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Mass. Lawmakers' Continued Session 'Could Prolong A Deal' On Complex Issues

The Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston.
William Zhang
Creative Commons
The Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston.

Goodbye, Massachusetts Joint Rule 12A — and hello, months of drawn-out negotiations in the state legislature. 

Massachusetts lawmakers have now given themselves a whole lot of leeway from their traditional July 31 legislative end of formal sessions.

Reporter Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us to weigh in on the week ahead. He says that without a deadline hanging over their heads, it might be hard for lawmakers to negotiate final deals on some complicated issues — like police accountability. 

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: There's no doubt that on things like policing, for instance, there is a shared commitment, and desire to get this done. There is also a lot of public pressure on them to resolve this.

But once you remove a deadline like that, it can often serve to facilitate these kind of deals at the end of session.

This open-endedness gives them time to sort of walk away from the table, take their time, to negotiate some of these differences over things like qualified immunity, or how to structure a new licensing agency for police, and what sort of things would warrant decertifying police.

Without forcing them to sit down at the table and resolve that, if these things get heated and these issues are very complex, there is that kind of escape hatch that could prolong a deal.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: What about the budget? A bill funding the state through the end of October was passed. What was the rationale for that, with the need now for a new budget bill right before the November election?

I think they felt that they just did not have enough information to put together a fiscal 2021 budget right now, and they weren't going to be getting it any time soon.

For starters, in a big piece of business, they're waiting to see how Congress resolves their negotiations over a new federal relief package that may or may not deliver significant funding for states like Massachusetts that would really alleviate their budget gap.

But three months is a considerable amount of time. We've heard from Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues that they hope to have that full-year budget in place in October. But I've talked to budget analysts and people who have worked on Beacon Hill for a long time, and no one is ruling out the idea that they push this off again, maybe extend it until after the elections.

I think the idea, if they were to be forced to implement deep cuts, or even raise taxes to generate new revenue — if things don't improve markedly, no one's going to want to do that before voters go to the polls on November 3.

Over the weekend, Governor Charlie Baker's $500 daily fine kicked in for individuals traveling into the state who failed to comply with that mandatory 14-day quarantine. The Massachusetts positive coronavirus test rate remains below most other states at this point, but it's creeping up. Do we have a sense about whether Baker could soon reverse some of the economic opening?

Yeah, it is a real concern. Over the weekend, we saw the number of new cases being reported climbing. The positive test rate has inched up to 2.2%, which back in April would have been great. But right now, when  the state was down around 1.7%, it's a worrisome sign.

The question is: What's driving this? The governor has suggested people relaxing on their vacations, relaxing on things like wearing a mask and social distancing, having these large parties is to blame. And if that is the case, then these travel restrictions and business openings would probably be allowed to continue if they're not contributing to the spread.

The governor suggested last week he may revisit some of the state's guidance around gathering sizes — 25 people indoors, 100 people outdoors. Maybe he pulls back on those.

But if some of these outbreaks and clusters are linked to businesses and certain other activities — gyms, anything of that nature — I think you could see some consideration given to rolling back some of the opening.

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.
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