11 a.m. | House holds in an informal session and Senate meets without a calendar.
12 p.m. | Senate President Karen Spilka speaks at a virtual event hosted by the White House to discuss the impact of American Rescue Plan Act funding on Massachusetts.
12 p.m. | Congressman Jake Auchincloss hosts a press call to make an announcement about funds for community projects included in a government funding bill approved last week by Congress.
1 p.m. | The proposed ballot question overhauling the state’s retail alcohol laws goes before the Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee for a virtual public hearing.
2 p.m. | Gov. Charlie Baker, Senate President Karen Spilka, House Speaker Ronald Mariano, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, and House Minority Leader Brad Jones meet privately. A media availability follows.
Good Monday morning. We hope you have a good start to the workweek.
Here’s what you need to know to get started.
– After returning from a vacation in Utah Friday, Gov. Charlie Baker is scheduled to meet with top legislative leaders this afternoon at the State House. While he was away, the idea of tax relief to ease the pressure from inflation and rising gas prices got a lot of positive lip service from Democratic leaders, even though the House beat back an effort to suspend the gas tax. Look for this to be a theme again this week when the leaders meet the media following their private meeting.
– A proposed ballot question that increases the number of alcohol licenses a company can hold heads before a key committee today tasked with looking at issues involving consumer protection and licensure. The question is backed by the Massachusetts Package Stores Association and would raise the number of licenses a company can have to 18 by 2031. The Legislature has a window to act on the petition before its sponsors go back out to collect the remaining signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot.
– On Tuesday, the Legislature’s budget-writing committee takes another look at Gov. Charlie Baker’s $48.5 billion fiscal 2023 budget Tuesday with an eye towards education funding and local aid levels. Officials from the Executive Office of Education, the Early Education and Care Department, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Department are slated to testify.
– The House plans to take up legislation Thursday that would prohibit discrimination based on a person’s natural hairstyle. The bill — which has the support of roughly 60 lawmakers — prevents schools districts from approving a policy that “impairs or prohibits” natural hairstyles, among other things. It’s sponsored by Reps. Steven Ultrino (D-Malden) and Chynah Tyler (D-Roxbury). Former Boston Mayor Kim Janey testified in support of a previous version of the proposal at a 2020 committee hearing.
– And finally, to wrap up the week, U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh is the featured guest at an in-person luncheon hosted by the New England Council. We urge attendees to ask him how he helped get this year’s baseball season back on track.
Boston’s digital wastelands
Major sections of Boston are without wifi connectivity, leaving locals unconnected. Boston Herald’s Marie Szaniszlo reports one resident in the South End says low-income neighbors are still waiting for computers as other neighborhoods race ahead.
When talking Mass. and Cass, city officials want you to think about decentralization
The word “decentralize” is one of the major themes for dealing with issues in the area of Mass. and Cass. Boston Globe’s Milton J. Valencia reports how Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration intends to space out recovery and harm reduction services throughout Boston neighborhoods in an effort to help with supply and demand.
Federal investigation into Methuen police contract may be coming to a head
Sources tell the Globe’s Andrea Estes that a federal investigation into the approval of a police contract that made Methuen superior officers some of the highest-paid in the state may be coming to a close. Increasingly, the focus of the probe is on whether retired Chief Joseph Solomon and the former head of a police union conspired to slip the contract past the city council, Estes writes.
Meanwhile, Breanna Edelstein of the Eagle-Tribune reports new Police Chief Scott McNamara is poised to complete a reorganization of the department as he seeks to respond to a scathing 2021 audit critical of the department’s management and make room for 18 newly hired officers.
Report: Recovery campus on Long Island would cost nearly $550B
A report commissioned during Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s administration puts the price tag for building a new 500-bed recovery campus on Long Island in Boston Harbor at $540 million – a total that doesn’t include the cost of rebuilding the bridge to the island, Sean Philip Cotter of the Herald reports. The Wu administration, which turned over the report in response to a records request, calls the plan, now on a shelf, ‘aspirational.’
State rental assistance continues to increase
Residents across Massachusetts continue to struggle with paying rent. GBH News’ Jake Freudberg reports the amount of rental assistance the state has been handing out has steadily increased each month even as the pandemic crosses the two-year mark.
More from Freudberg: “In February, the state issued nearly $65 million through its pandemic-related rental assistance programs, thanks in large part to the March 2021 launch of the federally funded Emergency Rental Assistance Program, according to the state’s dashboard. The February total is nearly double the amount of aid issued in April 2021.”
Cambridge drops mask mandate
The City of Cambridge dropped its mask mandate last night. CBS Boston reports city officials pointed to decreasing COVID-19 cases and lower test positivity rates when making the decision. Businesses can still require masks and you’ll still need one on until March 27 if you’re going into a municipal building. Masks will also be optional in Cambridge schools.
This day in history: First town meeting?
According to the Chicago Tribune, today marks the anniversary of America’s first recorded town meeting, held in the recently opened Faneuil Hall in Boston in 1743. But that’s hardly definitive, with Governing Magazine saying the first open town meeting in the country actually took place in Dorchester more than 100 years earlier, in 1633.
Pressley, Edwards back Massachusetts Is Not For Sale Coalition
U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley and state Sen. Lydia Edwards are throwing their support behind a coalition opposing a ballot question that would keep ride-share drivers classified as contractors rather than employees. WBUR’s Yasmin Amer reports Pressley said Uber, Instacart, Lyft, and Doordash — the companies backing the question — are giving workers a “false choice” between flexibility and other protections.
Quincy councilor looking to include gender-neutral language in city codes
A local lawmaker in Quincy is pushing her colleagues on the city council to approve an update to city rules and codes that would change all wording to gender-neutral language. Patriot Ledger’s Mary Whitfill reports City Councilor-at-Large Nina Liang is heading the movement and argues the current language is “outdated.”
Northeastern plan approved to put more beds in two residence halls
Boston Planning and Development Agency officials approved a Northeastern University plan to drum up 900 more beds in two existing residence halls. Boston Business Journal’s Greg Ryan reports the approval comes even as parents of students warn the move crams students together.
Ashfield ‘memorial forest’ plan withdrawn amid opposition
The company that wanted to create a 269-acre memorial forest reserve in Ashfield where cremated human remains could be spread has withdrawn its application in the face of opposition and more mundane concerns such as wetlands issues, Mary Byrne of the Recorder reports.
UMass Lowell launches online program for students’ mental health
The University of Massachusetts Lowell kicked off a new online program that aims to help students with mental health issues. Lowell Sun’s Trea Lavery reports the program comes at no cost to students and features an online peer-to-peer community where users can share thoughts anonymously. Licensed mental health practitioners are also on hand to help.
Boston Latin School head will step down – Boston Globe
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes stop in Massachusetts to highlight health care challenges – WCVB
‘Overburdening an already depleted field’: Bill aims to alleviate school staffing shortages – SouthCoast Today
Berkshire maple sugar producers are battling climate change and supply chain disruptions, but continue to produce syrup – Berkshire Eagle
Democrats move closer to cutting Iowa’s first-in-the nation status for 2024 presidential calendar – Washington Post
Uber to charge riders fuel fee amid rising gas prices – The Hill
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