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Baker Seeks To Preserve Some Emergency Measures Like Outdoor Dining, Remote Meetings

Gov. Charlie Baker speaks to press at the Hynes Convention Center FEMA Mass Vaccination Site on March 30, 2021 in Boston. (Erin Clark-Pool/Getty Images)
Gov. Charlie Baker speaks to press at the Hynes Convention Center FEMA Mass Vaccination Site on March 30, 2021 in Boston. (Erin Clark-Pool/Getty Images)

Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday proposed keeping some pandemic-era policies such as remote public meetings and expanded outdoor dining in place for several months beyond the state of emergency's end scheduled for June 15.

With practices that have become common during the COVID era set to expire soon after Baker lifts the state of emergency, his office said the governor will file legislation targeting extensions to three policies.

Baker proposed allowing public bodies to meet in open sessions remotely on platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom until Sept. 1, empowering municipalities to extend special permits for outdoor dining through Nov. 29, and maintaining a ban until Jan. 1, 2022 on medical providers billing patients for COVID-related care above the costs paid by insurers.

All of those are tied to executive orders Baker issued that are poised to expire in the wake of the emergency's end.

In addition to aiding in the fight against COVID-19, the sudden onset of widespread remote public meetings has turned into a major transparency improvement across different levels of government, enabling anyone interested to more easily follow government deliberations and offer testimony at public hearings without traveling or in some cases taking time off of work.

"Massachusetts is leading the nation in the vaccination effort and that progress is enabling the Commonwealth to return to normal," Baker said in a statement. "These temporary measures will help businesses and residents in this transition period, and I look forward to working on these and other issues in the week ahead with our partners in the Legislature."

Lawmakers must act soon to avoid a lapse in some popular COVID-era provisions. After Baker announced his timeline for reopening and lifting the emergency declaration, legislative leaders sought and received from Baker a list of policies affected by the decision but have otherwise not indicated their plans.

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