House Bill 6448, An Act Expanding Access to Local Government and Modernizing Local Government Operations

The COVID-19 pandemic presents our municipalities with an incredible opportunity to reimagine government processes and public participation in government. Governor Lamont proposes setting a permanent standard that public meetings should be accessible remotelyallowing towns to easily expand outdoor dining on a permanent basis, and incentivizing shared services.

Information about House Bill 6448.

The Problem

Recent studies and best practices from the COVID-19 pandemic have provided a pathway to reimagine participation in local government.

Pre-pandemic, the participatory democracy that is a hallmark of New England towns was often too difficult for working families and those with young children or other demands on their time to access; now, municipalities across the state have seen the benefit of increased participation in local democratic processes with the proliferation of remote meetings through telephone and video technology. 

While residents have enjoyed the expansion of outdoor dining, cumbersome permitting processes that were streamlined by executive order at municipalities’ request will return when the pandemic ends

And finally, the ongoing conversation about shared services needs new direction and new resources that will help interested municipalities cover the start-up costs that will generate longtime savings or improve customer service.

Governor Lamont’s Solution

Beginning with the 2008 MORE Commission and culminating in the Lamont Transition Team’s Recommendations on shared and Regional Services, and the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations’ report to the legislative Task Force to Promote Municipal Shared Services in 2020, the state has clear direction as to how to promote more efficient delivery of local services without materially affecting the lives of our residents and the character of our state. This bill seeks to make permanent the standard that public meetings should be accessible through such technology, requiring all public agencies and town meetings to provide remote access by electronic means for meetings and to allow for compliance with notice requirements via electronic means.  Finally, this proposal continues the success of outdoor dining that developed through the COVID-19 pandemic, permanently streamlining the permitting process.

The proposal requires that all public agencies (including town boards and commissions) provide remote access to participate in and vote by electronic means in public meetings, including town meetings, and to allow for compliance with notice requirements via electronic means.

It maintains COVID-related streamlining for municipalities interested in permanently expanding outdoor dining: 

  • Administrative Review for Outdoor Activities: Allows administrative review by local enforcement officials to review and approve permits for outdoor food and beverage service. Removes hearing and board vote requirements.

  • Additional Minimum Parking Requirements: Allows outdoor food and beverage service with no additional minimum parking requirements and allows outdoor dining to take place in parking lots, in on-street parking spaces, and sidewalks, subject to reasonable restrictions by municipal officials or agencies with jurisdiction over right of way permits.

Updating outdoor dining statutes will allow commercial establishments to operate in a manner that promotes social distancing and codify the Governor Executive Orders or any order issued by an executive agency or municipal official pursuant to the public health and civil preparedness emergency.

Finally, it reforms the Regional Services Grant and the Regional Performance Incentive Program, to better serve our municipalities in shared service opportunities. These revisions will provide a voluntary effort to consolidate certain services that are currently provided by individual towns and allow them to be offered regionally within existing Councils of Government and Regional Educational Service Centers.  This moves grant awards from planning and studies to measurables and actions that must demonstrate positive cost benefit, increased efficiency or capacity to deliver services, diminished need for state funding or provide a cost savings. It requires a match (25% first year) with a requirement for longevity of funding