Keller at Large
Keller: Return to Planet State House
On this week’s Keller at Large, Jon Keller takes a look at what today may hold with the State House reopening to the public after two years of being closed to the public. Keller’s take: “Beyond the novelty of the State House being open there isn’t much to excite the tourists and day-trippers. Outside of informal House and Senate sessions, where a wide array of zero occurs, there’s nothing going on this week with the Legislature.”
Today | Gov. Charlie Baker has ordered state and U.S. flags to half-staff from sunrise ’til sunset Tuesday in honor of the late U.S. Army Spc. Huguens Pierre, who will be buried at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne.
10 a.m. | Board of Higher Education holds a meeting of its Executive Committee to vote on membership for the advisory council that will run the search for a successor to Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago, who plans to step down at the end of June.
10:30 a.m. | Mass. Lottery Commission meets to get an update on sales and revenue and to vote on whether to increase spending with three key vendors.
11 a.m. | House holds informal session and Senate meets without a calendar.
1 p.m. | Revenue Committee holds a hearing on the nearly $700 million tax relief proposal that Gov. Baker filed alongside his fiscal 2023 budget proposal last month. Baker intends to testify alongside Administration and Finance Secretary Mike Heffernan.
Good Tuesday morning. We hope the holiday was restful.
Today is a big day for the State House — the “People’s House” — as it reopens to the public for the first time in two years. The pandemic first shuttered the building in March 2020 and since then, residents only have been able to participate in the legislative process virtually.
And it doesn’t seem like that reality is going away completely, even as more lawmakers, staff, and people make their way back to the building. In separate memos from House and Senate officials, leaders encouraged members and staff to continue using hybrid work models in an effort to best serve constituents.
The head of the House Human Resources Department said the branch has “successfully demonstrated that a hybrid work model is both an efficient and effective way to serve their constituents, both at the State House and in their districts.” Director Katherine Palmer said hybrid work also helps with employee well-being and increases both productivity and job performance.
Senate leadership said the public has “made good use” of virtual hearings and livestreamed sessions. Sen. Cindy Creem, who leads a working group focused on reopening the building, said “it is important that we continue these advances as we simultaneously regain the in-person opportunities that we have sorely missed.” Creem told senators that as they review their office staffing plans they could consider meetings by-appointment only
If you’re looking to reconnect with a state lawmaker or are seeking services from their offices, expect continued virtual opportunities even as the State House swings its doors (mostly) wide open once again – provided you’re vaccinated and wearing a mask.
New name, same game…..
The coalition fighting a proposed ballot questions to allow app-based tech companies like Uber and Lyft to continue to classify their drivers as independent contractors and not employees is getting a rebrand.
The group of community, labor and civil rights groups will now be known as the Massachusetts is not for Sale campaign. The new name is meant to reflect the fact that tech companies behind the 2022 ballot effort spent over $200 million in California to pass a similar initiative, and already last year put up more than $17.2 million in Massachusetts, including a $14.4 million contribution from Lyft.
The opposition group that had been known as the Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights raised far less, pulling in $470,700 last year and ending 2021 with a balance of $682,658 to go up against its better funded opponents.
To help its cause, Massachusetts is not for Sale has brought on former Deval Patrick and Ayanna Pressley aide and advisor Wilnelia Rivera as a general consultant and hired Wes McEnany as campaign director. Rivera has an experienced hand as a community organizer helping candidates and organizations, while McEnany worked on the founding of the Alphabet Workers Union at Google and also as an organizer for CODE-CWA, organizing workers in the technology and online gaming sectors.
“We will demonstrate the power of community and labor uniting to make it clear that Massachusetts will not be sold to the highest bidder,” Rivera said in a statement. “We will not allow misinformation being pushed by Big Tech executives to become the foundation of our state’s civil, consumer, and labor protection laws.”
Dr. Paul Farmer dies at 62 in Rwanda
A top global public health figure died Monday at the age of 62 while overseas in Rwanda. Boston Globe’s David Abel and Kenneth Singletary report Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health, passed away “unexpectedly” in his sleep. Farmer and colleagues at Partners in Health helped developed the state’s COVID-19 contact tracing protocol during the early days of the pandemic.
Last agreement standing: Lawsuit targets Barnstable County-ICE deal
A group of taxpayers filed suit against Barnstable County Sheriff James Cummings, alleging his continued participation in a federal program that deputizes his employees to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement violates Massachusetts law. Jeannette Hinkle of the Cape Cod Times reports Barnstable is the last county in the state to participate in the controversial program.
New record for open meeting law complaints
A new record was set in 2021 for the number of open meeting law complaints filed with the state Attorney General’s office. The Associated Press reports 406 complaints about possible violations of the law were filed with Attorney General Maura Healey’s office while 202 determination letters were issues.
A ‘wonderful negotiator’
As the first woman elected to the state Senate from Worcester prepares to retire, colleagues are looking back on her legislative legacy, with one Senate Democrat describing Sen. Harriette Chandler as a “wonderful negotiator.” Nathan Lederman for the Telegram & Gazette reports Sen. Anne Gobi recalls Chandler’s ability to speak with colleagues who disagreed with her.
A burning boat and a Bentley
Remember the burning cargo ship floating about 1,000 miles off the coast of Portugal? Well, it turns out a well-known Massachusetts auto dealer has one of his cars on it. MassLive’s Will Katcher reports Ernie Boch Jr. owns a Bentley that’s sitting aboard the burning boat.
Boston area rents plateaued last year, but still among highest in U.S.
Residential rents in Boston barely increased in 2021 but the city remains the sixth most-expensive housing market in the country, a new report says. Boston finds itself behind only Miami and five California cities in terms of average monthly rent at $2,700. WBUR has the details.
Get ready for the ‘cannabis primary’
A pair of former Beacon Hill regulars are hoping to hold a “cannabis primary” in Massachusetts with gubernatorial candidates. State House News Service’s Colin A. Young reports the idea is to demystify what has been a taboo subject for political candidates and “to educate those who might hold great sway over the fledgling industry about its successes, stress points and failures.”
New grant program focuses on AAPI arts and culture
Asian American/Pacific Islander art communities in Massachusetts are facing unique challenges as they navigate the COVID-19 recovery. CommonWealth’s Shira Schoenberg reports the Massachusetts Cultural Council launched a new grant program to help those communities by focusing on organizing festivals, performances, or teaching traditional music, dance, or martial arts.
Cancel culture: Northampton council votes to pressure Biden on student debt
The Northampton City Council voted unanimously to urge President Biden to cancel all outstanding student loan debt, Seth Keevaenthal and Jillian Andrews of WWLP report. The city joins Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and Chelsea in passing similar non-binding resolutions and some councilors argued that debt cancellation would provide an economic boost to the college town.
Civil asset forfeiture reporting bills receive legislative extension
A pair of bills on Beacon Hill seeking greater transparency around civil asset forfeiture got a second life this month. Boston Herald’s Flint McColgan reports the State Administration and Regulatory Oversight Committee extended the reporting deadline for the legislation until April 15, effectively granting lawmakers more time to consider the proposals. Civil asset forfeiture is a tool law enforcement use to seize money and assets allegedly linked to crimes, but some want to see it reformed or eliminated because of the way it disproportionately impacts certain communities.
More from McColgan: “The bills … would require the attorney general, district attorneys and police to report annually on property seizures and expenditures, and for a public database that would report a variety of information including location, estimated value, length of seizure and if the suspect ever faced criminal charges.”
Back into the woods: Ashfield again takes up ‘memorial forest’ proposal
A proposal to turn a 270-acre woodland into a ‘memorial forest’ where the deceased would be buried without coffins is back before the Ashfield Conservation Commission after a group of neighbors lodged complaints over the proposal and the process used to consider it. Julian Medoza of the Greenfield Recorder has details on what might happen next.
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