August 2020 Update: State's Reopening Phase 3, Step 2 Postponed Indefinitely
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I hope this finds you and those you love well and staying healthy.
In the legislature, we had a VERY busy second half of July with much deliberation on many important items. In short time, we passed significant proposals and both chambers voted to extend our formal sessions, meaning we're "on call" over the next five months to reconvene. When we do, we'll be taking enacting votes (up or down on the entire package) on five anticipated conference committee reports relative to compromise legislation concerning climate change, policing reforms, telehealth, transportation and economic development bonding, as well as on the state's FY21 operating budget when the time comes.
On Friday 8/7 Governor Baker announced due to the recent increase in positive COVID-19 cases, step two of phase III of the Commonwealth’s reopening plan is postponed indefinitely. There's also an updated gatherings order that goes into effect on Tuesday 8/11.
The updated order:
1. reduces limit on outdoor gatherings from 100 to 50 people (indoor gatherings limit remains 25) 2. applies to all types of gatherings on public and private property
3. requires face coverings where more than 10 people from different households will be mixing
Updated restaurant rules, also effective Tuesday 8/11, state that alcoholic beverages may only be served for on-site consumption if accompanied by orders for food prepared on-site. Local and state public safety officials have jurisdiction to enforce these orders and event hosts in violation of these orders will be subject to fines or cease and desist orders.
The Governor also announced a targeted cross-agency COVID Enforcement & Intervention Team that will be responsible for ramping up enforcement statewide and coordinating local intervention efforts at the local level in higher risk COVID-19 communities. Starting next week, additional town-by-town reporting data will be published weekly to show the spread at the community level.
The 17 free testing sites for residents, including those who are asymptomatic, in Agawam, Brockton, Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Framingham, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Marlborough, Methuen, New Bedford, Randolph, Revere, Springfield, Taunton, and Worcester will be open through September 12 (extended from August 14). mass.gov/stopthespread
If you test positive, please answer the call from the state’s Community Tracing Collaborative or your local board of health. If you need a safe place to isolate and recover at no cost, please call about a recovery site 617-367-5150.
Remember, the state’s COVID-19 travel order, effective 8/1, requires all visitors over the age of 18 and unaccompanied minors entering MA, including returning students who do not meet an exemption, to complete the MA Travel Form prior to arrival unless visiting from a lower-risk state (current list as of 8/7: Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Vermont).
The rule requires you must quarantine for 14 days unless you: 1. Are coming from a lower-risk state or 2. Can produce, on request, proof of negative test result for COVID-19 from a test administered on a sample taken not longer than 72 hours before your arrivals in MA or 3. Meet the exemption criteria
Failure to complete the MA Travel Form or failure to comply with the quarantine, if applicable, may result in a $500 fine per day. Please help protect yourself, others, our state, and our residents by continuing to do your part to keep your physical distance from others and wear a mask please!
Please continue to operate with kindness towards yourself and others, with courage and patience, and with intention and caution, so the virus isn't given any easy opportunities to spread.
And please remember to complete your US Census Application and make sure you're ready to vote! To do both, visit: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/
11th Suffolk District
State & Legislative Updates
8/7 - The Governor signed into law An Act Financing the General Governmental Infrastructure of the Commonwealth, which authorizes up to $1.8 billion in capital funding for key investments in public safety, food security, and information technology. This includes programs to enhance the security of the Commonwealth’s IT assets, improve the delivery of state and local services, and continue responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among many important provisions, the bond bill includes $2,500,000 for technology improvements in the office of the commissioner of probation to automate the process for sealing criminal records; now we need to change our statute to permit the automate sealing by passing my timely filed legislation supported by Greater Boston Legal Services.
8/6 - The state's unemployment rate has triggered federal extended benefits. This is a federal extension of 7 weeks for all Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claimants, and up to 13 weeks for certain eligible regular unemployment claimants. Regular unemployment insurance claimants who are eligible to apply for extended benefits will receive notification. PUA claimants do not need to do anything to receive the additional 7 weeks and will receive a notice through the PUA system that their benefits have been extended.
8/6 - UMass Amherst announced 8/5 that it is changing its fall reopening plan. Students are no longer allowed to return to campus if they have online-only classes. Students who are dependent on campus housing and dining, some international students with specific visa requirements, and students in healthcare fields who need to live on campus will be held on a case-by-case basis and will be accommodated in most cases. The university is encouraging students who live off-campus to not return to the Amherst area.
8/5 - There will be service changes to MBTA bus routes starting 8/30. Service is being added on 23 bus routes. Some bus routes with low ridership or routes with other service options nearby will have service frequency reduced or will continue to have service suspended. Starting 9/1, CharlieTicket and cash fares will be lowered to CharlieCard prices. There will be virtual public meetings on Wednesday 8/12 (Spanish language) and Thursday 8/13 (English language) where members of the public can learn more about these changes and provide feedback.
8/4 - Governor Baker signed a three-month interim budget, but sent back provisions that would have required his administration to fund departments and programs at or above FY20 levels or the levels proposed in the Governor's proposed FY21 budget and that would set a firm deadline of 10/31 for the funding to expire.
8/4 - Governor Baker announced there is a modest uptick in new positive cases over the last few days, and the state is monitoring the cause of this. He stated that his administration could consider scaling back reopening efforts if positive COVID-19 cases continue to increase.
8/3 - Over the weekend, the state reported 643 new cases of COVID-19, up from 483 the weekend before, and 395 the weekend prior to that. New cases have exceeded 200 for 9 of the last 14 days. Samuel Scarpino, a Northeastern University epidemiologist said this is evidence that a surge of cases is coming and the state should roll back reopening.
7/31 - The RMV will be piloting drop-off registration and title services at the Braintree Service Center starting this Monday 8/3. The Boston / Haymarket Service Center, Chicopee Service Center, Haverhill Service Center, Milford Service Center, Taunton Service Center, and Wilmington Service Center will follow beginning Monday, 8/10. Registration Drop Off Centers will be dedicated to performing a number of vehicle-based registration and title services for both commercial and individual customer transactions on a drop-off only basis.
7/31 - Governor Baker held a press conference at the State House. He cited situations in which people gather and do not wear masks or do not keep their distance as being the source for recent COVID outbreaks.
7/30 & 7/31 - The House deliberated An Act creating a 2050 roadmap to a clean and thriving commonwealth. For the first time, the bill establishes the criteria in statute that define environmental justice populations. The legislation also increases support for clean energy workforce development programs, improves access to renewable energy and energy efficiency programs for low-income communities, and requires the state to increase its use of renewable resources for its electricity needs. It also incorporates higher energy efficiency standards for a variety of common appliances including plumbing, faucets, computers and commercial appliances, increases the required total procurement of offshore wind power by an additional 2,000 megawatts, adopts several measures aimed at improve gas pipeline safety, including increased fines for safety violations and expedited timelines for repairing gas leaks, and increases the required minimum percentage of the state’s renewable energy via updates to the Commonwealth’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS).
7/30 - The Legislature and the Governor's Administration committed to keeping local aid and school aid at last year's levels for FY21 and providing an additional $107 million in school aid to cover inflation and enrollment factors.
7/30 - Governor Baker held a press conference at Pfizer facilities in Andover. He announced that his administration is reviewing the state's guidance on gathering sizes. The state's current guidance instructs a limit of 25 people at indoor gatherings and 100 people at outdoor gatherings, depending on the size of the venue. On 7/29, Governor Raimondo of Rhode Island announced that her state is lowering the limit on social gatherings there to 15 people, down from 25.
7/28 & 7/29 - The House continued its deliberations on H.4888 An Act Putting Patients First and passed the bill. I'm grateful that four amendments filed by the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery were adopted; they are important additions in preserving access to behavioral healthcare. I'm also very pleased that the amendment I filed in coordination with 1199 SEIU was included. The amendment establishes care team planning to help elevate the worker's voice in all acute-care settings. Just like on the Administration's acute-care reopening committees, this labor-management model clearly works and is essential to reopening of services that work for both patients and caregivers.
7/29 - The House of Representatives voted unanimously to extend the legislative session past the deadline of July 31.
7/29 - The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released Career/Vocational Technical Education Reopening Guidelines that address the unique challenges these schools will face when resuming instruction this fall.
7/29 - Governor Baker did not hold a press conference today.
7/28 - The MA House and Senate unanimously approved a $16.53 billion three-month interim budget. This budget would cover the state's costs through 10/31/20.
7/28 - The MA House and Senate also voted unanimously to approve An Act Regarding Breakfast After the Bell. This policy change will increase students' access to breakfast by making it a part of the school day in high-poverty schools.
7/28 - Fare collections will resume on The RIDE starting 8/1. Fare collections resumed on buses and trolleys at street-level stops on 7/20 with the resumption of front-door boarding.
7/28 - Several state residents report receiving unsolicited packages appearing to have originated in a foreign country that contain seeds. If you receive an unsolicited package of seeds, you should not plant them, and you should report your receipt of them on this Mass. Department of Agricultural Resources online form.
7/28 - Governor Baker did not hold a press conference today.
7/27 & 7/28 - The House of Representatives passed H.4879 An Act enabling partnerships for growth. This economic development bond bill takes important sectors of our economy such as the restaurant, arts, culture and tourism industries that have been most adversely affected by Covid-19 and seeks to give them, and many displaced workers, an opportunity to rejoin the local economy and workforce. The bill pairs initiatives to improve the housing market for buyers while providing protections for tenants. It authorizes the Housing Choice concept, reducing the voting requirement for a range of housing-related zoning changes and special permits at the local level, from a two-thirds threshold to a simple majority. The legislation also creates a local option for the tenant right to purchase/first right of refusal to purchase buildings landlords put up for sale, increases the low-income housing tax credit from $20 million to $40 million, and requires DHCD to notify tenants they have a right to mediation with landlords prior to the eviction process. The bill establishes the Rural Jobs Tax Credit for businesses that make a capital contribution to a rural growth fund, which will be established within the Office of Business Development. It allows for the creation of Tourism Destination Marketing Districts, which, following local approval, can add an additional 2% surcharge on room occupancy taxes to fund tourism marketing activities within these districts. The legislation also creates a Cultural Council Recovery Commission to review and develop recommendations for the recovery, promotion and continued growth and vitality of the cultural and creative sector in the commonwealth.
7/27 - The MBTA launched a "Ride Safer" campaign that includes messaging and guidance in stations and vehicles and a new webpage with videos depicting cleaning and disinfecting techniques, FAQs and helpful travel tips.
7/27 - The Department of Unemployment Assistance revised its fact-finding instructions to make the identity verification process easier for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Some PUA claimants who have been denied because of identity verification issues will be receiving a link to allow them to correct issues on their claims, and may approved to receive benefits without having to attend a hearing.