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Massachusetts Legislature Passes Bills On Housing, Legal Protections For Healthcare Workers

The Massachusetts State House
Jim Levulis

     The Massachusetts legislature, despite not meeting for a formal session in more than a month, has passed several bills in response to the pandemic. 

    Bills have passed to protect people from losing their homes, shield healthcare workers from lawsuits, and provide financial incentives for manufacturers to convert production lines to make personal protective equipment.

          The two State Senators who represent the city of Springfield provided an update Tuesday to the 13 members of the Springfield City Council during a video conference.

      It took weeks to iron out the details and be passed during informal sessions of the House and Senate, when a single objection can halt progress, but a housing bill was signed into law Monday by Gov. Charlie Baker.

     Democratic State Senator James Welch said evictions and foreclosures are blocked for 120 days or until 45 days after the end of the state of emergency.

  " That was very big that we moved that through, " said Welch. "I think that was one of the most important things we can do because it impacts just about every working person who live paycheck-to-paycheck."

    Fellow Democratic State Senator Eric Lesser said the bill will not be the last word from the legislature when it comes to housing issues during the pandemic and economic shutdown.

" I think everybody agrees this is step one of a multi-step process of getting people help," said Lesser. "There is already work on what a phase two, a phase three, a phase four will look like."

  Lesser, who co-chairs the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies said a $10 million fund has been created to encourage manufacturers to make personal protective equipment.

    " By bringing the supply line closer to our community it is making us more self-reliant rather than , frankly, have to rely on help from the (federal government)," said Lesser.

          Welch, who co-chairs the Joint Committee on Financial Services, highlighted legislation that was passed to shield doctors and nurses form lawsuits arising from their care of patients during the pandemic.

    " Why that legislation is important is that it provides protections for people providing health care services outside of a traditional hospital setting," said Welch who observed that field hospitals and testing sites have been set up in the state that are outside physical hospitals.

    Several city councilors urged the Senators to press for more testing for virus in western Massachusetts.  Councilor Sean Curran said there should be universal testing for everyone who works in a long term care facility.

   "Is there a plan ( to test) the nursing home employees every day because they are the ones who would be bringing ( the virus) into the residents who are not mobile?" asked Curran.

   City Councilor Kateri Walsh encouraged the legislators to look at how voting will be done for this year’s election and put in place a vote-by-mail option.

    "One issue near and dear to all of us on this call is voting," said Walsh.

    Until the legislature figures out a way to conduct rollcall votes – either safely in-person, or remotely – there are some limits on what Beacon Hill can accomplish.

    Home rule petitions – bills specific to a municipality – require a roll call vote.  That means a bill authorizing a transfer of parkland where the city of Springfield proposes to build a new elementary school is stalled, according to Welch.

   City Council President Justin Hurst said a teleconference with members of the city’s House delegation will be scheduled for next week.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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