Our restaurants have taken the brunt of these measures,” said Representative Aaron Michlewitz (D-Boston), Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on Ways & Means (D-Boston). “As we begin to reopen our economy, it is paramount that the Legislature ease the burden on businesses like our restaurants whatever way we can. The relief bill that the House unanimously passed will give restaurants further tools in the toolbox as they begin to reopen and in many cases, rebuild.”
“I’m proud of Speaker DeLeo and my colleagues in the House for their innovative approach to support an important sector of our economy – the restaurant industry,” said Representative Paul McMurtry (D-Dedham), Chair of the Committee on Tourism, Arts & Cultural Development and House appointee of the Restaurant Promotion Commission. “ I am confident that this comprehensive legislation will go a long way to preserving jobs, generating revenue, and bringing back a sense of community – all while getting the Commonwealth back on the road to economic recovery.””
- 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 will now go to the Senate.
Like all of you no doubt, I was saddened to watch the violence unfold in Boston last night. I hope it will not distract from the important and peaceful Black Lives Matter message delivered earlier in the day. The murder of George Floyd was a senseless and repugnant act and we should ensure that everyone can speak their voice and share their message of justice and equality without fear. The courage of those who marched should not be conflated with the cowardice of those who looted, any more than the actions of those who dishonor the badge should be conflated with the many honorable officers who serve and protect us. Violence should never be tolerated. Thank you to the men and woman of the Boston Police Department and other law enforcement agencies for working to keep the peace. My good colleague Rep. Carlos Gonzalez had a great take on this: 1) Protest 2) Send your Census 3) Vote.