The Winchendon Courier
Serving the community since 1878 ~ A By Light Unseen Media publication
Week of May 28 to June 4, 2020

MA House of Representatives Transitions to Remote Voting

BOSTON, MA – State Representative Jonathan D. Zlotnik (D-Gardner) joined his colleagues in the House as the legislative body ushered in the first period of remote voting in the 400-year history of the Massachusetts General Court. So far, the House has held three remote Full Formal Sessions. New rules were adopted unanimously to allow for a structure to conduct remote debate and voting. Prior to this, bills that were passed during the stay-at-home period were done so by the unanimous consent of the members, but certain items do require a roll call vote per the Constitution necessitating a change to the House rules.

“The sheer logistics of getting the currently elected 158 members into a virtual meeting took some effort and I give the State House IT team a lot of credit for working out those details and making the system run relatively smoothly under the circumstances,” stated Rep Zlotnik.

On Wednesday, May 6th, the House passed An Act to Facilitate the Delay of the Income Tax Filing Deadline, which authorizes the State Treasurer to borrow in anticipation of tax receipts by the end of FY’20 and to repay those sums by June 30, 2021. The legislation extended the deadline to file state income tax filings and payments to July 15, 2020. The bill was unanimously passed by the House, 157-0. The House met again on May 13th to enact the bill following an affirmative vote in the Senate.

On Wednesday, May 20th, the House convened virtually to vote on H.4708 An Act Financing the General Governmental Infrastructure of the Commonwealth. This bond legislation allows the state to borrow over $1 billion for information technology (IT) and cybersecurity investments. The bill also includes provisions that create a competitive $40 million grant program to help school districts shoulder some of the costs of transitioning to online and remote learning, $41 million for food infrastructure and security needs, $10 million for software and hardware improvements for community health centers, and grants to cities and towns for expanded broadband access, library construction, and other general capital needs for municipalities were also included in this legislation. The bill was originally filed by Governor Baker last fall but has been adapted to address COVID-19 related IT issues and needs in a more targeted way. The bill passed 149-7.

State Owes Cities and Towns $727k for Mandated Early Voting Expenses Related to 2020 Presidential Primary
Bump reiterates call for permanent process to fund mandated early voting costs

Boston, MA – In a letter to lawmakers, State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump today called on the state to reimburse communities $727,169.37 to cover the costs of mandated early voting expenses related to the 2020 presidential primary election. This was the first time that Massachusetts offered early voting in the presidential primary. Bump’s Division of Local Mandates (DLM) surveyed city and town clerks to provide an accounting of mandated costs related to that service. In addition to asking the legislature to reimburse municipalities for these expenses, she urged the body to create a permanent process to fund this service.

“Early voting has already proven to be a valuable addition to our democratic processes; establishing a formal procedure to fund the expenses incurred by our municipalities will make it that much stronger,” Bump wrote.

In 2017, Bump’s office determined that parts of the early voting law are unfunded mandates on cities and towns. The mandate determination cited requirements that municipalities establish an early voting polling location that has sufficient staffing and privacy for voters as the factors driving the conclusion. As a result, since 2016, cities and towns have been reimbursed over $2 million to cover these mandated expenses. Thus far, the legislature has not allocated funds to cover mandated municipal costs associated with early voting in the 2020 presidential primary election.

Election-related spending is one of the areas Bump’s office most frequently takes action related to unfunded mandates. Since 1984, election-related mandate determinations and certifications from Bump’s office have resulted in more than $32 million in state allocations to cover mandated municipal costs.

Bump's letter with certification amounts for cities and towns is available here.