Beacon Hill Update September 17, 2021September 17, 2021
Friday, September 17, 2021:
David Gauthier via MassAccess
As of Thursday night DPH reported a total of 736,279 cases of COVID-19.
The state reported 1,999 new confirmed cases and 16 new deaths.
The state now has 18,046 deaths from the virus.
School districts reported more than 1,200 student cases of COVID-19 and 190 cases among staff members this week, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said in its first case report of the new school year.
The department said the 1,230 student cases represent 0.13 percent of the estimated 920,000 students enrolled in K-12 schools.
The 190 cases among around 140,000 staff members work out to a similar percentage, 0.14 percent.
After a 2019-2020 school year marked by periods of remote instruction, districts across Massachusetts are now back to full-time in-person learning. Teachers and students age 12 and up are able to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but there’s still no clear timeline on when younger kids will be eligible for vaccines.
Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley has mandated universal mask-wearing in schools until at least Oct. 1.
Springfield reported the most student cases, with 70, followed by Wachusett’s 40. Of the 400 districts, 160 reported no COVID-19 cases in students.
Boston, Worcester and Springfield logged the highest number of staff cases, with eight each.
The House on Thursday sent to committee new legislation from Rep. Ruth Balser (HD 4407) seeking to reduce construction noise.
It would require all motor vehicles on construction sites that use alarms indicating that vehicles are reversing to instead use white noise reverse alarms, which emit sound at a lower decibel than regular reverse alarms.
The bill was referred to the Labor and Workforce Development Committee.
The House also dealt with bills relative to licenses for H-2B workers, electronic and audio books, an insulin patient assistance program, sale of cultural products, Gloucester, Arlington, and Wenham.
The House returns on Monday morning in informal session.
While senators did not tee up any major bills during Thursday’s session, Senate President Karen Spilka’s office said after adjournment that it was planning a formal session for Sept. 23.
A trio of bills from Judiciary Co-Chairman Sen. Jamie Eldridge were admitted at Thursday’s session, including a measure affecting disclosure of law enforcement disciplinary records (SD 2699) which was sent to Eldridge’s own committee.
The Senate approved a name change for Woburn’s aldermen, who under a bill already approved by the House (H 3947) would be henceforth known as city councilors, and approved a new liquor license for Norwood.
The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation published a new report on Thursday describing the financial future of the state’s largest public transit agency as “unequivocal and unsettling.”
Despite the infusion of $2 billion in federal stimulus funds during the COVID-19 pandemic to offset declines in ridership, the nonprofit research group said that by the spring of 2023 the MBTA could be looking at an operating budget gap of between $200 million and $400 million for the next fiscal year.
By fiscal year 2025, the gap grows to $450 million and by fiscal year 2026 it reaches $500 million, requiring substantial fare increases or service cuts and layoffs, according to the report.
While senators consider an elections reform bill that will likely allow prospective voters to register and cast a ballot on the same day, Governor Baker said Thursday he opposes the process in part because of “the complexity associated with it.”
Governor Baker said in a radio interview that he is concerned the practice of same-day registration would add too much work for elections officials to manage while overseeing polling places and tabulating ballots.
It will be important for people to have a simple way to prove that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, Governor Baker said Thursday on a radio interview as he stopped just short of saying that some kind of vaccination verification system will be coming to Massachusetts.
With about two-thirds of the workforce soon to be impacted by a federal vaccination-or-testing mandate, a growing number of venues requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result to enter, and with the market for phony vaccine cards exploding, some states like New York and Minnesota have launched free and voluntary platforms to provide digital and authentic proof that the user has either been vaccinated or has tested negative.
Governor Baker voiced his criticism of a proposed income surtax on wealthy households set to go before voters next year, questioning how much money the idea would generate and what those revenues might be spent on.
Governor Baker said Thursday that he is not reconsidering his opposition to the proposal, cautioning that its passage could prompt high-income residents or businesses to leave Massachusetts and questioning whether it could earmark revenue for transportation and education needs as supporters intend.
Massachusetts expects to welcome about 900 evacuees from Afghanistan, and while the specifics of their arrival remain unknown, efforts are underway to prepare for their arrival and resettlement and to potentially extend public benefits from the state.
Governor Baker, in a Thursday radio interview, said the resettlement will happen “over time,” describing it as “much more of a going-concern activity than something where all of a sudden there’s going to be a bunch of folks from Afghanistan.”
The Baker administration said it is still awaiting details on when and where the evacuees would arrive, but said it has been informed by federal officials that the state could receive up to 900 people.
The police oversight panel created in a new law enforcement reform statute will turn to the state Gaming Commission for its top staffer, a move that could again trim the gaming regulatory body just after it gained a new member.
Enrique Zuniga, a member of the Gaming Commission since its inception in 2012, will take over next week as executive director of the Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission, officials announced Wednesday.
The Department of Public Health on Thursday reported the seventh human case of the virus this year.
A woman in her 30s was exposed to the mosquito-borne virus in Bristol County, making her the seventh person to be confirmed to have contracted the virus since Sept. 1.
DPH publicly announced eight human cases of WNV in 2020, but a spokesperson said Thursday that there were actually 11 human cases of the virus last year.
Based on the latest human case and “mosquito findings,” DPH said it was elevating 11 communities – Fall River and Seekonk in Bristol County; North Andover in Essex County; Bridgewater, East Bridgewater, Halifax and Plympton in Plymouth County; and Blackstone, Hopedale, Milford and Millville in Worcester County – to its “moderate risk” category.
In all, DPH said, 27 communities are at high risk for WNV activity and 49 others are at moderate risk.