Town Moderators Bill Signed into Law

Senator_Tarr_AwardEstablishes New Process for Postponing Town Meetings Due to Public Safety Emergencies

BOSTON – Town Moderators have been given expanded powers to implement safer, alternative methods for postponing Town Meetings due to a weather-related or public safety emergency, thanks to legislation approved by the Massachusetts Legislature in the closing days of the 2013-2014 legislative session.

Senate Bill 2121, filed by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) and Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), was signed into law by former Governor Deval Patrick last week as Chapter 487 of the Acts of 2014, An Act Further Regulating Town Meeting Notices.  An emergency letter filed by Governor Patrick at the request of legislators and the Massachusetts Moderators Association makes the law effective immediately.

The new law allows Town Moderators, in consultation with local public safety officials and the Board of Selectmen, to recess and continue a scheduled Town Meeting to a time, date and location certain upon declaration of a weather-related or other public safety emergency.  Previously, Town Moderators and Town Clerks had to be physically present at the scheduled meeting location to open, recess and continue the Town Meeting, a process that has raised legitimate public safety concerns among local officials.

“In the fall of 2012, the town of Georgetown had to postpone its Town Meeting due to Hurricane Sandy, but town officials could only do so by opening Town Meeting in the middle of the storm without a quorum present and adjourning the meeting until a later date,” said Senator Tarr.  “No public official should ever be placed in harm’s way or forced to risk his or her own personal safety to comply with the law.  This new process will ensure that Town Meetings, under limited circumstances, can be rescheduled in a safe and effective manner.”

“When Hurricane Sandy made landfall along the Massachusetts coast back in the fall of 2012, many town meeting officials across the state from the North Shore to the South Coast, including the communities of Freetown and Swansea which I represent, braved life-threatening weather conditions just to convene town meeting to postpone during a declared state of emergency,” said Senator Rodrigues. “This new law addresses an important local governance issue by eliminating the need to convene a town meeting during a declared state of emergency that puts lives in harm’s way and ensures that public safety always comes first.”

Efforts to reform the law governing Town Meeting notices was supported by a bipartisan coalition of legislators, including Senators Richard T. Moore (D-Uxbridge), Thomas M. McGee (D-Lynn), Jennifer L. Flanagan (D-Leominster), James E. Timilty (D-Walpole) and Ryan C. Fattman (R-Webster), and Representatives Geoff Diehl (R-Whitman), Ann-Margaret Ferrante (D-Gloucester),Steven S. Howitt (R-Seekonk), James M. Cantwell (D-Marshfield), James Arciero (D-Westford), David T. Vieira (R-East Falmouth), F. Jay Barrows (R-Mansfield), Frank I. Smizik (D-Brookline), Susan Williams Gifford (R-Wareham), Louis L. Kafka (D-Stoughton), Sarah K. Peake (D-Provincetown), Tom Sannicandro (D-Ashland), Peter J. Durant (R-Spencer), William Smitty Pignatelli (D-Lenox), Bradford Hill (R-Ipswich), Matthew A. Beaton (R-Shrewsbury), Stephen Kulik (D-Worthington), Kate Hogan (D-Stow) and Alice Hanlon Peisch (D-Wellesley).