On Beacon Hill: Someone has to be the thimble

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government
from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — Do not pass go, but do collect $200 million.

That was the message from Democrats on Beacon Hill to Gov. Charlie Baker last week, marking what amounts to the most significant, if not the first, major policy dust-up between the Kumbaya Caucus of Three at the State House.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, threw a brushback pitch when — in a mere matter of days after Baker signed the fiscal 2018 budget — they went along with Baker’s request for a swift public hearing on his proposed MassHealth eligibility reforms.

Sam Doran (SHNS / file photo)

Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo

But the court officers barely had time to lock the doors and shut the lights out in Gardner Auditorium when word trickled out that the Legislature would vote the next day to rebuff the governor and his call for Medicaid reforms to be packaged with new fees and fines on employers to pay for health insurance for the low-income and disabled.

The Democratic leadership decided reform can wait, but the revenues cannot. And so both branches voted overwhelmingly, and for the second time, to send Baker new employer assessments, deemed taxes by many critics, to pay for MassHealth without the administration and business community’s desired cost-saving measures.

“I’ll take a look at it when it gets to my desk and then we’ll make a decision and I’ll be sure to let you know when we make that decision,” Baker said Thursday after the dust had settled, knowing he has three choices.

Baker can sign the assessments and risk alienating the business community; veto the bill and force lawmakers to override, for which they have the votes; or let the assessments become law in protest without his signature after 10 days.

Option two would force DeLeo and Rosenberg to decided whether they must call members back from the August recess, which began Friday, to override or wait until after Labor Day in contradiction of their assertions last week that the assessments need to be implemented immediately if the state is to collect the money it is counting on for the fiscal 2018 budget.

The polite game of chicken unfolded as U.S. Senate Republicans tried — and ultimately failed — to muster 50 votes to repeal and replace, repeal, or “skinny repeal” Obamacare. After overcoming the odds to proceed to a debate on health care, it seemed all week that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t care what bill he could pass, as long as he could pass something.

In the end, he couldn’t. Sen. John McCain, recently diagnosed with brain cancer, dramatically slammed the door on repeal-and-replace efforts when he joined two other Republicans in the wee hours Friday morning voting against a repeal measure intended to move the Senate into negotiations with the House.

McCain said it was time for Republicans and Democrats to work together and listen to the country’s governors about how best to fix the healthcare system, which should be music to the ears of governors like Baker.

The soap opera in Washington, D.C., was not lost on state policymakers. While some Democrats tried to link Baker’s MassHealth reforms to unpopular Republican healthcare positions in Congress, Massachusetts House Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez worried about plunging into MassHealth reform at home, knowing the complete disruption of the marketplace “could be one Tweet away.”

“This is not the end of our healthcare debate,” Sanchez said as criticism was expressed over Baker’s plan to move 140,000 MassHealth enrollees on to subsidized commercial plans with higher out-of-pocket costs.

The Gentlelady from Ashland took her own turn in the spotlight at Tuesday’s hearing when she was anything but gentle. Senate Ways and Means Chairperson Karen Spilka came ready to tango with with the administration’s trio of secretaries sent to defend and advocate for Baker’s plans to reform MassHealth.

Spilka made clear she believed the administration did not have “a monopoly on the ideas that are out there on healthcare,” and asked panel after panel to submit their own recommendations for lawmakers to consider in the coming weeks and months.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

Sen. Karen Spilka had harsh words for the Baker administration’s healthcare reform stance.

“This is an ongoing issue and there are other ways to go about savings, rather than necessarily moving people off of MassHealth,” Spilka said.

Building consensus for healthcare changes in Massachusetts, as in Washington, may be a difficult task, but the governor and legislative leaders were on the same page last week when it came time to finalize marijuana oversight and protections for pregnant workers.

Baker signed both bills upon his return from a political trip to Colorado, and in doing so helped cement the two biggest legislative achievements of the year outside of pay raises for public officials, which Baker opposed, and an annual state budget.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Holiday for legislators, but likely not for sales tax
  • Warren, Markey and Healey on Senate healthcare vote
  • Watch: Baker signs long-awaited marijuana law
  • Cape legislators urge restoration of LGBTQ budget priorities
  • Ice Bucket Challenge will soon be state holiday
Dismas House

Inbox [July 30-Aug. 5]: News and notes from Worcester Art Museum, WBDC, Dismas House, Clark, Burncoat, Doherty, Shepherd Hill and UMass Medical School

Have news you or your group would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to include a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and send Sun members your way.

Worcester Art Museum offers free admission in August

The Worcester Art Museum announced the continuation of one of its most popular summertime traditions: free admission for the month of August.

“Free August” includes access to special exhibitions, the permanent galleries, and WAM’s August programming — including Art + Market, tours, Art Carts, arms and armor demonstrations, and Nude Drawing in the Galleries.

Inbox [July 26]: News and notes from city of Worcester, UMass Medical School, Worcester Police and Fire, Family Health Center and WCAC

Have news you or your group would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to include a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and send Sun members your way.

West Nile found in mosquitoes in Worcester

West Nile Virus has been detected in mosquitoes collected in Worcester, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health told city officials on Tuesday. No humans have tested positive for the virus.

DPH found positive mosquito samples in the northeastern and southeastern quadrants of the city. During the summer months, DPH collects routine samples of mosquitoes to monitor for West Nile and Eastern Equine Encephalitis.

West Nile is most commonly transmitted to humans by the bite of a mosquito infected with the virus. While West Nile can infect people of all ages, people over the age of 50 are at higher risk for severe infection.

Inbox [July 23-29]: News and notes from Ascentria, Veterans Inc., Boys & Girls Club of Worcester, South Bay Community Services and Signature Chefs Auction

Have news you or your group would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to include a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and send Sun members your way.

Ascentria Care Alliance acquires skilled care facility

Worcester-based Ascentria Care Alliance, one of the largest human-services organizations in New England, has acquired the Laurel Ridge Rehabilitation and Skilled Care Center in Jamaica Plain.

Ascentria administers a broad range of residential and community-based programs to meet the spectrum of needs of older adults and their families. Laurel Ridge complements those offerings as a 120-bed rehabilitation and skilled care center.

Ninety Nine

Inbox [July 19]: News and notes from Loyal Techs, Ninety Nine restaurant, Community Harvest Project, Clemente Course Worcester and YWCA Central Mass.

Have news you or your group would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to include a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and send Sun members your way.

On-site, on-demand tech support startup Loyal Techs launches in Worcester

Loyal Techs, an on-demand support service, has launched, aiming to revolutionize the way consumers receive on-site and remote technical support.

With the click of a button, Worcester residents can book affordable and expert tech support for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. It’s a simple, inexpensive and convenient option for troubleshooting and fixing tech issues without booking a pushed-out appointment with a hefty price tag.

“Our only focus is our awesome customers and the services we provide,” says Anthony Inguaggiato, CEO of Loyal Techs. “Our goal is to provide the best tech support anyone has ever experienced. We want to be the only tech support option you think of for on-demand high-quality support.”

UniBank scholarships

Inbox [July 16-22]: News and notes from Davis Art Gallery, UniBank, Worcester Institute for Senior Education, Columbus Day Parade, GWCF and SmartAsset

Have news you or your group would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to include a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and send Sun members your way.

Davis Art Gallery seeking submissions for next exhibit

The Davis Art Gallery is seeking abstract artwork for our next juried exhibit: Nonobjective NOW. Various 2D and 3D media will be selected for the exhibit, including drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics, mixed media, photography, fiber arts and more.

The gallery will select approximately 35 to 45 artworks that will appear in the main exhibition space at the gallery, 44 Portland St., from Sept. 22 to Jan. 5. An opening reception will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 22.

Inbox [July 9-15]: News and notes from Railers HC, U.S. Navy, WPI, Assumption, Clark and African Community Education

Have news you or your group would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to include a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and send Sun members your way.

Railers games to be broadcast on 98.9-FM

The Worcester Railers Hockey Club games will be broadcast on 98.9-FM NASH ICON for the 2017-18 and the 2018-19 seasons.

All 72 regular-season games will be broadcast live on 98.9 and streamed live on www.nashicon989.com and through www.RailersHC.com. Each broadcast will include a 30-minute pregame show.

Eric Lindquist, Railers play-by-play voice and vice president of communications and marketing, returns for his ninth season of calling professional hockey in Worcester.

Worcester man ‘Makin’ the most of Navy time

Webster Five

Inbox [July 5]: News and notes from Webster Five, Citi Foundation, Worcester Public Schools, Price Rite and commonwealth of Mass.

Have news you or your group would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to include a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and send Sun members your way.

Webster Five donates $5K to Community Legal Aid

The Webster Five Foundation announced that as part of the Web of Caring to Make a Difference program, it will donate $5,000 to Community Legal Aid Inc. The money will help pay for the organization’s interpretation and translation expenses in Worcester County.

Community Legal Aid (CLA) is the civil legal aid program serving low-income and elderly residents of Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin and Berkshire counties. Its mission is to improve people’s lives through legal assistance that protects fundamental rights, secures access to basic needs, and challenges policies and practices that harm its clients.

No child’s play: Simon Says Give Worcester chapter packs a serious charitable punch

Simon Eber, 14, is the kid president of the Worcester chapter of Simon Says Give, which provides students in need with birthday celebrations and school supplies.

“Simon Says Give in Minnesota started the High Five for Supplies campaign, and when I learned more about it, I realized that it would be a great way to help other children in Worcester Public Schools,” Eber said.

“The program was intended for the younger elementary school students, but I thought it would be great to give this opportunity to sixth graders to help with their transition to middle school.”

After starting the Worcester chapter of the Minnesota-based nonprofit earlier this year, Eber has donated more than 168 backpacks filled with school supplies and celebrated two birthdays since April.

More from Worcester Sun

Ice Bucket Challenge Week would mark Frates’ impact on ALS research

BOSTON — The first week in August would be set aside to recognize the impacts of the Ice Bucket Challenge, a viral fundraising campaign that started in Massachusetts but spread across the globe, under a bill lawmakers considered earlier this week.

The Ice Bucket Challenge — a fundraiser in which someone empties a bucket of ice water on their head and then challenges others to do the same — began in 2014 after former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

Led by Frates and his family, what began as a trickle evolved into a global deluge by summer 2015 when videos of people dumping ice water over themselves and information about ALS was ubiquitous on social and traditional media.

Before the Ice Bucket Challenge raised awareness of ALS “the state of the disease had been stagnant for 150 years,” Nancy Frates, Pete’s mother, said Monday. But the campaign has raised more than $250 million for ALS research and has hastened the development of a treatment, she said.