Keller at Large
Keller: What COVID-19 exposed about Beacon Hill
On this week’s Keller at Large, Jon Keller dives into the pandemic’s effect on Beacon Hill, legislators, and Gov. Charlie Baker. Keller’s take: “Charlie Baker’s claim that he’s nixing another run because he wants to avoid “distraction” from his work is a tell about how 2021 exposed how ungovernable the pandemic is, even by a relatively competent governor.”
Today | Mass. Lottery Commission, chaired by Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, meets and is expected to hear about November sales and revenues from Executive Director Michael Sweeney.
10 a.m. | Revenue Committee holds a virtual hearing on bills related to seniors and persons with disabilities, mostly involving tax exemptions, abatements, deferrals and credits.
Looking back on the year that was with Jon Keller
By Jon Keller, MASSterList
The new year brings the promise of intense debate over taxes, education policy and the future of both major political parties. But as the State House News Service list of 2021’s top ten stories shows, government’s reaction to the pandemic is still overwhelmingly the number one issue facing Beacon Hill.
Which makes the year-end flurry of State House in-fighting over COVID-19 policy so interesting. All of a sudden, lawmakers in both branches who’ve been mostly content to let Gov. Charlie Baker drive the bus are demanding all sorts of specific policy changes, from mandatory indoor masking to “a surge-related plan with specific goals regarding tests, vaccinations, boosters, and hospital capacity thresholds,” as Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness Co-chairs Sen. Jo Comerford of Northampton and Rep. William Driscoll of Milton put it in a letter to the governor.
Huh. This abrupt surge of legislative micromanaging couldn’t have any connection to Baker’s new lame-duck status…could it?
In the statement explaining his decision not to seek re-election, Baker wrote that “if we were to run, it would be a distraction that would potentially get in the way of many of the things we should be working on for everyone in Massachusetts.” Meanwhile, Baker, newly freed from the political constraints of candidacy, has been adamant that any return to remote schooling is “not going to happen,” in seeming contradiction of his pandemic-long policy that data will drive any such decisions.
It feels a bit like a lid has been lifted off the Beacon Hill political dynamic surrounding COVID-19. And you wonder – will the wheels start to come off next?
(How do you think Beacon Hill and Gov. Charlie Baker handled the second year of the pandemic? Tell us at email@example.com.)
First State Trooper fired for not following vaccine mandate
There’s always a first. A State Trooper was fired last week after not complying with Gov. Charlie Baker’s executive branch vaccine mandate. Andrew Brinker for the Boston Globe reports that the mandate applied to roughly 42,000 workers and required them to show proof of vaccination or seek an exemption by Oct. 17.
Travel delays, cancellations continue as people come home from the holidays
Delays and cancelations continue to plague travelers as they try to come home from holiday getaways. MassLive’s Cassie McGrath reports that Logan Airport reported 32 delays and 33 cancelations as of early Monday morning. That’s a significant decrease from the issues people faced on Sunday, but no less annoying for the unlucky few who found themselves stuck.
Child care costs take center stage as pandemic continues
These days, your likely to spend more money on child care than in-state four-year public college tuition. Madeleine Pearce for the MetroWest Daily News reports that the average annual cost for infant care in the state is $20,913, the second highest in the nation and accounts for 22.7 percent of the state’s median family income.
More from Pearce: “It’s also between $4,747 and $6,505 more expensive than the price tag of a four-year in-state program in the University of Massachusetts system. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends affordable child care cost no more than 7% of a family’s total income.”
‘Serious look:’ Salem’s Driscoll considering statewide run
She’s thinking about it. Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll says she’s taking a ‘serious look’ at a run for statewide office – most likely lieutenant governor – as fellow mayors and others press her to jump into an increasingly crowded Democratic field for the number two post, Dustin Luca of the Salem News reports. Driscoll begins her record-tying fifth term in office next month.
Guard members start arriving at hospitals
Members of the Massachusetts National Guard started arriving at hospitals across the state to help relieve pressure brought on by the pandemic. Staff at WBUR report that roughly 20 Guard members received orientation Monday morning before heading to hospitals run by Worcester’s UMass Memorial Health. Hospitals were also ordered to stop or postpone non-urgent procedures, an order which took effect yesterday.
Free for all: Many hats expected to be tossed as Edwards leaves city council
A crowd is forming. Danny McDonald of the Globe takes a look at the potential field of candidates for the District 1 seat on the Boston City Council that Lydia Edwards will soon vacate to become a state senator and finds two candidates already declared and a potential group of others considering a bid.
Ramping up: St. Vincent reopens psychiatry beds ahead of nurses’ return
St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester says it is reopening a dozen inpatient beds in its psychiatric unit ahead of next week’s final vote by the Mass. Nurses Association to ratify a new contract and end one of the state’s longest strikes. Isabel Sami of the Telegram & Gazette and Tom Matthews of MassLive report the beds have been out of service since August and that their absence has been a major source of concern for advocates in Central Mass.
Connecticut guv announces free at-home tests, N95 masks
Our neighbors down south are also dealing with a spike in COVID cases as a result of the omicron variant. Hartford Courant’s Daniela Altimari reports that Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced the state plans to distribute 3 million free at-home COVID tests and 6 million N95 masks in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.
Respect the voters: Civil rights group slams Holyoke rule keeping newly elected out of office
Opposition is growing. Lawyers for Civil Rights has joined the battle against a Holyoke ordinance that is preventing two newly elected members of the city council from taking office because they are also employees of the city’s school system, Dusty Christensen of the Daily Hampshire Gazette reports. The group is urging the city to “respect the will of the voters” and notes that the rule is barring one of the most diverse slates of candidates ever elected from being sworn into office.
Long testing lines in Worcester
The rush to get a COVID test during the holiday season has been brutal. Long lines at testing centers around the state have been common scenes. It’s no different in Worcester. Telegram & Gazette’s Christine Peterson reports that the free COVID-19 testing line at the Mercantile Center stretched around the courtyard and down Commercial Street on Monday.
Local businesses in Nubian Square grappling with rising prices
Local business in Nubian Square are facing crippling supply chain issues as they look to carry forward in the second year of the pandemic. Jake Bentzinger for GBH News reports that Soleil restaurant founders Cheryl Straughter and Keith Motley are struggling with rising prices like beef which Straughter said she used to buy for $4.29 per pound and now pays $7.29.
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