Governor Baker yesterday vetoed $30 million in the general government infrastructure bond bill (H.5065) that the Legislature had authorized for grants to expand remote and hybrid access to public meetings in municipalities throughout Massachusetts.
Advocates—including the ACLU of Massachusetts, Boston Center for Independent Living, Common Cause Massachusetts, Disability Law Center, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, MASSPIRG, Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and New England First Amendment Coalition—released the following joint statement in response:
“We are stunned that Governor Baker vetoed this funding for local civic engagement. We cannot comprehend why he would stand in the way of the Legislature’s strategic investment to help our 351 cities and towns modernize the way they conduct public meetings. Across the Commonwealth, remote access to public meetings has significantly increased public participation in state and local government, and has lowered long-standing barriers for people with disabilities, people with limited access to transportation, and people with work and family obligations. We cannot go back to requiring that people be physically present in order to participate in their local democracy. We are grateful for the Legislature’s leadership on this issue, and we are confident they will continue to invest in municipalities seeking to remove these barriers. We ask that lawmakers use all available tools to secure this necessary and timely funding, including by overriding the governor’s ill-considered veto if they come back into formal session.”
The groups—including disability rights and free press organizations—support efforts to permanently update the Open Meeting Law to require a hybrid meeting format so that members of the public can access and participate in public meetings remotely, in addition to the option of attending in person.