Beacon Hill Update from Mass Access – July 29, 2020July 30, 2020
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
• As of Tuesday night, DPH reported a total of 108,740 cases of COVID-19.
• The state has now confirmed a total of 8,331 deaths from the virus.
• The House on Tuesday wrapped up debate on economic development legislation and started debate on a healthcare bill dealing with COVID 19.
• The House meets in formal session on Wednesday at noon.
• The Senate also meets in formal session to take up their version of economic development legislation.
• Senators filed 361 amendments to the bill.
• House lawmakers unanimously backed the idea of creating a new office within the Department of Fish and Game to specifically study the impacts of offshore wind infrastructure on marine fisheries and ocean life.
• The office would also function as a liaison to federal agencies and academic institutions.
• The House and Senate on Tuesday quickly passed a $16.53 billion interim budget to keep the government funded through October, a plan that would give the Legislature and Governor Baker more time to understand the state’s financial picture in the middle of the ongoing pandemic.
• The House and Senate are in the final scheduled days of their formal legislative calendar for the two-year session, but as a result of COVID-19 impacts neither the House nor Senate have produced a full-year spending plan and will have to take the rare step of holding a special session later this year to take up a budget.
• The Legislature and Governor Baker agreed on a $5.25 billion one-month budget in June to keep state services funded through July, and the administration filed another $5.51 billion budget bill last week to cover spending through August.
• The Legislature, however, responded Tuesday with an appropriations bill that would give them more time and remove the need to figure out immediately how and when to return for a special post-July 31 session to deal with a spending plan for the rest of fiscal 2021.
• House and Senate leaders are also expected to “imminently” announce an agreement with the Baker administration on a funding level for local aid for the full-year.
• An agreement over local aid would be intended to give cities, towns and school districts predictability heading into the fall when the Massachusetts Municipal Association has said many cities and towns will probably have to revisit their budgets, depending on what actions the state and Congress take.
• The bill essentially level funds state programs and services through October, financing state government at the lower of either the fiscal 2020 budget appropriation or Governor Baker’s budget proposal from January.
• Assuming Governor Baker signs the bill, the Legislature and governor will have appropriated $21.78 billion to cover spending over the first four months of the fiscal year.
• At that rate of spending, the state’s budget would balloon to over $65 billion, well above the $44.6 billion budget Baker filed in January.
• But budget officials said state spending is weighted toward the early part of the fiscal year, and would eventually slow down.
• In a tweet posted Tuesday afternoon and then later deleted, Senate Revenue Chairman Adam Hinds also said the budget bill level funds Chapter 70 education funds to school districts, plus $107 million for inflation.
• As the state delays its annual budget deliberations, cities and towns have been awaiting word on local aid levels, which pair with local property taxes to form the basis of revenues for local school, public safety and other municipal services.
• Young adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities would gain new opportunities to participate in public college programs under a bill the Senate approved Tuesday, a step that supporters say will boost inclusion and will help participants acquire important life skills.
• The bill (S 2844), which sailed through on a 39-0 vote, would make programs that some schools in Massachusetts already offer a permanent requirement in state law.
• Under the bill, all public higher education institutions would need to offer ways for individuals with intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders or developmental disabilities to participate in programs that provide academic, career and independent living skills alongside students who do not have disabilities.
• Students with disabilities could access courses without first needing to take a standardized test or meeting a similar entrance requirement, and those who are between 18 and 21 could have the costs of doing so covered by a local school committee if higher education is part of their individualized education program.
• The state pension fund would be required to increase the diversity of its investments and to set a goal of having at least 20 percent of its investment managers be minorities, females and persons with disabilities under the terms of an amendment adopted by the House on Tuesday.
• Language included in a consolidated amendment unanimously adopted as part of an economic development bill calls for the Pension Reserves Investment Management Board to “use minority investment managers to manage PRIT Fund assets, encompassing all asset classes, and to increase the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of PRIT Fund investments to the greatest extent feasible, consistent with sound investment policy.”
• Massachusetts senators unanimously agreed Tuesday that a panel should suggest a new state seal to replace the 122-year-old version that Native Americans largely view as symbolizing white supremacist violence.
• The Senate voted 39-0 to approve a special commission tasked with designing a new seal and state motto and with studying ways that the existing version, which depicts a Native man standing beneath a disembodied arm and sword, “may be unwittingly harmful to or misunderstood by the citizens of the commonwealth.”
• Tribal leaders and activists have pushed for decades to replace the state seal, warning that the individual pictured reinforces stereotypes against Native Americans and that the inclusion of the overhead sword implies violent subjugation of the Indigenous people.
• Saying the nation “has one foot in the pandemic and one foot in the recovery,” U.S. Senate Republicans unveiled a long-awaited relief package on Monday that proposes another round of stimulus checks, a scaled-back extension of unemployment benefits, and more than $100 billion aimed at bringing students back to school in the fall.
• The roughly $1 trillion Republican proposal leaves untouched a range of elements Democrats included in a $3 trillion bill that cleared the House,.
• One House-approved piece critical to the next few months on Beacon Hill is altogether absent from the Republican bill: more aid for state and local governments struggling with a collapse in tax collections.
• Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell outlined his party’s proposal, dubbed the HEALS Act, on the Senate floor Monday, saying it targets four areas: health, economic assistance, liability protection, and schools.