Happening Today

9 a.m. | Public Health Council meets with an agenda that includes an update on its COVID-19 Community Impact Survey.

11 a.m. | Senate Democrats caucus before a scheduled vote on Thursday on marijuana industry equity legislation.

6 p.m. | MBTA hold a virtual meeting to collect public feedback on the agency’s five-year capital plan to invest in projects like the Green Line Extension, buying new Orange and Red Line cars, and bus electrification.

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6 p.m. | Sen. Anne Gobi and Rep. Kim Ferguson host a forum on crumbling concrete foundations impacting homeowners in central Massachusetts where foundations have deteriorated due to the presence of the mineral pyrrhotite.

Today’s Stories

Good Wednesday morning,

It’s been almost two weeks since the Senate seemed to put the nail in the coffin of a gas tax suspension for this spring and summer, but one of the main arguments from Democrats against the temporary tax break seems to have taken a hit.

“Do you all trust the oil companies?” Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues asked, before the Senate voted 11-29 against a proposal to suspend gas tax collections through Labor Day.

Rodrigues, a Westport Democrat, said that in addition to spooking bond holders there would be no guarantee that big oil companies wouldn’t leave prices where they are and pocket the profit. But that doesn’t seem to be the experience in Connecticut.

Gov. Ned Lamont and the Democrat-controlled Legislature in the Nutmeg State suspended Connecticut’s 25-cent gas tax for three months beginning April 1, and in just the last week average gas prices have fallen 29.6 cents to $4.01, according to AAA.

That’s in comparison to a 6.4 cent decline in Massachusetts, 7 cents in New Hampshire and 7.7 cents in Rhode Island. The average price of a gallon in the Bay State is now $4.18, roughly equivalent to the national average, which has seen a similar 6.8-cent drop over the last week.

If it seems like the moment has passed, the New Hampshire Senate doesn’t think so. It’s getting ready to take up a proposal to suspend the collection of 22.2 cents-per-gallon in taxes for May and June and backfill with its project budget surplus.

MassFiscal Alliance spokesman Paul Craney is hoping there’s still time in Massachusetts as well, with the House’s annual budget debate coming up in just a couple weeks.

“These prices are clearly not going away any time soon. Governor Baker has indicated he’s not opposed to the idea. As legislators move to take up the budget in the coming weeks, they should follow the lead of our neighbors in both liberal and conservative states and move to provide this relief to people that are already being battered by inflation and price increases,” Craney said.

Unionization coalescence

Major Democrats running statewide in 2022 began to align themselves Tuesday with Senate staffers looking to unionize, including at least three of the four sitting senators seeking higher office this year. 

A day after staff organizers announced their intent to unionize with IBEW Local 2222, both Democrats running for governor expressed their solidarity with the movement, as did a number of candidates running for lieutenant governor, auditor and attorney general.

“Maura continues to support the right of workers, including Senate staff, to organize and collectively bargain,” Healey campaign spokeswoman Maria Hardiman said.

“Staffers are the unsung heroes of our work in the Legislature — without them, the State House simply wouldn’t run…It’s time for them to have a seat at the bargaining table to advocate for fair wages, benefits, and dignity in the workplace,” Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz said in a statement.

Staff union organizers said Tuesday they’re still waiting to hear directly from Senate President Karen Spilka about their request to be voluntarily recognized as a bargaining unit, and Spilka has said its under review by Senate counsel.

Even Republican gubernatorial  candidate Geoff Diehl expressed his support for the staffers, though he took it as an opportunity to tweak Democratic leadership: “I completely understand why workers would choose to unionize – and more power to them! This is a consequence of the House Speaker and Senate President closing the Statehouse for two years and being unable to mange the employees under their own roof.”

Diehl’s Republican rival for governor Chris Doughty was harder to pin down, seeming to punt to legislative leaders to handle their own staff. 

“Having managed a large workforce, I know that it is essential to treat your employees well and having an organized and well-established compensation system. Due to it being a different branch, governors have routinely allowed the legislature to manage itself. Clearly, there is a frustration with the Senate employees that should be addressed,” Doughty said.

Democratic lieutenant governor candidates Bret Bero, Sen. Eric Lesser and Rep. Tami Gouveia also said they support staff unionization, while Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll and Sen. Adam Hinds did not respond to requests for comment.

“Our legislative staff deserve fair pay, the right to collectively bargain, and a workplace that gives power to their voices,” Lesser tweeted.

Rooting against hate

Former Harvard basketball team co-captain and current attorney general Maura Healey convened educators and high school athletics officials on Tuesday to discuss how to eliminate racism and hate from the fields and courts of Massachusetts schools. While not a singular incident by any means, the problem was driven home last year when it surfaced that Duxbury High School football players were using anti-Semitic and Holocaust-related terminology to call out plays. Healey shared guidance development by her office that schools can use to put policies and training in place that could potentially stop bullying and hate-speech before it becomes a problem, the State House News Service’s Katie Lannan reports. 

“I’ll be the first to say that sports can be an incredibly powerful tool for bringing people together, for bridging the divide that we see too often in communities…,” Healey said. “We know that through team sports, but in recent months, we have seen an infection of bias and hate make its way into places it should not be — bullying of fellow students, inappropriate hazing of teammates, racist, anti-Semitic graffiti or language directed at peers — and I think it presents us right now with a clear opportunity for us to address this.”

State House News Service

Going big: Warren says her antitrust push goes beyond tech

Big chicken, she’s coming for you, too. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren talks to Sara Morrison of Vox about her latest piece of antitrust legislation and explains why she wants Congress to go beyond targeted tech giants like Facebook to lay the groundwork for blocking future mega-mergers across a host of industries, including fast food.

Vox

I’m sorry your vacation got ruined

JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes was at Logan International Airport on Tuesday to celebrate the launch this summer of a new non-stop flight between Boston and London. But the Boston Globe’s Christopher Muther reports that all anyone wanted to know about were those cancellations.

Hundreds of JetBlue flights out of Logan were cancelled beginning over the weekend, disrupting travel and stranding passengers after severe weather in Florida – where many of JetBlue’s flights are headed – contributed to delays and planes being out of position to keep up with schedules, Muther reports.

 “Obviously we are very incredibly sorry about what happened,” Hayes said.

The Boston Globe

Paying for police misconduct in Springfield

Nearly one-fifth of special fund created in November to help Springfield settle a backlog of police misconduct cases has already been paid out in three settlements, the Springfield Republican’s Patrick Johnson reports. The details of the $877,500 in payouts were shared with city councilors earlier this week, and came from a special $5 million fund created last year by the council for just this purpose. 

One of the cases involved a police officer threatening to plant narcotics on a teen during his arrest to charge him with drug trafficking, while another settlement involved an assault by the front desk officer at police headquarters on a man complaining about a parking ticket, Johnson writes.

A fourth case has gone to arbitration.

MassLive

The Easter bunny needs a home

Looking for a small pet? Maybe a rabbit to surprise the kids during their Easter egg hunt? It’s never going to be cheaper than now. MassLive’s Will Katcher reports that five animal welfare groups will be dropping their adoption fees this weekend to help find homes for the “tremendous uptick” in small animals arriving at their shelters.

Rabbits, guinea pigs, gerbils, birds, mice and other small animals will be available through the Animal Rescue League of Boston, MSPCA-Angell, the Northeast Animal Shelter, the Dakin Humane Society, and the Lowell Humane Society.

MassLive

Separation of Church and statement flags

The Diocese of Worcester and the all-boys Nativity School are at odds over two flags flying on campus that Diocese Bishop Robert McManus wants to see taken down because he thinks they send a message inconsistent with the teachings of the Church. GBH’s Sam Turken writes that Nativity School has been flying the gay pride and Black Lives Matter flags since 2021,  but McManus says the school could lose its Catholic identity if it doesn’t take them down. The school so far is resisting.

GBH News

Dem challenger to Peake steps up

For the first time in 12 years, Rep. Sarah Peake will have an opponent in 2022 and it’s from within her own party. The senior House Democrat and member of Speaker Ron Mariano’s leadership team will face a primary challenge from 30-year-old Jack Stanton, who like Peake is from Provincetown, reports the Cape Cod Times’s Rich Eldred. Stanton is a lobsterman, but this is not his first foray into politics. He previously ran in a different Barnstable County district in 2018, losing to Republican Randy Hunt, and briefly ran for state Senate in 2019. He has also advocated for greater transparency in the Legislature and volunteered on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign. Stanton, according to the CCT, says it’s time for a “fresh perspective and a new vision” for the Outer Cape.

Cape Cod Times

More media eyes on State Houses

The news isn’t all good for believers in State House reporting, good government and transparency. But when you’ve worked in this business long enough you’ll take what you can get. The Pew Research Center reports that the number of reporters assigned to state capitols has actually increased 11 percent since 2014. The bad news? Fewer than half cover state government on a full-time basis, with many reporters parachuting in for particularly newsy stories.

While newspapers have contracted, the Pew Center found in its survey that non-profit journalism organizations are filling the void, as are student journalism programs. The State House press corps on Beacon Hill has certainly hollowed out over the years, but with the proliferation of newsletters like this one, the Boston University State House reporting program and others floating in and out, the trend seems roughly on point. 

Pew counted an increase of 11 reporters at the Massachusetts State House since 2014, and for our purposes here we’ll trust them.

Pew Research Center

Mayors lend voices to immigrant license debate

Big city leaders from Boston to Lynn are joining the push to let undocumented immigrants who can’t prove legal status in the United States obtain drivers licenses if they can provide other documentation to confirm their identity. The House has passed legislation to make this happen, but so far the bill is idling in the Senate where Senate President Karen Spilka says she’s still talking it over with members, despite voicing her own support for the concept in the past. 

GBH’s Adam Reilly writes about municipal lobbying effort that came together through a virtual press conference featuring Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, Lynn Mayor Jared Nicholson, Brockton Mayor Robert Sullivan and others. “In Massachusetts, having access to a vehicle enables you to get to not only employment opportunities, but to maybe start your own business,” Driscoll said.

GBH News

After MGB, what comes next?

After the refusal of the Department of Public Health to support Mass General Brigham’s expansion into the suburbs, the Globe’s Jessica Bartlett begins to explore how that decision could signal a new era of tighter regulation for health care providers in a time of stubbornly high costs. 

“We woke up to a new reality,” said Paul Hattis, senior fellow at the Lown Institute, and a former member of the Public Health Council. Bartlett writes that one project to keep an eye on in the wake of the MGB outcomes is the  $434 million planned expansion of outpatient services at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Boston Globe

North Adams man sentence for Jan. 6 involvement

A North Adams man who part of the mod that entered the Capitol during the Jan. 6 rioting has been sentenced to three years probation by the D.C. District Court, the Berkshire Eagle reports. Brian McCreary said he went to D.C. to demonstrate in support of auditing the 2020 election results, not to take part in an insurrection. A part of his plea deal, McCreary admitted to entering a restricted building, while other charges of disorderly conduct and obstruction of an official proceeding were dropped.

Berkshire Eagle

Workaround: After reservation snafu, UPS eyes barges to islands

A month after saying its ability to deliver packages to Nantucket this summer was in doubt after it failed to secure ferry reservations for its trucks, UPS is seeking approval from the Steamship Authority board to launch a direct barge service from New Bedford, Joshua Balling of the Inquirer & Mirror reports.

Inquirer & Mirror

Money doesn’t necessarily solve addiction treatment debate

Massachusetts and its municipalities will share in the spoils of a settlement with major pharmaceutical companies over the sale and marketing of opioids that will infuse the state with $525 million to fight opioid addiction. But a celebration of the money got somewhat overshadowed Tuesday by the tension between Boston and Quincy over whether a new bridge should be built to a recovery center on Long Island in Boston Harbor.

Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch continues to oppose the construction of a new bridge that would route traffic through his city to access services on Long Island, should they be reestablished there.

“If Long Island is determined the place to use, it’d certainly be more efficient and cost-effective to do it by ferry,” Koch said at the event.

The Boston Globe

Not in those waters

A group of lobsterman thought they had a solution that would allow them to work in an area of the ocean along the South Shore typically shut down for three months of the year to protect endangered right whales. The Division of Marine Fisheries saw it differently, rejecting their proposal whale-safe ropeless traps. The Globe’s Nick Stoico and David Abel have the details.

The Boston Globe

National themes hit home in hotly contested Hamilton-Wenham election

Voters in the Hamilton-Wenham school district go to the polls Thursday to fill three seats on the regional school board – the culmination of what some say is the nastiest local election runup in recent memory. The Salem News’ Dustin Luca reports seven candidates are in the running and that the campaign has featured heated debates over mask-wearing and other divisive issues and a cameo role for the CEO of the Parler right-wing social media platform.

Salem News

Harrington looks beyond her office for message help

Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington has reportedly been paying for outside help to polish her message and image, hiring outside public relations firms to assist with the rollout of programs like her juvenile justice diversion program. New England Public Media’s Nancy Eve Cohen dug into those contracts and what she described as an unusual use of funds for a prosecutor, especially one with such a small budget. Harrington is running for reelection with at least two challengers this year.

New England Public Media

Today’s Headlines

Metro

Sons of Boston bar did not background check bouncer who allegedly killed Marine veteran – Boston Herald

Mass. hotels see uptick in tourism, but leaders warn a full COVID recovery needs more funding – WBUR

Massachusetts

New England Public Media report examines DA Harrington’s use of outside PR firm – Berkshire Eagle

DPH and Mass. Lottery COVID vaccine initiative is expanding ‘the lens of public health’ – Standard-Times

Nation

Biden to take second crack at filling top gun official role – Politico

Mitt Romney’s historic flip on Ketanji Brown Jackson – Washington Post

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