Beacon Hill’s legislative chess match

In The Queen’s Gambit, the popular series on Netflix, the protagonist is constantly playing a game of what-if in her head, trying to envision what her opponent will do in response to a series of chess moves.

 Gov. Charlie Baker and legislative leaders are doing much the same thing on Beacon Hill right now, trying to guess how the other will respond to their next move.

 The Legislature put the chess match in motion, passing a sweeping policing reform bill on December 2 and two days later a fiscal 2021 budget containing a series of provisions dealing with abortion. One of the provisions lowered from 18 to 16 the age at which a woman can procure an abortion without the approval of a parent or a judge. Another would expand access to abortions when the fetus is older than 24 weeks — in cases of “lethal fetal anomaly,” when the fetus “is incompatible with sustained life outside the uterus,” or “to preserve the patient’s physical or mental health.”

Baker made his moves late last week, sending both bills back with amendments that leave much of the legislation intact while changing key aspects of the proposals. On police reform, his amendment put law enforcement personnel within his administration and not a civilian-dominated commission in charge of developing police training programs. The amendments also eliminated a ban on police use of facial recognition software.

On abortion, Baker’s amendment eliminated the lower age of consent, retained the language on lethal fetal anomalies, and narrowed the reach of the two other provisions. Instead of allowing abortions to “preserve” the patient’s physical or mental health, he changed the wording to allow abortions only when a pregnancy would pose “a substantial risk” to the mother’s physical or mental health. Instead of allowing abortions after 24 weeks in cases of lethal fetal anomaly and when the fetus is incompatible with sustained life outside the womb, he edited the wording to do away with cases when the fetus is incompatible with sustained life outside the womb.

Baker insisted he wants the police reform bill and the abortion provisions to become law, but he indicated he was ready to veto the police reform bill if he didn’t get his way and hinted at a similar stance on the abortion provisions. In a letter to lawmakers, he said: “I cannot support the other ways that this section expands the availability of late-term abortions and permits minors age 16 and 17 to get an abortion without the consent of a parent or guardian.”

The next move is up to the Legislature. It can accept the governor’s amendments, propose additional amendments, or send the bills back to the governor in their original form. The latter would mean the governor would have to sign the bills, veto them, or let them become law without his signature.

Many advocates and elected officials slammed the governor for filing his amendments and some urged the Legislature to reject them. US Rep. Ayanna Pressley was the most vocal on the police reform bill. “I’m calling on all state legislators to strike down these amendments,” she told GBH. “They’re weakening what is already a modest proposal given the depth of the hurt caused by generations of brutality caused by police, unchecked.”

Rep. Russell Holmes of Boston urged lawmakers to compromise with the governor on police reform. “I think they can work through the concerns that [Baker] has and figure out from what he said what would make sense to us and send him something that I think he wants. Clearly, he wants to sign a bill,” Holmes said.

Time is short and the stakes are incredibly high. Is Baker being an obstructionist, or is he doing what voters asked him to do when they elected a Republican as governor to serve as a check on the Democrat-dominated Legislature?

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka – the next move is yours.

BRUCE MOHL

FROM COMMONWEALTH

The MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board votes to scale back the service cuts proposed just a month ago, and in the process appears to take a swipe at Beacon Hill for failing to fund transportation adequately.

The Senate passes a bill that would help crime victims and witnesses who are undocumented immigrants obtain visas.

Acclaimed Harvard professor Danielle Allen launches an exploratory committee for governor as a Democrat.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

A Boston Herald editorial backs Gov. Charlie Baker’s exercise of emergency powers, which faced an unsuccessful court challenge from a conservative legal group. 

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Leaders in Boston and four area communities are rolling back reopening plans amid the virus resurgence. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Hospitals, nursing homes, and jails are gearing up to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine. (Gloucester Daily Times) A World War II veteran at the Bedford VA becomes the first VA patient to get the shot. (State House News Service) The first 1,950 doses of vaccine to be shipped to Massachusetts arrived at Boston Medical Center on Monday. (MassLive)

The vaccine developed by Cambridge-based Moderna is poised to receive emergency use authorization from the FDA by the end of the week. (Washington Post)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Attorney General William Barr, who often bowed to the will of President Trump and faced criticism for eroding the independence of the Justice Department, will leave his post next week, less than a month before the transition to a new administration. (New York Times)

Rep. Richard Neal helps broker a compromise to eliminate surprise medical billing — when someone unknowingly receives care outside of their covered insurance network. (MassLive)

Black Lives Matters signs and banners on two historic black churches were destroyed Saturday night during pro-Trump rallies in Washington, DC. (NPR)

ELECTIONS

Electoral College members met in the 50 states and affirmed, against the groundless railings of President Trump, Joe Biden’s election as president. (Washington Post) Cambridge resident Lesley Phillips, a transgender woman, steps in as an elector after Auburn Democratic activist Ronald Valerio died days before he was to cast his Electoral College vote for Joe Biden. (Telegram & Gazette) MassLive looks at the ways in which Massachusetts electors made history, and tells some of their personal stories.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Home sales are surging during the second surge. (State House News Service)

Robert Coughlin will step down as CEO of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council after 13 years helming the group. (Boston Globe

Jon Hurst, the head of the state retailers’ association, is livid at Gov. Charlie Baker for signing a law that speeds up the schedule for businesses to submit sales taxes to the state. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is taking up new regulations setting a requirement for how much time educators should spend on “live instruction.” (WBUR)

The dean of students at Timilty Middle School in Boston was arrested on statutory rape charges involving a student at the school. (Boston Herald

Hull students protest the absence of winter sports after their school district opted out of the activities due to the potential for COVID-19 spread. (Patriot Ledger) In South Hadley, meanwhile, the School Committee voted 5-0 in favor of each of the winter sports. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

TRANSPORTATION

Neighbors of a train station in West Gloucester, who have long complained about idling MBTA trains, have now obtained legal counsel. (Gloucester Daily Times)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Vineyard Wind withdraws its construction and operation plans from the federal offshore wind permitting process, but company officials still say they still hope to bring their first-in-the-nation wind farm online in 2023. (Vineyard Gazette)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Genoveva Andrade, the chief of staff to former Fall River mayor Jasiel Correia II, pleads guilty to bribery and extortion for conspiring with Correia to solicit $150,000 from a marijuana company in exchange for a letter of non-opposition from Correia. (MassLive) The Herald News has more on Andrade’s guilty plea and what comes next for her. 

A grand jury returned indictments against a former Cape Cod pastor on Friday, with multiple counts of rape and assault and battery. (Cape Cod Times)

PASSINGS

Nancy Harrington, the long-time president of Salem State College, dies at 81. (The Salem News)