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State Legislature Working On Bills To Create Housing 'Safety Net,' Halt Evictions And Foreclosures

The Massachusetts State House and flag. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Massachusetts State House and flag. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Massachusetts lawmakers are preparing to advance a bill Monday to allow municipalities to postpone local elections and drafting separate legislation that promises a "crucial safety net" to protect renters and homeowners from the growing ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Sunday night, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka issued a joint statement to indicate work is underway between branch leaders on a bill to address evictions and foreclosures.

The Democratic legislative leaders did not offer any details of the measure or say when it would surface for votes in the branches. Leaders in both branches are planning to hold sessions this week on Monday and Thursday.

"This legislation, which is currently being prepared, will provide a crucial safety net for renters and homeowners as we all grapple with the immediate economic fallout of this unprecedented public health pandemic," the statement said.

On Friday, Gov. Charlie Baker acknowledged that tenants and homeowners are worried about making payments due to the sudden economic dislocation associated with forced shutdowns of so many businesses and activities.

Renters should understand that a Trial Court standing order means no pending eviction cases can proceed until at least April 21, Baker said, and homeowners should be aware that current state laws provide 90 days to cure any payment default on a mortgage.

But Baker also added: "To be clear this administration will be taking action in the coming days to ensure that homeowners and renters are protected."

Meantime, Senate Ways and Means Committee members on Sunday were voting to advance a bill authorizing select boards, town and city councils to postpone a municipal caucus or annual or special municipal election scheduled before May 30, and reschedule those caucuses or elections to dates prior to June 30.

According to a bill summary, the bill also requires the select board, town or city council to post a copy of the legislation, vote and a sample ballot on the official municipal website not later than 20 days before the date to which a rescheduled caucus or municipal or state election has been postponed.

The bill also includes language stating that an incumbent elected municipal official whose term would have expired at an election if it were not postponed may serve in that position until a successor is elected.

Spilka and DeLeo on Friday issued statements outlining plans to advance the municipal elections bill on Monday.

"The Senate has determined that moving forward with traditional elections at this time would put our voters, election workers, volunteers and others in our cities and towns at excessive risk," Spilka said on Friday.

The bill will feature mail and absentee voting options and protections to maximize voter participation when elections do occur, according to Spilka.

According to the summary, the bill requires that the voter registration deadline for a postponed municipal or state election shall be ten days before the date to which the rescheduled election has been postponed.

It appears the committee moved the election postponent bill by issuing a report, in part, on a House-approved bill dealing with agreements between communities and the marijuana businesses they host.

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