Charlie Baker Vetoed a 57-Page Climate Change Bill

By Bob Katzen

A key section makes the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal net zero by 2050. The measure had passed the House 145-9 and the Senate 38-2 – margins that are big enough for the Legislature to easily override the veto.

But it is too late for that. The 2000 Legislature ended on January 5 so any vetoes made or amendments proposed by the governor after that time cannot go back to the Legislature for an override or consideration.

“While I support the bill’s goals and am largely in agreement with many of its proposals, 35 hours was not enough time to review and suggest amendments to such complex legislation,” said Baker in his veto message. “Had this bill been presented to me with more time while the Legislature was still in session, I would have returned it with amendments to address the concerns. Unfortunately, because the Legislature has adjourned, I do not have that option, and therefore, reluctantly, I cannot sign the legislation as currently written.”

Baker listed several reasons he won’t sign the bill including that it will work against the critical intent of the recently enacted Housing Choice legislation, and this is a time when the commonwealth needs more affordable housing; there is nothing in this bill to adapt to the ongoing and future impacts of climate change; and the administration wholeheartedly supports the environmental justice goals of this bill, but intent without the tools to address those issues are empty promises.

“The Massachusetts economy is just beginning to recover from the pandemic downturn caused by the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.” Baker continued. “As we are all learning what the future will hold, I have concerns about the impacts portions of this bill will have for large sectors of the economy.”

“Climate change is the greatest existential threat facing our state, our nation and our planet,” said House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka in a joint statement. They said they will refile in its entirety the same bill the governor vetoed and get it onto the governor’s desk in the coming days.” At that point, the governor will have the opportunity to veto or propose amendments to the bill and the Legislature will have the final say on whether it approves the amendments or overrides the veto.

“I’m deeply disappointed by Gov. Baker’s decision to veto the climate bill,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts. “Signing this bill would have moved us toward a cleaner, healthier future. Instead, the governor’s veto is sticking us with the dirty, polluting fuels of the past. I hope House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka move quickly to adopt these policies despite Gov. Baker’s veto.

“Charlie Baker is not the first politician in the world to have responded to climate change by procrastinating,” said Sen. Mike Barrett (D-Lexington), Senate Chair of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. “I’m deeply disappointed in him and his decision, but we should look at the positive side. Dozens of legislators and thousands of citizens have been energized by the battle to get this bill into law. We’re more motivated than ever. And we’re getting right back to work.”

“[We are] deeply disappointed that Gov. Baker has vetoed this path-breaking climate bill and killed desperately needed environmental justice protections,” said a statement from the Environmental League of Massachusetts. “So much of this bill aligns with his own administration’s recommendations for achieving a net-zero economy by 2050. His Energy and Environmental Affairs team has led strong climate planning efforts. It is unfortunate that the governor stopped short of codifying those key steps into law.”

$626.5 MILLION ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT (H 5250) – Gov. Baker signed into law a $626.5 million economic development package which did not include a controversial House-backed plan to have Massachusetts join other New England states in legalizing sports betting.

Provisions include $50 million in funding for transit-oriented housing; $30 million for a program similar to the federal Paycheck Protection Program that loans money to businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to pay employee payroll, mortgage interest, rent, utilities and interest on other debt obligations; $35 million for loans for community development lending institutions to extend capital to small businesses, with a focus on minority- and women-owned businesses; $50 million for neighborhood stabilization to help return blighted or vacant housing back to productive use; $6 million for a competitive grant program administered by the Massachusetts Cultural Council to promote artists in creating new mediums to showcase their art, and to promote local museums to showcase their exhibits remotely; $102.3 million for local economic development projects across the state; $20 million for a competitive grant program fund dedicated to supporting community development, infrastructure projects and climate resilience initiatives in rural communities and small towns; and the creation of the Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights that would require student loan borrowers to be licensed at the state level, prohibit servicers from engaging in predatory, unfair and unlawful practices, and establish a Student Loan Ombudsman in the Attorney General’s office to resolve complaints and help borrowers navigate their repayment options.

“In a time of crisis for our commonwealth, the Legislature completed one of the most important economic recovery and investment packages in recent history,” said Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow), Senate chair of the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. “With the inclusion of urgently needed small business and restaurant relief, new protections for over one million student loan borrowers and the most progressive and far-reaching housing reform in decades, this legislation will bring needed relief to families, small businesses, and communities hit hardest by COVID-19 … this new set of laws will help millions of people in our commonwealth and will chart a course toward a faster, more equitable recovery.”

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