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Advances - Week of March 7

Next Wednesday marks one year of living under a state of emergency in Massachusetts. While dealing with the disruption and heartbreak wrought by COVID-19 over that time, the state's taxpayers have simultaneously been doing their part to keep the economy moving and as a result have delivered hundreds of millions of dollars in unbudgeted cash in the form of over-benchmark tax collections. And now, as more people become vaccinated each day, Congress appears poised to pass yet another COVID-19 relief/economic stimulus bill, this one totaling $1.9 trillion, which will add further economic fuel to states as they pursue their new normals. The president's American Rescue Plan Act contains $4.5 billion in aid for state government in Massachusetts, a massive influx of money that will go a long way toward funding relief and economic recovery efforts and perhaps enable the state to limit the deep raid on its savings account necessitated by the crisis. There's a push on to get a bill signed into law by mid-March. And there could be even more aid coming from Washington as President Joe Biden tries to steer Congress toward passing a massive infrastructure bill that could have major ramifications here given the level of need. White House press secretary Jen Psaki this week called an infrastructure bill "imperative and long overdue." On Beacon Hill, the House and Senate next week are focused on extending voting reforms to cover the spring's municipal elections, accepting testimony on an annual local road and bridge repair funding bill, and advancing, in the House at least, legislation to safeguard children from abuse and neglect.

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Uncaptioned image for story:Board of Ed Gives Riley Authority Over Learning Models

Board of Ed Gives Riley Authority Over Learning Models

An 8-3 vote by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Friday afternoon cleared the way for the state's education commissioner to eventually take remote and hybrid learning models off the table for local school districts.

Gov. Charlie Baker waves to a line of students Wednesday during a visit to Gloucester's West Parish School, where pupils have been learning in person for more than 100 days. [Nancy Lane/Boston Herald/Pool]

Weekly Roundup - Go to the Head of the Class

Form a line, single file. No talking. And stay to the right.

State House Takeout Podcast

Muni Matters: 2020 Election Costs | Benefits of Zoom | Keep It Civil

MCAS Testing Will Be Delayed This Spring

State education officials on Friday updated their planned MCAS testing schedule, pushing back exam dates for students in grades three through eight.

Tewksbury Representative Agrees to Fine Over Campaign Finance Errors

Tewksbury Rep. David Robertson will pay a $2,000 fine for spending undisclosed personal funds on his 2020 re-election campaign, regulators announced Friday.

Like Mariano, Spilka Downplays Outlook for New Taxes

Senate President Karen Spilka said Thursday she is not planning on raising taxes this session but left open the possibility of increases if the pandemic persists and worsens.

Muni Matters: With New Law in Place, Police Reform Conversations Continue at Local Level

More than two months after Gov. Charlie Baker signed a police reform law inspired by nationwide and local protests over the police killing of George Floyd, conversations on many of the same issues contemplated in that sweeping legislation are happening on the municipal level.

Baker in Florida After Death in Family

Gov. Charlie Baker traveled to Florida on Thursday night to join his wife, First Lady Lauren Baker, after a death in the family, according to his office.

House Poised to Restart Push on Child Protection Bill

Calling the drop during the pandemic in reports of suspected child abuse a "troubling" sign, House Speaker Ron Mariano said Thursday he would move a bill to the floor soon that would implement new protections for foster parents and impose new reporting requirements on the Department of Children and Families.

Uncaptioned image for story:Mariano Expects Climate Bill Won't Change Much

Mariano Expects Climate Bill Won’t Change Much

Almost a month after Gov. Charlie Baker returned sweeping climate legislation to lawmakers with a series of recommended amendments, House Speaker Ronald Mariano said he's willing to work with the governor on some technical changes but will "not back down on our ambitious emissions reduction targets."

State Launching ID Verification Process For Some UI Claims

Facing what it calls a "continued surge of fraudulent claim attempts," the state Department of Unemployment Assistance announced a new identity verification process Thursday aimed at speeding up payments to claimants.

Uncaptioned image for story:Mass Vaccination Site Shifting From Fenway to The Hynes

Mass Vaccination Site Shifting From Fenway to The Hynes

As Fenway Park prepares to welcome back players, coaches and a limited number of fans next month for the start of the new baseball season, the home of the Red Sox will be saying goodbye to the patients who have been churning through the turnstiles of the iconic ballpark since early February for more than peanuts and Cracker Jacks.

Senate Pauses Mail-In Voting Push to Take Public Input

A fast-tracked push to extend mail-in voting and early in-person voting for springtime elections in Massachusetts, and extend flexibility for cities and towns to re-schedule municipal elections, is taking a short breather so the public can weigh in.

House Session Summary - Thursday, March 4

The House sent legislation to House Ways and Means on Thursday creating a bill of rights for foster parents and new reporting requirements for the Department of Children and Families. The legislation (H 87), sponsored by Reps. Paul Donato and Bills in Third Reading Chairwoman Denise Garlick, passed both branches last session but stalled out in the Senate when the branches could not agree on a consensus version.

Henry De Groot, executive director of Boston Independent Drivers Guild (Far Right), holds a sign that reads "Rep. Cusack + Rep. Gonzalez, Uber's Favorite Union Busters." [Chris Van Buskirk/SHNS]

Independent Drivers' Group Seeks $20 an Hour Minimum Wage

Representatives of a group representing around 800 rideshare drivers gathered outside the State House Thursday afternoon in support of legislation (SD 2359) that would set a minimum wage of $20 an hour for drivers and codify the right to unionize.

Senate Session Summary - Thursday, March 4

The bulk of the action in the Senate Thursday was around setting borrowing terms under the new transportation infrastructure and economic development bond laws. The bulk of the conversation was about voting by mail. Legislation to extend mail-in voting through June was tacitly referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, after which Chairman Michael Rodrigues announced during the session that his panel would accept written testimony until Monday at 10 a.m.

Half of State Workforce Could Stay Remote After Pandemic

The Baker administration has been quietly planning for a permanent "hybrid" work model for as much as half of the state workforce, and over the course of 2021 will be redesigning office space and equipping employees with the technology they need to be able to continue to work remotely after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coalition: State Benefits Stuck in “Deep Poverty” Range

A coalition that has had recent success advocating for the expansion of state welfare programs to help low-income parents is kicking off its latest campaign Thursday, this time to boost benefits to some of the state's poorest families.

Pandemic Triggered Biopharma Bounce in 2020

The Massachusetts biopharma industry had its best funding year on record in 2020, when venture capital investment in Bay State-based companies hit $5.8 billion, according to a report out Wednesday.