Muni Matters: E-Bike Road Rules | Songy Tax Exemption | Randolph Vaccine Campaign

Muni Matters reports on key issues and breaking news affecting cities and towns in Massachusetts

Home Rule Petition Could Let E-Bikes Take Flight in Salem

Salem residents could soon have a new way to get around the Witch City. Last week, the Salem City Council had its first look at a proposed home-rule petition to allow electric bikes, or e-bikes, on local roads. Mayor Kim Driscoll said the public bike share program BlueBikes would like to add e-bikes to its fleet in Salem. But because of the way the vehicles are categorized in state law, they’re technically not allowed on the road. The petition defines an e-bike as a bicycle with working pedals, a seat and an electric motor using less than 750 watts of power. They are considered distinct from motorized bicycles, which use a gas-powered engine, often don’t have pedals and require a driver’s license to operate. Current regulations don’t recognize the distinction between the devices. “The use of electric bikes, as stated in this resolution, is to allow for longer distances, for seniors, for those with disabilities,” Ward 3 Councilor Patricia Morsillo said. “And they are not the mopeds and motorized bikes that are riding all over the city and terrorizing many residents. This is a whole different beast.”

The council voted unanimously to send the measure to its ordinance committee after Ward 7 Councilor Stephen Dibble raised concerns about whether the vehicles would be allowed on sidewalks. Dibble, a mayoral candidate, asked that the committee confer with police. Regulations governing motorized bikes and scooters have been a hot topic in recent years as Boston and other communities have considered allowing ride-sharing programs for electric scooters. Cities like Cambridge and Somerville have clashed with dockless scooter companies that lacked permits and caused issues with blocked walkways. Cambridge has been working on its own road rules for electric scooters, with the idea of someday welcoming them back. But the vehicles are still considered illegal because state law requires motorized scooters to have brake lights and turn signals, which most electric scooters don’t. A road safety bill Gov. Charlie Baker filed in March calls for the creation of an advisory group “to review the use of electric scooters and other micro-mobility devices throughout the commonwealth. Other e-bike and scooter bills came before the Transportation Committee for a hearing last week. – Meg McIntyre/SHNS

Definition Complicates Tax Exemption for Late Officer’s Widow

After Rutland Police Det. John Songy died of COVID-19 last year, his town of Leicester voted overwhelmingly to exempt his family’s home from the obligation to pay property taxes. But a Department of Revenue guideline means the town needs special legislation to make it happen, town officials said Monday. A property tax exemption like the one Leicester is seeking for Songy, whose May 2020 death was characterized as a line of duty death, could normally be granted by the town without any need to get the state involved, Rep. David Leboeuf said. But the Department of Revenue’s Division of Local Services uses a definition of “line of duty death” that does not apply to Songy’s situation, Leicester Town Administrator David Genereux told the Committee on Revenue. The DLS definition includes deaths “a result of a violent act or occurrence of violent external physical force to the body while in the line of duty.”

“So the DLS is stating because of that particular definition — even though he was classified as being killed in the line of duty due to COVID — the exemption could not be granted. So based on that, and based on the overwhelming vote at town meeting, we asked our representatives to draft this special legislation,” Genereaux said, referring to the bill (H 3989) that the Revenue Committee included in its hearing Monday. As of mid-October, at least 743 law enforcement officers nationwide and five in Massachusetts have died of COVID-19, according to the Fraternal Order of Police. – Colin A. Young/SHNS

Randolph, Haitian Biz Group Partner on Vaccine Outreach

Massachusetts has one of the largest Haitian populations in the country, and a recent partnership between the town of Randolph and a business organization is focusing on COVID-19 vaccine outreach efforts targeting those communities. The U.S. Haitian Chamber of Commerce this month announced the partnership, which will involve a series of video messages written and produced in Haitian Creole. The advertising campaign, according to the Randolph-based organization, “will be directed towards vaccine skeptics, new Haitian immigrants, undocumented Haitian residents, Haitian populations with little to no English skills, and First and Second-Generation Haitians.” Ads will air on Randolph Community Television and the New England Christian Television Network, as well as through social media, robocalls and texts and email blasts, the Chamber said. Its president, Hans Patrick Domercant, said the campaign’s goal is to break down fears about the vaccine within the Haitian community “By sharing facts and statistics surrounding the COVID-19 virus and vaccine, we hope to sway those individuals in the right direction to increase our vaccinated population size,” he said. “Mindset has a better prospect to change with the help of effective multimedia.”

Randolph Town Manager Brian Howard said the initiative is “just one of many efforts we have made in our journey to create an equitable vaccination outreach program for our community.” Howard said vaccination rates in Randolph “are climbing and are above the state benchmarks,” but that the town still has work to do in vaccinating its communities of color. Department of Public Health data shows about 74 percent of Randolph residents were fully vaccinated as of Oct. 14, with gaps among racial and ethnic groups. Seventy-six percent of white residents were fully vaccinated, compared to 59 percent of Hispanic residents and 47 percent of Black residents, according to the DPH. – Katie Lannan/SHNS

Get Schooled on Cyber Security

Municipal officials across the Bay State now have access to a suite of free online resources to help their cities and towns strengthen defenses against online fraud and attacks. Breaches have increasingly become a concern for local governments in recent years, leading state legislators to allocate funding for a new cybersecurity consortium and consider implementing minimum “cyber standards” for public and private organizations. The interactive training modules were launched at the inaugural Massachusetts Municipal Cybersecurity Summit on Oct. 7, which drew about 300 virtual attendees, according to the MassCyberCenter, which spearheaded the event. The summit was supported by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security. Using the example of a fictional town called “Massboro,” the lessons take participants through a hypothetical malicious cyberattack and its impact on municipal services.

The series is designed to educate officials and employees about cybersecurity best practices and the “minimum baseline” of protection communities should have to secure sensitive assets and information. “In today’s world, cyber security is absolutely critical to protecting our communities and ensuring the business of municipal government can continue, and with this compilation of resources established by the MassCyberCenter, cities and towns have access to an invaluable set of tools to help bolster their online defenses against malicious attacks,” Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy said. The modules can be accessed on the MassCyberCenter website. Just be sure to check that your connection is secure first, of course. – Meg McIntyre/SHNS

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