BOSTON -- Restaurants will be allowed to sell take-out beer and wine, residents won't have municipal services shutoff for not being able to pay bills, and communities will be allowed to postpone town meetings under a relief package signed by Gov. Charlie Baker in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The measure, approved by the state Legislature on Thursday, moves the state's April 15 tax deadline to July 15, giving businesses and individuals more time to file their returns. The bill also prevents cities and towns from penalizing residents who can't afford to pay their bills during the state of emergency.
Restaurants, which are currently restricted to takeout service, will be allowed to sell wine and beer with food takeout and delivery, if they are already licensed to sell alcohol.
The measure also provides relief to towns by allowing town moderators to postpone town meetings for up to 30 days, with the approval of local selectmen. Town meetings will be allowed to convene beyond June 30, which is currently the deadline under state law.
Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, said the sweeping legislation provides needed help to taxpayers, municipalities and small business owners.
"Our cities and towns, restaurants and taxpayers need relief now more than ever, particularly as we continue to follow proper social distancing guidelines to curb the spread of COVID-19," Spilka said.
The fiduciary work of many communities has been upended by the COVID-19 outbreak as well as the aggressive steps taken by the state to prevent its spread.
"It's been incredibly disruptive," said John Robertson, director of the legislative division at the Massachusetts Municipal Association. "Cities and towns are trying to reinvent how they do business on the fly as they try to address all the COVID-19 issues, but also get some sort of approved spending in place for next year."
Town meetings are generally held in the spring and require hundreds of residents to be in close proximity to vote on local spending plans and other issues.
Holding the meetings now would violate the state's COVID-19 directives requiring social distancing and a temporary ban on gathering of 10 or more people.
Dozens of communities -- including Danvers, Newbury, Hamilton and Wenham -- have already postponed town meetings. But they needed legislative approval to go beyond the end of the state and local fiscal year, on June 30.
Cities and towns were given approval under a separate bill signed by Baker to postpone local elections, many of which are scheduled for the next month.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites.