BOSTON—In recent days, the Massachusetts Legislature has taken a number of important actions to protect public health during the novel coronavirus pandemic and to address the economic impacts on Massachusetts residents, small businesses, non-profits, municipalities and others. Lawmakers in both chambers of the State Legislature, working closely with the Baker administration, also continue to develop additional legislation to address this unprecedented crisis.
The legislature enacted two important pieces of legislation: a bill to strengthen local public health authorities, originally filed by Senator Jason Lewis; and a bill that authorizes electronic notarization (electronic signatures) for real estate and other business transactions. Both bills are expected to soon be signed into law by Governor Baker.
“As we continue to tackle the unprecedented public health and economic challenges to our communities and our Commonwealth, the state legislature is taking an active role in developing policy solutions and protections for the people of Massachusetts,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “In close partnership with local authorities and the Baker Administration, we are working hard to contain this pandemic and mitigate the impacts on residents and businesses as much as possible.”
The first bill, known as the SAPHE Act (State Action for Public Health Excellence), was originally filed by Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Hannah Kane in partnership with the Massachusetts Public Health Association and other public health advocates. This legislation ensures that all members of the local public health workforce have access to essential training, and creates a grant program that incentivizes health departments to adopt best practices, including workforce standards, data reporting, and sharing of services across municipalities. At a time when local public health officials are playing a critical role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the SAPHE Act will increase the capacity and effectiveness of local public health departments.
The second bill authorizes notary publics to perform essential notary actions using video conferencing during the COVID-19 public health emergency. It enables electronic notarization or signatures for a variety of transactions, including those related to a mortgage or other conveyance of title to real estate, wills, nomination of guardian or conservator, caregiver authorization affidavit, trusts, durable power of attorney, or health care proxy.
Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, the state legislature has taken numerous actions to respond to this emergency, including: authorizing additional funding for local public health authorities; extending the state tax filing deadline; providing relief for struggling restaurants and other small businesses; expanding access to unemployment benefits; cancelling MCAS standardized testing for the remainder of this school year; providing cities and towns with additional budget tools and flexibility; and placing a moratorium on any evictions or foreclosures.
The state legislature is also continuing to work on additional legislation to strengthen reporting of COVID-19 cases and deaths, including in nursing homes; make it easier for struggling residents to access benefits from the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA); further strengthen unemployment benefits; and other actions.
Any residents with questions or feedback about the state’s COVID-19 response or in need of assistance interacting with state agencies like DUA (for unemployment benefits) should contact the office of Senator Jason Lewis at Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov or (617) 722-1206.