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Regional News

It's a new year, but the same big issues remain for statewide leaders in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston.
Jesse Costa
/
WBUR
The Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston.

As was the case for the first year of the current session, Massachusetts lawmakers likely have no choice but to keep COVID-19 a top priority.

And that might translate into legislation before the two-year session comes to an end — and Gov. Charlie Baker winds down his term.

State House News Service reporter Matt Murphy joins us to talk about that and other big items that may get tackled.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: The Legislature's response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic remains to be seen.

We've certainly seen them use a new committee they've established to provide some oversight of the executive's response. We're expecting the committee, led by Chairman Bill Driscoll in the House, and Jo Comerford in the Senate, call in members of the Baker administration who were not able to testify last month — people like Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders — to talk about the administration's ongoing response.

But so far, they have deferred to Gov. Baker and the ability of the executive to act more quickly rather than pursuing legislation to impose things that many actually have expressed desire for, such as a return to mask mandates.

Other things on the immediate term agenda: They will probably look to consider voting legislation in the House, and pick up pieces passed by the Senate, such as same-day voter registration and voting by mail.

House Speaker Mariano and Senate President Spilka have some of their own priorities. The speaker is looking to advance some hospital expansion oversight legislation. The Senate president is making behavioral health a priority.

There is the ongoing issue of sports betting — the "will they or won't they" — with the Senate holding a piece of legislation that the House passed last year, and the governor prodding the Legislature to get this done as other states around Massachusetts have all legalized betting on professional sports.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Massachusetts voters will elect new leadership in November, as Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said they will not run again. What are some policy priorities the pair want to concentrate on as their terms come to a close?

The governor wants to be able to focus, he said, on guiding the state through the rest of the of this year in the COVID-19 pandemic.

In-person schooling remains a big priority for the administration — making sure kids can go to school, do go to school, and can do so safely. He'll be looking to preserve that ability through what we're seeing now as a surge in cases.

We're also expecting, perhaps as soon as this month, the governor to file health care legislation. Last session, he filed a big bill that would have shifted spending in the system to things like primary care and behavioral health. He hasn't said much about what he's looking to do in his health care bill, but we are expecting that.

There are other pieces of legislation he's filed periodically throughout his tenure that he'll be trying to get done now with just one year to go, like safe driving, and making sure cops can enforce anti-drugged driving, anti-marijuana driving laws.

And with 11 months to go, how is that race for governor shaping up?

Now that former state Sen. Ben Downing is out of the race, we are down to just a couple of candidates. All the attention now, especially as the calendar turns and the parties begin gearing up for holding caucuses, is picking delegates to their conventions.

On the Democratic side, people are going to be waiting and looking for a decision from Attorney General Maura Healey. And if she doesn't run, wondering whether former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh will get in this race.

And on the Republican side right now, former Rep. Jeff Diehl has a clear path to the nomination, but there are Republicans still wondering whether there's someone out there — perhaps a business person, perhaps someone with some money who could help self-finance a campaign — who would want to get in and occupy that moderate lane that Baker and Polito left open when they decided not to run again in 2022.

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