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Baker Administration remains confident as masks go optional in majority of Massachusetts schools

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Schools in Massachusetts are allowed to unmask today, but some are being cautious.

The head of the Massachusetts School Superintendents Association said more than half of school districts are following the governor's lead and dropping the mask requirement. But many schools are also waiting to see how infections shake out in the coming days and weeks.

Matt Murphy of the State House News Service says Baker administration officials are still confident in their decision.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: I don't think anything has changed on that front. We certainly have some schools that had already reached the vaccination threshold of 80% to drop their masks. Others were approaching that and preparing to file waiver requests when the governor dropped the masking mandate in schools.

You've seen places like Boston who have held on to the masks, not just in schools, but also in indoor public places, even as more severe restrictions have been dropped like vaccine mandates — for instance, in Boston — to enter restaurants and other types of businesses.

But the real test now, I think, will come as we come out of school vacation week. There had been concern that maybe the governor should wait a week or two after school vacation week, when some families might have been traveling to make sure that there wasn't another spike, especially in schools, as kids and families return to classrooms and those buildings. The governor did not want to wait. He wanted to let districts and individual schools prepare for what mask-less environments would look like. And now we'll see, as the kids return to the classrooms this morning, what the next couple of weeks will hold.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Speaking of masks, they are still required at the Statehouse. But for the first time in nearly two years, lawmakers opened up the Statehouse to the public. How has that gone and what are the COVID safety measures that are in place?

So far pretty smoothly. But you're right that the Statehouse is now probably one of the strictest COVID environments anywhere in the state. You have to be masked to be in the building. You have to show either proof of vaccination or proof of a recent negative test within the past 24 hours to enter. And that is even if you just want to walk around the hallways, not even if you're trying to meet with a legislator or attend one of the sessions of the House or the Senate.

Opening last week on Tuesday, so far, the building has remained fairly quiet, but there were a small number of tourists who trickled in. Some lobbyists made their way back to the building just to say hi to people, maybe start scheduling some meetings. But so far, so good. Volume has been low and everything has gone smoothly.

Last week was February vacation, so action at the Statehouse was light. But coming up, do you expect action on the governor's push for tax relief? I understand that got some mixed reaction at a recent hearing.

Well, both the House and the Senate have formal sessions scheduled for Thursday of this week. Leaders of neither branch have said what they plan to take up, but there are plenty of issues that have been labeled as priorities.

We know the House, especially in recent weeks, has sent the Senate bills dealing with oversight of the two Massachusetts Soldiers' Homes in Holyoke and Chelsea. There's also the issue of licensing undocumented immigrants or anything else the Senate might want to take up, and the House as well.

Regarding the governor's tax push, some popular proposals are for increased tax breaks for renters, senior citizens and raising the income threshold at which low-income families to begin paying income tax. That all got a pretty welcome reception from lawmakers when he testified last week before the Revenue Committee. Some were concerned, however, about his proposal to increase the threshold that would trigger the estate tax. He also proposed lowering the short-term capital gains tax from 12% to 5%. Some see this as a tax break for the more wealthy in the state and think that now might not be the time for that to take place.

But these tax debates, I think, are going to play out over the next several months as part of the budget discussion. This was filed in tandem by the governor with his FY23 budget proposal. And the Legislature will likely consider this, whether or not they want to break it up or take it as a package as part of their own budget deliberations.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.