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Beacon Hill to act on tax help for workers, businesses, in addition to emissions reduction bill

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State House News Service

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 12, 2021…..A year ago, the emerging coronavirus pandemic put most Beacon Hill legislating on hold. A year later, the Legislature is getting into gear for a more normal session while the public health emergency rages on and more people become eligible and willing to get vaccinated against the virus.

Senate Democrats on Monday take another run at advancing a sweeping emissions reduction bill, one that the House seems intent to take quick action on as well. The bill has been bouncing back and forth from the Legislature to the governor’s office since the waning days of the last legislative session. Lawmakers passed the bill with less than 10 days left in the session, and Baker wound up vetoing it, while making clear he would have preferred to offer amendments had there been more time. When the House and Senate sent an identical bill back to him early in this session, he returned it with his proposed amendments. The Senate appears willing to incorporate many of the governor’s suggestions but said it plans to hold firm against some of his more significant proposals.

The Senate also has plans to act swiftly on legislation that both aids businesses and workers from a tax standpoint and limits what will still be significant new employer costs to keep the state’s flooded unemployment benefits system chugging along. The House on Thursday unanimously adopted the bill, which would create a paid sick leave program for employees who are affected by COVID-19 and offer tax breaks on any forgiven Paycheck Protection Program loans from 2020.

Lawmakers will gather virtually Tuesday to accept testimony on two areas of focus each year — spending on education and local aid. The Joint Ways and Means Committee hearing will feature a slew of Baker administration education officials who are likely to be questioned about the governor’s push to get more kids back into classrooms for in-person learning next month. Expect to hear plenty about the implementation of the landmark 2019 Student Opportunity Act, too. Also, a bill extending vote-by-mail and early voting options to cover municipal elections this spring appears poised to secure the governor’s signature in the week ahead.

At this time in 2020, Massachusetts was careening toward a horrific loss of life at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and other long-term care facilities. Next week, state lawmakers will hold a hearing on plans to build a new soldiers’ home in Holyoke and Baker’s bill authorizing up to $400 million to construct a new long-term care facility there. The administration says it needs to have authorization available by April 1 to secure a federal grant that would provide up to 65 percent in matching funds for the project. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has cleared a path for people who have not been vaccinated to visit with loved ones, while following safety protocols, in nursing homes and similar settings.

There are now roughly 850,000 people in Massachusetts fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and the state is going to try to keep its progress going as one mass vaccination site at Fenway Park shifts to a new location at the Hynes Convention Center in the Back Bay of Boston. The Hynes vaccination site will open Thursday. Appointments at Fenway will continue through March 27 and the Hynes site is expected to use roughly 10 days of overlap to ramp up to doing 1,500 shots per day to match Fenway’s current rate. The other Boston-based mass vaccination site is located at the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury.

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