Keller at Large
Keller: The GOP’s Botched Gas Tax Uprising
On this week’s Keller at Large, Jon Keller takes a hard look at the recent GOP push to suspend the state’s gas tax amid rising costs at the pump. Keller’s take: “This episode doesn’t speak well of the GOP’s ability to capitalize on what should have been a platinum political opportunity.”
11 a.m. | Senate Democrats caucus virtually.
12 p.m. | Legislature’s Health Care Financing Committee and the state Health Policy Commission jointly convene a hearing to inform the setting of the state’s health care cost growth benchmark.
1:15 p.m. | Candidate for attorney general Shannon Liss-Riordan travels to the Roderick L. Ireland Courthouse in Springfield to call for the closure of the building.
1:30 p.m. | Massachusetts Water Resources Authority Board meets virtually to discuss appointing a manager of occupational health and safety, get a financial update and discuss the notice of intent to sue that the Conservation Law Foundation sent the MWRA on Feb. 23.
4:30 p.m. | Fix the Grid Campaign holds rally to criticize ISO-New England and “protest our regional energy regulators’ recent decision to block meaningful addition of wind and solar power to the regional energy grid until 2028.
Happy Thursday morning.
Gov. Charlie Baker decided Tuesday it was time to wade into the health care discussion when he announced new legislation that centers on increasing spending in the system on primary care and mental health (at the expense of something else). More specifically, it asks health care providers and insurers to increase spending by 30 percent over three years on primary and behavioral health care.
Just the fact that Baker’s talking about mental health must be music to Senate President Karen Spilka’s ears, whose top priority while serving in the Legislature has been mental health.
The Senate has already passed a bill this session to improve access to behavioral health services, and Spilka has been noticeably irritated of late that House leaders are not constantly asked — like she gets asked about sports betting — why mental health stalled as an issue in the House.
Speaking to reporters in Dorchester, Baker said, “I’m expecting that we’ll probably see something happen on both tax cuts and on something like this between now and the end of the session.”
“One way you can measure whether or not, in fact, there’s interest in something is are you pursuing something that folks in the Legislature are talking about and engaging with you on,” Baker said. “And on both this issue around mental health services and behavioral health care and on tax cuts, very different issues, there’s a lot of back and forth, which is a good sign.”
He’s not wrong. The House hasn’t done nothing in the health care space. In fact, it passed Speaker Ron Mariano’s bill to strengthen oversight of hospital expansions.
But with three distinct approaches to health care emerging this session, and all not even related to the same concerns, legislative leaders will have to settle on a strategy quickly if something, or more than one thing, is to get done before the end of the session in July.
In other news…
In separate, but somewhat related news, Attorney General Maura Healey also had healthcare on her mind as she visited Baystate Medical Center in Springfield yesterday. MassLive’s Jim Kinney reports the AG met with about 30 BMC staffers for an hour to discuss COVID-19 and mental healthcare.
Kinney points out Healey was there as the attorney general but her discussion focused on policy areas often associated with the governor’s office.
Violence in Boston founder charged with fraud, conspiracy indictment
A prominent Boston activist most known for founding the non-profit Violence in Boston was charged in an 18-count indictment that alleges wire fraud and conspiracy. Boston Herald’s Todd Prussman and Sean Philip Cotter report Monica Cannon-Grant is accused of defrauding donors and diverting funds meant for the non-profit to personal expenses.
Boston Globe’s Shelley Murphy, Andrea Estes, and John R. Ellement report that Cannon-Grant was arrested at her Taunton home Tuesday morning on federal charges. She later made a brief appearance in court where she was released on her own recognizance with the condition that she can’t apply for financial grants.
Lesser’s deputy chief of staff leaving post
A top staffer in Sen. Eric Lesser’s office is leaving his position as he potentially considers a run for the 8th Hampden District. MassLive’s Alison Kuznitz reports Deputy Chief of Staff Joel McAuliffe announced he was leaving the office on Monday and was “excited to share with you all what’s next soon,” though a close ally said he was considering a bid for state representative.
Groups want investigation into East Boston Neighborhood Health Center
Two advocacy groups are urging the state to investigate allegations that immigrants received discriminatory medical treatment at East Boston Neighborhood Health Center. Boston Globe’s Gal Tziperman Lotan reports Centro Presente and Lawyers for Civil Rights asked Attorney General Maura Healey’s office and the Department of Public Health to look into the issue.
State House News Service’s Chris Lisinski writes that East Boston Neighborhood Health Center says it has been unsuccessful in attempts to discuss concerns with Centro Presente or other individual patients. The health center added that “we welcome dialogue with any of our patients regarding their experiences with our organization. We have also proactively reached out to the Attorney General’s Office to invite a review of any allegation.”
Casinos rebound in February as total tax haul passes $1 billion
The state’s three licensed casinos posted improved revenue numbers for February, helping to push the total tax haul collected by the commonwealth since the facilities opened over the $1 billion milestone, Jim Kinney of MassLive reports.
Tom Reilly of the Sun Chronicle reports revenue at the Plainridge Park slots parlor rose $1.1 million last month to nearly $11 million, a rebound from January, which went into the books as one of the facility’s slowest months since it opened.
Beth Israel Lahey looks to expand into New Hampshire
Beth Israel Lahey Health is looking to expand to Massachusetts’ northern neighbor. Boston Business Journal’s Grant Welker reports the hospital signed a letter of intent to acquire Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire, a move the two organizations say would strengthen access to quality care.
Axios taps Deehan to launch Boston newsletter
Axios has found its man in the Hub. Dan Kennedy was first to report GBH State House reporter Mike Deehan will lead Axios’ new Boston-centric newsletter when it launches later this year as part of what the media company is billing as a bid to boost interest in local news among young audiences. Deehan knows a thing or two about newsletters as well: He edited the one you’re reading right now back in his State House News Service days.
COVID cases among students on the Cape declining
A feared rise in COVID cases after students on the Cape ditched masking in schools never occurred. Cape Cod Times’ Cynthia McCormick reports recent data for Cape Cod school districts shows a declining number of public school students who contracted the virus.
More from McCormick: “Some school districts held onto mask mandates beyond the date recommended by the state due to concerns that students and staff traveling and gathering over the winter vacation would lead to a bump in case numbers by the time they got back to class. The differing school policies caused confusion or consternation in some families.”
Hingham town election features 12 open seats
A number of town positions in Hingham are up for grabs this spring and many of them feature uncontested races. James E. Kukstis for the Patriot Ledger reports voters will decide who should take spots on the school committee, board of health, sewer commission, and board of assessors in the upcoming town elections.
Lynn VA clinic could be on chopping block
A Veterans Affairs clinic in Lynn could be shuttered in favor of new facilities elsewhere on the North Shore under a reorganization plan released earlier this week. Adam Bass of The Item reports Lynn veterans are lamenting that the majority-minority city may lose ready access to health care.
Momentum stalls as Russian divestment plan hits roadblocks
House Speaker Ron Mariano says a push by lawmakers to divest $140 million of investments tied to Russia from state’s retirement fund is unlikely to advance, saying the closing of the Russian stock market would make a clean break “too difficult” at this time, Christian Wade writes in the Salem News.
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