HomeCOVID-19O'Neill and Associates on MA Legislature; Covid 19; Governor Baker

O’Neill and Associates on MA Legislature; Covid 19; Governor Baker

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Content by: O’Neill and Associates

Wednesday, May 19:

  • As of Tuesday night, DPH reported a total of 657,478 cases of COVID-19.
  • The state reported 359 new confirmed cases.
  • The state has now confirmed a total of 17,419 deaths from the virus.
  • The House passed legislation (H 3702) Tuesday that moves COVID-19 unemployment claims from the solvency account to a new COVID-19 employer relief account and establishes a COVID-19 paid sick leave program that includes municipal employees.
  • Lawmakers described moving COVID-19 related unemployment claims as a fix to unexpected tax increases that occurred over the last several months.
  • The paid sick leave program was originally part of a wide-ranging unemployment tax relief package that Governor Baker sent back to the Legislature with an amendment removing municipal employees.
  • In a move that business groups described as a solid first step, representatives voted 157-0 to shuffle the distribution of unemployment claims costs so that they can be covered over two decades of borrowing and so businesses will not be in line for huge bills in the short term.
  • After weeks of review, the House on Tuesday also revived plans for an emergency paid leave program that would make participants eligible for up to one week of paid leave if they or a family member needs it to deal with COVID-19 issues, including self-isolation, seeking a diagnosis, or obtaining an immunization.
  • The House sent the bill to the Senate after rejecting amendments to the measure sought by Governor Baker.
  • The legislation (H 3702) addressing a spike in solvency rate assessments on businesses aims to achieve the same goal as an unemployment system stabilization bill Governor Baker signed on April 1, before it became apparent that the original pass failed to fully prevent business cost spikes tied to unprecedented pandemic job losses.
  • Before the pandemic, employers that laid off more workers typically received higher experience ratings that increased the amount they owe into the state’s unemployment system.
  • However, the U.S. Department of Labor told states not to apply those penalties for losses stemming from COVID-19 impacts.
  • Massachusetts, as a result, spread out the costs across all industries through the solvency fund assessment, which in the past had been used to cover benefits that cannot be charged directly to employers, such as dependency allowances and state extended benefits.
  • The House also enacted and sent to the Senate legislation authorizing $400 million in borrowing for a new Holyoke Soldiers’ Home facility and $200 million for equity initiatives for veterans across the state.
  • The House is back in session on Thursday at 11 a.m.
  • With the COVID-19 state of emergency now set to end in less than a month, legislative leaders are asking Governor Baker to help them figure out the shift’s impending impact.
  • Spokespeople for House Speaker Ronald Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka said Monday evening, the day that Governor Baker announced he will lift the state of emergency on June 15, that they are seeking a “full list” of pandemic-era policies that could expire or change as a result of the change.
  • The end of the state of emergency creates major questions for the future of virtual public meetings, telehealth services, restaurant relief, eviction protection and more.
  • Governor Baker and lawmakers, who this session convened a Joint Committee on Covid-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management, have only four weeks to decide how to address each of those policy areas and whether to keep in place changes tied to the state of emergency.
  • Governor Baker filed a $273 million spending bill on Tuesday that would finance last year’s police accountability law and boost funding in key accounts for transitional assistance and early education, but the bill will have only a limited impact on the state budget, according to the administration, as the bulk of the spending would be paid for with federal dollars.
  • Baker said the supplemental budget includes authorizations for $191 million in spending that would be covered by federal COVID-19 relief, and would cost the state just $75 million at a time when tax collections are exceeding estimates by more than $1.8 billion.
  • The governor also filed several policy proposals to make it easier for medical professionals licensed in other states to practice in Massachusetts and to account for the disruption the COVID-19 pandemic caused to standardized testing in public schools.
  • The bill includes $5 million to fund the new Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, which faces an end-of-year deadline to certify all law enforcement officers in Massachusetts, and another $12.5 million to fund the implementation of other aspects of the policing reform law.
  • The bill also includes $34 million in COVID-19 response expenses, $18 million to cover the activation of the National Guard, $9 million for the public health laboratory and the public health hospitals system, $28 million in transitional assistance for low-income families, $5.4 million for soldiers’ homes operations and $131 million for an early education and care COVID-19 workforce reserve.
  • Governor Baker is also seeking legislative approve to join the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact.
  • The governor, in a filing letter, said the compact would allow physicians licensed in Massachusetts to practice in 29 member states and territories and vice versa, which would “better position the Commonwealth for health emergencies in the future.”
  • The governor also filed proposals that would allow Education Commissioner Jeff Riley to use 2020 MCAS rankings to identify districts in the bottom 10 percent of the state for performance to determine placement of new charter schools and allowable charter school funding.
  • Though the spending bill supplements authorizations from the fiscal year 2021 budget, Governor Baker has proposed making much of the funding available through June 30, 2022.

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