Morning Briefs: Assault Weapon Ban Expansion | Tourism Recovery | Poll Probes Worker Status
4/20/21 11:40 AM
- Ban on Assault Weapon Manufacturing Pushed After Mass Shootings
- Admin Invests Millions to Attract Tourists
- Gig Worker Classification Debate Heats Up With New Poll
- Holiday Weekend Brought Vaccination Milestone for Mass.
Ban on Assault Weapon Manufacturing Pushed After Mass Shootings
[Story Developing] Massachusetts has banned the purchase of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines within the state since 2004, but after firearms made in the Bay State have been used in multiple mass shootings elsewhere, a group of lawmakers now wants to prevent them from being built here as well. Several Democrats in the Legislature filed a bill Tuesday (HD 4192) that would prohibit Massachusetts companies such as Smith & Wesson, headquartered in Springfield, from manufacturing weapons and devices covered under the existing ban, exempting those that would be sold to law enforcement, the military or foreign governments. "If we no longer produce and manufacture military-style assault weapons here in Massachusetts and we impact the ability for private citizens to access these weapons, we know there will be fewer mass shootings," said Rep. Marjorie Decker, a Cambridge Democrat and one of the bill's authors. "We know less people will die." Supporters, including the Stop Handgun Violence organization, say three other states -- California, New York and New Jersey -- have a ban on the manufacturing of assault weapons. The legislation would not affect handguns, which are used in a significant majority of gun violence incidents, or any other weapons that are permitted for purchase in Massachusetts. Several lawmakers pushing for the bill describe the fact that companies can manufacture assault weapons in Massachusetts and sell them in other states as a "loophole" in the existing ban. They unveiled their proposal at a virtual press conference alongside parents whose children were killed in mass shootings using weapons built in Massachusetts. "These weapons are made in your state, but they cannot be sold in your state, so in effect, Massachusetts is exporting bloodshed to the rest of your country," said Sandy Phillips, whose daughter was killed in a 2012 mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado. - Chris Lisinski/SHNS
Admin Invests Millions to Attract Tourists
With more and more people becoming vaccinated against COVID-19 and the summer travel season looking like a more realistic possibility, the Baker administration awarded $1.6 million in local tourism grants Tuesday and rolled out a new $2 million grant program that will look for "shovel-ready" projects to enhance tourist destinations across the state. "We want to make sure that what we have to offer continues to be there and we want to support it and grow it and nurture it," Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said during an online announcement event. The $1.6 million in Travel and Tourism Recovery awards went to 59 businesses and tourism associations around Massachusetts, including places like the Boston Museum of Science. Housing and Economic Development Secretary Michael Kennealy also said the administration was launching the $2 million Destination Development Capital Program, which was part of the economic development borrowing bill that passed the Legislature in early January. Both Kennealy and Polito said the new program would supplement the "My Local MA" program created last summer to encourage Massachusetts residents to support local businesses that were trying to rebuild after being shut down early in the pandemic. "This is a way to compliment the marketing dollars we spend every year with capital dollars to help develop our tourism assets around the state," Kennealy said. "We are going to look for shovel-ready projects. We're going to look for projects that will enhance tourism recovery, that will support the My Local campaign and will have the potential long-term to increase visitation from folks outside of Massachusetts." Tourism industry leaders have been calling for the state to dedicate additional resources to marketing and promotion to help Massachusetts businesses and destination communities compete for regional tourists as people start to venture away from home. Kennealy said the state spends about $10 million on tourism marketing each year and "will continue to do that" in addition to these new grant programs. The House Ways and Means budget that will be debated next week included a $5 million boost in funding for "local tourism recovery marketing," according to House leaders. - Matt Murphy/SHNS
Gig Worker Classification Debate Heats Up With New Poll
A coalition of business groups, ride-hailing companies and delivery services is touting significant voter support for legislation that would keep drivers on app-based platforms designated as independent contractors rather than employees. The Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work, which launched last month as companies such as Uber and Lyft target worker classification reforms similar to those they secured in California, published on Tuesday the results of a poll it commissioned finding a majority of voters back a bill (H 1234) filed by Rep. Mark Cusack. The poll of 1,003 voters told participants that a bill before the Legislature would ensure that app-based drivers retain their independence and flexibility. Voters were told the proposal would offer drivers more benefits than they have now, but not as many as they would receive if they were given full employee status. Seventy percent of voters supported the proposal as described by pollsters, compared to 19 percent who opposed it and 11 percent who said they were not sure, according to a copy of the results provided by the coalition. The poll was conducted by Beacon Research from March 18 to March 24. "Poll after poll shows that drivers overwhelmingly want to maintain the flexibility they have to work where and when they want," Conor Yunits, a spokesperson for the coalition, said in a statement. "Now that Massachusetts voters are starting to hear more about this issue, an overwhelming 70% support offering drivers more benefits while ensuring they keep the flexibility they value. We are confident that legislators will listen to Commonwealth workers and residents." The issue is primed for intense debate in Massachusetts, particularly in the wake of California's passage of Proposition 22. Uber, Lyft and DoorDash together spent more than $200 million campaigning for that ballot question, which exempted them from a new state law requiring drivers to be treated as employees. While ride-hailing companies and business groups push to keep drivers as independent contractors, Attorney General Maura Healey is suing Uber and Lyft, alleging that they violate state wage and hour laws by denying employee status. - Chris Lisinski/SHNS
Holiday Weekend Brought Vaccination Milestone for Mass.
About 100,000 people became fully vaccinated between Friday and Sunday, pushing Massachusetts over the 2 million vaccinated mark -- roughly halfway to the state's goal for protecting its population from the coronavirus that's fueled the ongoing global pandemic for more than a year. As access to the vaccine was opened to everyone 16 or older Monday, the Department of Public Health reported that there are now 2,059,487 people who have completed their vaccination regimen in Massachusetts. The state also administered its 5 millionth vaccine dose over the weekend, boosting the total number of shots given here to 5,130,458 since December. During the three-day Patriots' Day weekend, DPH also confirmed 4,195 new cases of COVID-19 and announced 36 deaths caused by confirmed or likely cases of the virus. The coronavirus has now infected 632,707 people in Massachusetts, 17,481 of whom have died. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 and the state's seven-day positivity rate continued their yo-yoing trends over the weekend. Hospitalizations were up by six patients to 705 as of Monday's report and the positive test rate declined about 10 percent over the weekend to 2.04 percent. As Massachusetts passed the milestone of 2 million full vaccinations this weekend, the Baker administration pointed out that the Bay State is now first for first doses administered per capita and for total doses administered per capita among states with at least 5 million residents. At least 85 percent of the state's residents 75 or older have had at least a first dose, better than the national average of 80 percent, and every county has vaccinated at least three-quarters of its 75-plus population. - Colin A. Young/SHNS
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