SECTION 1. Chapter 23A of the General Laws is hereby amended by striking out section 66, as appearing in the 2016 Official Edition, and inserting in place thereof the following section:-
Section 66. Rural policy advisory commission; members; powers and duties; meetings; annual report
(a) There shall be a rural policy advisory commission within, but not subject to the supervision or control of, the executive office of housing and economic development. The mission of the commission shall be to enhance the economic vitality of rural communities, defined as municipalities with population densities of less than 500 persons per square mile, and to advance the health and well-being of rural residents.
(b) The commission shall consist of the following 15 members: the speaker of the house of representative, ex officio, or a designee; the president of the senate, ex officio, or a designee; the secretary of housing and economic development, ex officio, or a designee; twelve persons to be appointed by the governor, one of whom shall be from the Berkshire regional planning commission, one of whom shall be from the Cape Cod commission, one of whom shall be from the central Massachusetts regional planning district commission, one of whom shall be from the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, one of whom shall be from the Martha’s Vineyard commission, one of whom shall be from the Montachusett regional planning commission, one of whom shall be from the Nantucket Planning and Economic Development Commission, one of whom shall be from the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, and one of whom shall be from the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District. Commission members shall be persons with demonstrated interests and experience in advancing the interests of rural residents.
(c) Members of the commission shall be appointed to staggered three year terms, with the terms of five members expiring each year. Members shall serve terms of three years and until their successors are appointed. Vacancies in the membership of the commission shall be filled for the balance of an unexpired term. Members may serve a maximum of three consecutive terms or nine consecutive years. The commission shall elect from among its members a chair, vice chair, a treasurer, and any other officers it considers necessary. The members of the commission shall receive no compensation for their services but shall be reimbursed for any unusual and customary expenses incurred in the performance of their duties. Members shall be considered special state employees for the purposes of chapter 268A.
(d) The commission shall serve as a research body for issues critical to the welfare and vitality of rural communities and shall: (i) study, review and report on the status of rural communities and residents in the commonwealth; (ii) advise the general court and the executive branch of the impact of existing and proposed state laws, policies and regulations on rural communities; (iii) advance legislative and policy solutions that address rural needs; (iv) advocate to ensure that rural communities receive a fair share of state investment; (v) promote collaboration among rural communities to improve efficiency in delivery of services; and (vi) develop and support new leadership in rural communities. The executive office shall provide the commission with adequate office space and any research, analysis or other staff support that the commission reasonably requires.
(e) The commission shall meet on a quarterly basis at the discretion of the chair. Meeting locations shall rotate between the rural regions of Massachusetts. Meetings shall be open to the public pursuant to sections 18 to 25, inclusive, or chapter 30A.
(f) The commission may accept and solicit funds, including any gifts, donations, grants, or bequests or any federal funds for any of the purposes of this section. The funds shall be deposited in a separate account with the state treasurer, shall be received by the state treasurer on behalf of the commonwealth, and shall be expended by the commission under the law.
(g) The commission may request from all state agencies such information and assistance as the commission may require.
(h) The commission shall annually, not later than June 2, report the results of its finding and activities of the preceding year and its recommendations to the governor and to the clerks of the senate and the house of representatives who shall forward the same to the joint committee on economic development and emerging technologies.
SECTION 2. Said chapter 23A of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby further amended by inserting after section 66 the following new section:-
Section 66A. Office of Rural Policy
(a) The rural policy advisory commission shall oversee a state agency known as the Commonwealth Office of Rural Policy. The office shall be established within the executive office for housing and economic development, but not under its control. The office shall be an independent public entity not subject to the supervision and control of any other executive office, department, commission, board, bureau, agency, or political subdivision of the commonwealth. The mission of said office shall be to enhance the economic vitality of rural communities, defined as municipalities with a population density of less than 500 persons per square mile, and to advance the health and well-being of rural residents.
(b) The office shall serve as a research and policy clearinghouse for issues critical to the welfare and vitality of rural communities, including but not limited to, economic development, education, environment, health, housing, infrastructure, technology, and transportation. In furtherance of that responsibility, the office shall work in coordination with and under the direction of the rural policy advisory commission.
(c) The powers of the office shall include but not be limited to the following: (i) to use such voluntary and uncompensated services of private individuals, agencies, and organizations as may from time to time be offered and needed; (ii) to recommend policies and make recommendations to agencies and officers of the state and local subdivisions of government to effectuate and the purposes of this section; (iii) to select an executive director and to acquire adequate staff to perform its duties, subject to appropriation; (iv) to establish and maintain such offices as it may deem necessary, subject to appropriation; (v) to enact bylaws for its own governance; and (vi) to hold regular, public meetings and to hold fact-finding hearings and other public forums as deemed necessary.
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