Author: jscutler

House Passes Bill to Support Commonwealth’s Restaurants

The Mass. House has passed legislation that provides more tools to the restaurants of Massachusetts in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislative package adopted today aims to assist a sector that has been hard hit by COVID-19. The measures passed are intended to help restaurants weather the economic crisis in the wake of the pandemic. The package eases outdoor dining restrictions, expands alcohol delivery options to include mixed drinks, extends takeout options to February 2021, waives interest on late meals tax payments and caps the amount that can be charged a food delivery service.

In 2019, the House created the Restaurant Promotion Commission, which is being repurposed as the Restaurant Recovery Commission. The bill builds on the House’s general focus on restaurants and previous action to permit alcohol delivery with meals as well as its focus on restaurants as an anchor on main streets.

 “No corner of the small business sector has been more affected by the pandemic than our restaurants,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop) said. “I’m grateful to Chairs Michlewitz, Gregoire, Chan, McMurtry, Representative Day and my colleagues in the House for this bill which could make a real difference in preserving jobs in the Commonwealth.”

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic small businesses across the Commonwealth have been hard hit as we continue to fight this virus. Our restaurants have taken the brunt of these measures,” said Representative Aaron Michlewitz (D-Boston), Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on Ways & Means (D-Boston). “As we begin to reopen our economy, it is paramount that the Legislature ease the burden on businesses like our restaurants whatever way we can. The relief bill that the House unanimously passed will give restaurants further tools in the toolbox as they begin to reopen and in many cases, rebuild.”

“I’m proud of Speaker DeLeo and my colleagues in the House for their innovative approach to support an important sector of our economy – the restaurant industry,” said Representative Paul McMurtry (D-Dedham), Chair of the Committee on Tourism, Arts & Cultural Development and House appointee of the Restaurant Promotion Commission. “ I am confident that this comprehensive legislation will go a long way to preserving jobs, generating revenue, and bringing back a sense of community – all while getting the Commonwealth back on the road to economic recovery.””

The package:

  • Streamlines the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) approval process for restaurants to establish outdoor seating by waiving the approval of these licenses. Instead, it only requires restaurants to notify and place on file with the ABCC their outdoor seating plan;
  • Temporarily suspends some relevant local zoning laws on outdoor seating if cities and towns wish to do so;
  • Waives interest and late penalties for restaurants on their meals tax payments until December 2020;
  • Allows restaurants to include cocktails to-go with take-out food until February 2020;
  • Caps commissions on on-line restaurant delivery at 15% across the board so that these apps can continue to operate without placing an undue burden on our restaurants.

The bill will now go to the Senate.

Guidance for Restaurants and Lodging

Some key guidance for restaurants & lodging just released. Here are more details.
RESTAURANTS: Outdoor dining will begin at the start of Phase II. Indoor dining will begin later within Phase II, subject to public health data. Even when indoor seating is permitted, use of outdoor space will be encouraged for all restaurants. Social distancing guidance includes spacing tables six feet apart with a maximum party size of six people. The use of bars, except for spaced table seating, will not be permitted. For hygiene protocols, utensils and menus should be kept clean through single use or with strict sanitation guidelines, reservations or call ahead seating is recommended and contactless payment, mobile ordering or text on arrival for seating will also be encouraged. Restaurants will be expected to follow cleaning and disinfecting guidelines, in accordance with CDC guidance. This includes closing an establishment temporarily if there is a case of COVID-19 in an establishment.
Restaurants guidance: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/safety-standards-and-checklist-restaurants
LODGING: Hotels, motels and other lodging businesses will be allowed to expand their operations in Phase II. Lodging safety standards apply to all forms of lodging including hotels, motels, inns, bed and breakfasts, short term residential rentals including Airbnb and VRBO. Event spaces, like ballrooms and meeting rooms, will remain closed. On-site restaurants, pools, gyms, spas, golf courses and other amenities at lodging sites may operate only as these categories are authorized to operate in accordance with the phased re-opening plan. Lodging operators also must inform guests of the Commonwealth’s policy urging travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days when arriving from out-of-state.
Hotels, motels, and other lodging guidance: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/safety-standards-and-checklist-operators-of-lodgings

Gov’s Reopening Report released

Public health data, key metrics established to track real-time progress, determine advancement to future phases while mandatory workplace safety standards, sector-specific guidance issued to all Phase 1 industries, businesses, customers and activities

BOSTON — Today, the Baker-Polito Administration released Reopening Massachusetts, the Reopening Advisory Board’s report, which details a four-phased strategy to responsibly reopen businesses and activities while continuing to fight COVID-19. The Administration also released a new “Safer At Home” Advisory, which instructs residents to stay at home unless engaging with newly opened activities, as a way to continue limiting the spread of COVID-19. Starting today, based on current public health data and trends, Massachusetts will begin Phase 1 of a cautious reopening, and workplaces that are permitted to open are required to follow new safety protocols and guidance.

Learn more about the reopening process: www.mass.gov/reopening

VIEW THE FULL REPORT

VIEW GUIDANCE FOR SPECIFIC INDUSTRIES

Detailed in Reopening Massachusetts, each phase of the reopening will be guided by public health data and key indicators that will be continually monitored for progress and will be used to determine advancement to future phases. Industries, sectors, and activities that present less risk will open in earlier phases. Those that present more risk will open in later phases.

The 17-member Reopening Advisory Board, co-chaired by Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy, consists of public health experts, municipal leaders and members of the business community representing many facets of the Massachusetts economy. Since its formation on April 28, the Board met with a total of 75 stakeholder groups ranging from industry associations, regional chambers of commerce, community coalitions, and labor organizations, representing over 112,000 different businesses and more than two million workers across the Commonwealth. The Reopening Advisory Board also considered written comments from over 4,500 employers, organizations, and individuals in the development of its plan.

Safer at Home Advisory:

Effective today, the Department of Public Health also updated the Stay at Home Advisory, replacing it with a new, “Safer at Home” Advisory. The new Safer at Home Advisory instructs everyone to stay home unless they are headed to a newly opened facility or activity. It also advises those over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions to stay home with the exception of trips required for health care, groceries, or that are otherwise absolutely necessary. All residents must continue to wear a face covering in public when social distancing is not possible, and individuals are advised to wash their hands frequently and be vigilant in monitoring for symptoms. Restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people remain in effect.

Public Health Metrics:

Key public health metrics will determine if and when it is appropriate to proceed through reopening phases. They include:

  • COVID-19 positive test rate;
  • Number of individuals who died from COVID-19;
  • Number of patients with COVID-19 in hospitals;
  • Health care system readiness;
  • Testing capacity; 
  • Contact tracing capabilities. 

Phase 1 Reopening:

Based on the public health metrics, manufacturing facilities and construction sites will open effective today with applicable guidelines.

Places of worship will be able to open with guidelines that require social distancing and encourage services to be held outdoors.  

Hospitals and community health centers that attest to specific public health and safety standards can begin to provide high priority preventative care, pediatric care and treatment for high risk patients.

Under a staggered approach, additional Phase 1 sectors of the economy will be permitted to open effective May 25 including:

  • Lab space;
  • Office space;
  • Limited personal services, including: hair salons, pet grooming, car washes;
  • Retail: remote fulfilment and curbside pick-up;

Also permitted to open on May 25 with applicable guidelines, are the following:

  • Beaches;
  • Parks;
  • Drive-in movie theaters;
  • Select athletic fields and courts; 
  • Many outdoor adventure activities;
  • Most fishing, hunting, and boating;
  • Outdoor gardens, zoos, reserves, and public installations.

Additional sectors expected to open on June 1 as part of Phase 1 include office spaces in the city of Boston with applicable guidelines.  

Reopening Massachusetts In Phases:

The goal of this phased reopening plan is to methodically allow businesses, services, and activities to resume, while avoiding a resurgence of COVID-19 that could overwhelm the state’s health care system and erase the progress made so far. 

  • Each phase will last a minimum of three weeks and could last longer before moving to the next phase;
  • If public health data trends are negative, specific industries, regions, and/or the entire Commonwealth may need to return to an earlier phase;
  • The Commonwealth will partner with industries to draft sector-specific protocols in advance of future phases (example: restaurant-specific protocols will be drafted in advance of Phase 2);
  • If we all work together to defeat COVID-19, we can proceed through each phase.

Success in earlier phases will refine criteria for future phases including travel, sizes of gatherings, as well as additional retail openings, lodging and accommodations, arts, entertainment, fitness centers, museums, restaurants, youth sports, and other activities.  

Industry-Specific Guidance:

Businesses are not required to reopen, and may not do so if they are unable to follow safety protocols. The Baker-Polito Administration has developed specific guidance so that each industry reopens as safely as possible. Businesses are expected to implement these protocols in addition to the more general Mandatory Workplace Safety Standards.

As of May 18, materials for the sectors eligible to open in the first phase of reopening are included on the mass.gov/reopening website. Guidance for sectors opening in later phases will be posted online in advance of those phases.

In order to reopen, businesses must develop a written COVID-19 Control Plan outlining how its workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19. Required materials are located on mass.gov/reopening, and include detailed sector-specific circulars and checklists to facilitate compliance. 

Self-Certification for Businesses:

Required materials for businesses to self-certify are located on mass.gov/reopening, and include:

  • COVID-19 Control Plan template, which must be retained on premises and provided in the event of an inspection;
  • Compliance Attestation poster to be posted in a location visible to employees and visitors indicating a completed COVID-19 Control Plan; and,
  • Other posters and signs describing rules for maintaining social distancing, hygiene protocols, as well as cleaning and disinfecting. 

Businesses operating to provide Essential Services, as defined in the Governor’s March 23, 2020 Executive Order, updated on March 31, April 28, and May 15, may remain open and have until May 25, 2020 to comply with the general workplace safety standards, as well as their industry’s sector-specific protocols.

Health Care:

Effective May 18, hospitals and community health centers who attest to meeting specific capacity criteria and public health/safety standards will be allowed to resume a limited set of in-person preventative, diagnostic and treatment services.

Effective May 25, other health care providers who attest to meeting these standards may resume limited in-person services.  

Services that may be performed are limited, based on the provider’s clinical judgment to high-priority preventative services, including pediatric care, immunizations, and chronic disease care for high-risk patients, and urgent procedures that cannot be delivered remotely and would lead to high risk or significant worsening of the patient’s condition if deferred.

In order for the phased in hospital expansion and non-hospital reopening, the following statewide metrics must be met:

  • 30 percent of hospital ICU beds (including staffed surge capacity) must be available;
  • 30 percent of total hospital beds (including staffed surge capacity) must be available. 

As a precursor, health care providers must meet the following requirements to reopen or expand services, which include: 

  • Attesting to public health standards and specific guidelines;
  • Ensuring adequate personal protective equipment is on hand, reliable supply chain and other supplies and policies in place;
  • Infection control readiness (workflow, cleaning, social distancing, etc.);
  • Workforce and patient screening and testing protocols; and, 
  • Hospitals must have ≥ 25 percent ICU and total bed capacity and reopen pediatric ICU and psychiatric beds if they had been repurposed for surge capacity.

Child Care:

The Commonwealth’s mission in reopening is to increase access to child care and youth programs while continuing to protect children and staff and preventing the spread of COVID-19. Child care and summer recreation camps will reopen in a phased approach. The Departments of Early Education and Care and Public Health are developing guidelines that balance families’ need for child care with health and safety. The initial reopening plan will focus on families who have no safe alternative to group care by increasing emergency child care capacity. EEC will also partner with industries returning to work to develop options specific to their workplaces.

In March, the Baker-Polito Administration stood up an emergency child care system to support children of essential workers and vulnerable families with extra virus mitigation protocols. During Phase 1, the emergency child care system we have already in place will be utilized to meet the needs of people with no alternatives for care. Currently, only 35% of the 10,000 child emergency child care capacity is occupied and the system has the ability to serve more families to provide care options as more sectors come back online.

Transit:

The MBTA has been and will continue to implement measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 across the system to keep employees and riders safer. 

While public transportation unavoidably creates some risk of transmission, working together the MBTA, riders and employers can significantly reduce that risk: 

  • ​Riders are required to wear face coverings and must make efforts to distance. Riders are asked to avoid riding transit if they are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19;
  • Employers are encouraged to stagger schedules and implement work from home policies to reduce demand, especially during rush hours;
  • The MBTA will continue to take protective and preventative measures such as frequently disinfecting and cleaning vehicles and stations and providing protective supplies to workers. 

To mitigate risk while providing appropriate levels of service, the MBTA will: 

  • ​Support the transit needs of essential workers and those returning to the workplace in Phase 1 while continuing with limited service to maximize employee and rider safety;
  • Ramp up to a modified version of full service by Phase 3, although social distancing efforts will limit effective capacity on vehicles even after full service schedules are restored;
  • Actively communicate public health guidance and schedule adjustments in-station, online, and over social media. 

Supplies:

In order to operate, all Massachusetts businesses will need to meet the Mandatory Workplace Safety Standards and relevant Sector-Specific Protocols published by the state. To support businesses, the state has developed a guide to educate business owners on what supplies are needed to return to workplaces, and a portal to connect businesses with manufacturers and distributors. These are now available to business owners via mass.gov/reopening.

​In order to operate, all Massachusetts businesses will need to meet the Mandatory Workplace Safety Standards and relevant Sector-Specific Protocols published by the state.

​The state has developed a guide to educate business owners on what supplies are needed to return to workplaces, and a portal to connect businesses with manufacturers and distributors.

Educational materials will be provided to define how an employer should prepare their work spaces to reopen and what products are appropriate for employees to protect themselves at work.

While face coverings are critical, medical grade face coverings are not necessary for non-health care workers. 

Schools and Higher Education:

As previously announced, Massachusetts’ K-12 school buildings will remain closed through the end of the 2019-20 school year, with remote teaching and learning in place. 

Schools will continue offering essential non-educational services to their communities. Plans are being made for the summer learning programs and 2020-21 school year, and will be shared with the public in the weeks to come.

Massachusetts’ diverse higher education institutions continue to foster teaching, learning, student support, and essential research remotely throughout this time. 

They are working together and in partnership with the state to ensure a safe and gradual return to campus life. In the upcoming weeks, institutions will develop customized reopening plans with safety of their communities in mind.

Rep. Khan & Rep. Cutler to host panel on Disability Workplace Matters

Thursday, May 21 at 10:30 a.m.

VIRTUAL STATE HOUSE, MA — Residents seeking assistance regarding disability benefits, legal rights and workplace issues for persons with disabilities and their family members in the era of COVID-19 are invited to participate in an online forum hosted by Rep. Kay Khan and Rep. Josh S. Cutler.

The forum will be held Thursday, May 21 at 10:30 a.m. and streamed live on PAC-TV at PACTV.org/live. It will also be rebroadcast on the Talking Information Center, a state-wide reading service for visually impaired listeners. 

The panel will include experts from The Arc of Massachusetts, UMASS’s Work Without Limits program and the Disability Law Center (DLC). Topics to be covered may include the effect of Economic Impact Payments on public benefits, legal resources for persons with disabilities, and family/caregiver resources during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The panelists are: 

• Brian Forsythe, Project Coordinator, Benefits Counseling, Work Without Limits
• Kerry Mahoney, Director of Education & Outreach, The Arc of Massachusetts
• Tom Murphy, Senior Attorney, Disability Law Center

Questions can be sent in ahead of time, or during the program, and will be addressed on air. Please email questions to Rep. Cutler’s office at josh.cutler@mahouse.gov. Rep. Khan (D-Newton) is House Chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities and Rep. Cutler (D-Pembroke) is the Vice-Chair. 

For more information on the ARC see: thearcofmass.org/. The Disability Law Center: www.dlc-ma.org/. Work Without Limits: workwithoutlimits.org/

Legal Aid Forum

Excited to share details on program I’ll be hosting with a panel of legal aid attorneys focused on topics of special importance during this time, including housing law, unemployment, access to benefits & elder law.

Our panel includes civil legal aid attorneys from South Coastal Counties Legal Services (SCCLS) and the Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts.

You can send in your questions ahead of time on any of these topics. You’ll be able to watch via streaming provided by PAC-TV and we will broadcast via Facebook. We’ll also be taking questions live as time permits.

The forum is Thursday, May 7 at 10:30am. It will stream live at PACTV.org/live. Please send in your questions ahead of time so we can organize them by subject matter. You may email josh.cutler@mahouse.gov and please put “Legal Aid Services Forum” in the subject line.

This is a great opportunity to get legal expertise in some particularly relevant areas right now and learn about resources available to help you. Thanks to PAC-TV for hosting and facilitating the program.

South Coastal Counties Legal Services is a non-profit that provides free legal services to qualified low-income applicants in our service area. For more information see: http://www.sccls.org.