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.
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 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.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.