Keller at Large
Keller: Local Pandemic Winners and Losers
On this week’s Keller at Large, Jon Keller takes a look at local economic and political winners and losers of the pandemic era. One of the winners in Keller’s eyes? Marijuana. “Sales had already topped one billion dollars by the fall of 2020; now we’re pushing $3 billion, with many more dispensaries still to come,” Keller writes.
10 a.m. | Framingham Rep. Maria Robinson’s nomination for a job with the U.S. Department of Energy is on the agenda at a U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources business meeting.
11 a.m. | Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito joins Secretary Wood, Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini and other state and local officials at Haverhill City Hall to announce the latest round of Municipal Cybersecurity Awareness Grant Program award recipients.
1 p.m. | Early Education and Care Board meets on Commissioner Samantha Aigner-Treworgy’s last day on the job. The board plans to vote to appoint an acting commissioner to lead the Department of Early Education and Care.
Good Tuesday morning.
Later today, Rep. Maria Robinson’s nomination to join the Biden administration as assistant energy secretary in the Office of Electricity comes up for a vote before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. It’s the last step before it heads to the full Senate for consideration. The committee interviewed Robinson in early February, where she identified electric grid reliability as a top concern.
Should Robinson make it through the confirmation process and leave the House, the branch would have another vacancy to contend with. Four other lawmakers have already left the House this year without a special election scheduled to replace them.
Former House Majority Leader Claire Cronin now serves as U.S. ambassador to Ireland, Sheila Harrington is a clerk magistrate in Gardner District Court, Lori Ehrlich took a job at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Carolyn Dykema transitioned into the solar industry.
There’s been no indication from House leadership that special elections will be called to fill any of the seats ahead of statewide elections in the fall, and at this point in the year it’s highly unlikely. House Speaker Ronald Mariano previously said he was worried about asking candidates to run in districts that would be “significantly changed” in November as a result of redistricting.
Robinson’s is one of those districts where House leaders used her expected departure to create a new incumbent-free majority-minority district without worrying how the new lines would have drawn her and Rep. Jack Patrick Lewis into the same district in November.
At least three Democrats have so far filed with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance to run for the 6th Middlesex District. That includes former Framingham City Councilor Margareth Shepard, Framingham School Committee member Priscila Sousa, and Framingham Town Meeting member Dhruba Sen.
Shepard has a financial lead on her two opponents, according to the latest numbers from the state’s campaign finance office. She raised $3,434 in February and reported $2,337 in cash on hand at the end of last month. Sousa had $50 cash on hand and Dhruba had $150 at the end of February.
Price of gas increasing in Massachusetts
Fill up on gas recently? The price was definitely shocking. AAA Northeast reports the average price of gas in Massachusetts is $4.16 a gallon, a 54 cent increase in the last week and more than 1.5 times higher than last year. Boston prices are averaging at $4.17 a gallon, while on Nantucket some pump prices passed $5.
With prices soaring, Boston Globe’s Sean P. Murphy has some ways you can save money at the pump, including taking advantage of loyalty programs. Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Doughty is also calling for a freeze in the state’s 24-cent gas tax until prices drop, State House News reports.
Federal audit could prompt Massachusetts to return Hurricane Maria money
Did the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education accurately count of the number of displaced students who came to Massachusetts after Hurricane Maria? That’s the question at the center of an audit that could force the state to return money to the federal government.
New England Public Media’s Jill Kaufman reports that thousands of students came to the state after the hurricane devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and Massachusetts received $15.5 million in assistance for school districts. But the audit by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General found the state “did not ensure that displaced student count data provided to the federal education department were accurate and complete.”
Lawyers suing to shutdown Springfield courthouse say tests find toxic mold
Tests commissioned by plaintiffs suing to close the Roderick L. Ireland Courthouse found several variants of cancer-causing mold in the building, lawyers for the plaintiffs said. MassLive’s Jim Kinney reports the lawyers argue the results of the tests are strong evidence that there is a strong health risk for people in the courthouse.
Healthcare organizations band together to study long term effects of COVID
A group of Boston hospitals and health care systems are teaming to study the lasting effects of COVID-19. GBH News’ Mark Herz reports the three-year study will include researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Medical Center, Cambridge Health Alliance, Tufts Medical Center, and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Lawmakers still need to show proof of vaccination to access House, Senate chambers
Any person can walk into the State House now — vaccinated, unvaccinated, masked, unmasked — but not all House lawmakers can make their way onto the floor of their chamber.
State House News Service’s Chris Lisinski reports the House is still mandating staff and representatives submit proof of vaccination (or seek a reasonable accommodation) to access the House chamber, and that branch has yet to receive full compliance. The Senate’s vaccine mandate is also still in place but Senate President Karen Spilka’s office said it is “currently under review” and all senators have complied. Democratic leadership dropped masking, testing, and vaccination requirements to enter the State House Monday.
Correia’s former chief of staff to pay $50k fine
The former chief of staff of former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia evaded prison time but is looking at a sizable fine for her role in an extortion scheme. Herald News’ Dan Medeiros, Linda Murphy, and Lynne Sullivan report Genoveva Andrade will have to pay $50,000, a sum that Judge Douglas Woodlock says “has to be felt by you. It’s not just chump change you throw away.”
Report: Boston schools ripe for state receivership
It’s time. The Pioneer Institute argues in a new report that the time has come for state education officials to appoint a receiver to lead Boston Public Schools, which the think tank says remain in disarray even after a massive infusion of pandemic relief cash. Marie Szaniszlo of the Herald has the details.
Day 1 of a maskless State House
The masking and vaccination or test requirement to enter the State House was lifted yesterday morning only two weeks after legislative leaders implemented them as they reopened the building to the public.
A few members of the public roamed the halls yesterday — some without masks, others still using face coverings — but the building largely remained quiet. A number of lawmakers’ offices were open and staffed to some degree, a visible change from the dark days of the pandemic when most everyone worked from home.
Workers were also removing COVID-era signage from the building, including ones by elevators that advised of a two person capacity limit. One more thing of note: Monday’s House session saw mixed usage of masks.
Lawmakers raise regional equity issue as Stop the Spread is rolled back
A group of Berkshire County lawmakers are pressing state officials to keep at least one Stop the Spread coronavirus testing site open in the westernmost part of the state after plans were announced to shrink the program. Danny Jin and Francesca Paris of the Berkshire Eagle report some area residents who don’t have symptoms could face 90 minute drives to find free testing.
Worcester NAACP pulls out of anniversary fete after another diversity departure
Worcester City Manager Edward Augustus Jr. is urging the Worcester Branch of the NAACP to reconsider its decision to pull out of a committee organizing the city’s 300th anniversary celebration after the city saw its third diversity director depart since the position was created six years ago, Kiernan Dunlop of MassLive reports.
Rat zap envy: Cambridge wants to follow Somerville with rodent smart boxes
Now everybody’s going to want some. The Cambridge City Council has voted unanimously to explore using the same rat-electrocution and collection system that Somerville is piloting, hoping to end what Marc Levy of Cambridge Day explains is a decades-long struggle to address the city’s rodent problem.
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