State House

Legislative Update – September 21st – 25th

Article Source: State House News Service
Article By: Katie Lannan

SEPT. 25, 2020….Sen. Elizabeth Warren has long been a prime target of President Trump’s tweets, and has been known to, on occasion, dish it right back over social media.

Sen. Ed Markey’s primary win over Rep. Joe Kennedy III earned him a few acknowledgments – if not by name – on the presidential Twitter feed earlier this month.

And on Friday, it was finally Gov. Charlie Baker’s turn.

“Wrong Charlie!” Trump tweeted, calling Baker a “RINO Governor.”

Governor Baker

After Gov. Charlie Baker rose to the defense of mail-in voting Thursday, and said it was “appalling” for an officeholder to suggest anything other than a peaceful transfer of power, he received a Twitter jab around 7:30 a.m. Friday from President Donald Trump. [Sam Doran/SHNS]

Trump, who’s been outspoken against the idea of expanding mail-in voting this cycle, was responding to Baker’s assertion Thursday that the expansion has worked “just fine” for the Massachusetts primary and in other states.

Baker’s defense of vote-by-mail came in the midst of a full-force and emotional denunciation of the president’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the Nov. 3 election. Referencing the election of Abraham Lincoln, Baker said peaceful transitions are a foundational part of the country and called it “appalling and outrageous” for any officeholder to suggest they wouldn’t leave after a defeat.

“People think there’s a lot at stake in this election. And there is, whichever state you’re from, region you’re from or where you’re voting up and down the ticket,” an incensed Baker said, going on to add, “And those of us who serve in public life will do everything we can to make sure that the people’s will is followed through and executed on, because that is fundamentally why there’s the United States of America in the first place.”

Though Baker often says he didn’t get elected to talk national politics and expresses a preference for focusing on his “day job” of running the state and dabbling only in legislative elections, he can muster sharp criticism for specific federal actions or pieces of White House rhetoric when asked about them.

Thursday’s comments marked the second time in as many days that the usually measured governor raised his voice responding to news out of Washington.

Baker, who still hasn’t outlined his stimulus requests to Congress in writing, on Wednesday said he wants to see Congress reach a deal on that still-hasn’t-materialized next round of coronavirus aid that state budget writers have been waiting on, and not to let those talks get overshadowed by a Supreme Court vacancy fight.

He described the partisan battle over how to handle the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat — the subject of his own weekend tweet asking Trump and the Senate to wait until after the election — as “one hundred percent ends justify the means, classic Washington behavior” and “a big part of why most people in this country think Washington is a problem.”

Word of Ginsburg’s death arrived last Friday night, with the Massachusetts judiciary still reeling from the passing just days earlier of Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants.

The prospect of another Trump appointee on the Supreme Court spurred reproductive rights advocates here to again call on lawmakers to pass the abortion access bill known as the ROE Act, casting it as a way to honor Ginsburg’s legacy.

On the Massachusetts high court, potential justices now have until Oct. 16 to apply for Gants’ seat, and Baker said he has yet to decide if he’ll elevate a current associate judge to the top spot or bring in a new chief from outside the SJC bench.

Regardless of why Americans might think of Washington, D.C. as a problem, Baker seemed to suggest this week it won’t be much of a problem for the state budget. At least not this year.

A week after Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues said he’s anticipating $5 billion less in state revenue, Baker said state officials believe “we can work our way through” the fiscal 2021 budget, which has yet to be written after the pandemic and its economic turmoil scuttled original spending plans.

Last year’s budget, reflecting the months when the state was hardest hit by the COVID-19, will “be fine,” Baker said, and for next year, “it’s going to be important for the feds to support states and municipalities.”

As for the hard and fast numbers, which are all that counts in budgeting, there’s still nothing available on the government side. Beacon Hill still hasn’t seen its first post-pandemic state budget line item request.

Outside modeling from Tufts University’s Center for State Policy Analysis projects a roughly $1.6 billion revenue shortfall this year. That’s one number Rodrigues and his House counterpart, Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, might get to chew over at the virtual economic summit they announced this week.

The scheduling of the budget confab for Oct. 7 makes it likely that a full spending plan for the fiscal year that began in July likely won’t emerge until mid-October at the earliest, leaving the delayed budget season to potentially bump up against and more likely past November’s elections.

Count University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan as among those waiting to see what’ll happen to his line item. Addressing UMass trustees this week, Meehan pointed out that while the Baker administration and the Legislature committed to holding local and K-12 school aid level in fiscal 2021, no such promise was made for higher education funding.

“We have no guarantees that we’re going to be level-funded and in fact, we were left out when it came time to say who was going to be level-funded,” Meehan said, adding “I think it is fiscally a mistake for us not to assume there would be some cut, and remember, if we got cut by 10 percent, cutting in the middle of the fiscal year is like a 20 percent cut. It’s really difficult if you get cut during the middle of a fiscal year.”

The UMass system’s steps to address a $335 million budget shortfall include 141 permanent layoffs and 1,616 indefinite furloughs, which together are projected to generate $40 million in savings. Union representatives ripped the workforce cuts, saying they’re detrimental at a time when students need more support.

The MBTA, faced with steep ridership declines, is also eyeing a financial squeeze, and talks continued this week on potential service cuts and other changes.

If there are any difficult budget choices to be made over at the Executive Office of Public Safety, after a few months, it won’t be Secretary Thomas Turco making those calls. Turco, a former Department of Correction commissioner who joined Baker’s Cabinet in December 2018, announced Wednesday he plans to retire at the end of the year.

Meanwhile, pressure remains for the six lawmakers reconciling House/Senate policing reform bills to arrive at a deal — Sunday will mark two months since the conference committee was formed, and because conference committees meet in private, since the last time details of the legislation’s progress were publicly known. Calls for action amped up after a Kentucky grand jury on Wednesday opted not to charge three Louisville police officers with offenses directly related to the death of Breonna Taylor.

A Massachusetts grand jury indicted two Holyoke Soldiers’ Home officials on charges in connection with the COVID-19 outbreak there that involved the deaths of at least 76 veteran residents.

Superintendent Bennett Walsh and former medical director David Clinton each face five counts of caretaker neglect and five counts of causing or permitting serious bodily injury to an elder or disabled person.

Attorney General Maura Healey based the charges, announced Friday, on decisions her office described as “reckless from an infection control perspective,” like consolidating groups of residents in close quarters regardless of their COVID-19 status.

The charges landed as the home’s board prepares to meet next Wednesday to consider Walsh’s future.

Hampden Superior Court Judge John Ferrara ruled Monday that Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders overstepped her authority in firing Walsh after the outbreak, and said that power properly lies with the board of trustees.

Healey said she believes the felony indictments against Walsh and Clinton mark the first criminal charges in the country arising from COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes. But they might not be the last here in Massachusetts.

The AG said she has active, ongoing investigations into “a number of” other facilities in the state.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Un-fired on Tuesday and facing criminal charges by Friday, it’s been a rollercoaster of a week for Bennett Walsh.

SONG OF THE WEEK: For the rise in rodent reports that prompted the Boston City Council this week to hold a virtual hearing on whether it’s more than just Allston Rat City.