Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:
SECTION 1. Notwithstanding section 21D of chapter 40 of the General Laws, a person who desires to contest a violation of an ordinance of the town of Southbridge alleged in a notice to appear, pursuant to violations issued by the town in accordance with said section 21D of said chapter 40 shall request, in writing, a hearing before a municipal hearing officer, who shall be appointed by the town manager with the approval of the town council, to conduct requested hearings pursuant to this act. The notice to appear shall be in the format required under said section 21D of said chapter 40, except that the third copy of the notice shall be submitted to the municipal hearing officer. The municipal hearing officer may be the same person appointed as municipal hearing officer pursuant to chapter 148A of the General Laws.
SECTION 2. Where a notice to appear is for a code violation, the person notified to appear shall return the notice of violation by mail, personally or by an authorized person, to the municipal hearing officer and shall, within 21 days, either: (a) pay in full the scheduled assessment by check, postal note or money order; or (b) request a hearing before the municipal hearing officer. All amounts paid shall be payable to the town of Southbridge. If the person notified to appear requests, in a timely manner, a hearing before the municipal hearing officer, the municipal hearing officer shall schedule a hearing not later than 45 days after receiving the hearing request. The municipal hearing officer shall send a hearing notice to duly notify the person notified to appear of the date, time and location of the hearing. Hearings shall be held at least twice each month, in the evening. When a hearing notice is sent, the person notified to appear shall be given an opportunity to request a rescheduled hearing date. The municipal hearing officer shall not be an employee or officer of the department associated with the issuance of the notice of violation. The municipal hearing officer shall receive annual training in the conduct of and procedure for administrative hearings. The hearings and dispositions by the municipal hearing officer shall be informal and the formal rules of evidence shall not apply. In conducting the hearings, the municipal hearing officer shall make a finding as to whether a violation occurred and, if so, whether it was committed by the person named in the notice to appear.
SECTION 3. Any person aggrieved by a decision of the municipal hearing officer, after a hearing, may appeal to the district court pursuant to section 21D of chapter 40 of the General Laws on a form provided by the town and shall be entitled to a de novo hearing before a clerk magistrate of the district court. The district court shall consider such appeals under a civil standard. The aggrieved person shall file the appeal to the district court within 10 days after receiving notice of the decision from the municipal hearing officer.
SECTION 4. A person who receives a notice to appear issued in accordance with the procedure set forth in this act and who, within the prescribed time: (i) fails to pay the scheduled assessment; (ii) fails to request a hearing before the municipal hearing officer; or (iii) fails to appear at the time and place of the hearing shall be found responsible for the violations as stated in the notice to appear and such finding of responsibility shall be considered prima facie evidence of responsibility for the violation in any subsequent civil proceedings regarding that violation and shall be admissible as evidence in any subsequent criminal proceedings regarding that violation. A person who fails to appear at the scheduled hearing without good cause shall have the appeal dismissed and shall waive any further right to appeal. If the condition which caused the notice to appear to issue continues to exist, the finding of responsibility may also be used by the town of Southbridge as prima facie evidence of the existence of a violation in any proceeding to suspend or revoke any license, permit or certificate issued by the town relative to the building, structure or premises pending the correction of the condition.
SECTION 5. All fines, penalties or assessments collected by the town pursuant to proceedings instituted under this act, shall be paid to the general fund of the town of Southbridge.SECTION 6. This act shall take effect upon its passage.
Approved October 15, 2009.