This week, Governor Baker announced that most COVID-19 restrictions would end on May 29. GBH News statehouse reporter Mike Deehan joined Joe Mathieu on Morning Edition today to discuss what happens next. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Joe Mathieu: We've been chewing on this and talking around this for well over a year. Massachusetts mandates will be lifted May 29th. There will be, though, some exceptions.
Mike Deehan: Yes, and the exceptions make a bit of sense. Right off the bat, you have schoolteachers and students K through 12. They're going to stick to masks. They're really the only unvaccinated population that's large in the state right now — kids 11 and under. Transportation systems, public and private busses, things like a Greyhound, obviously the MBTA, these things make a bit of sense. And that's where we're going to see immediate follow through on restrictions as new policies get in place.
Mathieu: The governor also announced the emergency order will end, and that's not until June 15th. I'd love for you to explain all of this stuff because we're hearing things like mask mandates, we're hearing about restrictions, the emergency order — they overlap, but they don't all mean the same thing here, Mike. Will that mean an end to things like the Restaurant Protection Act? Is there a chance any of those protections stay?
Deehan: There's a big chance and a good chance that some of these protections stay — some the new incentives, new consumer protections or business protections that have been put in place. The reason that the emergency order is going to end in June as opposed to May 29th is because of all these legal margins and things that are leftover.
So many of the laws that the legislature has passed, including that Restaurant Protection Act, go through the end of that emergency order. They all said, through February 2021 or the end of the emergency order. Obviously that's where we're at right now. So there is a lot of talk on Beacon Hill especially about those restaurant protections. That Restaurant Protection Act is a cap on delivery fees, places like Uber Eats and GrubHub, which can't charge more than 15 percent to a restaurant on top of what is already paid for. That is meant to [help] a lot of restaurants that were relying on the takeout delivery trade to stay in business. It also allowed them to do to-go cocktails, beer and wine for the first time in Massachusetts history.
Mathieu: So we don't get to keep that?
Deehan: Well, we very well might. That's what lawmakers are looking at right now — if they can manage to pass that Restaurant Act as a new law, codify the emergency law into regular state law. That's something that Senator Diana DiZoglio from Methuen has been asking for. She spearheaded that initial act to do the emergency version of the law. She now wants to make it a permanent part of the law, but that means that lawmakers will have to get it done before June when the emergency order expires.
Mathieu: So the governor's working with the legislature here to cover a lot of this stuff. Utility shutoffs are one that I keep hearing about. Mike, is there going to be protection for people as we get back to some of the tougher parts of life?
Deehan: Yeah, the utilities [shutoff] was something that Baker was asked about yesterday, and he said that it's part of what they're going to be looking at now. Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka have both said that they are going to be cooperative with the Baker administration.
Essentially, they're analyzing all of these protections that are in place right now and saying, “which ones do we need to extend? Which ones might we want to make permanent? What do we have to revisit?” It's a big work order right now for lawmakers who are still trying to get their budget out the door. But, they did see this coming. They have a decent idea of what they want to make permanent. The utility shutoffs [protection] is definitely one that you could see get extended for a few months after the pandemic — or not. The utility industry certainly has a powerful lobby here on Beacon Hill, and I can imagine that there will be some factors who say “no, no, the emergency's over. So those protections should be over as well.”
WATCH: Mike Deehan on political reactions to lifting COVID restrictions