Massachusetts will steer an additional $ 101 million toward its COVID-19 response under an expense bill signed by Governor Charlie Baker over the weekend of Feb. 12, which also moves the date of the nationwide primary election to Sept. 6.
On 12 February, Baker approved all the costs of COVID-19 emergency sick leave, rapid tests, high-quality masks and vaccine access, which the legislators included in the supplementary budget (H 4430). He vetoed two external policy sections and returned two more, including an attempt by the Legislature to codify a vaccine equity plan with amendments.
The new law requires $ 76 million in direct government spending to increase access to masks, COVID-19 vaccines and rapid testing, especially for schools, community care facilities and homeless shelters. It also allocates an additional $ 25 million in available federal funds to the state’s COVID emergency paid sick leave program.
Baker shut down two external sections, which he said together would have required the state Department of Public Health to “issue and post instructions on mask use and testing, quarantine and isolation periods related to COVID-19 within 30 days.”
The department is already working on issuing updated guidelines, Baker said, arguing that the additional language in the bill “would serve no purpose if it were signed into law.”
A section Baker returned to lawmakers with an amendment urging the Minister of Health and Human Services to prepare and implement a COVID-19 vaccination plan with a goal of eliminating differences in vaccination rates within 120 days.
Baker’s amendment hits the 120-day target, a change he said would “reflect the continuing challenge facing almost every country in the world and every state in the country in achieving total vaccinability.”
The Republican governor defended his administration’s work to make vaccines more accessible and accessible throughout Massachusetts, and talked about the steps the administration took, such as prioritizing 20 hard-hit cities and towns – where 12 have the number of residents with one vaccine dose over the national average, according to to Baker – and manage additional funding for community organizations.
“Our administration is committed to continuing our efforts to reduce differences in vaccination rates in Massachusetts,” Baker wrote. “But the challenge of completely eliminating differences in vaccination rates is a project that will require us all to work beyond the 120-day deadline provided by the language in this section.”
Baker added that he plans to comply with other languages in the bill that require the administration to submit a vaccination plan within 30 days and regular progress reports every 60 days.
The second amendment offered Baker agreements with government employees who retire to resume work for their former employer. Legislators proposed extending a pandemic-era exemption from earnings and hourly ceilings for these workers for the rest of the year, and Baker proposed instead linking the extension to the public health emergency so that it is “tied to a specific time period where an increased response” may be necessary. “
Legislators can choose to override Baker’s vetoes by a two – thirds vote in both chambers, where Democrats have a super-majority.
In addition to his vetoes and amendments, Baker wrote that he “does not approve of languages” that require masks, tests and vaccines to be made available by 28 February. He called it “simply unrealistic” to expect to meet those deadlines in two and a half weeks.
The mid-year expenditure bill also officially sets the state-wide primary election on September 6, two weeks earlier than the standard date under existing state legislation.
Changing the primary date has developed into a two-year tradition in Massachusetts, and Secretary of State William Galvin had warned that the original September 20 date for this cycle would not give him enough time to prepare ballot papers for military and overseas voters .
Galvin announced on February 13 that nomination papers would be available to candidates from 6 p.m. 10 a.m. on February 14, one day before the codified deadline he faces.
Depending on the position applied for, candidates must collect between 150 and 10,000 signatures from registered voters.
Those running for district and county offices have until May 3 to submit signatures to local registrars for certification, and then until May 31 to submit certified signatures to Galvin’s constituency. Party candidates seeking state or congressional office must submit signatures locally by May 10 and to Galvin by June 7, while non-party candidates and congressional candidates have until August 2 to provide signatures to local officials and by 30 August to deliver them to the Secretary’s office.
The new law also extends several policies from the pandemic era – including remote legislative flexibility for open meetings, remote access to notarization, flexibility for municipalities to lower city council decision-making power and permission for external reverse mortgage advice – until July 15.
Assisted living could waive certain staffing and training requirements until that date. The bill will also temporarily revive through the end of February liability protection measures for healthcare professionals in situations where patient care may have been affected by COVID-19.
Other sections would revive an early education and care assessment commission and give it a deadline of March 1, extending the deadline for a state commission of seal and motto to complete its work by December 31, from July 31, 2022.
The legislation also covers the use of language regarding overpayments made by the state unemployment insurance system during the pandemic. It would require the Unemployment Benefit Department to submit a detailed report by March 1, estimating how many people received overpayments and how much the department paid in profits.
Under the law, the Unemployment Assistance Department could also reconsider decisions or reassessments that resulted in overpayments one year after the date of the original decision. The department would need to launch a $ 1 million public awareness campaign to inform recipients of overpaid benefits that they have more time to appeal their cases.
The Massachusetts Medical Society welcomed Baker’s signature of the supplementary budget, praising in particular “the focus on health care throughout the law.”
“With reference to the central role of education in children’s mental, physical and emotional development, the Medical Society has long advocated for safe personal learning, and we are incredibly pleased that funds have been set aside for high quality masks for school children and increased access to COVID-19 testing, especially in early education and child care settings, “said President Mass. Medical Society, Dr. Carole Allen. The Massachusetts Medical Society is grateful for the inclusion of liability protections that protect both providers and patients when care is provided in exceptional and extreme circumstances. These protections are crucial as physicians and health care teams remain committed in their commitment to helping our patients safely through the pandemic to what we all hope will be healthier times. “
Baker has still not acted on two other local bills affecting Savoy and Northampton, or on legislation allowing emergency medical personnel to treat and transport police dogs injured in the service (S 2573).
The governor said during the week of Feb. 7 that he intends to approve the bill, which supporters refer to as “Nero’s law,” and convene a formal signing ceremony.