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Massachusetts' New Lawmaking Session Overshadowed By Insurrection At U.S. Capitol

A photograph of the exterior of the Massachusetts State House taken on September 21, 2013.
Noah B Kaplan
Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/noahkaplan
A photograph of the exterior of the Massachusetts State House taken on September 21, 2013.

While the U.S. Capitol was being stormed last week, state lawmakers in Massachusetts took their oaths beginning a new legislative session.

Massachusetts Republican Party Chairman Jim Lyons, a big supporter of President Trump, condemned the storming of the Capitol. In a statement last week, Lyons said the breach is completely indefensible under any circumstance.

Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us to talk about how lawmakers and aides reacted, and whether they were rattled by what was happening on Capitol Hill.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: As you might expect, we saw Republican lawmakers on Beacon Hill condemning what we saw and witnessed at the Capitol — the rioting and the mob, the violence.

Whether or not legislators were more ideologically aligned with someone like Jim Lyons and the party apparatus, or someone like Charlie Baker — who very forcefully condemned both President Trump and the actions at the Capitol — I think there was unanimity in that of what transpired in Washington was unacceptable.

Now we know that they took a look at security around the Statehouse. But a lot of lawmakers are not in the building of these days. There have not been any big formal sessions. Most of the people — lawmakers, staff — aren't coming in and out on a daily basis like you might expect.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: What are the Massachusetts House and Senate tackling first?

We still don't know. But I think one thing to look for — something that started moving in that final day of formal session for the previous legislature on Tuesday, that session that went into the wee hours of the morning — was an unemployment insurance rate freeze bill that would have restricted and limited the size of what could be very large increases in unemployment insurance premiums for small businesses, and employers, due to the high unemployment over the past year.

This legislation is a bill that the governor filed. It started moving out of committee. It didn't get quite over the finish line. And it could well be something that the legislature takes up very early in this new session.

Senate President Karen Spilka was also flagging a paid leave bill that she would like to tackle early on, something that would give workers extra time off to deal with COVID, if that's necessary, for themselves or their families. We don't know exactly what that would look like just yet, but in her opening remarks to the legislature and to the Senate, she said that is something she wants to tackle right out of the gate.

In https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMU3TkBO7wQ" target="_blank">a TV interview widely circulated on social media, new House Speaker Ron Mariano told a reporter he has no idea how the coronavirus vaccine rollout is going in the state. Asked if he would look into it, the three-decade veteran of the legislature replied he just got here. Has this video shaken confidence among lawmakers in their new leader?

It's certainly got people's attention. He faced a lot of criticism, both in editorial pages and from some progressive groups, for how tone-deaf that comment sounded by his office after that interview came out, saying that what the speaker meant was that he has not had a chance in his new capacity to talk to the governor, and really get an assessment for how the vaccine rollout is going. He did, of course, sit on the governor's vaccine distribution task force.

And I think you saw the speaker try to speak to this in his inaugural address to the House chamber on Wednesday, after he was reelected as speaker, talking about partnering with the state and with the administration to make sure that vaccine distribution is smooth and equitable as a top priority, speaking directly to what had been a big source of criticism.

I think people are willing to chalk it up to an interview. The vote was fairly strong and supportive of Speaker Mariano again for reelection. And I think right now, members seem to be willing to give him some time to settle into this new, much more public-facing role than he's used to as majority leader.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.

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