COVID-19 Massachusetts State House Update 4-7-2020

April 7, 2020

  • As of Monday night, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts has climbed to 13,837 with 1,241 being hospitalized and 260 deaths attributed to the virus.
  • On Monday, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said no decisions have been made yet about trying to meet beyond July 31 this year, but told the News Service it would be his recommendation to extend the session if the Legislature had still not finished the budget, a climate change bill or transportation financing.  He also added health care legislation in the same category.
  • The House typically releases an debates its version of the annual state budget in late April, but the Speaker said that won’t be happening this year.
  • EOPS Secretary Tom Turco tested positive for COVID-19 and is working from home.
  • A group of lawmaker are calling on Governor baker to let health care professionals trained in other countries to join the state’s COVID-19 response.
  • They are asking him to grant temporary licenses to health care workers who are licensed in good standing in other countries.
  • Their request letter is attached.
  • The Governor and First Lady Lauren Baker announced the creation of the Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund which is being launched with $13M in funding available for local foundations and community organizations.
  • Since Governor Baker ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses on March 24th, only registered patients in the medical marijuana program have been able to purchase marijuana.  The Governor has resisted efforts to consider recreational marijuana as an essential service.
  • The CCC has eased some requirements for becoming a medical patient, allowing patients to register through telehealth, which has lead to increase in medical patient registrations.
  • A day after Governor Baker revealed that Massachusetts only received a small fraction of the ventilators it requested from the national stockpile, the MA Congressional delegation slammed the federal response as “grossly insufficient”.
  • Their letter is attached.
  • The Senate on Monday sent to the Senate Ways & Means Committee two bills that would provide relief to renters and homeowners during the COVIS-19 emergency.  S.2621 approved by Senate Ways & Means last week was recommitted to the same committee where it was joined by an eviction and foreclosure moratorium, H.4615 passed by the House last Thursday.  Legislation relaxing MCAS requirements also passed by the House was also referred to Senate Ways & Means.
  • Aspects of the COVID-19 public health crisis are the focus of a flow of new bills addressing student loans, public higher education, food access, workers compensation, tax deadlines and public safety workers.  The House on Monday sent those bills to committee for review.  New bills introduced include legislation that would suspend student loan payments for post-secondary or vocational training during the state of emergency, another that would establish an emergency fund for public higher education institutions, grant retroactive pay to state employees and one to establish an emergency fund for regional transportation authorities.
  • Sessions continue to be live streamed.
  • The hit from COVID-19 on the state’s finances didn’t fully materialize in March, but state tax collectors acknowledged Friday that it’s coming.
  • The Department of Revenue announced that collections for March totaled $2.66 billion, which is only $8 million less than what was collected in March 2019, and $83 million or 3.2 percent above the state’s monthly benchmark.
  • Through three quarters of the fiscal year, DOR said Massachusetts tax receipts have totaled $21.064 billion, which is $878 million or 4.3 percent more than the same year-to-date point in 2019, and $235 million or 1.1 percent above the year-to-date benchmark.
  • Legislative and Baker administration officials will convene a virtual hearing today at 10am to revisit revenue assumptions and work to develop new projections for state budgeting amid what one top lawmaker called a “dire and unprecedented” financial climate due to the coronavirus outbreak.
  • House Ways & Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz, Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Michael Rodrigues, and Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan will host the event in the State House’s Room 428. Experts will be invited to testify in person or via audio or video conference, and those who do attend will practice social distancing, organizers said. The hearing will be livestreamed.
  • In non-Massachusetts news, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern offered reassurances to the children of New Zealand, announcing that the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy had been designated essential workers.  She cautioned that, because of distancing rules, “the Easter bunny might not make it everywhere this year.”

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