Friday, July 3, 2020

Senate Passes FY 2020 COVID-19 $1.1B Supplemental Budget

Bill authorizes funding support for emergency child care needs, behavioral health services, small businesses and makes Juneteenth an official state holiday

The Massachusetts State Senate on Thursday passed a $1.1B supplemental budget for Fiscal Year 2020 to support extraordinary costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic that require immediate attention. The spending authorized in this supplemental budget will maximize federal financial support while providing critical resources for our most vulnerable populations.

This bill is the result of strong advocacy by Senators and the Senate’s COVID-19 Working Group and includes funding support for personal protective equipment, emergency child care for essential workers, health care supports for behavioral health services, small business assistance grants, housing and homelessness supports, food security, and direct support for workers impacted by the ongoing public health crisis. In addition to recognizing the health and safety needs of residents, the legislation also establishes Juneteenth as an official state holiday.

“This bill will help the Commonwealth continue to make strides in its fight against COVID-19 as well as support the many sectors impacted by this unprecedented public health crisis,” stated Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “With the Senate actively working on legislation to address racial inequities, I am thrilled this bill takes the historic step of recognizing the importance of Juneteenth – a day celebrating the liberation of the remaining enslaved African Americans – and making it a state holiday. I would like to thank my colleagues for their collaboration and careful attention to this time-sensitive proposal.”

“Due to the unprecedented challenges facing our Commonwealth, this supplemental budget will allow us to maximize federal aid to support COVID-19 response costs and provide critical resources to help working families and our most vulnerable populations,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues, Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways & Means (D-Westport). “The priorities reflected within this budget – funding for personal protective equipment, emergency childcare, addressing growing food insecurity, supporting members of the Massachusetts National Guard mobilized to combat COVID-19, and providing supports for small businesses and workers impacted by this pandemic – are representative of the incredible

advocacy of the members of the Senate and the leadership of Senate President Spilka to address the urgent and most pressing issues facing our communities during this time of great uncertainty.”

“Every person in our Commonwealth has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has created a public health emergency, an economic disaster, and the need for strong and effective responses by our state government,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R - Gloucester). “This supplemental spending bill provides the resources for the actions we must take and does so in a way that maximizes our chances for federal assistance.”

To support working families during this uncertain economic time and provide health care supports in the midst of this public health crisis, the supplemental budget passed today by the Senate includes $82M for childcare needs, including emergency child care for essential workers, $15M for essential behavioral health services, including services for children, $10M for small business assistance grants, focused on minority, women and veteran-owned businesses in underserved areas and $10M to provide wage supports to workers impacted by COVID-19.

In response to growing food insecurity challenges during this pandemic, the supplemental budget provides an immediate state allocation of $15M for food security supports, including $9M for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program to support our overstretched food bank system during this time of incredible need.

Through the amendment process, the Senate also established a $500 bonus for members of the Massachusetts National Guard who were mobilized to combat COVID-19, included increase funding to assist with coronavirus mitigation efforts at summer camps and youth programs, and create an Early Education and Child Care Public-Private Trust Fund to help inform and support child care needs across the state.

Other notable spending highlights of the FY 2020 COVID-19 supplemental budget include:
· $350M for personal protective equipment.
· $139M for rate add-ons for congregate care and other health and human service providers.
· $85M for field hospitals and shelters.
· $44M for the Community Tracing Collaborative.
· $30M for community health centers.
· $28M for local housing authorities and family and individual shelter services.
· $20M for expanded RAFT coverage for families on the brink of homelessness.
· $20M focused on racial disparities in the health care system during the pandemic.
· $15M for elder affairs services and home care workforce wage supports.
· $12.3M for early intervention services.
· $10M for grants to community foundations serving low-income and immigrant populations with direct supports like housing assistance and food security supports.
· $5M for increased costs related to the recent conference report on expanded vote-by-mail measures for the 2020 election cycle.
· $2M to provide financial assistance to small non-profits impacted by COVID-19.

The supplemental budget also establishes Juneteenth as an official state holiday. Juneteenth is a celebration of the day in 1865 when the remaining enslaved African Americans in the United States were told of their freedom under the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Senate and Massachusetts House of Representatives will now work to reconcile outstanding differences between the supplemental budgets passed in each chamber.

Read more...

Massachusetts Legislature Passes Critical Legislation to Safeguard Fall 2020 Elections

The Massachusetts Legislature today passed a bill that expands voter access and ensures voters have safe voting options for all remaining 2020 elections, including the September 1, 2020 state primary and November 3, 2020 general election, in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. An Act relative to voting options in response to COVID-19now moves to the governor’s desk.

The legislation, for the first time in state history, would establish a vote-by-mail option and early voting period for the upcoming fall elections. In addition to those options, the bill also addresses polling place safety for those who choose to cast their ballots in person.

“The pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives, but a person’s ability to exercise their fundamental right to vote and chose their government should not be one of them,” stated Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland).“While we continue to grapple with the ongoing pandemic, the elections bill passed today takes a historic step by allowing voters to cast their ballots by mail, vote early or to safely do so in person on election day. I am proud of the path we have charted with this bill as the Senate has always championed greater participation in our democracy. I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to our clerks, election officials and poll workers across our state for ensuring the integrity of our elections and their commitment to democracy. I would also like to thank all who have collaborated on this urgent matter including my colleagues, Senators Finegold, Creem and Rodrigues as well as House Speaker DeLeo and his members for their hard work in advancing this bill.”

“Voting and public health don’t need to conflict. The bill passed by the Legislature gives voters concerned about COVID-19 a number of choices on how they want to perform their civic duty of voting,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “I thank the Senate President, Leader Moran, Chairs Michlewitz and Lawn, Senator Finegold and my colleagues in the Legislature in passing this bill.”

“Our electoral process must have the resiliency to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic without pitting voter participation against public health,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). “This bill responds to that need with important tools to meet the task at hand, choosing our elected officials.”

“Given the continued uncertainty surrounding the novel coronavirus, it’s important that Massachusetts residents be given multiple options to safely exercise their right to vote and make sure their voice is heard,” said House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading). “This legislation allows individuals to choose the voting method they feel most comfortable with so they can take steps to ensure their personal health and safety is not compromised.”

The components of the bill are as follows:
Implements an early vote-by-mail system: An application to receive an early voting ballot for the primary will be mailed to all registered voters by July 15, 2020. The Secretary will then mail another application for the general election by September 14, 2020. Both applications and ballots will have postage costs already paid for. Ballots postmarked on or before November 3, 2020 will be counted until Friday, November 6, 2020 at 5.PM. Applications for early voting and absentee voting must be received 4 business days before the election, by Wednesday August 26 2020 (for the primary) and Wednesday Oct. 28 2020.
Creates early voting for the primary and expands early voting periods:For the first time in Massachusetts, early voting will be available for the state primary, and will take place from Saturday, August 22, 2020 through Friday, August 28, 2020. Early voting for the general election is scheduled to take place from Tuesday, October 17, 2020 to Friday, October 30, 2020.

Makes in-person voting safer and more efficient:The bill allows municipalities, with proper notice, to consolidate polling places and eliminate the check-out table at these locations, allowing for a more efficient process and fewer poll workers. It also expands who is eligible to serve as a poll worker, knowing that many current volunteers are seniors who may feel less comfortable working in public during COVID-19.

Provides tools to assist clerks:Acknowledging the increased burden these options may place on municipalities and clerks, the bill also provides for several accommodations to make the logistics of processing votes easier. The legislation allows for tabulating ballots prior to election day, and it offers pre-addressed envelopes to voters, so their applications go directly to their clerk’s office.

Tasks the Secretary of State with creating an online portal and promoting voting options: To make it as easy as possible for people to apply for general election early voting, the bill requires Secretary Galvin’s office to create an online portal not later than October 1, 2020. Electronic applications for early voting will be available for the general election, and if feasible, for the primary election.

The bill also requires the Secretary of State to conduct a public awareness campaign to inform and notify voters of the many options available to cast a vote in upcoming 2020 elections.

The legislation now moves on to the governor for consideration.

Read more...

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Senate Session for July 2

Coming up in the 11 o'clock hour will be a live broadcast of the Senate's formal session. We anticipate several important bills being debated and voted on - engrossment of S2789, the COVID-19 supplemental budget, and S2790, a general government bond bill. In addition, the Senate is expected to enact H4830, the municipal road and bridge funding program known as Chapter 90. Senators will also consider giving final approval to the elections bill conference report.

You  can watch the session live on my Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/SenatorBruceTarr

Read more...

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

We are now halfway through 2020 and the state's Department of Public Health reported no new Covid-19 deaths yesterday. The safeguards that each and every one of us have all worked so hard to shape and adhere to have had a real impact on controlling what would have been a wider spread of this highly contagious virus. 


Read more...

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Pursuing Safety for Men and Women in Commercial Fishing

Here is the text of a letter that I sent to the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Dear Under Secretary Jacobs, Mr. Pentony, and Dr. Hare:

The current waiver from the requirement of At Sea Monitoring (ASM) in the Northeast groundfishery is a critically important safeguard not only for the health and safety of those engaged in this fishery, but also for preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and should not be ended as our nation continues to confront devastating impacts of this disease. Accordingly, I write to join with Congressmen Moulton and Congressman Keating and the Massachusetts Fishing Partnership to request that you extend this waiver and the essential health protections that it provides.

Clearly the men and women engaged in commercial fishing are at significant and cognizable risk from infection from COVID-19 due to the inherent conditions of their working environment at sea, which requires them to be close to each other in confined wheelhouses and crew spaces, and working in close proximity to each other on decks to haul and tend gear, sort and stow fish, and maintain and repair the equipment necessary to the operation of a fishing vessel. Because of these known conditions that are conducive to the spread of COVID-19, these harvesters have taken substantial steps to protect themselves from that threat, and they continue to do so. They should not now be forced to contend with the new and serious threat to their health posed by the imposition on board vessels of observers, who have not been part of those efforts and could well become agents and victims of viral transmission as they move between vessels in the groundfish fleet. While the data collected by these observers is neither irrelevant nor without some value, these attributes are not outweighed by the clear health threat to themselves, vessel crews, and the public posed by requiring ASM at this time.

Our nation continues to witness and experience the tragic loss of life, human suffering, and economic devastation from the COVID-19 virus, and across the country rates of transmission in many states are rising sharply, demonstrating the importance of taking and continuing practical steps to prevent or mitigate that transmission. Extending the waiver from ASM is one of those steps, and one that should continue in the face of the ongoing threat we must confront effectively.

Thank you for your attention to this request, and please do not hesitate to contact me if I may be of further assistance.


Read more...

Baker-Polito Administration Announces Updated Travel Guidelines to Support COVID-19 Response

Today, the Baker-Polito Administration announced new COVID-19 public health guidelines on travel and transportation. Effective Wednesday, July 1, all travelers arriving to Massachusetts, including residents returning home, are instructed to self-quarantine for 14-days. This guidance does not apply to travelers from Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, New York or New Jersey. Additionally, workers designated by the federal government as essential critical infrastructure workers are also exempt from this directive.

Travelers who are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 are instructed to not travel to Massachusetts. All visitors and residents of Massachusetts are also reminded that the use of masks or face coverings in public places where individuals cannot socially distance from others remains required.

Read more...

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Drought Conditions in Several Regions of Massachusetts

Low precipitation since May and recent above normal temperatures have led to drying conditions across the Commonwealth and steep declines in streamflow in several regions. As a result, Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Kathleen Theoharides declared a Level 2 – Significant Drought in the Northeast, Connecticut River Valley, Western, and Central regions.

At Level 2 – Significant Drought, as outlined in the Massachusetts Drought Management Plan, conditions are becoming significantly dry and warrant detailed monitoring of drought conditions, close coordination among state and federal agencies, emphasis on water conservation, more stringent watering restrictions, and technical outreach and assistance for the affected municipalities.

“The Baker-Polito Administration continues to closely monitor the very dry conditions, and this drought declaration is an important tool which will help officials on all levels of government to work together to address the drought,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides. “While the dry conditions continue and as we enter the summer months, we ask residents and businesses to aggressively conserve water and take increased care with any outdoor burning.”

Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Director Samantha Phillips stated, “Because of the increased threat of brush and wildland fires due to the dry conditions, the public is urged to exercise caution when using charcoal grills, matches, and other open flames during outdoor activities and to call 911 immediately if there is a fire to prevent the fire from spreading.”

For Regions in Level 2 – Significant Drought
Residents and Businesses:
Minimize overall water use;
Limit outdoor watering to hand-held hoses or watering cans, to be used only after 5 p.m. or before 9 a.m. one day a week.

Immediate Steps for Communities:

Adopt and implement the state’s nonessential outdoor water use restrictions for drought.

Limit or prohibit installation of new sod, seeding, and/or landscaping; watering during or within 48 hours after measurable rainfall; washing of hard surfaces (sidewalks, patios, driveways, siding); personal vehicle or boat washing; operation of non-recirculating fountains; filling of swimming pools, hot tubs, and backyard informal rinks.

Implement drought surcharge or seasonal water rates.
Establish water-use reduction targets for all water users and identify top water users and conduct targeted outreach to help curb their use.
Short- and Medium-Term Steps for Communities:
Establish a year-round water conservation program that includes public education and communication;
Provide timely information to local residents and businesses;
Check emergency inter-connections for water supply; and
Develop a local drought management plan.


Read more...