Virus notes: Finding purpose
Election dates pushed ahead; eviction bill coming
HOW DOES ONE find purpose in sitting at home?
Speaking to reporters Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker acknowledged the emotional struggles that so many around Massachusetts and the nation are facing as gatherings are banned, jobs are lost, and individuals are forced to stay home.
Baker said he spoke via live stream at two empty houses of worship this weekend — Morning Star Baptist Church in Mattapan and Temple Emanuel in Newton.
“As we drastically limit personal contact, force organizations and people to stop coming together, I also sense a loss of purpose,” Baker said. “Purpose is what drives us. Purpose is what feeds our souls. Many feel lost and I can see why.”
“We all have a role, we all have purpose as we battle this disease,” Baker said. He said protecting one another from COVID-19 by staying at home “is profoundly purposeful.” Every act of social distancing and reducing the spread of the disease, he said, “honors and protects you and your family.”
“There is purpose in these drastic changes in the way we live,” Baker said. “We must all embrace this new way of life and appreciate that here we can all find purpose as we battle this virus together.”
Four state special elections will be postponed until May and June, while municipal officials will have authority to postpone their town elections, under actions taken by the Legislature on Monday.
The state elections had been scheduled for March 31, to fill open seats after sitting lawmakers resigned to take other jobs.
The House set June 2 as the new date to fill the state rep seat formerly held by Shaunna O’Connell, who was elected Taunton mayor, and the House seat formerly held by Jennifer Benson of Lunenburg, who now heads a progressive business group.
The Senate set May 19 as the new election date to fill the seat formerly held by Don Humason, now Westfield’s mayor, and the South Shore seat formerly held by Viriato deMacedo, who took a job at Bridgewater State University.
Incumbent elected officials would continue serving until a successor is chosen. The bill allows for absentee balloting, including for anyone taking a COVID-19-related precaution, and early voting in municipal elections.
There are more than 150 upcoming municipal elections scheduled, according to House Election Committee chair John Lawn.
Senate President Karen Spilka said the goal was to “enable robust mail-in balloting,” to give people time to request mail-in ballots and return them.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo said lawmakers wanted to make sure voters were not disenfranchised, and wanted to respond to the concerns of clerks who said they were having trouble getting people to work at the polls.
Sen. Barry Finegold, co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Election Law, said in a statement, “Exercising our democratic right to vote is one of our most important civic duties, but right now ensuring we keep each other healthy and limit the spread of coronavirus is as important.”
A number of candidates for state and federal office have been raising concerns about a state-mandated deadline of May 5 for candidates to gather enough signatures to get on the November ballot, since in-person signature gathering is no longer considered safe.
DeLeo said he personally is collecting signatures by mail. He said lawmakers are talking about potential legislative changes to the process, including the possibility of reducing the number of required signatures, although no decision has been made yet.
Eviction and foreclosure bill coming
DeLeo and Spilka said Sunday that lawmakers were preparing legislation to address evictions and foreclosures that “will provide a crucial safety net for renters and homeowners as we all grapple with the immediate economic fallout of this unprecedented public health pandemic.”
As of Monday afternoon, details of the bill had not yet been released. But Spilka said it is being worked on. “Clearly, this is a time people should not be worried about housing security,” she said.Tenant advocates have been pushing for a bill that would pause all evictions and foreclosures during the pandemic. The Trial Court has already postponed all non-emergency eviction proceedings until at least April 21. Some Boston-area landlord groups have agreed to voluntarily postpone eviction proceedings for 90 days.
Baker said Monday that he will talk to the Legislature about what else needs to be done around housing issues. But he noted that the state already “made very clear you can’t just evict or foreclose on somebody in Massachusetts,” since both evictions and foreclosures require a court date and a 60 or 90 day waiting period during which the renter or owner has a chance to make payments. “We’ll fully enforce those rules big time,” Baker said.