Mass. House Preparing $55 Million COVID-19 Bill

House Speaker Ron Mariano said lawmakers will take up the bill in part because of omicron, which has "exacerbated many of the pandemic-related needs"

The state primary would be set for Sept. 6 and $55 million would be appropriated for COVID-19 needs, under a bill that began moving in the House on Tuesday.

The House Ways and Means Committee gave its members until 10:30 a.m. to weigh in on its redrafted COVID-19 bill, which creates a $30 million reserve to establish and expand COVID testing sites, with at least $5 million of that money dedicated to expanding vaccination rates among kids ages 5 to 11. Another $25 million reserve would be created "for the acquisition and distribution of high-quality personal protective masks for children and faculty in elementary and secondary public school districts."

Addressing an issue on which Secretary of State William Galvin has called for lawmakers to act, the bill (H 3922) also sets the 2022 state primary for Sept. 6, the day after Labor Day. Unless new legislation is passed, the primary would statutorily fall on Sept. 20, a date Galvin said cuts it too close for a federal law that requires ballots be ready for military and overseas voters 45 days before Election Day -- or by Sept. 24, 2022.

Another provision in the bill amends a 2021 state law that extended policies adopted during the COVID-19 state of emergency. That law calls for the allowance for remote public meetings to end on April 1, 2022, and the committee's bill would leave it in place through July 15.

The committee is also polling its members on redrafted bills prohibiting license revocation for student loan default (H 3161) and dealing with payments in lieu of vacation in retiree compensation (H 2732).

"Since the Omicron variant arrived in Massachusetts over a month ago, it has exacerbated many of the pandemic-related needs that were already so prevalent. In response to these issues, the House will be taking up legislation to provide funding where it is needed, and to ensure that the uptick in cases does not prevent critical day-to-day obligations from taking place," House Speaker Ron Mariano said in a statement Tuesday.

"This legislation includes millions of dollars to expand COVID-19 testing locations so they can take more walk-in appointments, millions to increase youth vaccination rates, and millions to provide high-quality masks for schools across the Commonwealth. Additionally, the legislation provides flexibility so retired teachers and other public employees can go back to work to ease staffing shortages, as well as extends remote public meetings and notarizations so that these important, everyday actions can continue to be carried out safely. The steps this legislation takes are critical, and as Massachusetts continues to deal with the Omicron variant, the House stands ready to provide the necessary support," he continued.

The House could take up the bills when it meets in an informal session at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

State House News Service & NBC10Boston/NECN
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