Senate Moves to Protects Cities & Towns from Unfunded Mandate
Mar 28, 2017 11:11AM ● Published by Pamela Johnson
Boston - According to a recent report by State Auditor Suzanne Bump, provisions of a 2014 state law requiring municipalities to conduct early voting constitute an unfunded mandate. Senate Republicans including Senator Ryan C. Fattman (R-Webster, pictured above) are moving to address that problem with a bill to require the state to meet its funding obligations for an elections process that has become popular with voters.
Communities across the state will have mandated expenses for the state’s new election law covered under a legislative proposal announced today by the Senate Republican Caucus.
Republican members of the Senate have consistently sought to address concerns about state laws which result in unfunded mandates to municipalities. Following inquiries from Woburn and Oxford, the State Auditor recently issued findings confirming that the early voting law did impose financial impacts which are unfunded state mandates. Local officials’ claims that the directive transgresses protections of the Local Mandate Law, adopted nearly 40 years ago to shield cities and towns from burdensome expenses, have been affirmed by the State Auditor’s office.
The bill will allow cities and towns to create an Early Voting Reimbursement Fund which would then receive reimbursements from the state for expenses incurred resulting in compliance with the new law. According to a Division of Local Mandates survey, $720,000 would be required to cover the costs shouldered by local election departments for the 282 communities who responded to the division.
“We cannot burden our cities and towns with unfunded mandates; some of which are already struggling to make ends meet. If Beacon Hill can find $18 million to give themselves pay raises, I think we can find $720,000 for municipalities to provide early voting as an option for its residents,” said Senator Ryan C. Fattman (R-Webster).
In addition to new procedures required to be used by municipal clerks, the state law dictates that cities and towns employ poll workers at a minimum of one polling place during the early voting period, in many instances this also required additional spending on materials and measures to assure voter privacy.
“The act of voting is fundamental and it is important to understand that even in our national elections it is individual cities and towns that bear the expenses of managing and conducting elections,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). “Early voting is an important option for citizens and we need to help those that run our elections by acknowledging that the state’s new early voting law provided a mandate to communities to add hours, staff and equipment but didn’t provide the funding. This bill remedies that.”