As Springfield Masks Up And Cases Rise, Baker Still Wants Locals To 'Own These Decisions'

Sep 13, 2021

After canceling a statewide mask rule last spring, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has said he wants these decisions made locally. One such local mandate took effect Monday in Springfield. 

In recent weeks, we've seen more and more communities institute mask mandates. We've also seen increasing COVID-19 case numbers and lagging vaccination rates.

Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us to discuss whether there’s a tipping point in statewide COVID-19 case numbers and positivity rates — and whether Baker might rethink his plan.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: The governor hasn't set any sort of line in the sand on when he might reconsider mask mandates or any further mask mandates. The governor wants these decisions made locally.

He has indicated and said he believes that locals should own these decisions for themselves, and are better equipped to make these decisions — knowing, for instance, what the infection rates and the situation is on the ground in a city like Springfield or in a city like Boston, which imposed a mask mandate much earlier.

So as it stands right now, the governor is still looking to locals to make these decisions. And as he has throughout this pandemic, he has been unwilling to set clear lines of when a change might trigger a new direction in state policy.

Adam Frenier, NEPM: The pro football season began Sunday. In Massachusetts, residents had to go to New Hampshire or Rhode Island to legally make a bet on the Patriots game, and Connecticut announced online betting could be up and running as soon as next month. Governor Baker tweeted about how much Massachusetts was losing out just before the Patriots game by not having legalized sports gambling. Is there any update on pending legislation in Massachusetts?

We know that the governor is in favor of this. He did use the occasion of the Patriots and the start of the new football season to tweet about this, increasing the pressure.

And this all comes down to the state Senate. The House has already passed a bill this session to legalize sports betting. The Senate is taking a look at it. We know that some leaders in that branch have expressed more openness to considering it this time around, but they have not put a timetable on taking up the bill.

Part of the issue is some concern about how to do this right, and the revenue is not a huge number — well, not insignificant. They're talking upwards of $60 million, in that range — not going to make or break the bank. So the Senate has been a branch that is taking its time, and we're just waiting to see when they might take it up.

It's already clear which statewide ballot questions in Massachusetts are going to get a lot of attention, even though we're about 14 months from voters getting a say. One push by gig economy companies like Uber and Instacart now has a vocal opponent in Senator Elizabeth Warren. How big of a fight is this going to be?

I think it's going to be huge. This, along with the millionaires tax question — probably two of the biggest fights we have on our hands for 2022.

This question about classifying gig work in California as a guide is going to be a massive battle, both on the airwaves and on the ground organizing communities.

Elizabeth Warren coming out last week urging these companies like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash to drop it — that is unlikely to happen. I think we're going to see a lot of spending on this issue on both sides, and it's starting very early.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.