State Legislature Passes Bill to Respond to COVID-19 Pandemic

BOSTON—On Thursday, the State Legislature passed a bill to provide essential relief to municipalities, taxpayers, restaurants, and others impacted by the COVID-19 crisis and State of Emergency declaration.

The bipartisan legislation extends the state income tax filing deadline for residents; addresses disruptions in municipal tax collections and permitting; and allows licensed restaurants to sell certain alcoholic beverages with food take-out and delivery orders, among other provisions.

“During these unprecedented times, it’s more important than ever for lawmakers to listen to feedback from our communities and respond swiftly to address the impacts of this pandemic,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “This bill is one of many steps that our state government is taking to support residents, small businesses, non-profit organizations, municipal governments and others that are facing disruption and hardship as a result of this crisis.”

The major provisions of the bill are as follows:

Tax Deadline Extension.  The bill provides immediate relief to taxpayers and extends the 2019 state individual income tax filing and payment deadline from April 15 to July 15 due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. The extension of the tax filing and payment deadline to July 15 is consistent with the federal government and provides additional flexibility to filers during this crisis.

Restaurant Service.  The bill includes immediate economic relief to restaurants and other establishments that are licensed to sell alcohol for on-premises consumption to sell wine and beer with food takeout and delivery. This change would restore a crucial source of revenue to restaurants and other food establishments.

Municipal Governance.  This legislation also immediately addresses several challenges affecting municipal functions and operations during the COVID-19 State of Emergency. The bill:

  • Allows extensions for property tax exemption and deferrals from April 1 to June 1, 2020;
  • Modifies the permitting process to ensure flexibility for applicants and status hearing processes;
  • Allows annual town meeting to be delayed until June 30, 2020;
  • Enables the town moderator to reschedule town meetings for up to 30 days, and to do so multiple times if needed;
  • Permits municipalities to utilize retired employees and lifts pension-related hour restrictions for employees who return to work as it relates to COVID-19 response; and
  • Prohibits essential services provided by the city or town from being terminated as a result of a missed or late payment.

The bill also makes several adjustments to the municipal budgeting process so that cities and towns can continue to meet their fiduciary responsibility and provide resources for their residents.

The bill, which is the latest action by the Legislature to address the COVID-19 public health crisis and its effects on Massachusetts, was signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker on Friday, April 3.