Legislation on the move: Sports betting, T governance, vote-by-mail

A roundup of the latest Beacon Hill developments

THE MASSACHUSETTS HOUSE teed up a bill authorizing sports betting for debate on Thursday, marking the second time the House will weigh in on the policy.

Lawmakers have been discussing sports betting since 2018, when the US Supreme Court overturned a federal prohibition banning it. In July 2020, the House passed sports betting legalization in its version of an economic development bill, but the Senate did not go along. Senators said then that they wanted to consider the policy as a standalone bill.

It is no surprise the House plans to pass the policy again, since Speaker Ron Mariano is a supporter of sports betting. This year, with more time left in the two-year legislative session, sports betting may be primed to pass – if lawmakers can agree on the details.

The House bill would authorize sports betting for adults 21 and older in person at casinos and racetracks and online through mobile apps or digital platforms. Betting would not be allowed on the performance of individual college athletes, on high school or youth sports, or on injuries, penalties, or discipline.

Licensing fees would be $5 million for five years. Operators would pay a 12.5 percent tax on betting receipts for in-person betting and 15 percent for mobile and digital bets. Bets related to games occurring at Massachusetts stadiums would be subject to an additional 1 percent tax, with that money going to the stadiums to pay for any new security measures required by sports betting. Online gaming companies would pay another $1 million annually, with the money earmarked to address gambling addiction. The sports betting revenue would be divided between workforce training, local aid, youth programs and scholarships, public health, and a players’ benevolence fund to support sports players’ charitable foundations.

The bill includes safeguards related to problem gaming, background checks, advertising, investigations, conflicts of interest, and penalties for running illegal sports betting operations. It creates a commission to study the possibility of allowing sports betting kiosks at retail locations.

While passage of the House bill is basically a foregone conclusion, the big question is what the Senate will do. Senate leaders have historically been more skittish about expanding gambling.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Eric Lesser, who chairs the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, is making its way through Senate. Lesser has proposed a higher tax rate and higher licensing fees, with no betting on college sports.

If the Senate does pass a bill, the two bodies will have to work out their differences before sending it to Gov. Charlie Baker – who is also a sports betting supporter.

Supplemental budget bill

Better late than never. The Legislature on Wednesday sent Baker a bill that would close two lingering gaps in state law.

The MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board – the T’s temporary governing body since 2015 – expired at the end of June before lawmakers and the governor agreed on how to replace it. A supplemental budget bill that the House adopted Monday and the Senate accepted Wednesday will, if signed by Baker, create a new MBTA board of directors.

The board would include the transportation secretary, serving ex officio; one person with municipal government experience appointed by an advisory board; and five gubernatorial appointees. The governor would have to appoint someone with safety experience, someone with transportation operations experience, someone with finance experience, a rider from an environmental justice community, and one person selected from a list provided by the AFL-CIO. No more than four members could be enrolled in the same political party. The directors would not be paid other than for expenses.

The budget bill would also extend voting by mail for municipal elections through December 15. Due to COVID-19, the Legislature authorized mail-in early voting for most of 2020 and 2021, but that expired June 30, soon after the end of the state of emergency. This bill provides a temporary extension as lawmakers continue to debate whether to allow voting by mail permanently.

The bill also continues pandemic-era policies allowing public bodies to hold meetings in a way is not physically open to the public, as long as there is an alternative means of public access, like remote participation. If a municipal body facing economic hardship is unable to provide real-time access “despite best efforts,” the bill says it may in some cases instead post a transcript or recording of the proceedings online.

Overall, the budget bill includes $261 million in supplemental spending using funds remaining from fiscal 2021.

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.

There is $28 million for the Department of Transitional Assistance to increase welfare benefits, $32 million for the Office of Health and Human Services, $9 million for public health responses to COVID-19, $8 million for rate increases for home health care providers, $5 million to fund the new Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, and another $12.5 million to implement the police reform law that was signed in January. Another $131 million in federal money would go to stabilize the early education and childcare industry through grants to providers, technical assistance, and assistance with education opportunities for teachers.