COVID-19 Massachusetts State House Update 4-17-20

April 17, 2020

  • As of Wednesday night, DPH reported a total of 32,181 cases.  The state has now confirmed a total of 1,245 deaths from the virus.
  • The House and Senate both met in session on Thursday.
  • The Senate advanced three COVID-19 response bills Thursday and scheduled a Friday session after sitting in recess through the afternoon.
  • Senators passed a version of Gov. Charlie Baker’s bill to provide liability protections for health care workers and facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, accepted the House-Senate compromise on an evictions and foreclosures moratorium, and passed a bill lowering the ballot nomination signature thresholds for statewide and county races in 2020.
  • The House on Thursday took up a housing stability bill imposing a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions during the state of emergency, but progress stalled after Rep. Shawn Dooley, a Norfolk Republican, objected and ended the session for the day.
  • Democratic negotiators struck a deal on Wednesday after the legislation was sent to a conference committee, but appeared unable to win over their Republican counterparts.
  • With the House meeting only in lightly attended informal sessions, any member’s objection can halt the advancement of any bill.
  • The House and Senate will both meet again in informal sessions on Friday at 2pm.
  • The Massachusetts SJC heard oral arguments Thursday over whether it should relax the legal requirements for candidates to get on the ballot.
  • Attorneys for Secretary of State William Galvin and three candidates seeking relief from signature-gathering requirements to qualify for the 2020 ballot agreed Thursday that the current public health crisis has put an unconstitutional burden on public office seekers.
  • But the two sides remain at odds over how to remedy the issue.
  • The state’s highest court heard arguments Thursday afternoon in a lawsuit in which two candidates for federal office and one for state representative are asking justices to either scrap the signature requirements altogether, or allow for more time to collect one-third of the normal amount.
  • The plaintiffs argued that social distancing measures imposed to combat the spread of COVID-19 have made the face-to-face interactions necessary to gather signatures “largely impossible.”
  • Their request for relief, however, differs significantly from legislation that passed the Senate on Thursday, adding another wrinkle to the case as justices struggled with the question of how quickly to intervene if the Legislature might still act.
  • Some senior House members and officials have suggested in recent days that the Senate bill lacks sufficient support to pass the House.
  • The House could try to take up the bill again on Friday, when it will meet in a 2 p.m. informal session.
  • Gov. Charlie Baker defended the state’s response to a coronavirus hotspot that emerged in the city of Chelsea, offering any further aid the community needs while also asserting that local officials turned down previous overtures.
  • According to town-by-town data on confirmed COVID-19 cases state officials published for the first time Wednesday, Chelsea has the highest rate of infection at about 1,890 cases per 100,000 residents, nearly four times the statewide rate of about 488 cases per 100,000 residents.
  • EOHHS Secretary Marylou Sudders also said the administration was working to expand COVID-19 testing in community health centers that serve communities of color.
  • Before participating in a conference call with other governors and President Donald Trump, Governor Baker expressed wariness Thursday about rushing to loosen social distancing restrictions before Massachusetts gets through the worst of the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Governor Baker neither endorsed nor ruled out extending his administration’s stay-at-home advisory or an executive order closing K-12 schools until May 4.
  • Asked about New York Governor Cuomo’s Thursday order continuing his state’s public shutdowns until May 15, Governor Baker replied that Massachusetts officials “continue to look at the data.”
  • According to data released Thursday by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, state officials will have about $4 billion, or 15 percent, less than they anticipated for use in the fiscal 2021 budget.
  • The MTF said that based on its revised forecast, the MBTA will receive $53 million less in dedicated sales tax revenue and the Massachusetts School Building Authority will get $174 million less. Also, a transfer of $278 million to the rainy day fund likely won’t be triggered because taxes on investment gains will not reach sufficient levels.
  • Just three months ago, executive and legislative branch leaders had agreed on a fiscal 2021 tax revenue estimate of $31.15 billion. The foundation’s new fiscal 2021 tax revenue estimate of $24.8 billion is about $1 billion less than budget writers had available in fiscal 2018.
  • The Baker administration has not announced any information about budget-balancing measures for the current fiscal year, one in which tax collections are taking a major tumble in the last quarter after a strong performance over the first nine months.
  • Legislative leaders also have not announced any budget plans for fiscal 2021, including a process for passing a spending bill amidst social distancing, and are still working to agree on a new revenue estimate.
  • Forty-two state lawmakers wrote to Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday, asking him to follow an order limiting occupancy at grocery stores with another step they say would help reduce COVID-19 risks for both grocery workers and shoppers.
  • Another 5.2 million Americans and 103,000 Massachusetts residents filed initial claims for unemployment benefits last week.
  • A national gun rights group has filed a federal lawsuit against Attorney General Maura Healey and Governor Charlie Baker in an effort to allow firearms dealers to reopen during the COVID-19 crisis, the organization announced Thursday.
  • The Gun Owners of America, based in Virginia, joined more than a dozen other gun stores and manufacturers in suing Baker and Healey, claiming their Second Amendment rights have been violated and their businesses are suffering “immediate, irreparable, injuries,” according to the lawsuit.
  • The complaint, filed Wednesday in US District Court in Boston, is the second federal lawsuit in a week filed by gun shop owners seeking to reopen their businesses amid the pandemic. State officials have said the closings are necessary to slow the spread of coronavirus.
  • A Suffolk Superior Court judge has denied a request by a group of recreational marijuana businesses to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. The businesses had sued Gov. Charlie Baker over his decision to shut down recreational pot businesses in his response to the public health crisis.

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