Article source: State House News Service
Author: Matt Murphy
MARCH 5, 2021…..Form a line, single file. No talking. And stay to the right.
Teachers are used to enforcing these rules for their pupils, but when it came to their own COVID-19 vaccinations it was only by breaking them that this week they wound up getting exactly what they said was necessary to safely return all children to the classroom.
The pressure campaign to vaccinate teachers has been building for weeks, but reached fever pitch after Gov. Charlie Baker announced last week that he would seek to return all students back to in-person learning this school year, beginning with elementary students by April.
House Speaker Ron Mariano had already said he supported pushing teachers up the priority ladder, and Senate President Karen Spilka joined the cause Tuesday when she called on Baker to not only make teachers eligible to get vaccinated this month, but she wanted to see doses set aside for teachers and school staff as the state’s supply increases.
The real tipping point, however, came later Tuesday when President Joe Biden called on all states to begin vaccinating teachers in March, if they hadn’t started already. He said he would begin pushing vaccine doses through the federal pharmacy program to chains like CVS and Walgreens to help make it happen.
The next day, teachers were already booking appointments at CVS when Baker said they could start making appointments at state run sites on March 11 — next Thursday. But due to the limited supply, he said would not be earmarking any doses. Because everyone knows how he feels about earmarks.
The relenting of the administration on teacher vaccinations was hailed as a victory by the MTA and other supporters of the idea, but if Baker thought he might be buying a modicum of support from the union for his plan to return to in-person learning he was wrong. He now has other groups of workers lobbying louder for their turn to come sooner, and the teachers are still at his throat.
As Education Commissioner Jeff Riley went before the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Friday seeking the emergency authority he would need to force hold-out districts to scrap their remote and hybrid learning models, MTA President Merrie Najimy warned that letting the state decide when it’s safe would create an “extremely chaotic” situation and violate the spirit of local decision-making.
Najimy and the MTA may have won the vaccine battle, but they lost the in-person learning fight. And the rubber match over MCAS testing has already begun, with the state announcing Friday the test would be delayed into May and June, but not cancelled.
A new poll released this week by Advantage and paid for by the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance found that nearly 47 percent of Democrats favor a hybrid learning model in their districts, compared to 22 percent of Republicans, while over 58 percent of GOP voters want to see a return to in-person voting and only 12 percent of Democrats feel the same way.
That same poll found that Democrats and Republicans saw Baker’s handling of the pandemic similarly, with 43 percent of Republicans and nearly 41 percent of Democrats approving of his performance, though Republicans were more likely to feel “strongly” one way to the other.
What that means for 2022 remains to be seen, but this poll showed that Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito may have some strategizing to do if Baker doesn’t seek a third term because she could find herself running neck-and-neck with former state Rep. Geoff Diehl, who trailed her by less than two points with 58 percent undecided in a head-to-head matchup. Meanwhile, Democrats were all in for Attorney General Maura Healey if she runs, according to the poll.
Speaking of cancelling, anyone who had planned to get their second dose of Moderna or Pfizer vaccine after March 27, after getting first dose at Fenway Park, will now be heading to the less-alluring Hynes Convention Center instead.
With the Red Sox set to resume practicing and playing baseball at Fenway on April 1, Baker and CIC Health are moving the operation to the Back Bay convention center to avoid confusion. Plus, Baker said, if the feds ever do get around to delivering more vaccines CIC Health will be able to administer up to 5,000 shots a day at Hynes, as opposed to 1,500 at Fenway.
Vaccinations will begin at Hynes on March 18, and Fenway will cease to be a health clinic on March 27.
The closure of the Fenway mass vaccination site is too bad for all those people who were hoping to pair an “I Voted at Fenway” sticker with an “I Got Vaccinated at Fenway Park” button in their pandemic journals.
In fact, the very notion of going to a polling station at all may sound quaint by the time the history books on this era are written.
House Speaker Ron Mariano this week continued to drive his agenda, pushing through an extension of voting by mail through June as the Legislature considers whether and how to make the practice permanent. He also announced that the House would soon take up a child protection and foster care bill that came close to passing last session, but ultimately fell short as the House and Senate differed on the details and ran out of time.
Mariano said the drop in reports of child abuse and neglect to DCF during the pandemic shows that children are falling through the cracks in the system. “The House is steadfast in its position that the Commonwealth’s children cannot wait,” the speaker and three of his chairs said in a joint statement.
Wait, that is, for the bill filed by Rep. Paul Donato to make its way through the normal legislative process, which would typically include a hearing before the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Disabilities.
At times, Senate President Karen Spilka has been onboard with Mariano’s why-wait approach. Like when the two Democratic leaders partnered to repass a climate bill vetoed by Baker last session.
But the Senate threw the brakes on the vote-by-mail extension this week to accept testimony through Monday, and has not commented on the foster care bill.
Mariano and Spilka do appear to be on the same page on taxes, with neither eyeing tax hikes at the moment to cover state spending. And why would they?
Though it always comes with a heavy dose of caution, the Department of Revenue reported this week that taxes collected in February shattered expectations by $372 million. The state, which has twice upgraded its estimate of collections this fiscal year, is now sitting on a healthy cushion as it enters the home stretch of the fiscal year with some of the biggest risk-reward months for tax collections to come.
That bit of good news arrived a couple of days after the House and Senate Ways and Means Committee opened the budget hearing season by inviting the administration and other Constitutional officers to testify on Baker’s restrained $45.6 billion budget proposal for fiscal 2022.
The hearing shed some light on several priorities that won’t be able to wait until a budget is finalized in June or July. One is the question of how the state should approach taxing Paycheck Protection Program loans that have been forgiven by the federal government and other state recovery grants going to small businesses.
The administration estimates that up to $175 million in state-level taxes are on the line, and there appears to be support for exempting the grants to further help small businesses. Insiders, however, said House and Senate Democrats are leery of looking like they’re giving too much away to the business community, and are searching for ways to package a tax fix and limits on unemployment insurance hikes this month with new benefits for workers.
Secretary of State William Galvin also told lawmakers that they need to start thinking about changing some of the statutory deadlines for redistricting now that the U.S. Census Bureau has said it won’t be able to deliver community-level data until the fall, and Galvin wants more money in the budget for himself in case he needs to sue over the Census’s alleged undercounting of Bay State residents.
Winthrop’s Jeff Turco could find himself thrust right into the middle of all of these debates over spending, taxes, testing and vaccination if he is able to win the special general election for the 19th Suffolk District seat on March 30.
The self-proclaimed “Reagan Democrat” prevailed in a Democratic primary Tuesday that featured three more progressive candidates, topping second place finisher Juan Jaramillo of Revere by about six percentage points. But he must still get through Republican Paul Caruccio and independent Richard Fucillo to claim the seat held most recently – and for 30 years – by former Speaker Robert DeLeo.
Turco’s victory is being held up by the liberal wing of the party as more evidence of why ranked-choice-voting, which was rejected by voters on the ballot in November, is necessary.