November 20, 2016

On Beacon Hill: Pike work takes back seat to Thanksgiving — an update

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Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Sen. Elizabeth Warren

From State House News Service

ON THE AGENDA

  • State plans suspension of Pike conversion work ahead of Thanksgiving
  • Concerns won’t stop legal homegrown marijuana starting Dec. 15
  • Video: Baker on rolling out legal recreational pot use next month
  • Healey rips Baker for stance on ‘white supremacist’ Bannon, Trump cabinet pick
  • 100K more working than last year as state jobless rate falls again
  • DraftKings, FanDuel combine digital fantasy sports forces, retain Boston HQ

TOP OF THE HILL

Road crews expected to clear Pike by 5 a.m. Wednesday, ahead of Thanksgiving rush

BOSTON — There’s good news for drivers worried that Massachusetts Turnpike road work might add to the congestion on Thanksgiving eve.

You won't be seeing these anymore ...

Michael P. Norton / State House News Service

You won’t be seeing these anymore …

After originally saying construction crews would remain on the turnpike until noon Wednesday, Nov. 23, the Baker administration now says the crews will cease work by 5 a.m., ensuring that droves of travelers flowing in, out and within Massachusetts won’t also have to compete with road workers.

A Massachusetts Department of Transportation spokesman told reporters early Thursday that road reconstruction work impacting traffic would continue until noon next Wednesday. Later that day, though, an update from the office said the road work would be suspended effective at 5 a.m. Wednesday, resuming on Monday, Nov. 28.

The spokesman, Patrick Marvin, also said state officials planned, if necessary, to make adjustments if road work contributes to “travel issues” this week before the scheduled 5 a.m. shutdown of construction activities.

The road reconstruction project, which follows the demolition of toll booths no longer needed since the launch of all-electronic tolling, may affect travel plans for some of the nearly 1 million Bay Staters expected to hit the roads next week.

Many travelers start their holiday journeys earlier in the week, and the east-west toll road is a major transportation corridor.

Ongoing construction is “all the more reason for people to plan well in advance,” said AAA Northeast spokeswoman Mary Maguire, whose organization estimated this week that close to 950,000 people from Massachusetts are expected to drive to Thanksgiving destinations, up 5.1 percent over 2015.

AAA Northeast projects that 48.7 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving, the most Thanksgiving travelers since 2007.

— Sam Doran and Michael Norton


VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Baker on rolling out legal recreational pot use next month


Related: Concerns won’t stop legal homegrown marijuana starting Dec. 15

With 28 days until it becomes legal to grow marijuana in Massachusetts, some in the medical marijuana industry are growing concerned about the slow launch of a new industry without a regulatory scheme in place.

Nicholas Vita, chief executive officer of Columbia Care, which holds three medical marijuana licenses in Massachusetts, raised concerns last week over the quality and oversight of unregulated homegrown marijuana and potential safety hazards posed by a surge in the use of special indoor lighting used to grow marijuana.

The existing medical marijuana industry is subject to guidelines aimed at preventing impurities in marijuana products and inspections designed to detect contaminants, including mold, mildew, heavy metals and the presence of non-organic pesticides.

While retail operations are much further off, the ballot law approved Nov. 8 authorizes, starting Dec. 15, the use of marijuana by individuals 21 and older, and allows people to possess up to one ounce of marijuana outside of their residences and up to 10 ounces of marijuana inside their homes; to grow up to six marijuana plants in their residences; and to give one ounce or less of marijuana to a person at least 21 years old without payment.

“There’s a lot of soul-searching that needs to occur to make sure this is done properly,” Vita said. “We’re sort of in a very gray zone here where we don’t really know what’s going on.”

It appears state legislative leaders are ready to dig into the marijuana debate: Several have indicated they hope to change the law. But near-term changes — including alterations to the homegrown marijuana provision — do not appear imminent since the Legislature is not scheduled to return to formal sessions until January, and typically starts sessions slowly.

The ballot law calls for a Cannabis Control Commission under state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, but that regulatory body has not yet been established or funded.

During an appearance Nov. 13 on WCVB-TV’s “On the Record,” Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, who voted for legalization, said he wants lawmakers to consider “challenges” associated with marijuana edibles and beverages in addition to the potential to limit levels of tetrahydrocannabinol [THC], the component of marijuana responsible for the high it delivers.

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

Sam Doran (SHNS / file photo)

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

“When I said that I was going to vote for the ballot question, I also said that we had to go in and fix it and perfect it,” Rosenberg said. “We have to follow the will of the voters. But we also have to be responsible here. On a ballot question this complicated, people are voting on the principle, they’re not voting on all the fine details.”

Rosenberg said home-grow provisions are already in place in connection with medical marijuana. “I don’t believe people will be willing to get rid of homegrown, but there may be some changes that would have to occur in that,” he said.

The state’s medical marijuana law, approved by voters in 2012, allows a “patient or the patient’s personal caregiver to cultivate a limited number of plants, sufficient to maintain a 60-day supply of marijuana,” if the marijuana is grown and stored in an enclosed and locked area.

Gov. Charlie Baker, who led the failed opposition to the ballot question that legalized marijuana, said he still believes there is “work that needs to be done on that ballot question to ensure public safety and public health.” He said his focus is now on implementing the law, which was approved by about 54 percent of Mass. voters.

— Michael P. Norton and Colin A. Young


IN THE NEWS

Healey rips Baker for stance on ‘white supremacist’ Bannon

BOSTON — Attorney General Maura T. Healey, who campaigned vigorously for Democrat Hillary Clinton, took umbrage last week with Gov. Charlie Baker’s reaction to the appointment by President-elect Donald Trump of Steve Bannon to a senior White House role.

Protesters gathered outside the State House Nov. 18 to oppose President-elect Donald Trump's pick for chief strategist, Steve Bannon.

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Protesters gathered outside the State House Nov. 18 to oppose President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for chief strategist, Steve Bannon.

Bannon’s appointment as senior counselor and chief strategist for Trump has ignited a firestorm among both Democrats and some traditional conservatives. The former executive chairman of Breitbart News, who will stand on equal footing with chief of staff Reince Priebus in the new administration, has called the website a platform for the so-called alt-right, which has been linked to white supremacism.

“It’s concerning for me to see the governor, who sat out this election, now take a wait-and-see approach on something like an appointment of Steve Bannon,” Healey told State House News Service in an interview Wednesday.

“For me, Bannon isn’t a wait-and-see situation. He is a white supremacist now named to a top White House position to advise the president-elect, and that is something that needs to be denounced and rejected,” she said. “I don’t think it’s prejudging to look at Bannon’s record of vile behavior and say there’s any situation to have him anywhere near the White House, let alone advising the president.”


Bonus video:

Elizabeth Warren on Trump and his cabinet picks


Baker, who was highly critical of Trump and his rhetoric during the campaign, returned from a conference in Florida last week promising to give the new administration a chance. After he and other GOP governors met with Vice President-elect Mike Pence, Baker said he was optimistic Trump’s team would be willing to listen to the states and thought he could find common policy ground with the new White House.

Asked about his biggest concern with a Trump administration, Baker said it lies in seeing who gets appointed to key posts and how policy proposals get developed.

“I’ve said many times, and it was certainly true in the development of our own administration, that people are policy, and the folks you choose to serve in key roles in your administration represent, for many people, sort of the first step in how you plan to govern and what you think is important and how you plan to build a policy agenda and go forward,” Baker said.

Concerning Bannon and other Trump positions being harshly scrutinized just a week after the election, Baker said there was “too much prejudging going on here.”

“Based on some of Bannon’s previous remarks and activities that was a concern to me, but I’m going to take a page from President Obama’s book on this one, who said the other day that he thinks the Trump administration’s team should be judged by the totality of its appointments. Let’s see what else happens,” Baker told reporters on Wednesday.

Obama held a wide-ranging press conference last week during which he was asked specifically about Bannon and declined to enter the fray.

“Without copping out, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on every appointment that the president-elect starts making if I want to be consistent with the notion that we’re going to try to facilitate a smooth transition,” Obama said, according to a transcript. “Look, the people have spoken. Donald Trump will be the next president, the 45th president of the United States. And it will be up to him to set up a team that he thinks will serve him well and reflect his policies.”

Maura Healey

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Maura Healey

Healey said Obama is in a much different position than other elected officials like herself and the governor, with the president’s top priority being a peaceful transition of power.

“This is a situation where there is a bright line between what’s right and wrong. If you want to talk about the totality of the work, I’ve looked at Steve Bannon’s totality of work and it’s all about hate and really dangerous conduct and behavior that’s been bad for society throughout the course of history,” Healey said.

In a statement in response to Healey’s criticism, Baker deputy communications director Brendan Moss said, “The president-elect has stated that he will focus on unifying the country after a divisive campaign and the Governor is concerned that this selection runs counter to that important goal. Governor Baker was pleased to appoint a bipartisan group of experts to head up his administration and hopes President-elect Trump focuses on qualifications first and foremost when it comes to staffing his administration.”

— Matt Murphy


100,000 more working than last year as state jobless rate falls again

The Massachusetts unemployment rate declined for the fourth consecutive month in October, falling to 3.3 percent.

The drop brings the rate to a low last seen in April 2001, the state’s Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported Thursday. September’s rate of 3.6 percent was last hit in June 2001.

Compared to October 2015, there are 55,400 fewer unemployed residents and 100,700 more who are employed.

The largest private-sector job gains by percentage over the year have occurred in the fields of construction; professional, scientific and business services; education and health services; and leisure and hospitality. The professional, scientific and business services sector gained 1,700 jobs over the month and 18,100 year over year.

The state shed 5,500 jobs in October. Fields that lost jobs over the month included education and health services (4,100); trade, transportation and utilities (2,400); and leisure and hospitality (1,600). September job gains were higher than originally reported, with 8,100 jobs added instead of the original estimate of 5,100.

October’s estimates show 3,491,500 Massachusetts residents were employed and 117,300 unemployed, labor officials said.

— Katie Lannan


DraftKings, FanDuel combine digital fantasy sports forces, retain Boston HQ

Boston-based DraftKings is merging with FanDuel, creating a new fantasy sports company that will have headquarters in both Boston and New York, with plans to reach more sports fans who have not yet used their wagering platforms.

Both companies are keeping their names for the foreseeable future, according to a source close to the companies.

The companies announced the merger Friday, saying they hoped the combined company would develop new products, benefit its media and advertising partners, and “help the combined company accelerate its path to profitability.”

Company officials also said they hoped the ex-rivals could hasten work with government officials on a “standard regulatory framework” that could provide more stability to the industry and help it reach more of the estimated 228 million fans of major sports in the United States. The companies say there are 57 million fantasy players.

DraftKings Chief Executive Officer Jason Robbins will become chief executive of the combined company, and FanDuel CEO Nigel Eccles will become chairman of the board. The board will have three directors each from DraftKings and FanDuel and one independent director. DraftKings was founded in 2012 by Robbins, Matt Kalish and Paul Liberman. FanDuel was founded in 2009.

Financial terms of the merger were not disclosed. Officials expect the deal to close sometime in 2017.

— Michael P. Norton

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