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Face Coverings To Pave Way For Massachusetts Reopening

A young girl rides her scooter in Boston Common along Charles Street on March 27.
Jesse Costa
A young girl rides her scooter in Boston Common along Charles Street on March 27.

In many places across Massachusetts, it’s already the norm to wear a mask to the grocery store or pharmacy. This week, it'll be a statewide order, with violators facing a $300 fine.

As recently as last week, Governor Charlie Baker seemed OK with city and town leaders taking the lead on rules for face coverings.

But then he decided the whole state needed masks. As of Wednesday, the statewide order takes effect.

Reporter Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us to talk about the details of the order.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: The governor finally came around and said that no longer did he think it was sufficient for cities and towns [make a] decision of their own.

The advisory that people be wearing masks has been in place since mid-April. It will now become an order from the governor's office effective on Wednesday. The governor said this was in part due to the fact that he thought people needed to prepare, as he was beginning to look at reopening the economy.

Wearing a mask is going to be a part of what he calls the new normal. And a lot of this has to do with making sure customers and employees are wearing [masks] in places like grocery stores and other retail establishments that are open. It also gives businesses the ability to deny a customer entrance or access to their store if they do not wear a mask. So it goes both ways.

There's a panel co-led by Lt. Governor Karyn Polito looking into how to safely open businesses. What do we know about how that panel is going about its work?

This is a group of 17 mostly business leaders, as well as some public officials. The mayor of Lawrence, Dan Rivera, for instance, sits on this, as well as the public health commissioner.

This is an effort being led by the lieutenant governor and the secretary of economic development. And since the governor first appointed them, or announced them, on Tuesday of last week, we understand that they have gotten to work inviting groups of people, interested parties, stakeholders — people like the Retailers Association of Massachusetts have been in before this group to present their recommendations, or what they think would be necessary for them to open.

We also know that the Massachusetts High Tech Council and Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca — who helped the High Tech Council develop a framework with other business leaders for opening the economy and what that might look like — they've also been before this panel to present their findings.

So they're soliciting input right now, and they have until May 18 to develop a plan that the governor will present to the state.

While state leaders are pushing everyone to maintain social distance, it's looking more likely more members of the Massachusetts House are going to have to gather in person to pass rules allowing for remote votes. This is become a partisan fight. Where's the disagreement?

We don't know if the speaker is merely bluffing or if he's serious, but he has started to threaten to call all the Democratic members back to the state Capitol. And it would be quite a spectacle in order to pass a package of rules to allow for remote voting to continue for the rest of this session.

House Democrats and Republicans have been battling over the rules, particularly those around the rules of debate, and how a debate over legislation — both a short-term borrowing bill that they're trying to pass now, as well as other pieces of legislation, like the annual state budget — would proceed, and whether or not lawmakers could be allowed to speak more than once, for instance, or by what time they would have to sign up if they would like to speak on a particular piece of legislation. 

There's a deadline Tuesday for political campaigns to stop collecting signatures and get them turned in, so those candidates can get onto the ballot because of the corona virus. The Supreme Judicial Court reduced the signature requirements and allowed electronic signing. And another ruling will give some relief to supporters of ballot questions. What's the latest?

For the political candidates, they face the May 5 deadline to get half of the normal amount of required signatures submitted to local town clerks for certification.

The ballot campaigns would have another deadline this week for the legislature to act on their proposals. With that looking extremely unlikely to happen this week, they will have to gather another 13,000-plus signatures over the coming weeks.

And the courts allowed them for the first time to really broadly use electronic signatures to reach that goal. But we've seen many of the major candidates reach the threshold. 

This week, we will be watching to see — including if some of the plaintiffs in this case are able to meet their threshold and qualify for the ballot with the new reduced requirement.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.

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.