Liability Protection for Healthcare Workers and Facilities
The Governor passed An Act to provide liability protections for health care workers and facilities during the COVID-19 Pandemic, which protects healthcare workers and facilities from liability for damages resulting from healthcare services during the public health crisis. During these extremely trying times for our front-line healthcare workers, providing reasonable protection from liability is an important step. As our friends and neighbors in the healthcare community continue to act with heroic efforts, we must support them.Healthcare workers properly following COVID-19 rules and existing laws will be exempt from lawsuits and civil liability. Non-profits providing use of their facilities for the COVID-19 public health crisis are also not liable for harm resulting from the use of those facilities.
The Governor has signed An Act providing for virtual notarization to address challenges related to COVID-19. This bill addresses the need for certain notarial services during the public health crisis. During this public health crisis, actions that require notarization, such as the preparation of a will, the designation of a legal guardian, or the authorization of a healthcare proxy are still happening. We have heard stories of doctors and patients need to change or draw up wills or designate custody of their children, as they prepare for the worst. This legislation will allow them to take care of these critical matters.The bill authorizes notaries to perform typical functions using video conferencing in real-time.Documents notarized remotely will be deemed properly executed, acknowledged, and notarized for all legal purposes.
Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures
On April 20th, the Governor signed into law An Act providing for a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during the COVID-19 emergency. This bill provides much needed housing stability during these uncertain times. It is absolutely essential that individuals and families dealing with economic distress are not displaced during a public health emergency. This legislation indicates a commitment to protecting those facing such circumstances.Landlords are temporarily prohibited from evicting or sending notice to tenants in the case of a non-essential eviction.All foreclosure proceedings and actions are prohibited.If a homeowner requests a forbearance, or delay, of foreclosure, the lender is required to grant it. This applies for 120 days from the end of the public health emergency.
Diversity Task Force and Data Collection
Last week, the House passed An Act addressing COVID-19 data collection and disparities in treatment. This bill instructs the Department of Public Health to collect data, including demographic information, to address treatment disparities among different demographic groups in the state. Now more than ever, equal treatment is imperative for residents of Massachusetts. I believe that this legislation will bridge current gaps in care and resources for those demographics who need support.Data collected must include the number of tests administered, positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, along with demographic information.The DPH is required to publish this data on their website with breakdowns for counties, municipalities, long-term care facilities, and correctional facilities and must report to the legislature every two weeks regarding the implementation of data collection efforts.
House Working to Adopt New Operating Procedures
The House has outlined a plan that will allow legislators to remotely participate and vote in a formal session. Before this is possible, House members must agree on rules on how this process will work. Under the plan, Legislators will be able to livestream sessions and vote by calling in to designated monitors. If a Legislator wants to present an oral argument on a piece of legislation, they will be able to do so through a phone line that will amplify their voice in the chamber and on the livestream.
Because a formal session requires all House members to be present, social distancing becomes very difficult. While members are not barred from attending session in person, they are encouraged to participate virtually to ensure the practice of social distancing and to avoid close personal contact.
A formal session is necessary to pass certain pieces of legislation. For example, a bill that is planned to be taken up can only be adopted through a roll call of all the members. The bill in question, An Act to facilitiate the delay of the income tax filing deadline, will allow the Massachusetts Treasurer to borrow money to manage the deferral of tax revenue that will result from the delay of the income tax filing deadline from April 15th to July 15th. The Treasurer would be required to repay this debt by June 30, 2021.
While we had hoped to reach an agreement on the rules by Wednesday, April 29th, so we could vote on the tax bill on Thursday, Republicans tried to block the measure. I went to the State House last minute to try to help resolve the issue. Coming up with a plan to vote remotely is key to continue the work of the Legislature. Yesterday, April 29th, a House Republican filed an amendment which was denied by House Democrats. As a result, House members are required to physically go to the chamber which puts members, staff and the general public at risk.
Nursing Home Assistance
Long-term care facilities in Massachusetts are struggling with high infection numbers. Resources are much needed in these facilities to support residents and employees. Governor Baker recently released information on further plans to assist long-term care facilities.On Monday, April 27th, Governor Baker announced that the state would allocate an additional $130 million to long-term care facilities.
The funding will support hiring, cleaning, and other initiatives.
In order to be eligible to receive funding, facilities have to meet criteria including testing all staff and residents for the virus and following a 20-point checklist aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.