State House News Service Weekly Roundup

Article Source: State House News Service
Article By: Matt Murphy

Out with the Old, In with the Older

JAN. 8, 2021…..All-nighters aren’t just for college kids anymore.

Despite everyone’s most fervent wishes, simply watching the ball drop on New Year’s Eve Thursday didn’t end the madness of 2020. And midnight wound up looking like an early bedtime for the week that was about to unfold.

The first full week of 2021 started innocently enough.

On Sunday night, MassGOP Chairman Jim Lyons eked out a victory by three votes over Rep. Shawn Dooley to maintain control of the state party, and legislative negotiators announced they had struck a deal on a climate change bill to set a statewide target of net-zero emissions by 2050 and to authorize even more offshore wind.

But by the end of the week, democracy was under attack, 12 more days of the Trump administration was being talked about like too great a risk to take, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was checking Amtrak schedules to D.C., and the promise of the COVID-19 vaccine was getting showered by the cold reality of continued viral spread.

Welcome to 2021.

In another sign of the way COVID-19 has impacted major events over the past year, the Senate swore in a group of senators Wednesday in Ashburton Park outside the State House. [Sam Doran/SHNS]

The Legislature came to work Monday and passed the climate bill, set a special election date to replace former Speaker Robert DeLeo on March 30 and went home around dinner time to prepare for the last day of session.

It was always going to be a long night on Tuesday, with major economic development and transportation financing legislation still up in the air. But it’s unlikely anyone had 4:34 a.m. in their virtual office pool as the time the final gavel would fall.

Not even five extra months to finish their work could help lawmakers save themselves from the last-minute rush, and though they went home tired, they also went home having accomplished most of the big ticket items on their to-do list.

The House and Senate managed to send to Gov. Charlie Baker a $16.5 billion transportation bond bill that the governor said was needed to access federal funding and get ready for the spring construction season. They also agreed to a $626 million jobs bill full of grant and loan programs to help small businesses, restaurants, artists and other industries crushed by the pandemic.

The notable piece missing from the economic development bill was a House-backed plan to legalize sports betting in Massachusetts.

Gov. Baker supports the idea. He even filed his own bill this session. But Speaker Ron Mariano said he didn’t have a dance partner in the Senate, where leaders would not entertain the idea of tacking the gambling expansion onto the jobs bill, or debate it separately.

“If we could, we’d have a deal,” Mariano told Bloomberg radio Tuesday evening. Mariano said he wants to come back to the issue early this year.

By the time everyone’s head hit the pillow, the Legislature had also passed campus sexual assault prevention and craft beer distribution bills, approved of a commission to examine changing the state seal and sent Baker a bill intended to reduce racial inequities in maternal health.

The one piece that pulled up lame before it got to the finish line was a cap on unemployment insurance rate increases in 2021, but there’s still time for the Legislature to do that before first quarter bills come due. In fact, it might just give the new Legislature something to vote on to start the new session.

The hardest thing to do Wednesday should have been getting out of bed. But on a day when new and returning lawmakers took their oaths to start a new session on Beacon Hill and Senate President Karen Spilka and Mariano were reelected to their leadership posts, riots stoked by the president of the United States on Twitter erupted on Capitol Hill.

A mob, fueled by unproven claims of election fraud repeated by the president and his allies, broke into the Capitol. They were intent on disrupting the certification by Congress of the Electoral College vote that would give President-elect Joe Biden the victory.

But Congress returned to work that night and certified the Electoral College vote at around 3:45 a.m.

The fact that Congress fulfilled its Constitutional obligation despite the chaos of the day was the one bright spot, according to Gov. Baker, who the next day said he was sickened by what he watched on TV.

Baker, a Republican, joined the chorus of Democrats, including every member of Congress from Massachusetts, in calling for Trump to be removed from office. No more waiting until Jan. 20 for President-elect Joe Biden to be inaugurated. Let Vice President Mike Pence oversee the transition, the governor said.

Trump’s future hangs in the balance, but as he prepares to leave Washington, Mayor Walsh is ready to move in.

People around City Hall and the mayor have been downplaying the Walsh-to-Washington speculation for weeks, insisting that the mayor was gearing up for reelection and maybe not even interested in a Biden administration post.

Maybe that’s exactly what people tell reporters to throw them off the scent. Or maybe they didn’t think it would happen, at the end of the day. But it did.

Biden officially introduced Walsh as his nominee for labor secretary on Friday, after joking a day earlier amid reports that Walsh had been chosen that he was still looking for an Irishman to round out his Cabinet.

Needless to say, Walsh’s decision to trade the Charles for the Potomac has completely upended the race for mayor. City Council President Kim Janey is now preparing to become the first Black woman mayor in the city’s history, and Councilors Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell – who were already running for mayor – are preparing for company on the trail.

Janey will be watched closely for signals that she might get in the race, while Councilor Annissa Essaibi George is now taking a look. The off-cycle municipal election also means that State House denizens could have a free run at the seat if they want it, and the North End’s Aaron Michlewitz, who chaired the House Ways and Means Committee last session, is kicking the tires, according to sources.

Reports also suggest that the South End’s Rep. Jon Santiago and others are also thinking about it.

While it will take some time for the mayoral chess game to play out, COVID-19 is still here. Right now.

Gov. Baker this week announced that business restrictions put in place on Dec. 26, including 25 percent capacity limits in many businesses, would be extended at least two weeks until Jan. 24, and new pool testing would be made available to K-12 school students and personnel.

The administration is also ready to give hospitals facing capacity constraints leeway from nurse staffing-level mandates in ICUs to free up more beds. Hospitalizations are up 145 percent since Thanksgiving.

Vaccines already deployed in hospitals and nursing homes will become available to first responders beginning Monday, when another week begins.

But until then, in the words of Speaker Mariano, who was caught on a hot mic as he gaveled the first session of the 192nd General Court to a close, let’s “get the hell outta here.”