House enacts legislation to fund investments in municipal roads and bridges

BOSTON - This week, Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) joined her colleagues in the House to enact a bill authorizing the Commonwealth to borrow $200 million for improvements to municipally-owned roads and bridges dispersed through Chapter 90 grants. These grants reach each of the Commonwealth’s towns and cities directly, continuing the strong tradition of partnership between the state and local communities. 

The Chapter 90 program entitles cities and towns to receive reimbursements on eligible municipal projects. The funds are designated for capital improvement projects- the construction, preservation, or improvement of roads and bridges. This legislation will help ensure that our municipal infrastructure can continue on its path to a state of good repair.

“I’m proud to see the legislature continue to invest in important local infrastructure,” said Representative Meschino. “These funds are critical for every city and town across the Commonwealth.”

The bill also authorized the continued oversight of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) by the Fiscal Management Control Board for another year.

The legislation now returns to the Senate for enactment. 

Legislature Approves Fall Elections Bill

This week, Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) and her colleagues in the House and Senate voted to approve the final conference committee report on a bill to help support safe elections in Massachusetts this Fall. H4820, An Act relative to voting options in response to COVID-19, expands the options for both mail-in voting and early voting in person for the 2020 state primary and general election. It additionally provides for public health safeguards for in-person voting, accessibility to voting options for persons with disabilities, equity in access to polling places, early tabulation of ballots by the clerks, and no-excuse early voting by mail for elections through the end of 2020. This legislation protects voters and the integrity of our democracy by ensuring that all voices in the Commonwealth are heard despite the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19.

“The right to vote is one of our core democratic foundations,” said Representative Meschino. “The legislature established critical steps to ensure that no resident is disenfranchised by the pandemic.”

Per the final bill:

  • All registered voters will receive an application to vote early by mail for this Fall’s primary and general elections. Voters will also be able to apply to vote early by mail through an online portal to be developed by the Secretary of State.
  • Early voting by mailed-in ballots come with a blank envelope for privacy and a self addressed postage pre-paid envelope to be returned by mail, drop box, or in person.
  • Absentee voting will be permitted for all who are taking precautions related to COVID-19.
  • In consultation with the Commission of DPH, the State Secretary will craft emergency regulations requiring public health safeguards for in-person voting, including social distancing of voters and election officers, face coverings and PPE, frequent use of sanitizers, and sanitary use of marking pens.
  • There will be 7 days of in-person early voting before the September 1 primary, and 14 days of in-person early voting before the November 3rd general.
  • Voters will still be able to cast a ballot at the polls on election day. 
  • Early voting by mail will be allowed for any city or town elections held at the same time as the primary or general or on or before December 31, 2020.
  • The bill provides for accessible voting options for persons with disabilities in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and national standards. 
  • Municipalities will be required to evaluate and report any disparate adverse impact on polling place accessibility on the basis of race, national origin, disability, income, or age in order to change a polling location.

The bill now goes to the governor for his signature.

House Passes Bill to Address Racial Inequities in Maternal Health

BOSTON - Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) joined her colleagues in the House this week to pass a bill aimed at eliminating racial inequities in maternal health. An Act to reduce racial inequities in maternal health will create a special legislative commission to make recommendations that reduce or remove the kind of racial inequities that result in women of color dying of pregnancy-related causes at more than double the rate of white women. The commission will gather information and raise awareness of this systemic societal problem, in addition to reporting on barriers to equitable maternal care and best practices for remedying inequities.

“As the legislature considers issues of racial justice, this focus on maternal health will help lift up women of color, for whom the burdens of racial and gender discrimination have shaped inequities in health care,” said Representative Meschino. “The commission created in this bill will put forward life-saving solutions for all mothers across the Commonwealth.”

The 25-member commission will investigate and report on: 

  • Best-practices by other states or grass-roots organizations to reduce or eliminate racial inequities in maternal health or severe maternal morbidity, including, among other approaches, culturally competent and affordable doula services;
  • Accessibility and affordability of birthing centers, maternal medical homes, and doula care and the diversity and cultural competency of maternal health care providers;
  • Barriers to accessing prenatal and postpartum care;
  • How historical and current structural, institutional and individual forms of racism affect maternal mortality as well as potential solutions, such as bias training in hospital facilities and birthing centers;
  • Available data relating to maternal mortality and morbidity.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

House Passes Measure to Provide More than $1 Billion in Federal Reimbursement for COVID-19 Needs

BOSTON – This week, Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) and her colleagues in the House of Representatives passed a supplemental budget to facilitate allocation of federal CARES Act funding to reimburse communities hard-hit by COVID-19.

The spending measure follows the April passage in Congress of the federal CARES Act, which provides federal reimbursement funds for the state to expend on items related to COVID-19. The supplemental budget directs funds to address vital needs including personal protective equipment, field hospitals and contact tracing. 

“The House allocation of federal COVID-19 funds is about more than reimbursing the state and our communities for COVID-19 costs,” said Representative Meschino. “It is about shaping investments in public health initiatives and supporting our front-line workers who keep us healthy and safe throughout the pandemic and beyond.”

The spending bill includes, among other items:

  • $350 Million for personal protective equipment costs across the Commonwealth;
  • $139 Million for increased rate add-ons to congregate care providers;
  • $94 Million for incentive pay for human service employees;
  • $85 Million for field hospitals and shelters;
  • $44 Million for Community Tracing Collaborative;
  • $81.6 Million for child care needs during the pandemic and re-opening;;
  • $500,000 to create an Early Education and Care Public-Private Trust Fund to establish an infrastructure to foster public-private and philanthropic efforts in support of childcare providers.

The bill also establishes Juneteenth Independence Day on June 19th as a state holiday in Massachusetts, marking the day in 1865 when Union general Gordon Granger read federal orders in Galveston, Texas, that all previously enslaved people in Texas were free as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been signed over 2 years prior.

“I want to thank Representative Bud Williams and our colleagues in the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus for their advocacy to make Juneteenth a state holiday,” said Representative Meschino.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

House Passes COVID-19 Elections Bill

BOSTON- On June 4, 2020, Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) joined her colleagues in the legislature to pass legislation to expand voting options in the Commonwealth this Fall, in response to COVID-19. The bill, H.4768 An act relative to voting options in response to COVID-19, takes the necessary precautions to ensure that every Massachusetts resident can exercise their right to vote in the state primary and November general election, while prioritizing public health and safety. 

“The right to vote is one of our core democratic foundations,” said Representative Meschino. “The House established critical steps to ensure that no resident is disenfranchised by the pandemic. ”

The legislation will require the secretary of state to mail all registered voters an application to request a ballot to vote early by mail in the state primary and November general elections this Fall.  Applications with instructions will be mailed by July 15, 2020 for the September primary.  The bill also revises the rules for absentee voting to include any person taking COVID-19-related precautions.  

In addition, the legislation expands in-person early voting for the state primary and the November general election, maintains the ability to vote in-person on election day, and requires the implementation of public health safeguards to maintain proper social distancing and sanitization at polling locations.

An Act relative to voting options in response to COVID-19 also provides for early voting by mail for any city or town election held at the same time as the primary or general election this year. 

Amendments were passed during Thursday’s debate to shorten this year’s voter registration deadline from 20 days to 10 days prior to the election, to provide accommodations for vote-by-mail for persons with disabilities, to evaluate impacts on equity when changing a polling location, and to allow ballots postmarked by election day and received by 5:00 PM on November 6, 2020, to be counted in the general election.

Now the legislation goes to the Senate for consideration.

State Representative Joan Meschino represents the communities of Hingham, Hull, Cohasset, and North Scituate.  Rep. Meschino and her Legislative Aide can be reached at the State House at 617-722-2320 or by email at Joan.Meschino@MAHouse.gov.  To learn more about Rep. Meschino’s constituent services and legislative work, please visit www.JoanMeschino.com.

 

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House Passes Bill to Support Commonwealth’s Restaurants

BOSTON – Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) joined her colleagues in the House this week to pass legislation to provide more tools to the restaurants of Massachusetts in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation entitled An act addressing challenges faced by food and beverage establishments resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic (H.4767) aims to assist a sector that has been hit hard by COVID-19. The measures passed are intended to help restaurants weather the economic crisis in the wake of the pandemic. The package eases outdoor dining restrictions, expands alcohol delivery options to include mixed drinks, extends takeout options to February 2021, waives interest on late meals tax payments and caps the amount that can be charged by a food delivery service.

In 2019, the House created the Restaurant Promotion Commission, which is being repurposed as the Restaurant Recovery Commission. The bill builds on the House’s general focus on restaurants and previous action to permit alcohol delivery with meals as well as its focus on restaurants as an anchor on main streets. 

“The restaurant industry has been hit hard by the pandemic,” said Representative Meschino. “The House put together a bill with innovative measures to alleviate some of the economic strain on our local establishments, while keeping health and safety measures at the forefront of the state’s response.”

The legislation:

  • Streamlines the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) approval process for outdoor seating by replacing the formal approval process with the requirement for restaurants to notify ABCC of the change and to place on file with the ABCC the outdoor seating plan;
  • Provides a municipality with a temporary option to suspend some relevant local zoning laws on outdoor seating if cities and towns wish to do so; 
  • Waives interest and late penalties for restaurants on their meals tax payments until December 2020;
  • Allows restaurants to sell “cocktails to-go” with take-out food until February 2021; and,
  • Caps commissions for on-line restaurant delivery services at 15%. 

The bill will now go to the Senate.

Legislature Passes Bill to Provide Relief and Improve Access to Unemployment Benefits

(BOSTON)- Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature to pass a bill that will provide additional Unemployment Insurance (UI) relief to low-income families, non-profit institutions and employers. 

An Act Providing Additional Support to Those Affected by the Novel Coronavirus Through the Unemployment Insurance System builds on UI legislation already signed into law waiving the one-week waiting period to receive benefits. 

The components of the bill are as follows: 

Protection for Employers. Employers who participate in UI pay contributions based on their layoff experience. Like other forms of insurance, employers that are more likely to have workers use unemployment compensation are asked to pay more in the system. The system does not anticipate a situation where employers across a number of sectors have been forced to significantly reduce their workforces due to situations outside of their control. This bill prevents layoffs related to coronavirus from negatively impacting employer’s future UI contributions. 

Extending Unemployment Benefit Period. The number of weeks of unemployment compensation available in Massachusetts is tied to unemployment rates around the state. This trigger did not anticipate a situation, however, in which unemployment grows rapidly in a very short period of time. This bill ensures that the 30-week benefit period is triggered by a significant uptick in weekly unemployment claims. 

Lifting the Cap on Dependency Allotment. This bill eliminates the 50% cap for the dependency allotment providing additional benefits to low-income families. This increase will be in addition to the $600 per week benefit add-on provided for in the CARES Act for all workers eligible for state or federal benefits. This provision is effective for 18 months after the end of COVID-19 emergency and the end of enhanced federal benefits.

Currently, UI recipients are entitled to an additional $25 per week for each child in the family, capped at 50% of a recipient’s base allotment. The result is that workers with particularly low allotments, such as low wage workers, can easily be capped out of receiving these additional amounts. 

Non-Profit Contribution Grace Period. Presently, many non-profits self-insure for unemployment claims. This means that when layoffs in the sector occur, non-profits pay the cost of those benefits dollar for dollar at the next billing period. This bill provides a 120-day grace period for non-profits to make these contributions. This delay will allow the state to review additional changes that are warranted, to mitigate the impact on non-profits. The CARES Act provides 50% reimbursement for self-insured benefit payments during the COVID-19 crisis. 

The legislation now moves on to the governor for consideration.

House Passes Bond Bill to Strengthen State’s IT Infrastructure

BOSTON – The Massachusetts House of Representatives voted this week to pass legislation authorizing over $1.6 billion in spending for the improvement of information technology equipment and related projects in Massachusetts. Stronger IT infrastructure is critical for the state’s COVID-19 response.

The House voted for the IT financing package – which also contains key funding for food security -- using its remote voting procedures for the COVID-19 emergency.

The plan includes $650 million in IT needs, including $40 million in education grants to public schools to enhance remote learning environments and services. It also:

The capital plan also includes the following:

  • $30 million in municipal grants for proper safety equipment for first responders; 
  • $100 million for capital projects at Health and Human Services facilities to better handle providing amenities throughout the pandemic;
  • $41 million for food infrastructure and security for the most vulnerable populations;
  • $10 million for software/hardware upgrades at community health centers;
  • $5 million for SNAP Gap development.           
  • Grants to cities and towns for a number of needs, including expanded access to broadband, library construction, ADA compliance, and other generic capital needs our municipalities might have.

The bill will now go to the Senate.

House Passes Legislation to Ensure the Fiscal Health of the Commonwealth

BOSTON – During its historic first remote voting formal session today, State Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) along with her colleagues in the House of Representatives passed legislation to authorize necessary state borrowing during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The legislation, An Act to Facilitate the Delay of the Income Tax Filing Deadline, authorizes the State Treasurer to borrow in anticipation of tax receipts by the end of Fiscal Year 2020 and to repay those sums by June 30, 2021. This action is necessary due to the delay in tax revenue as a result of the extended deadlines of income tax filings and payments to July 15, 2020, which were extended because of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The session, which included remote voting, was the first held following the passage of Emergency Rules enabling Members to vote and debate safely in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill will now go to the Senate.

 

5/7/20 Update: The bill has now been passed by the Senate.

Massachusetts Legislature Passes Moratorium on Non-Essential Evictions and Foreclosures Amid COVID-19

BOSTON – On April 17, Representative Joan Meschino and her colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and State Senate passed legislation to provide a critical safety net for renters, homeowners, and small businesses grappling with the economic fallout of the coronavirus public health emergency. 

The bill, H.4647, prohibits all non-essential evictions and foreclosures and provides mortgage borrowers with forbearance options and protects tenants from late fees as well as other protections.  

To address the COVID-19 public health crisis and its adverse impacts on renters, homeowners and small businesses, the bill includes the following components:

  • A moratorium on all stages of the eviction and foreclosure processes for 120 days from the enactment of the legislation or 45 days after the State of Emergency has been lifted, whichever period of time is shorter. 
  • Prohibits all non-essential evictions for residential properties and small businesses.
  • Prohibits residential landlords from terminating tenancy and sending a notice to quit.
  • Halts landlords from issuing late fees and reports to credit agencies for nonpayment of rent, provided that a tenant offers notice and documentation to the landlord within 30 days of the missed rent payment that the non-payment was related to a financial impact from COVID-19.
  • Allows for video or telephone conferencing during the State of Emergency for reverse mortgage loans in lieu of in-person counseling until the State of Emergency order  is lifted.
  • Evictions may proceed during the moratorium for actions that involve allegations of criminal activity or lease violations that are detrimental to public health or public safety. 
  • Requires mortgage lenders to grant a forbearance of up to 180-days on required mortgage payments if the homeowner submits a request demonstrating financial hardship as result of COVID-19.
  • Allows landlords to use a tenant’s last month rent for expenses like mortgages payments and property maintenance, while protecting tenant rights regarding rent paid in advance.

The bill, which is the latest action by the Legislature to address the COVID-19 public health crisis and its effects on Massachusetts, has now been signed into law by the Governor.