Commonwealth Magazine

WHEN LEGISLATION implemented early voting by mail during the pandemic, the state paid for some staff time for local elections and postage. But not all town and city costs were reimbursed, said Foxborough Clerk Bob Cutler, president of the Massachusetts Town Clerks Association. “Some of that could be considered an unfunded term,” Cutler said.

On Wednesday, Auditor Suzanne Bump released a report naming 29 bills passed over the past five years that have had a “substantial impact on municipal budgets and operations.”

Bump said in a statement that the report details “how, although the legislation has good intentions, there may be associated unforeseen cost elements, which can arise in a variety of ways, from adding of staff to the adjustment of the formulas to determine the costs and to the need for new services. ”

Under state law, lawmakers cannot impose unfunded mandates on cities and towns. Bump stopped short of naming any of the bills as unfunded warrants, since that designation requires a community to petition Bump’s office. But the report could be the first step in this process.

A community can now choose to challenge one of these bills as an unfunded mandate, and Bump’s office will then decide to officially designate it as an unfunded mandate. If it does, the legislature must reimburse the municipalities for the costs or remove the mandate.

A classic example is early voting. When Woburn and Oxford challenged the law allowing early voting in 2016 as an unfunded mandate, Bump ruled in their favor. Now, Bump’s office collects information about early voting costs from communities each year, determines the cost, and asks the Legislature to reimburse municipalities.

In the review, Bump’s Local Mandates Division reviewed 1,629 bills enacted between 2016 and 2020. The 29 that had municipal impacts included several of the Legislature’s key accomplishments.

His report found that the Student Opportunity Act, which rewrote the education funding formula to give districts more money, could lead to additional spending and impose planning requirements on some districts that don’t receive funding. aid. Overall, seven of the bills deal with education, including requiring schools to screen for substance use disorders, requiring schools to have an automated defibrillator, and requiring schools in poor neighborhoods to serve breakfast after the start of the school day.

The Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2018 placed requirements on local police departments for training, handling rape kits, clearing criminal records and developing rules for school resource officers.

The 2020 Police Reform Act requires municipal police officers to undergo additional training, be certified by a new commission and keep additional records, and also makes municipalities vulnerable to litigation if officers break the law.

A Municipal Modernization Act, which focused primarily on items requested by municipalities, included certain record keeping and auditing requirements and created a new reimbursement formula for state-owned land that disadvantaged some cities .

Meet the author

Journalist, Commonwealth

On Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter for CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for over seven years at Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, issues with the state’s foster care system and the elections for US senators. Elizabeth Warren and Governor Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Excellence in Legal Journalism Award in 2018 and several articles have won awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered New Hampshire’s 2012 presidential primary for The Boston Globe. Prior to that, she worked for the Concord (NH) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall, and Barack Obama’s 2008 primary campaign in New Hampshire. Shira holds a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

On Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter for CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for over seven years at Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, issues with the state’s foster care system and the elections for US senators. Elizabeth Warren and Governor Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Excellence in Legal Journalism Award in 2018 and several articles have won awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered New Hampshire’s 2012 presidential primary for The Boston Globe. Prior to that, she worked for the Concord (NH) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall, and Barack Obama’s 2008 primary campaign in New Hampshire. Shira holds a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

An overhaul of the Public Records Act included new requirements for the safe keeping of public records and the appointment of a records access officer, while limiting the ability to charge for records requests.

Six bills relate to elections, such as expanded requirements for early voting and mail-in voting. Six others relate to municipal employee benefits.

Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said in a statement that the report “expertly documents the fiscal pressures municipalities face as they seek to provide basic services to community residents.”

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