State House News Service Weekly Roundup: Friends in High Places

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

Friends in High Places

JAN. 22, 2021…..After four years of watching Donald Trump govern by tweet, President Joe Biden took to the medium from which Trump is now banned on Wednesday morning with a message of his own.

“It’s a new day in America,” Biden tweeted.

He was right, of course. Biden was about to institute a mask mandate on federal property, order the United States back into the Paris climate accord and stop building a wall along the border with Mexico.

But the inauguration of Joseph Robinette Biden as the 46th president of the United States also ensured that it will soon be a new day in Massachusetts, with state-federal relations about to undergo a complete reset.

Baker often said he found Trump’s Cabinet to be good to work with, even if he didn’t agree with the man in the Oval Office. But the upper echelons of the Centers for the Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Federal Highway Administration will now be stocked with true F.O.C. — Friends of Charlie.

The development at Highway came to light this week in an announcement Baker described as “bittersweet.” After a six-year stretch that started with the “Snowpocalypse” of 2015 and will end with a round of pandemic service cuts at the MBTA, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack is trading Baker for Biden.

Pollack will begin work next week as deputy administrator of the Federal Highway Administration. The governor tapped Registrar of Motor Vehicles Jamey Tesler to fill Pollack’s shoes temporarily.

When she was chosen by Baker at the start of his first term, Pollack was one of the most high-profile examples of what would become Baker’s bipartisan approach to governing — a Democrat most closely identified with her work at the Conservation Law Foundation to extract transit concessions from the state to mitigate the impacts of the Big Dig.

She leaves as the face of Baker’s transportation legacy, an unwavering ally through good times and bad.

“It just never hurts to have relationships with people in high places,” Baker said Thursday.

And he’ll have plenty of them.

As Donald Trump departed Washington, he broke from tradition once again by skipping his successor’s inauguration, and telling a small group of supporters at Andrews Air Force Base that he would be “back in some form.”

“So, have a good life. We will see you soon. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you very much,” Trump said, making his last public statement as president before jetting off to Florida.

The Massachusetts Republican Party responded to the occasion by thanking Trump for four years of service, while Baker waited until after Biden swore his oath of office to make his only public statement of the day — a welcome to the new administration.

Baker is hoping that with the Biden team in charge of vaccine distribution in Washington the state will get better “visibility into the pipeline” that is currently delivering about 80,000 doses a week to Massachusetts.

The latest data released by the state Thursday indicated that 359,919 doses of the 591,775 shipped to Massachusetts have been administered so far as Baker announced a series of steps this week to increase access to the vaccine. But the governor and Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel both talked this week about it being difficult to plan for distribution when the state is only told on a week-to-week basis how much vaccine to expect.

Congregate care facilities, including prisons and shelters, began vaccinating this week, and Baker announced that as of Thursday everyone in Phase I – which newly included home-based health care and non-COVID care providers — is now eligible.

To accommodate the growing pool of vaccine-eligible residents, Baker announced while touring the mass vaccination site at Gillette Stadium that Fenway Park would open next month as the state’s second mass vaccination site, and that CVS, Walgreens and other private partners would begin to receive vaccine for distribution.

The state Public Health Council also approved pharmacy students and students training to be physician assistants to administer vaccines after they’ve been properly trained, adding to a pool of providers that already included medical and nursing students.

The push to ramp up vaccine distribution came as public health officials announced that two cases of the more contagious, and possibly more deadly, strain of the coronavirus first found in the United Kingdom had been detected in Massachusetts.

It was only a matter of time and Bharel said the safety protocols, including mask-wearing and distancing, don’t change with the new variant, but a more contagious form of the virus could eat away at the positive trend lines that prompted Baker to relax some of the post-holiday restrictions he put in place.

Baker said that since Jan. 1 new cases of COVID-19 had fallen 30 percent, the positive test rate had dropped 30 percent, and hospitalizations were down 10 percent. Those improving public health conditions were sufficient to convince him to lift the stay-at-home advisory and curfews for businesses that he put in place to protect against the post-Christmas surge.

The governor had been advising people to remain at home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., and in order to make that possible had told businesses like restaurants that they must shut down by 9:30 p.m. each night.

While Baker is lifting those curfews on Monday morning, he’s not adjusting the 25 percent capacity limits for most businesses, and won’t for least another couple of weeks, he said.

The week quite literally revolved around Wednesday and the activities in D.C., which turned out to be more celebratory than calamitous, which had been feared. But it was hard not to feel like the threat of more violence at state capitols kept Beacon Hill quiet this week.

Lawmakers largely stayed away, though Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka did make good Tuesday on their promise to refile the climate and emission reduction bill that Baker vetoed last week unchanged.

The big question now is when will they ask freshly sworn-in House and Senate legislators to vote on the package that was negotiated last session, and if they will entertain any changes — either ones sought by the governor or their own members – before they send it back to Baker.

While legislative Democrats plotted their next moves on climate change, Baker was preparing to give his first pandemic-era “State of the Commonwealth” address next week and to file a budget proposal for fiscal 2022.

He and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito teased the governor’s budget with the Massachusetts Municipal Association as a spending plan that will increase unrestricted local aid by $39.5 million, or 3.5 percent, and for the first time fund the 2019 Student Opportunity Act.

The MMA sneak peak has been a tradition spanning multiple governors, and a sign that some things are returning to normal.