Beacon Hill Roll Call: March 16 to March 20,

Published: 3/25/2020 12:23:20 PM
Modified: 3/25/2020 12:22:59 PM

There were no roll call votes in the House or Senate from March 16 to March 20. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call covers the state government’s actions on COVID-19.

Beacon Hill Roll Call also reports senators’ roll call attendance records for the 2020 session through March 20.

The Senate has held 33 roll call votes so far in 2020. Beacon Hill Roll Call tabulates the number of roll calls on which each senator was present and voting and then calculates that number as a percentage of the total roll call votes held. That percentage is the number referred to as the roll call attendance record.

In the Senate, 34 senators (91.8 percent) have 100 percent roll call attendance records. Only three senators missed any roll calls.

The two senators who missed the most roll calls are Sens. Pat Jehlen, D-Somerville, and Mike Rush, D-West Roxbury, who each missed five roll calls (84.8 percent attendance record).

“On Jan. 16, I was home with the flu,” Jehlen said. “There were five roll calls that I missed (that day). It’s the only session I missed.”

“I was out of state on official orders, training with the U.S. Navy from Jan. 10 to Jan. 19, 2020,” Rush explained.

Sen. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, missed one roll call.

“I was in session participating in the debate on the climate change bill and I don’t remember missing a roll call,” Rodrigues responded.

The percentage listed next to the senator’s name is the percentage of roll call votes for which the senator was present and voting. The number in parentheses represents the number of roll calls that he or she missed.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — 100 percent (0)

Sen. Adam Hinds — 100 percent (0)

Also up on Beacon Hill

The House and Senate met in informal sessions for four days with just a handful of members present to consider legislation related to COVID-19 and mostly other routine, often local, non-controversial proposals. The State House remains closed to the public, and most legislators and staff were working from home.

Gov. Charlie Baker filed several pieces of legislation last week relating to COVID-19. Only one has been approved by the Legislature.

Waive waiting period for unemployment benefits (S 2599)

The House and Senate gave final approval to and Gov. Baker signed into law a bill that would waive the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits to be paid to workers impacted by COVID-19.

“This means that the Department of Unemployment Assistance would be authorized to pay benefits without delay to persons who become unemployed because of lay-offs or business shutdowns taken in response to the virus; because of quarantine orders or directives or illness that prevents them from leaving their homes; or because they must care for a sick or quarantined family member or attend to children who are at home due to school closures,” Baker said in a statement.

Help town governments (H 4572)

The Legislature has taken no action on the governor’s bill that permits the moderator of town meetings to declare a 30-day postponement due to a public health emergency after consulting with the Selectboard; permits a Selectboard to vote to extend the date of Annual Town Meeting beyond the existing statutory cut-off of June 30; permits towns to reduce quorum requirements as a short-term measure to permit communities to conduct their most pressing business with a reduced number of members in attendance; and permits towns that are unable to finalize a budget before the start of the new fiscal year to continue month-to-month spending on essential operations at the same levels as the current fiscal year.

“This legislation is designed to provide flexible solutions for communities across the commonwealth as the challenges of the COVID-19 epidemic disrupt the normal conduct of administering town government,” wrote Gov. Baker. “The bill creates several options for towns to address the immediate problem that COVID-19 and the risks of large, public gatherings present to town meetings that may be scheduled to occur in the coming weeks.”

Make Sept. 14 a legal holiday for marathon (H 4571)

No action has been taken on Baker’s bill that designates Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, the rescheduled date of the Boston Marathon, as a legal statewide holiday. The 124th annual run was scheduled for April 10, 2020, which is Patriots Day, a legal holiday in Massachusetts and Maine.

Prohibit price gouging

Attorney General Maura Healey has filed an emergency regulation to prohibit price gouging of essential products and services during the COVID-19. The regulation prohibits price gouging of goods and services necessary for public health and safety during a declared statewide or national emergency. Prior to this regulation, price gouging was banned only for the sale of gas and petroleum products under the state’s consumer protection law.

“We’ve heard from hospitals and consumers about skyrocketing prices for things like hand sanitizer, face masks and other essential gear needed to prevent the spread of this highly contagious virus and keep our front-line workers safe,” Healey said. “That’s unacceptable and illegal. We issued this emergency regulation because no one should be exploiting this crisis and putting the public at risk.”

Quarantine Assistance Fund

Reps. Smitty Pignatelli, D-Lenox, and John Barrett, D-North Adams, filed a bill that would create the COVID-19 Quarantine Assistance Fund to provide grants to workers who have lost money from not being able to work because of viral infection, quarantines or isolation. No action has been taken yet on the proposal.

“In this time of public health emergency, it is vital that we do all we can to assist those in Massachusetts who are negatively impacted by COVID-19,” Pignatelli said. “Rep. Barrett and I are thankful that the support of this legislation from our colleagues in both the House and Senate sparked productive conversations with the Baker-Polito Administration and that they have taken steps to ensure that those who are financially vulnerable are not left behind. Through measured and appropriate responses, Massachusetts will be able to navigate and see the other side of this public health challenge.”

Executive orders

Gov. Baker and his administration issued several executive orders and regulations that do not need the approval of the Legislature including:

No more than 25 people together: Prohibits groups with more than 25 people from congregating in the same place.

Call up the National Guard: Authorizes activation of up to 2,000 National Guard members across the state who will be tasked with supporting requests from state agencies for equipment, logistics, warehousing and related duties. Local cities, towns and state agencies can submit requests for support through the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA).

Ban dining in at restaurants and bars: Prohibits restaurant, bars and other establishments that offer food or drink from serving food or drink on the premises at least until April 6. These establishments would be allowed to serve food via takeout or delivery.

Close schools: Requires all public and private schools to close until at least April 7.

Close child care programs: Requires all early education centers and family child care providers to close. The Department of Early Education and Care also issued emergency procedures to set forth a process for opening Exempt Emergency Child Care Programs during the outbreak to provide priority access for families of emergency personnel, medical staff and others critical to confronting COVID-19.

Small business loans: Makes small business loans of up to $75,000 with no payments for the first six months. The loans will be made available immediately for any employers with fewer than 50 full- and part-time employees who have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus, including nonprofits.

Delay tax collections from small businesses: Delays tax collection for small businesses in the restaurant and hospitality industries, which will allow businesses that paid less than $150,000 in sales plus meals taxes or sales plus room occupancy taxes in 2019 to defer their current payments until June.

Physician assistants: Allows physician assistants who previously worked on elective surgeries to be used elsewhere in the hospital under a different supervising physician.

Medication for opioid abuse: Allows pharmacists to administer certain medication for the treatment of opioid use disorder. Currently, such medication must be administered by a nurse.

Temporarily suspend redemption of bottle deposits: Suspends temporary enforcement of the requirement that retailers accept beverage containers that have a deposit. The suspension was done at the request of retailers who are overwhelmed by customers purchasing food and household goods. They said they would rather have their employees focus on the massive increase in shoppers. Without the suspension, retailers could be fined and penalized for failure to redeem those containers.

Registry extends licenses: Authorizes the Registry of Motor Vehicles to temporarily extend licenses, permits and other identification cards.

Non-essential surgery: Mandates that hospitals cancel non-essential elective procedures.

Sanitizer: Permits licensed pharmacies to create and sell hand sanitizer over the counter.

Restrict access to assisted living: Restricts visitor access to assisted living facilities.

Restrict access to hospitals: Restricts visitor access to some hospitals.

Telehealth: Expands access to telehealth services — a video chat between a doctor and his or her patients.

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