Beacon Hill Update from Mass Access July 14, 2020July 14, 2020
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
As of Monday night, DPH reported a total of 105,783 cases of COVID-19.
The state has now confirmed a total of 8,115 deaths from the virus.
The debate that started Monday and closed in the early morning hours on Tuesday ended with a 30-7 vote in the Senate in favor of a sweeping police reform bill that would see Massachusetts join the vast majority of states around the country that license police officers.
The bill would also ban the use of chokeholds and require training and recertification for police every three years.
After days of delays forced by Sen. Ryan Fattman to give legislators more time to review the bill, senators engaged in lengthy debates over new limits to qualified immunity from civil lawsuits for public officials and due process for police who want to appeal disciplinary decisions handed down by the new Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Committee, which would be created under the bill.
The legislation now moves to the House, and Speaker Robert DeLeo said Monday he hopes to have a public hearing on the Senate bill this week.
The Senate also agreed to a House-amended version of a $1.14 billion COVID-19 spending bill, much of which the Baker administration has said will be eligible for federal reimbursement.
The Senate will meet again on Thursday for a formal session where it is expected to take up the transportation bond bill.
The House on Monday approved a new text (H 4853) for a nearly $1.1 billion time-sensitive COVID-19 supplemental budget, agreeing to the Senate’s recommended election expenditures but adding some finer points that differ from the version the Senate passed in early July.
The House plans to open a modified public hearing process on a controversial policing reform bill currently under debate in the Senate, House leaders said Monday, knocking senators for the process they used to bring the proposal to the floor.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo and three of his top deputies said in a statement they would solicit public feedback before the House formally takes up its version of the Senate bill (S 2800), which was advancing through the Senate Monday after delays in recent days and criticism inside and outside the Senate over a lack of input before the bill was unveiled.
The four representatives, Speaker DeLeo, Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, Judiciary Committee Co-chair Rep. Claire Cronin and Black and Latino Legislative Caucus Chair Rep. Carlos Gonzalez criticized the Senate in their joint statement as they hinted at next steps in the House.
The Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, which has had Baker’s bill (H 4794) since June 22, has not scheduled a public hearing on it.
The panel is co-chaired by Rep. Harold Naughton Jr. and Sen. Michael Moore.
The House has scheduled potential formal sessions for Thursday and Friday of this week.
On Tuesday, the Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee holds a virtual hearing on Gov. Charlie Baker’s bill to reform oversight of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, filed after an investigation detailed a series of missteps leading up to the deaths of at least 76 veterans with COVID-19.
The bill (S 2788) would change the way the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home superintendent is appointed, require that the home be inspected by the Department of Public Health in addition to federal authorities, and require that at least two members of the Holyoke and Chelsea soldiers’ home boards of trustees have relevant health care experience.
It also reimagines a post lawmakers created in 2016, executive director of veterans homes and housing, which has never been filled.
The bill replaces the position with a new assistant secretary of veterans’ services.
A relief package of more than $16 million will help more than 30 special education residential schools pay for things like personal protective equipment, enhanced cleaning services and more, the Baker administration announced on Monday.
Governor Baker made the announcement after touring the New England Center for Children in Southborough, which teaches, houses and supports more than 120 students with special needs. Baker said the center will receive about $2 million
The administration made $139 million available for residential and congregate care service providers earlier in the pandemic, but Governor Baker said many of the residential schools that serve students with disabilities did not qualify for that round of assistance.
On Monday, Governor Baker announced ways that everyday citizens can involve themselves in the enforcement of health and safety guidelines by reporting businesses they think are not adhering to the state’s rules.
Reports can be filed by going to www.mass.gov/compliance and following directions to send information to a local board of health or to the Department of Labor Standards via a hotline at (508) 616-0461 ext. 9488 or by email to email@example.com.
Callers to the state’s 211 COVID-19 hotline can also report non-compliance, Baker said.
If a report warrants an investigation, the Department of Labor Standards will contact the complainant within 72 hours and then work with the local board of health to investigate, the administration said.
Reusable bags have been cleared to return to checkout lines in Massachusetts, with a previous ban now removed in the latest round of Baker administration guidance affecting grocery stores.
On Friday, Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel rescinded a pair of earlier orders that laid out required precautions for grocery stores to safely operate amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the rescission notice, Bharel said the two orders’ “COVID-19 reduction strategies” were now incorporated into the economic reopening safety standards for retail businesses that Governor Baker issued in June.
The newer retail safety standards mirror many of the original supermarket requirements, salad bars and seating areas must remain closed, hand sanitizer should be made available to customers, social distancing must be maintained among both workers and customers, and grocery stores and pharmacies must continue to set aside at least one morning hour each day for shoppers aged 60 and over.
Uncertainty around whether the federal government will provide additional assistance to states and municipalities dealing with pandemic-related budget stress has been holding up progress on Beacon Hill, but Governor Baker is optimistic that a relief package will emerge this month.
With the new fiscal year already underway, state budget managers still do not have a grasp on how much tax revenue the state will collect in fiscal 2021 or how much aid might be coming from Washington, and the uncertainty is contributing to an unusually delayed budget and a hesitation to take up state-level relief proposals on Beacon Hill.
U.S. House Democrats passed a $3 trillion relief bill in May that included nearly $1 trillion in aid for state and local governments, but the Republicans who control the U.S. Senate have not taken any action.
The White House has since resumed negotiations with Capitol Hill on a more narrow relief package that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin recently said could be done by the end of July.
Governor Baker said the conversations he’s had with people in Washington, D.C., make him optimistic that the next round of coronavirus relief will be on its way in the next three weeks.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is among a coalition of 17 state attorneys general suing the Trump administration to block a new federal rule that bars international higher education students from studying in the United States if they are taking online-only courses this fall.
The SJC ruled Monday that Brady is eligible for the ballot, overturning a decision from the State Ballot Law Commission that blocked her access based on how her campaign collected and submitted electronic nomination signatures.
Three days after hearing arguments in the case, the SJC ordered Secretary of State William Galvin to print Brady’s name on the Sept. 1 Republican primary election ballot.
A group of Massachusetts voters and voting rights organizations sued Secretary of State William Galvin on Monday, arguing he is violating the COVID-era elections reform law by hesitating to send out applications for mail-in ballots without first receiving an allocation to cover the costs.
While Galvin still has two days left until the deadline to mail applications, seven nonwhite voters joined with Common Cause Massachusetts and MassVOTE in an attempt to force the secretary into prompt action.
Leaders of the effort said that they filed the lawsuit ahead of the July 15 date as a “proactive” step, warning that although the primary election is still more than six weeks away, time is of the essence to vulnerable voters who will rely on receiving an application for their access to the ballot box.
A proposal to increase access to automobile telematic data is now on course to be decided at the ballot box after opponents of the latter question dropped their challenge.
Secretary of State William Galvin announced Monday that he certified the ballot question, as well as one addressing ranked choice voting, so each cleared the final hurdle and will appear before voters on Nov. 3.
An automobile manufacturer-backed group that is fighting the vehicle data question filed a challenge with the State Ballot Law Commission last week, arguing that it should be ineligible to make the ballot because the electronic signature-gathering company the campaign hired did not comply with technical requirements laid out by the state’s highest court.
Wednesday is the deadline for Massachusetts residents to file both federal and state 2019 income tax returns, postponed from the normal April 15 deadline because of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.