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Massachusetts House, Senate work to resolve differences in immigrant driver's license bills

Sen. Jamie Eldridge embraces Chrystel Murrieta Ruiz of 32BJ SEIU, a co-chair of the Driving Families Forward coalition, as activists stream out of the Senate Gallery after passage of the driver's license bill at the Statehouse.
Sam Doran
State House News Service
Sen. Jamie Eldridge embraces Chrystel Murrieta Ruiz of 32BJ SEIU, a co-chair of the Driving Families Forward coalition, as activists stream out of the Senate Gallery after passage of the driver's license bill at the Statehouse.

The Massachusetts House and Senate have mapped different routes for undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses. Pitched as a road safety and immigration measure, last week senators roll call voted in the affirmative to pass an expansion of driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. Cheers erupted in the chamber after the passage.

But not so fast, said Matt Murphy of the State House News Service, as the law has not been signed yet.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: It's not a done deal. The House and Senate now have to try to reconcile the two bills that they have each passed. But these bills are very similar, unlike some other pieces of legislation we've seen this session.
Clean energy legislation comes to mind —where the two branches, despite being run by Democrats, took very different approaches to the same issue — this bill is very similar.

It's possible that they could appoint to committee to try and negotiate this, which could take longer. But it's also conceivable they could try to just work this out behind the scenes as fast as possible and iron out what they are describing as technical details in this bill that just need to be cleaned up and made the same before they send it on to Governor Baker. And it should be noted that in both these roll call votes, veto proof majorities in both the House and Senate, despite Governor Baker's objections— should he veto this— it appears that there is ample support in the legislature to pass this, despite an electorate that seems split on the issue. A Boston Globe-Suffolk University poll released about a week ago shows a roughly 47% to 46% split in opposition to the idea of licensing undocumented immigrants.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: If Roe v Wade is overturned, existing state law allows abortions. But there are advocates who say more could be done by the legislature in the event that Massachusetts then becomes a sanctuary for women seeking reproductive health services from states where abortion is illegal. What's Gov. Baker's stance on this?

Well, you saw that Connecticut recently passed, and Governor Ned Lamont just signed, a bill that is designed to shield people that may come into Connecticut seeking abortion services from a state where it may be more restricted right now, from legal action in that state. This was a direct response to the law that passed in Texas, where the Texas governor was allowing people to 'report others' who are getting abortions that were being curtailed in that state.

But, with what looks to be the coming overturning of Roe v Wade, Governor Baker told me last week, and has reiterated since, that he is open to a discussion about a shield law in Massachusetts, should people start coming here. And this could be necessary both to help protect people who are leaving their home states to come here for reproductive health services, but also the Massachusetts providers who may be offering health care to these people from other jurisdictions.

We're also seeing a push for a bill that's already been filed, and is being vetted in committee, to require medication — abortion pills, at that campus university health centers — to make sure that students living here and coming from out of state, at public campuses have access to this kind of care and don't have to travel miles and miles when they may not have a car or a license to drive in Massachusetts to get the reproductive health that they need.

And finally, COVID cases are on the rise, both in western Massachusetts and at the Statehouse. Do senators in-person get to choose to wear masks or must they wear masks? We learned last week that Senators Eric Lesser of Longmeadow and Adam Hinds of Pittsfield both got COVID despite being vaxinated and boosted. What is the feeling from those who are still working in person at the Statehouse?

You mentioned having to wear masks. Obviously, the mask mandate in the Statehouse was dropped. But, after that outbreak, I guess we can call it, in the Senate of several staffers testing positive, later, several senators testing positive (while it's unknown exactly where they got it) Senators who were in the building last week debating were wearing masks in the chamberwhen they were together.

And, I surely think a bit of fatigue is setting in here. The staff I've spoken with, some are happy to be back, at least some of the time, working with their colleagues. But this comes with risks. We've seen those risks with some of the spread in the building.

I should note cases also being reported in the House in recent weeks. They have cropped up as lawmakers have started coming back, staff are coming back to work in these sessions. But per previous requirement, everybody working in the building has basically been vaccinated. So that is sort of, I think, limiting some of the concern.

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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