Massachusetts Steps Back Reopening Plan; Restaurant Parties Drop to Six Sunday

Massachusetts is moving a step backwards in its reopening plan. Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday the state will lower the maximum size for outdoor gatherings and close some indoor recreational businesses and performance venues. “The rate Massachusetts residents are getting infected and the rate at which they are needing medical care, if all continues to move at this pace, is simply not sustainable over time, and our health care system will be put at risk,” Baker said. Baker said capacity limits will also be reduced to 40 percent for “pretty much everything else,” including gyms, libraries, museums, retail stores, houses of worship and movie theaters. The changes take effect Sunday.

State Curtails Elective Surgeries, Expands COVID-19 Testing Sites; Baker Blames Risky Behavior

With Thanksgiving celebrations being blamed for the “rapid increase” in COVID-19 infections over the past week, Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday announced an expansion of free testing and said hospitals beginning Friday would “curtail” inpatient elective procedures that can be safely postponed to free up bed space and staff. Baker also said his administration is studying the post-holiday data to determine whether additional restrictions are necessary to stop the spread of the virus and take some of the pressure off hospitals. Baker said, “every option is on the table” if infections and hospitalizations continue to rise, but said he'd have more to say on further restrictions “soon.”

As of Sunday, 1,416 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, including 298 in intensive care units. Statewide, hospitals were operating at 68 percent of capacity, with 39 percent of all ICU beds still available. Baker said, “Massachusetts is now experiencing a rapid increase in new positive cases in the wake of Thanksgiving, and in turn the number of people becoming ill and needing hospitalization is also increasing,”

Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said the curtailment of elective procedures will be limited to inpatient treatments and procedures, and not outpatient surgeries or appointments for preventative services like mammograms, colonoscopies or regular pediatric checkups.

Updated: DiZoglio One of 12 Senators to Oppose Compromise Policing Reform Bill; Criticizes Timing

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Sen. Diana DiZoglio was one of 12 state senators to vote against accepting a conference committee compromise on police reforms in the Commonwealth. The bill is on its way to Gov. Charlie Baker for his consideration after the bill cleared the Senate by a 28-12 vote, and the House, 92-67, with all Republicans voting against it and more than 30 Democrats joining them.  As soon as the report became available Monday night, the Methuen Democrat criticized its timing. DiZoglio took to Twitter to suggest more time is needed to digest the bill. “After midnight,” DiZoglio, tweeted, “Oh hey good morning!

State May Change Color Coding to Prevent Limited Outbreaks From Scarring Whole Communities

State public health officials are planning updates to the stoplight metric that measures community COVID-19 transmission risks that will incorporate examples where cases at colleges, nursing homes or jails may push an entire community into the red category and affect decisions about in-person learning. Word of the proposed change came Tuesday from state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley

“We’ve seen how those places can skew a city’s or town’s data, and so we’re hoping that when the new metric comes out it will take that into account,” Riley told the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education during a meeting in Malden. In the area, Haverhill partially blames its high-risk red code on outbreaks at a nursing home and a church, while North Andover has asked the state to dial back its ranking caused by an outbreak at Merrimack College. Riley also said that most of the districts it contacted to question their decisions not to move ahead with in-person learning have since progressed to in-person learning or are planning for it. He mentioned two school districts, later determined to be East Longmeadow and Watertown, that will be audited.

Handful of State Legislators Oppose Proposed Home Delivery of Recreational Marijuana

A handful of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have asked that Massachusetts marijuana regulators scrap the proposed delivery license that would let operators buy marijuana wholesale from cultivators and manufacturers, store it in a warehouse and deliver it to consumers at home. The Cannabis Control Commission is expected Tuesday morning to consider feedback and hold a final discussion about its draft delivery policy, which would create two distinct delivery license types: a “limited delivery license” that would allow an operator to charge a fee to make deliveries from CCC-licensed retailers and dispensaries, and a “wholesale delivery license.” But in a letter last week, 19 state lawmakers told the CCC that they “believe that the wholesale delivery license category proposed in the draft regulations was not contemplated, nor supported, by the enabling legislation” and asked the commission to reconsider its plan to take a final vote on the regulations next week. No local legislators signed the letter, but others—including former Marijuana Policy Committee co-chair Rep. Mark Cusack—said the successful 2016 legalization question and the ballot law as amended by the legislature in 2017 “deliberatively and intentionally created a license that made clear delivery of marijuana to consumers is directly and only linked to marijuana retail establishments” and that “a wholesale delivery license direct to consumers is clearly not contemplated in the law.”

“Instead, the draft regulations create a shadow direct to the consumer marketplace not governed by the licensing requirements and regulations of marijuana retailers. These draft regulations also significantly change the landscape for cities and towns after many had already engaged in intensive community-wide conversations about the number and types of marijuana establishments their communities wished to host,” the lawmakers wrote. “Further, the proposed draft regulations have not had the opportunity to be sufficiently reviewed and may result in unintended consequences to our municipalities.”

The concerns about local control mirror those raised in a letter from the Massachusetts Municipal Association, which told the CCC that it “is extremely concerned with the definition of marijuana wholesale delivery license within the draft regulations ...

Podcast: Rep. Campbell Details Unfinished Work Remaining Before the State Legislature

Setting the state budget for the current year, police reform and votes on other major bills remain to be completed during this year’s unusual extended formal legislative session. The state Senate and House traditionally would have closed out the formal session last July 31, but agreed to a rare extension because of COVID-19. Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, a recent guest on WHAV’s Morning Show, discussed some of the state’s progress during the pandemic

“The Massachusetts House was the first legislature in the country to develop a system whereby we could vote on major pieces of legislation without having to go to Boston, and a great deal of work was done to make sure that there was safe and secure voting and that folks had an opportunity to file amendments and to be part of the conversation. I’m very proud of that,” she says. The state is currently in its fourth month of operating on a partial budget.

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Gants Dies; Suffered Heart Attack Sept. 4

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants has died, the court’s associate justices said this afternoon. Gants, 65, had served as the high court’s top judge since July 2014, when he was sworn in to the post by Gov. Deval Patrick. He announced last Tuesday that he underwent surgery after suffering a heart attack on Sept. 4. Later in the week, Justice Frank Gaziano said that Gants was following proceedings in a lawsuit around Gov. Charlie Baker’s powers during the COVID-19 emergency and planned to participate in the final decision.

House Committee, Co-Chaired by Campbell, Advances Bill to Extend Citizens United Commission

A voter-approved Citizens Commission, studying what role the state can play a role in repealing the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision, may receive an extension to continue its work. The legislature’s Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, co-chaired by Methuen Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, voted favorably to advance a bill that would keep the Commission in place until a federal constitutional amendment is ratified that formally overturns the decision. “Millions of Massachusetts residents voted to not only study the impacts of corporate funding in elections, but also to advance measures at the state level to overturn Citizens United,” said Campbell.”

Campbell’s office said the bill would formalize the non-partisan commission that Massachusetts voters created in a 2018 ballot initiative as well as clarify the commission member appointment process. The Citizens Commission released its first report last year. It provides a historical and legislative analysis of different constitutional amendments that limit corporate spending in elections.