Sweating it out on Beacon Hill like it’s July

THE WEATHER IS cold, Christmas lights are still up. But on Beacon Hill, the mood is more like July 31 – the traditional last day of formal sessions during the two-year legislative session.

This year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers extended formal sessions to pass a late state budget, address the pandemic, and deal with major legislation. Yet one tradition continued: the Beacon Hill pattern of waiting until the last minute to reach deals — or not — on significant legislation.

The Legislature did pass a budget, which Gov. Charlie Baker signed December 11. That gave the Legislature time to override Baker’s vetoes, which lawmakers have been doing the last few days. Lawmakers last month passed a police reform compromise, which Baker signed.  Before Christmas, the Legislature sent Baker a compromise bill on telehealth, which he signed, and a bill banning the use of certain flame retardant chemicals in furniture and children’s goods. On Sunday, a conference committee released a major climate change bill, which was swiftly passed and sent to the governor.

But two major pieces of legislation remain in conference committees – an economic development bill and a transportation bond bill.

The economic development bill is typically a Christmas tree-type bill, chock-full of local earmarks. This year, it seems more necessary than ever given businesses’ struggles to stay open during COVID-19. More than 50 mayors, including Boston’s Marty Walsh, have asked lawmakers for business relief money. But negotiations are complicated by other policy proposals in the bill.

The House used its version to authorize sports betting, a complex policy decision with lobbying by powerful organizations, including sports teams and casinos. Both versions of the bill include some iteration of Baker’s Housing Choices bill, which would lower the municipal voting threshold for certain zoning decisions. The policy has support from a range of business, development and municipal interests, but has spurred concerns about whether it does enough to help renters and low-income residents.

While negotiators don’t talk about closed door discussions, the Boston Globe’s Jon Chesto suggested that possible factors behind the delay include myriad policy differences, House lead negotiator Aaron Michlewitz’s other demanding role as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, and House upheaval with Robert DeLeo’s resignation as speaker and the selection of Ron Mariano to replace him.

The transportation bond bill would borrow billions of dollars to pay for various state transportation projects. Baker said Monday that its passage is a big deal, since the state needs more borrowing authorization to fund spring and summer construction projects and sign multi-year agreements involving federal reimbursement.

But House and Senate leaders appear to disagree on how much money the state can spend without raising new revenue. The House passed a transportation revenue bill before the pandemic broke out, but the Senate did not consider it.

Under legislative rules, a conference committee report must be released by 8 p.m. if it will be voted on the next day. Neither bill emerged Monday night. But lawmakers have a history of waiving their own rules on the last day of session, releasing complicated conference committee reports hours before the midnight end of session, giving lawmakers little time to review them before a vote.

Other bills could also be passed today, but with sessions scheduled to begin at noon, the House and Senate will have just 12 hours to agree on final language. For example, a bill aimed at addressing campus sexual assault has advanced in the Senate, but not the House, although House leaders have said they are committed to passing it.

One disadvantage for lawmakers in late deal-making is Baker has 10 days to sign or veto legislation. Once the session ends, lawmakers cannot override a veto.

On the other hand, normally if a deal falls through, lawmakers must wait six months until the next session to start working on it again. This year, with the new session beginning on Wednesday, they can refile a bill the next day.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Gov. Charlie Baker says President-elect Joe Biden won the election “fair and square” and calls efforts to block the outcome “an affront to democracy.”

Marylou Sudders, the governor’s secretary of health and human services, says she is reluctantly comfortable with the lag time in vaccine reporting.

The Supreme Judicial Court rules that Uber’s agreements with riders are unenforceable.

Four state prisoners died of COVID-19 during the holiday, the most in a single week during the entire pandemic. 

Economic development and transportation bond bills are coming down to the wire and their prospects aren’t good. Meanwhile, a climate change bill that will touch almost every facet of daily life whisked through the Legislature with virtually no opposition. One provision in the climate change bill clears up confusion over taxes on solar projects.

Opinion: Four scientists say Baker is wrong to subsidize wood-burning to produce electricity, warning the decision will contribute to global warming.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

The climate bill now on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk is the most sweeping environmental legislation since the Global Warming Solutions Act passed 12 years ago. (Boston Globe)

Newly elected Massachusetts Republican Party chair Jim Lyons pledges to work on electing more Republicans and expanding party membership. (Salem News)

Rep. Jack Lewis plans to file a bill to name a state dinosaur. (MassLive)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh signs new police oversight agency into law. (WBUR) Boston’s Planning and Development Agency proposes climate resilient zoning. (WBUR)

Maritsa Barros is selected as Framingham’s first diversity officer. (MetroWest Daily News)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Gov. Charlie Baker replaces the chairman of the board of trustees at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, Kevin Jourdain, with Maj. Gen. Gary W. Keefe, adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard. (MassLive)

A research group at Brigham and Women’s Hospital will carry out a nationwide placebo-controlled trial to assess whether vitamin D supplements prevent coronavirus infection and whether supplements started in the early days after testing positive for coronavirus can lessen the severity of the virus’s impact. (Boston Herald

Tom Mountain, the vice chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, says he was negligent and arrogant in waving off mask-wearing and other ways to reduce COVID-19 risk after contracting the virus at the White House Hanukkah party, where such practices were shunned. (Boston Herald

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Pressure on President-elect Joe Biden to choose an Asian American or Pacific Islander for his cabinet is colliding with a push by big union leaders for him to tap Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as his labor secretary. (Boston Globe)

Emeritus Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe says President Trump’s “public crime spree” must not go unpunished, but Joan Vennochi says pursuing criminal charges against Trump would only maintain his relevance and give him the attention he craves. (Boston Globe)

ELECTIONS

It’s Election Day in Georgia where races for both of the state’s US Senate seats will determine which party controls the chamber. (New York Times) Trump continued to air false claims that Georgia was stolen from him in the presidential race — even as he rallied supporters there to show up to vote in today’s Senate runoff elections. (Boston Globe

President Trump is dividing the Republican Party on his way out the door, calling out and threatening Republican members of Congress who criticize his effort to have Congress try to block the acceptance of states’ electoral vote counts. (Washington Post

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League are planning to play their upcoming season at the New England Sports Center in Marlborough rather than the Dunkin’ Donuts Arena in Providence, where Rhode Island has a number of COVID-19 activities going on. (MetroWest Daily News)

Brockton has received a $250,000 state grant to remove toxic materials from the vacant Corcoran Supply Company property, which officials say is the first step toward redeveloping the property into downtown housing. (The Enterprise)

EDUCATION

The Supreme Judicial Court considers whether a teacher at the Christian Gordon College is considered a “minister” — a designation that will determine whether she can sue the school for being denied a promotion. (Salem News)

Teachers’ mental health takes a toll during the pandemic. (The 19th)

TRANSPORTATION

A new state report lays out the next steps for advocates pushing for East-West rail connecting Boston, Worcester, Springfield, and Pittsfield. (MassLive)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Power from wood-to-energy plants — like the proposed Palmer Renewable Energy plant in East Springfield — won’t qualify as “green power” for municipal power utilities for at least five years under new rules passed as part of the Legislature’s climate change bill. (MassLive)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Worcester County jail goes on a modified lockdown with 57 inmates who tested positive for COVID-19. (Telegram & Gazette)

The Maine man accused of trying to burn down a church in Maine with predominantly black parishioners is linked to a racist incident in Pittsfield. (Berkshire Eagle)

MEDIA

The Boston Globe will be expanding its political, health, investigative, and Rhode Island beats this year. (Media Nation)

PASSINGS

Hundreds of law enforcement officials and other first responders turned out at a Taunton funeral home to honor Taunton police officer John Borges, who died of COVID-19 at age 48. (Boston Herald

Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin and his wife Sarah Bloom Raskin posted a deeply moving tribute to their son, Thomas Raskin, a remarkable and accomplished 25-year-old Harvard law student who developed “overwhelming and unyielding” depression in recent years and died on New Year’s Eve. The Washington Post wrote about it here.