Massachusetts lawmakers scramble to make pandemic protections permanent as state of emergency
Lawmakers are scrambling to make permanent a series of pandemic-era protections – including provisions like take-out cocktails and expanded alfresco dining – that have helped keep small businesses afloat.
Governor Charlie Baker will end the state of emergency on June 15, he said on Monday, as he pledged to “determine if there are things we need to work on with our colleagues from the Legislature to resolve who somehow form part of this basket of orders. “
Legislative leaders have asked the Baker administration for a full list of emergency regulations that will be affected by Monday’s announcements and, in a statement from their offices, said they “look forward to working with the Baker administration. as we seek to provide a seamless transition out of the state of emergency and back to the “new normal”. “
Lawmakers envision the upcoming Senate budget debate as a mechanism for swift passage.
The debate will likely spark some déjà vu for State Senator Diana DiZoglio, who quarreled two months ago with colleagues as they debated for the first time a yet-to-be-passed bill regarding unemployment insurance, in order to help restaurants.
Methuen’s Democrat pushed through provisions to cap fees charged by third-party delivery apps and expand restaurants’ ability to sell take-out cocktails for two years after the state of emergency ended, but was interrupted by colleagues who declared a state of emergency. “Won’t be up anytime soon.”
The bill, which seeks to cut taxes for the unemployed, remove taxes on federal paycheck protection program loans, and freeze the unemployment insurance rate for employers for two years – gets sent back to court the Senate for debate this week, according to State House insiders.
“Businesses are always in survival mode,” DiZoglio said at a morning rally. “To truly recover and not only survive but thrive, they will need to continue to have these opportunities.”
State Senator Nick Collins introduced an amendment to expand the expansion of outdoor dining and give municipalities more control than he called “critical to ensuring robust recovery from the impacts of COVID-19″ .
Baker declared a state of emergency on March 10, 2020. With that, broad executive powers ordered the closure of businesses, the wearing of masks, social distancing and other restrictions that have reigned in almost every facet. of life in the Commonwealth.
Baker’s broad and enduring authority in the pandemic emergency has been called into question by lawmakers and the courts.
Paul Diego Craney, a spokesperson for MassFiscal, said lifting the emergency “could not come a day sooner.” The conservative-leaning MassFiscal has backed a legal battle now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overthrow Baker’s executive power.
Emergency restaurant orders are just a glimpse of the pandemic-era protections.
Another open question among many is what will happen with the open meeting laws. Legislative bodies have largely gone virtual amid the pandemic, a change made possible by the executive decree.
A Department of Utilities moratorium on residential gas, power and water shutdowns ends July 1.
Eviction protections, including changing court procedures and requiring landlords to provide tenants with additional documents, expire 45 days after the emergency ends.
Mandates from the time of the pandemic have already started to make their way to permanence. A massive telehealth bill passed in the last session by lawmakers and enacted earlier this year made permanent access to virtual medical appointments and other reforms enacted by executive order amid the pandemic. But how much patients end up paying remains another open question: Insurers may increase the costs of telehealth visits – now billed at the same price as in person – two years after the emergency expires. The prices of other services may change 90 days after the end of the state of emergency.