House, Senate budgets contain plenty of policy proposals

So much for a “narrow” budget.

When the House and Senate Ways and Means committees released their fiscal 2021 budget proposals, both were relatively narrow with few policy initiatives. Chairs Aaron Michlewitz and Michael Rodrigues both stressed the need to adopt the budget on a quick time frame, with the state’s temporary budget expiring at the end of November and the fiscal year already five months in. House Speaker Robert DeLeo said at a Massachusetts Association of Health Plans conference that the budget “is not an appropriate place for major policy reform.”

But through the amendment process, lawmakers have now adopted numerous significant policy proposals. Whether a conference committee will be able to resolve differences quickly remains to be seen. Gov. Charlie Baker has line item veto power over the budget, so policy proposals could also die on his desk – although Democrats, with a veto-proof majority in both bodies, could override him.

The most obvious example is a provision expanding abortion access, which was passed in similar forms by the House and Senate. Senate Republican Leader Bruce Tarr objected to having a major policy proposal taken up in a lame duck budget session, as did Baker – though the governor did not say whether he would veto it.

But that was far from the only policy change, with several more added during this week’s Senate budget debate. The Senate adopted an amendment introduced by Sen. Ryan Fattman, a Sutton Republican, to let hemp products be sold in marijuana dispensaries — a potentially significant change that could let smokable hemp flower, hemp-derived vapes, and more CBD-infused food and beverages become available to consumers.

The Senate also adopted a proposal by Sen. Joseph Boncore, a Winthrop Democrat who chairs the transportation committee, to raise fees on ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft. Unlike previous proposals by Baker and the House, the fee would be a percentage of the ride’s cost rather than a flat fee hike, with higher fees for single rides and rides during rush hour.

An adopted amendment by Sen. Brendan Crighton, a Lynn Democrat who chairs the housing committee, would seal eviction records and prevent negative credit impacts for tenants facing eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

An amendment introduced by Sen. John Velis, a Westfield Democrat, would create a new ombudsman’s office for the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.

The Senate also included in the budget several provisions of its mental health bill, which has not yet been taken up by the House. MassLive reported that these provisions include banning extra charges for same-day physical and behavioral health services, requiring a universally accepted set of credentialing forms for mental health providers and setting aside $3.5 million for a pilot program to provide students with behavioral health services over the phone through their schools.

During last week’s House debate, that body adopted several proposals to address education problems created or exacerbated by the pandemic — including an amendment inspired by the tragic death of David Almond requiring better tracking of school attendance records for kids with Department of Children and Family cases.

Several proposed policy changes were not adopted. Hotel workers, who used the budget to seek the right to be rehired into their old jobs should they reopen, did not get those protections. Lawmakers also declined to use the budget to implement sports betting. The State House News Service reported that Sen. Diana DiZoglio, a Methuen Democrat, introduced multiple amendments aimed at helping bars and restaurants recover from the pandemic, but most were rejected.

Some of these proposals could be revived in either an economic development bill that remains before a conference committee or in standalone legislation.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

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COVID-19 infections intensify, but deaths grow moderately. The number of red communities, even with new metrics, doubles again. Lawrence case numbers are off the charts.

Massachusetts hemp farmers view Senate budget amendment as a lifesaver. 

With travel way down, Massport, the operator of Logan International Airport, lays plans to cut its workforce by 25 percent.

Opinion: Attorney General Maura Healey cites five keys for building health equity in Massachusetts.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

The police reform bill is going nowhere fast, with a small conference committee of negotiators deadlocked and speculation that the two-year legislative session could expire without action on the measure. (Boston Globe

Another Massachusetts House staffer tests positive for COVID-19. (MassLive)

Communities hardest hit by COVID-19 are getting the most funding from $68 million in state MassWorks economic development awards. (Boston Herald)   

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Arlington pays tribute to Army Chief Warrant Officer Marwan Ghabour, who grew up in the town and died in Black Hawk helicopter crash during a peacekeeping patrol on an island off the coast of the Sinai peninsula of Egypt. (Boston Globe

A Beverly school committee member who didn’t attend meetings for two months after complaining about a lack of respect says she will resign. (The Salem News)

The Methuen City Council launches an official investigation into the leadership of the Methuen Police Department, which the police chief says is an example of continuing “harassment” by the council. (Eagle-Tribune)

Holyoke grapples with dozens of buildings that are rundown and dangerous. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Pfizer and its German partner are asking the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization for its coronavirus vaccine, which, if approved, could mean high-risk individuals could receive the vaccine by mid to late December. (Boston Globe

Virus spread and Thanksgiving travel trigger long lines at COVID-19 testing sites. (Eagle-Tribune) Hundreds of cars have lined up for COVID testing in Brockton. (The Enterprise)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Two federally funded unemployment benefits programs are set to expire December 26 unless Congress acts. (MassLive)

A Globe editorial decries delays by the Trump administration in sending CARES Act stimulus checks to prisoners. CommonWealth covered the issue last month

ELECTIONS

In the latest chapter in reign hewing closer to authoritarian than democratic norms, President Trump is using the power of his office to pressure Michigan officials to overturn the presidential election results there. (Washington Post)  Sen. Mitt Romney rips Trump’s attempt to “subvert the will of the people.” (New York Times) President-elect Joe Biden should initiate an obstruction of justice investigation into Trump’s reported correspondence with election officials in other states, says Secretary of State Bill Galvin. (State House News Service)

In case you missed it, fulminating Trump lawyer Rudy Guilini emceed a bizarre press conference that seemingly wove together every half-baked conspiracy theory about election theft into a one big web, as — in the words of too many news outlets to cite — the former New York City mayor appeared to literally melt before the cameras. (Washington Post

Massachusetts sets a new turnout record, with more than 3.6 million residents casting votes in November. (MassLive)

The state campaign finance office flags errors in the campaign accounts of Berkshire County District Attorney Andrea Harrington. Harrington says they were accounting errors that her own campaign discovered. (Berkshire Eagle)

Following a recount in Belchertown, Republican James Harrington concedes in his state rep race against Democratic rival Jake Oliveira. (Western Mass. Politics & Insight)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Massachusetts unemployment filings hit their highest level since June. (WBUR)

The operator of a Salem ghost tour has sued Gov. Charlie Baker over COVID-19 restrictions limiting the size of walking groups. (The Salem News)

Some stores are reporting difficulty keeping certain products, like paper goods, in stock, although supply shortages are not expected to be as bad as they were this spring. (MassLive)

TRANSPORTATION

Under threat of a lawsuit by environmental groups, state transportation officials will reinstate a carpool lane on I-93 north of Boston, which had been open to general travel. (Eagle-Tribune)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The shoreline of the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge in Chatham is rapidly eroding, forcing the closure of some hiking trails. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

More than a dozen Massachusetts Boy Scouts troops have been implicated among a flood of tens of thousands sexual abuse lawsuits filed nationwide against the Boy Scouts of America, according to a lawyer representing some of the alleged victims. (GBH)

MEDIA

BuzzFeed will acquire HuffPost in the latest digital media merger. (The Guardian