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Hundreds of Mass. state employee departures in wake of vaccine mandate

Massachusetts State House dome, Beacon Hill, Boston.
Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/joiseyshowaa/
Massachusetts State House dome, Beacon Hill, Boston.

About 500 Massachusetts state employees have been suspended or have resigned following the state's COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

More than 300 state employees are on suspensions, according to State House News Service. And about 150 have hit the road in response to the vaccine mandate, which took effect a couple of weeks ago.

About 2,000 more state employees are still in limbo.

Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us to talk about concerns that the departures could potentially affect state services.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: The administration hasn't expressed any concern yet, but there is a lot of uncertainty.

A number of the employees have already faced disciplinary action. They're on suspension right now. These suspensions are designed to give them time — five days for managers, 10 days for union employees — to give them time to think about it, and to decide to start the vaccination process, to get vaccinated and to return to work.

The rest of these employees, over 2,000, are employees that have sought religious or medical exemptions, and these are still being processed.

It could either be a large number of employees impacted who will move to suspensions or terminations, or decide to leave. Or a number of these exemptions could be granted. And others may ultimately decide to get vaccinated.

So a lot still to shake out from the enforcement of the governor's vaccine mandate. But it's something to watch closely as we try to learn from the administration where in state government these employees work.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: We're awaiting action from Gov. Baker on new maps for state House and Senate districts. These maps are drawn every 10 years with new census data and a lot of haggling. Do you get any indication from the governor's office about what he'll do and when?

Like any other bill, the governor has 10 days to review the maps that the Legislature sent him last week. These were the maps redrawing the 200 districts for the 160 representatives and 40 senators that work at the Statehouse.

The governor has been relatively quiet on this process so far. He has not expressed any concerns about these maps. He hasn't said very much at all about these maps.

But given the fact that these were both approved by strong majorities in both branches, including House and Senate Republicans, it looks as though these could be the final district boundaries.

We also have not heard much at all about objection or potential lawsuits from groups that have worked with lawmakers over the course of the past several months, as these redistricting processes in other states can be fraught with legal challenges. It doesn't appear to be the case here in Massachusetts, so we could see action this week from the governor on these maps as we await the congressional districts and the new districts for Governor's Council.

The House last week advanced a measure to spend some $3.5 billion, much of it from federal COVID-19 relief money. This includes a $500 million program to give bonuses to low-income essential workers who stayed on the job during the pandemic. Have you heard anything about how the state would get that money into the hands of those workers?

A lot of this would come down to implementation. The Legislature said that they would work with the administration if this is finally approved. This goes way beyond the $40 million that the governor proposed in bonus payments for state employees that stayed on the job during the pandemic.

But the governor has said that he is, at first blush, supportive of the idea. This would mostly apply to workers up to 300% of the federal poverty level.

It would depend on how many people end up applying. The bonuses could be anywhere from $500 to $2,000, depending on where people work — and again, if this is a heavily subscribed program or not. So a lot of the details are still to be worked out, but it does look like it has a good shot of surviving in these negotiations as they work towards getting a final ARPA spending package done by Thanksgiving.

Municipal elections are this week in dozens of communities across Massachusetts. There are a half-dozen contested mayoral elections in Westfield, Holyoke, Agawam, Easthampton, Northampton and North Adams. And there's a big one in Boston. Which races are state leaders keeping a close eye on?

Obviously, the race in Boston is consuming a lot of the oxygen, the next leader of the state's capital and the big economic engine for the state.

But there's also a mayoral race in Amesbury, where state Rep. James Kelcourse is running. He is a Republican House lawmaker. Should he win and upset the incumbent, the House Republicans would lose another seat in the House that they would have to try to hang onto, in either a special election or the next election cycle.

Also looking at some incumbents who appear to be in danger in Framingham and also in Gloucester. Along with the ones out west that you mentioned, a lot of good races all over the map.

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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