Baker to Close Early Education, Child Care Centers Monday; State to Open Priority Programs

All early education and child care centers in Massachusetts must close in five days, and the state will instead open emergency child care programs with priority access set aside for workers “critical” to fighting the coronavirus outbreak, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday. Emergency personnel, medical professionals and others on the front line of the response to the pandemic will be placed at the top of the list to get child care coverage from the state-run centers. Officials will also prioritize vulnerable children and will work to make space for employees who do not hold critical roles but cannot get time off from work. Existing child care operations must close by Monday, March 23, and Baker said providers impacted by the mandatory shutdowns will receive their regular subsidies to ensure they can reopen at the end of the state of emergency. Under two public health orders issued Wednesday, the state will relax administrative requirements to allow physician assistants to work on more health care needs, including COVID-19, and allow pharmacists to administer some medications to lessen the burden on nurses.

Gov. Baker Declares State of Emergency as Suspected Coronavirus Cases Double to 92

Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency Tuesday after the number of COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts more than doubled to 92 overnight, joining about a dozen other states with a formal emergency declaration as the coronavirus-caused illness continues to spread in the United States. Baker was originally scheduled to remain on family vacation in Utah until Thursday, but he cut his trip short and returned for a Tuesday press conference where he announced the new numbers, implemented the emergency status, and instructed tens of thousands of executive branch employees to discontinue all work-related travel and work remotely when possible. Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said Massachusetts is at “a critical point in this outbreak,” noting that community spread—in which multiple people in an area are infected, some of whom are unable to trace it back to a sourc—has begun in western Massachusetts. All but one of the cases are presumptive positive and have not yet been confirmed by the federal Centers for Disease Control. Seven are in Berkshire County, one is in Essex County, 41 are in Middlesex County, 22 are in Norfolk County, 20 are in Suffolk County and one is in Worcester County.

Eversource to Buy Columbia Gas Massachusetts for $1.1 Billion; Deal Comes After Guilty Plea

Eversource Energy has reached an agreement to buy the Massachusetts natural gas assets of Columbia Gas for $1.1 billion, a deal announced hours after federal prosecutors ordered Columbia Gas to cease Bay State operations and pay a $53 million fine in connection with organizational failures. Federal prosecutors on Wednesday announced Columbia Gas agreed to plead guilty to federal pipeline safety act violations in connection with the explosions that rocked Lawrence, Andover and North Andover on Sept. 13, 2018, killing one person, injuring 22 others and damaging more than 130 homes and businesses. The deal between Eversource and NiSource, the parent company of Columbia Gas, could more than double the number of natural gas customers Eversource has in Massachusetts, from 300,000 to about 630,000. Columbia Gas currently serves 60 communities in Massachusetts, including the Brockton and Springfield areas.

DiZoglio Bill Promotes Local Business, ‘MassMakers,’ with Web Portal, Holiday Promotion

Sens. Diana DiZoglio and Jason Lewis and Jon Hurst of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts plan to speak at a press conference this afternoon in support of a new DiZoglio proposal to support local businesses. DiZoglio’s bill, known as an Act to Support MassMakers, aims to assist small businesses, in part by establishing a Massachusetts Main Streets Office and a MassMakers web portal. The portal seeksl to assist aspiring start-ups and scale-ups, micro-businesses. Among other things, the bill also requires the governor to annually proclaim the first Friday, Saturday and Sunday following Thanksgiving Day as “Local is the New Black Weekend,” to “promote awareness of the vital role that local businesses play in the economy and general welfare of the Commonwealth throughout the year.”

“Our small businesses are the economic engines of our communities and essential to job creation and growth,” said DiZoglio.

Mass. State Police Add Dozens of Patrols As Distracted Driving Warnings Begin

State Police plan are deploying “dozens of additional patrols” to Massachusetts roadways as a new distracted driving law kicks into effect. Motorists can expect to see troopers more frequently, particularly during busy commuting times, Massachusetts State Police Col. Christopher Mason said at a Thursday press conference highlighting the imminent implementation of the law that Gov. Charlie Baker signed in November. Some cruisers will carry two troopers, allowing one to serve as a “spotter” for motorists who do not comply with the new restrictions on virtually all handheld cellphone use behind the wheel. “Our goal is for you to get home safely to the ones that you care about and the ones that care about you,” Mason said.

Merrimack Valley Rep. Nangle Pleads Not Guilty to Fed Corruption Charges

A Merrimack Valley legislator, Rep. David Nangle of Lowell, plans to fight the more than two dozen federal fraud charges unveiled against him yesterday, and in the meantime, House leaders are not saying how they plan to respond. House Speaker Robert DeLeo said in an afternoon statement that the allegations are “serious and troubling and, if true, represent a significant betrayal of the public trust.” However, he did not say whether Nangle will retain his leadership and committee posts while awaiting trial or whether the House plans to open its own investigation into Nangle’s supposed campaign finance violations and gambling debts. “I was shocked and disappointed to learn of his indictment this morning,” DeLeo said in a statement. “Rep. Nangle has been a friend and colleague for over 20 years. Never once during that time did I have an inkling that he had a gambling problem, much less a gambling problem as extensive as what has been reported today.”

Asked if the House Ethics Committee had launched an inquiry or if Nangle would continue to receive his public salary—$66,257 annually with another $30,000 stipend for serving as second division chair in the House—a DeLeo spokeswoman declined to comment beyond the speaker’s statement.

DiZoglio Lends Support to Bill Providing Undocumented Immigrant Driver’s Licenses

To overcome a veto from Gov. Charlie Baker, supporters of legislation that would make it possible for undocumented immigrants to receive standard driver’s licenses would need to amass two thirds majority support for their bill in both branches. Last week, supporters cleared that threshold at the committee level in the first test of the bill’s strength. After Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Joseph Boncore’s staff declined to release how his committee’s members voted on the bill, or even the total vote, the House chairman, Rep. William Straus, released both the total and the breakdown to the News Service, following a request for the information. The committee approved the bill on a 14-4 vote, with Sen. Diana DiZoglio of Methuen, among those in favor. All four votes against the bill came from Republican lawmakers—Sen. Dean Tran of Fitchburg, and Reps.

Haverhill Mayor Fiorentini Among 20 Mayors Endorsing Sen. Markey Re-Election Bid

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini is wading into the expected Democratic party battle between incumbent Sen. Edward Markey and challenger Congressman Joseph Kennedy III. Fiorentini joined 20 mayors yesterday endorsing Markey in the Sept. 1 Democratic primary. Markey touted his work at the local level across the state and his connections with the mayors and residents and voters. The endorsement comes as little surprise since the mayor invited Markey to participate in his recent inauguration

“As we work to improve the lives of every resident across our Commonwealth, we are grateful to have such a strong partner at the federal level advocating for our communities,” the mayors said in an endorsement letter.