Recap and Analysis of the Week in State Government
BOSTON – Form a line, single line. No chatter. And stay right.
Teachers are used to applying these rules to their students, but when it comes to their own COVID-19 vaccinations, it wasn’t until they broke them that last week did they end up getting exactly what they wanted. they said they were needed to get all the kids safely back to class.
The push to vaccinate teachers has been escalating for weeks, but came to a head after Governor Charlie Baker announced last week that he would seek to bring all students back to in-person learning this school year, starting with elementary school students by April.
House Speaker Ron Mariano had previously said he supported pushing teachers up the priority ladder, and Senate Speaker Karen Spilka joined the cause last Tuesday when she called Baker not only made teachers eligible for the shot this month, but she wanted to see the doses set aside for teachers and school staff as the state’s supply increases.
The real tipping point, however, came later last Tuesday when President Joe Biden called on all states to start vaccinating teachers in March, if they hadn’t already started. He said he would start pushing vaccine doses through the federal pharmacy program to chains like CVS and Walgreens to help make it happen.
The next day, teachers were already scheduling CVS appointments when Baker said they could start scheduling appointments at state-run sites on March 11 this week. But due to the limited supply, he said he would not affect any dose. Because everyone knows what they think about postings.
The administration’s downgrade on teacher immunization has been hailed as a victory by the MTA and other supporters of the idea, but if Baker thought he could buy minimal union support for his comeback plan to learning in person he was wrong. Now he has other groups of workers pushing harder for their turn to come sooner, and teachers are still at his throat.
As Education Commissioner Jeff Riley appeared before the Elementary and Secondary Education Council last Friday seeking the emergency authority he would need to force stranded districts to abandon their models of distance and hybrid learning, MTA President Merrie Najimy warned that letting the state decide when it is safe would create an “extremely chaotic” situation and violate the spirit of local decision-making.
Najimy and the MTA may have won the vaccine battle, but they lost the battle of in-person learning. And the rubber match on the MCAS tests has already started, with the state announcing last Friday that the test will be postponed to May and June, but not canceled.
A new poll released this week by Advantage and funded by the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance found that nearly 47% of Democrats support a blended learning model in their districts, compared to 22% of Republicans, while more than 58 % of GOP voters want to see a return to in-person voting and only 12% of Democrats feel the same.
That same poll found Democrats and Republicans alike view Baker’s handling of the pandemic in the same way, with 43% of Republicans and nearly 41% of Democrats approving his performance, although Republicans are more likely to feel “strongly” one way or the other.
What that means for 2022 remains to be seen, but this poll showed Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito may have some strategies to do if Baker doesn’t run for a third term as she could end up neck and neck with the former State. Representative Geoff Diehl, who followed her by less than two points with 58% undecided in a face-to-face meeting. Meanwhile, Democrats were all in favor of Attorney General Maura Healey if she runs, the poll found.
Speaking of cancellation, anyone who had planned to receive their second dose of Moderna or Pfizer vaccine after March 27, after receiving the first dose at Fenway Park, will now be heading to the less alluring Hynes Convention Center.
While the Red Sox are scheduled to resume training and baseball at Fenway on April 1, Baker and CIC Health are moving the operation to the Back Bay Convention Center to avoid confusion. In addition, said Baker, if the federal government ever manages to provide more vaccines, CIC Health will be able to administer up to 5,000 injections per day in Hynes, compared to 1,500 in Fenway.
Vaccinations will begin in Hynes on March 18 and Fenway will cease to be a health clinic on March 27.
The closure of the Fenway mass vaccination site is a shame for all those people who hoped to associate an “I voted in Fenway” sticker with a “I got vaccinated at Fenway Park” button in their pandemic diaries.
In fact, the very notion of going to a polling station may seem odd by the time the history books on this era are being written.
House Speaker Ron Mariano continued to lead his agenda last week, pushing for an extension of the postal vote until June as the legislature considers whether and how to make the practice permanent. He also announced that the House would soon pass a Child Protection and Foster Care Bill which nearly passed last session, but ultimately failed because the House and Senate were not disagreed on details and were running out of time.
Mariano said the drop in reports of child abuse and neglect to DCF during the pandemic shows that children are falling through the cracks of the system. “The House is unwavering in its position that the children of the Commonwealth of Nations cannot wait,” the president and three of his presidents said in a joint statement.
Wait, that is, the bill tabled by Representative Paul Donato goes through the normal legislative process, which usually includes a hearing before the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Disabilities.
At times, Senate Speaker Karen Spilka has partnered with Mariano’s why-to-wait approach. Like when the two Democratic leaders teamed up to re-pass a climate bill that Baker vetoed in the last session.
But the Senate has slowed the extension of the postal vote this week to accept testimony until early this week, and has not commented on the foster family bill.
Mariano and Spilka appear to be on the same wavelength when it comes to taxes, neither of them currently keen to raise taxes to cover state spending. And why would they do it?
While that always comes with a heavy dose of caution, the Revenue Department reported this week that taxes collected in February shattered expectations by $ 372 million. The state, which has twice improved its estimate of collections in this fiscal year, is now sitting on a healthy pad as it enters the home stretch of the fiscal year with some of the riskiest and most risky months. more profitable for future tax collections.
This good news came days after the House and Senate Ways and Means Committee opened the budget hearing season by inviting the administration and other constitutional officials to testify on the tight budget proposal of 45, Baker’s $ 6 billion for fiscal 2022.
The hearing highlighted several priorities that cannot wait for a budget to be finalized in June or July. One is how the state should approach the taxation of Paycheck Protection Program loans that have been canceled by the federal government and other state clawback grants for small businesses.
The administration estimates that up to $ 175 million in state-level taxes are at stake, and there appears to be support for grant exemption to further help small businesses. Insiders, however, said House and Senate Democrats fear giving too much money to business and are looking for ways to put in place a tax solution and limits to UI increases this this month with new benefits for workers.