State House News Service Weekly Roundup: Riding Shotgun

Article Source: State House News Service

Author: Matt Murphy


FEB. 12, 2021…..Grandma never had so many friends.

Kids, grandkids, neighbors. Strangers online. Suddenly everyone this week was craving a little quality time with the older and wiser among us, looking to get out of the house and go for a drive … maybe to Gillette Stadium, or the Eastfield Mall.

The sudden popularity of the so-called Silent Generation had to do with Gov. Charlie Baker’s new policy on vaccinating the 75-and-older cohort. Beginning Thursday, Baker said that anyone who accompanied an eligible senior citizen to a state-run vaccination site could get the shot as well, regardless of their age or health.

The new policy was Baker’s latest attempt to turn around his administration’s much-critiqued COVID-19 vaccine program and get more shots in the arms of the most vulnerable residents. The companion policy was packaged with the announcement of new mass vaccination sites opening this month at the Natick Mall and former Circuit City in Dartmouth as Baker spent a good part of the week touring vaccination clinics.

Later in the week, the administration announced improved features on the state’s appointment website and the expansion of call center hours to include evenings and weekends.

Joan Hatem-Roy, CEO of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore, said the companion policy would be a “game changer,” making elderly citizens more likely to reach out for help and be willing to go somewhere like Fenway Park, which may seem like an overwhelming proposition otherwise.

But Baker and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders had no sooner articulated the details of the new policy than the criticism came pouring in. There were, of course, the family members who had just brought their loved ones in for a shot and felt they missed their chance at getting vaccinated themselves (they can still get a first dose when the 75+ person gets their second).

There were also people who felt making the young and healthy eligible before, say, teachers or people aged 65 to 74, was a major miscalculation. And others still thought the policy, while well-intentioned, would exacerbate an equity problem that already exists in the distribution of vaccines, favoring the elderly who have children or family that can take time off of work and have access to a car.

The scammers on Craigsllist didn’t help, either.

The Department of Public Health reported Thursday that 232,900 shots were administered over the previous seven days, but the new supply of about 108,000 doses a week is still not enough to meet demand.

Long lines at mass vaccination sites in Springfield and Danvers led to the deployment of small teams of National Guard to handle logistics, and people were reportedly hanging around for leftover shots at the end of the day.

The administration also said it was slowing distribution to hospitals in favor of “high throughput locations, like mass vaccination sites, retail pharmacy sites, and community health centers until more vaccines are made available by the federal government.”

“All patients and hospital staff with existing appointments will get their first and second shots, and the administration is hopeful more vaccines will arrive soon for more providers, including hospital systems,” a COVID-19 Command Center spokeswoman said.

Everyone’s got an opinion on Baker’s vaccine rollout these days, and most of them concern his management of the effort or personal belief systems about what is the fairest way to go about the massive project. Former state Sen. Benjamin Downing had his own thoughts.

The 39-year-old East Boston transplant from Pittsfield announced Monday that he would be running for governor, starting early ahead of what could be a crowded 2022 Democratic primary after eight years of Baker.

“I think the vaccine rollout has been fumbled pretty badly, and I think there are surprisingly simple solutions to the position that we’ve found ourselves in, and you see that in other states, you see that in some of our own communities,” Downing told the News Service in an interview announcing his campaign.

Even though Baker hasn’t said whether he’ll seek a third term, if he doesn’t run surely Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito will, and she’ll have to do so on this administration’s record. Which means the 2022 campaign is on.

And by the time voters go to the polls, mail-in balloting and same-day voter registration may be a permanent part of the election landscape in Massachusetts. Secretary of State William Galvin said he would be filing a bill to do just that, and Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. John Lawn filed separate bills that were similar to Galvin’s proposal.

Sen. Becca Rausch also wants to see vote-by-mail and same-day registration enshrined in law, but she went further than anyone, proposing to make Election Day a holiday and push the relatively late September primary up to June.

The contest to become the next speaker of the House is also on. Speaker Ron Mariano said so himself the day he succeeded DeLeo in the top post.

Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka rolled out their leadership teams and committee assignments Friday. Spilka’s top advisors are unchanged, with Majority Leader Creem holding down the number two slot.

The same is not true in the House where a change at the top trickled down through the ranks. As had been rumored, Mariano tapped Rep. Claire Cronin for majority leader after the Easton Democrat guided the House through debates on policing accountability and abortion access last year as Judiciary Committee chair.

Mariano has also surrounded himself with Rep. Kate Hogan, who takes over as speaker pro tempore, Assistant Majority Leader Michael Moran and Second Assistant Majority Leaders Joseph Wagner and Sarah Peake.

Mariano, 74, has already made clear he won’t be around for as long as former Speaker Robert DeLeo, who occupied the speaker’s office for 12 years, and the next speaker could come from among that group, or returning Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz.

Undersecretary for Climate Change David Ismay won’t be returning at all. The former Conservation Law Foundation attorney resigned after the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance released a video of him telling the Vermont Climate Council that there were no more big polluters to “turn the screws on” in Massachusetts, therefore it would be the consumers whose “will” would need to be broken.

Few even tried to argue that what Ismay said was wrong, but his clumsy choice of wording left him with few defenders. He carried the metaphor too far, and not even Gov. Baker stuck up for him. So he quit.

And speaking of quitting, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh got a little closer to the day he will resign to become U.S. secretary of labor after a Senate committee voted 18-4 to send his nomination to the full Senate for confirmation.

In anticipation of that moment, Rep. Chynah Tyler filed the home rule petition approved by the City Council and signed by Walsh to call off the special election that would be triggered if the mayor resigns before March 5.

The Boston delegation had a Zoom call Monday to discuss, and were in agreement that they would recommend it to the speaker. Now the question is how quickly can the House, and Senate, act. It doesn’t hurt that Rep. Dan Ryan, a Charlestown resident, is the new chair of the Committee on Election Laws.

The week started with Congressman Richard Neal at the State House joining Gov. Baker to talk up their shared desire for another federal stimulus package.

With the Senate engaged in its impeachment trial, Neal’s Ways and Means Committee is working to turn President’s Biden $1.9 trillion stimulus package into legislation that he said Congress could pass by mid-March, before enhanced unemployment benefits for millions of Americans expire.

But it’s not just the unemployed who need the help, Baker said.

“The feds can play a huge role with respect to vaccinations, testing, school reopenings for both K through 12 and higher education, food insecurity, housing, rental, energy and water assistance, small business support, and support for states, local governments and territorial governments…..,” the governor said.

Baker welcomed Neal to the State House a day after Tom Brady won another Super Bowl ring, only this one for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Sunday, it turned out, was also the day Baker would return the climate bill to the Legislature with a slew of amendments, hoping lawmakers feel like being team players.