Baker vetoes ‘unrealistic’ deadlines in supp budget

Approves $101m for testing, masks, vaccine outreach

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Saturday signed into law a $101 million supplemental budget bill that puts money toward increasing COVID-19 testing, buying masks, doing vaccine outreach, and recapitalizing a COVID-related paid sick time program. 

The governor vetoed or returned with amendments a few sections, primarily deadlines that he called “unrealistic.” 

The bill, which the Legislature passed February 3, includes $25 million to extend reimbursements to companies that provide paid sick leave for COVID-related reasons. There is $25 million set aside for buying and distributing masks to school children and faculty, nursing home staff and residents, early intervention workers, and homeless shelters. Another $50 million is in a line item for COVID testing – both for PCR testing sites and purchasing rapid tests – though money within that item is also earmarked for vaccine outreach and clinics among populations and groups that have lower rates of vaccination, including children. 

The bill sets the state primary date for September 6. 

It extends several COVID-related polices, like allowing for remote public and corporate meetings, and remote notarization. 

The sections Baker vetoed or returned with amendments are primarily related to deadlines. 

Baker vetoed a provision requiring all the masks to be distributed by February 28. “We will make funds quickly available to local partners so that they in turn can acquire and distribute masks, but to expect this entire sequence to be executed in 16 days is simply unrealistic,” Baker wrote in his signing letter.  

For the same reason, he vetoed a deadline that would have required the $50 million in mask money be spent by February 28. Baker did write that the administration will commit to entering into contracts or issuing solicitations for the disbursement of this money by February 25. 

Baker vetoed provisions requiring the Department of Public Health to post online certain guidelines and information about mask usage, testing, quarantine, and isolation. Baker wrote that the DPH already regularly updates and posts guidance and including these requirements in law “will serve no purpose.” 

Baker also vetoed a section that would require the administration to develop and implement a vaccine equity plan aimed at eliminating disparities in vaccination rates within 120 days, with reports due every 60 days.  

Baker wrote that he has long been committed to the goal of increasing vaccination rates in the hardest hit communities through the state’s Vaccine Equity Initiative. The administration chose 20 hard-hit communities to get additional vaccine doses, and the administration awarded $46.5 million to community organizations focused on vaccine outreach in thos excommunities and ran 3,100 mobile vaccine clinics there.  

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Twelve of the 20 equity communities have rates above the national average of residents with at least one vaccine dose. Massachusetts also has some of the highest vaccination rates in the country for each racial demographic, with 80 percent of Black residents and 76 percent of Hispanic residents having received one dose, compared to 55 percent and 62 percent nationally.  

Baker implied in the letter that he would sign the provision, however, if lawmakers struck out a deadline that would have required him to eliminate the disparities within 120 days. Baker said that deadline is simply “not realistic” and “the challenge of eliminating disparities in vaccination rates altogether is a project that will require us all to work beyond the 120-day deadline envisioned by the language of the section.” 

Baker also returned with an amendment a section that would lift the cap on hours that retired public employees are allowed to work before it affects their pension, if they return to work during the COVID pandemic. Baker wrote that he supports giving state agencies and municipalities some flexibility to respond to the emergency, and he signed an earlier bill lifting the cap during the state of emergency. But the bill would authorize lifting the cap through December 2022, solely because a virus variant is present in the state. Baker wants to restrict the flexibility to times when it is more clearly needed to address the emergency.