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This Week in Massachusetts – July 26, 2022

Posted on July 26, 2022

Jobless Rate Ticks Down, but Picture is Fuzzy

24 Talker – The statewide unemployment rate dropped to 3.7% in June, while employers added 3,400 jobs following a significant downward revision to the May figure, labor officials announced.

Citing federal Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced last month that Bay State employers added 5,500 jobs in May. But on Friday, the Baker administration said updated data slashed the May addition down to only 400 jobs.

In June, employers added 3,400 jobs, representing a sizable increase over the newly updated May figure. Most of the gains occurred in construction and professional and business services, while education and health services, manufacturing, trade, transportation and utilities, financial activities and other services all shed jobs.

Massachusetts businesses have added 613,200 jobs since April 2020, clawing back most but not all of the 689,100 jobs lost in the first two months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The unemployment rate fell slightly from 3.9% in May to 3.7% in June, one-tenth of a percentage point higher than the nationwide 3.6% unemployment rate.

U.S. Unemployment Claims Spike to Eight-Month High

Boston Herald – Applications for jobless claims picked up in the U.S. for the third week in a row, the Department of Labor reported Thursday, reaching the highest total since November.

Initial claims rose 7,000 to 251,000 within the week ended on July 16, according to the release. Continuing claims for unemployment benefits increased by 51,000 to 1.38 million in the week ended on July 9, the largest increase since November.

The spikes have stirred speculation about the hot labor market finally cooling off as the economy heads for a downturn. But some economists say the increase alone is not a huge marker.

“I think there’s a natural sense of alarm, especially for those of us who remember the Great Recession, anytime the unemployment claims tick up,” said Matthew Rutledge, a Boston College economics professor. “But they aren’t necessarily a sign of bad things.”

For example, Rutledge said, during the Great Recession from 2007-2009, the unemployment claims jumped more quickly, increasing by over 300,000, and unemployment stretched for long sustained periods.

“It really isn’t until we start to get into the 400,000 range that we start to worry about longer term effects of not being able to find a job,” said Rutledge. “The real problem is when people who want to find a job can’t find a job and stay in the unemployment system for a long time, get increasingly discouraged and start to have all sorts of income, health or other problems. We’re nowhere near that point yet.”

In Massachusetts, initial claims were up more than 14,000 for the week ended on July 16, the highest state increase by a margin of about 10,000, according to the Department of Labor. However, the total number of people on unemployment only increased by 464, indicating that almost as many people were finding jobs as those losing them.

Boston Hits 100 Degrees, Setting Record as Heat Wave Scorches the State

Boston Globe – Boston temperatures reached 100 degrees mid-afternoon on Sunday, the sixth and hottest day of a heat wave that scorched the region for a week.

The thermometers at Logan International Airport hit triple digits at 2:13 p.m., according to Kyle Pederson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Boston/Norton office. The last time temperatures in Boston crossed the 100-degree mark was June 30, 2021, and the previous July 24 record was 98 degrees set in 1933.

“I’ve been in Boston for 60-some years, and this is the baddest heat I’ve ever seen,” said Annette Gilbert, a 74-year-old who was seeking relief at a Dorchester cooling center on Sunday. “It’s never been like this.”

Lawrence and Norwood also saw the mercury rise past 100 degrees on Sunday, according to the weather service.

A cold front arrived Monday afternoon, bringing with it showers, thunderstorms, and relief from the heat. The National Weather Service forecasts temperatures in the low 80s on Tuesday and reduced humidity. The average high temperature for Boston this time of year is 82 degrees.

On Sunday afternoon, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu extended the city’s heat emergency through Monday.

Marilyn Funches-Dooley, 66, who was playing dominoes with Gilbert and another friend at a cooling center in the Grove Hall Senior Center, lives next to a boiler room, she said, and a health condition keeps her from turning on the air conditioning, making temperatures unbearable.

“My house is burning up, and I couldn’t tolerate it,” said Funches-Dooley, who lives in Dorchester. “It’s just too hot, and I wish it would go away.”

Calling In Sick or Going on Vacation, Workers Aren’t Showing Up This Summer

This summer is proving to be a season of staffing headaches.

A rise in Covid-19 absences in recent weeks amid the spread of the BA.5 subvariant, combined with planned time off, has left restaurants, hotel chains, manufacturers and other workplaces struggling to keep operations running this summer. At some companies, bosses say, staffing is harder now than at any previous stage in the pandemic.

For the period from June 29 to July 11, 3.9 million Americans said they didn’t work because they were sick with Covid-19 or were caring for someone with it, according to Census Bureau data. In the comparable period last year, 1.8 million people missed work for those reasons.

Many workers also are taking vacations that they put off over the previous two years. According to the Labor Department, 4.8 million workers took vacation or personal days during the week of the Census Bureau’s June household survey this year, compared with 3.7 million workers who were taking time off in the comparable period last year.

Those factors, along with the continuing labor shortage that has left many companies understaffed for the better part of two years, mean employers are stretched thinner than usual and struggling to keep operations going. The national unemployment rate has been hovering around 3.6% for four straight months.

The Seattle burger chain Dick’s Drive-In Restaurant saw absences begin to tick up about a month ago as some staffers had Covid-19 while others stayed home because they had been exposed or were awaiting test results, said Jasmine Donovan, the company’s president and chief financial officer.

The company has responded by occasionally closing some restaurants early, at 10 p.m. instead of the typical 2 a.m. Dick’s also has kept some ordering windows shut, leading to longer lines.

Ms. Donovan said Covid-19 is one of the challenges that the local chain is facing. The company has experienced more staffers quitting before 30 days in recent weeks, often disappearing without giving notice. Many longer-tenured workers are moving to lower-cost cities, or quitting their jobs to go back to school or pursue internships, she said.

The company pays starting wages of $19 or $20 an hour, with benefits including full employer-paid health insurance, but it has 35 open positions at the moment. “I do not think we will be able to fill those this summer,” she said. “The people who want to work have not come back at the same rate as people who want to buy burgers.”

The scale of Covid-19 infections isn’t being captured in official data, said Bryon Bass, who heads the workforce-absence practice at insurer Sedgwick, the largest administrator of leave claims for self-insured employers. For the week ending July 3, Sedgwick received more than 2,000 claims for paid leaves related to Covid-19. “That’s the highest it’s ever been,” said Mr. Bass, adding that the numbers represent a 25% increase over the previous high point, which was during the Delta and Omicron surges in the fourth quarter last year.

One reason for the record number of paid-leave claims, he added, is that earlier in the pandemic, many large employers simply offered regular, fully paid sick leave for workers with Covid, whereas now they expect employees to go through a more formal claim process for Covid-related leave.

Mr. Bass said that the real positivity rate could be significantly higher than what is reported in official statistics. “We’re seeing that in claims data, because individuals come in and say, ‘I tested positive at home, now I need a leave of absence,’ ” he said.

Some workers and bosses say recent Covid-19 surges are again exposing gaps in the country’s child-care infrastructure.

“Every given day there’s an expectation that someone will be out, more because their child has Covid, and they have to figure out child care—they can’t go to school, they can’t go to camp,” said Joe DeSimone, founder and chief executive officer of Lacrosse Unlimited, Inc., speaking of the retail chain’s 60 or so headquarters staff in Edgewood, N.Y. “It’s less the employee, it’s more that someone in their family has it and they take off.”

Recently, a member of the senior leadership team had to bow out of a meeting to discuss vendor policy when his daughter’s camp called to say she had tested positive for Covid. The meeting was postponed and the company decided on, and sent to vendors, a new set of policies later than planned. “It has trained us a little better to make sure we’re not having a meeting just two days before a deadline,” Mr. DeSimone said.

Lacrosse Unlimited, which has 46 stores around the country, mandates that all corporate employees be in the office five days a week, which makes absences particularly disruptive. Mr. DeSimone said he uses video calls only for extreme situations.

Nela Richardson, chief economist at payroll processor ADP, said she expects the current wave of absences to be less disruptive to businesses than earlier Covid surges, in part because employers have figured out how to operate with fewer people. “That’s some of the learning that’s gone on,” she said, “almost the expectation that workers will be out because of Covid, and how do you adjust for that?” Some companies have automated more processes, she said.

Many tasks remain manual, though, and a lot of workers can’t be replaced by technology, especially in an industry such as leisure and hospitality. At Remington Hotels Inc., a Dallas hotel operator that employs more than 9,000 people across its properties, staff absences because of Covid-19 are up about 50% in recent weeks, Chief Executive Sloan Dean said.

With more workers out, Remington managers are filling in on hourly tasks, such as stripping linens off beds, and some restaurants are operating with one bartender instead of two or three. The company is bringing on more contract labor to fill staffing gaps or offering additional overtime to employees.

Remington runs hotels for brands including Marriott International Inc. and Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. Even before the current increase in absences, the company needed more workers. About 10% of its jobs are currently open, Mr. Dean said, and each of its 122 hotels wants to hire more staffers, particularly for roles in housekeeping and in its restaurants and kitchens.

Fewer people in the job market also has helped magnify some of this summer’s challenges. The number of people in the labor force fell by 353,000 in June, and the labor-force-participation rate—or the share of adults either working or looking for a job—remains lower than before the pandemic.

“The amount of water that’s in the bucket is lower, and you’ve got a number of things that are punching holes in the bucket,” said Peter Quigley, CEO of staffing and workforce-services company Kelly Services Inc.

Companies that rely on lower-wage workers have particularly struggled with absences, Mr. Quigley said. One of Kelly’s clients, a distribution and warehousing company, reported that less than 20% of its workforce showed up on all five days, as scheduled, due to either a Covid-19 absence or a vacation. “That’s not an uncommon story,” Mr. Quigley said.

Senate Fights to Bring Back Happy Hour

Axios – Happy hour drink discounts could be coming to Massachusetts, if the State Senate has its way.

The Senate’s version of a major economic development bill set to pass the legislature this month includes a provision allowing cities and towns to let bars and restaurants offer discounts on booze.

Current law limits pricing changes on alcoholic beverages, making it nearly impossible for drinks to be temporarily set to promotional prices.

Prohibitions on happy hour pricing were put in place in 1984 to crack down on drunk driving.

“We want to learn from lessons from the past and see if we can enable happy hour as a tool that many, many other jurisdictions and most other states allow in some way,” Provincetown Sen. Julian Cyr told the State House News Service last week.

Cyr slipped his amendment into the economic development package late Thursday as the Senate debated the $4.5 billion package.

Individual municipalities would each need to vote to approve happy hours.

Proprietors would need to announce a happy hour promotion at least three days in advance, and the discounts would have to end by 10pm.

The state would support places that legalize happy hour by forming a new advisory group with expertise on intoxicated driving, alcohol licensing and public safety.

Warren: Fed Chief Threatening ‘Surprisingly Strong Economic Recovery’

The Hill – Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) writes in a new op-ed that Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s efforts to control inflation risk “triggering a devastating recession” and jeopardizing the country’s “surprisingly strong” post-pandemic economic recovery.

“Rising costs are an urgent problem, and interest rates play a key role in maintaining price stability. But urgency is no excuse for doubling down on a dangerous treatment,” Warren wrote in The Wall Street Journal.

As inflation hits 40-year highs, the Fed has hiked interest rates in an effort to curb rising costs and is expected to announce still more increases.

Warren wrote that the Fed “has seized” on interest rate hikes despite Powell himself acknowledging that the move is “largely ineffective against many of the underlying causes of this inflationary spike.”

The Massachusetts senator noted that the actual impacts of increasing borrowing costs with higher interest rates add costs for businesses, meaning companies will pump the brakes on hiring, cut employee hours and even fire workers.

“In the bloodless language of economists, that’s referred to as ‘dampening demand,’ ” Warren wrote. “But make no mistake: If the Fed cuts too much or too abruptly, the resulting recession will leave millions of people—disproportionately lower-wage workers and workers of color—with smaller paychecks or no paycheck at all.”

Powell’s interest rate increases will likely trigger a “brutal” recession, Warren added, noting Republicans will try to combat it by cutting taxes and easing regulations for corporations and for the rich.

She also lauded some of the Biden administration’s efforts to tamp rising costs, like his release of strategic oil reserves to combat high gas prices, and called on Congress to act against inflation through means like investment in child care so parents can get to work and in American manufacturing.

More Tolls? Congestion Pricing? Lawmakers Set to Launch Study on New Road Fees

The legislature is set to approve a commission to review a variety “roadway pricing” plans for the state.

Generations of Massachusetts drivers have faced tolls around here only while on the Turnpike, the Tobin Bridge, or in the Boston Harbor tunnels. But that could soon change.

The state Legislature wants to appoint a commission charged with recommending new “roadway pricing” opportunities across the state. Or, to put it another way: more tolls.

The panel would explore other possible ideas, too. What about charging more to travel in and out of Boston at peak times of day, and less at off-peak times? Or giving drivers the option to pay a premium to access so-called managed lanes and speed past traffic? Or making motorists pay a certain amount for each mile they travel? Maybe even charge to drive into a particularly congested part of Boston, as drivers do in central London and soon will in lower Manhattan?

In the past few weeks, the House and the Senate have approved transportation bond bills with language tucked in the back that would create this “special commission on mobility pricing,” a catchall phrase that encompasses not just the roads but also the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and regional bus systems. While there are some minor differences to be hashed out in conference committee negotiations by the end of the month, such as exactly who gets appointed to this commission, the House and Senate already agree on the broad strokes of the bill.

Among those expected to get a commission seat is Jim Rooney, the chief executive of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. The chamber has made the legislation one of its top priorities this year.

“This is far better than lurching from crisis to crisis,” Rooney said. “We’ve created this hodgepodge of nonstrategic pricing, [just] raising enough money to get us through the moment.”

The commission’s mission: make recommendations on equitable pricing changes for roads and public transportation. (Rooney, for example, likes the idea of an affordable flat rate for commuter rail fares to make it easier for workers to live in areas with less expensive housing.)

In particular, members would study congestion pricing — toll rates based on the time of day or amount of traffic. The bill specifically calls for scenarios that fit an experimental federal program for variable pricing, a carveout to the general ban on states installing new tolls on federal highways.

Other topics the panel would need to tackle include the impact on vehicle emissions, and on operation and maintenance costs. The measure requires the commission to report back by July 1, 2023, with recommendations to the Legislature and no more than five “mobility pricing” plans.

“We need to think of how we are funding our capital investments and how we are managing our soul-crushing congestion,” said Josh Ostroff, interim director of advocacy group Transportation for Massachusetts.

The idea of studying more tolling options has been kicked around on Beacon Hill for years but previously has never gone far.

Adding toll charges to new roads or creating congestion-based pricing really only became technically feasible with the arrival of the electronic gantries that replaced human toll-takers about six years ago. Political feasibility is an entirely different story.

The idea of raising the state’s 24-cents-per-gallon gas tax is a divisive one, as is expanding tolls. In early 2021, Governor Charlie Baker torpedoed a section of a transportation bill that would have created a similar congestion-pricing commission. At the time, the governor said it was too soon since the start of the pandemic to draw conclusions about future driver behavior. It’s unclear whether Baker would veto the language this time around. All a spokeswoman for Baker would say about the matter is that he “will carefully review any legislation that reaches his desk.”

If state officials seriously consider broadening where and how tolls are collected, the libertarian-leaning Pioneer Institute will likely be among the critics. Executive director Jim Stergios said he’s concerned about adding to the state’s already opaque funding system for transportation — with its variety of “tax and fee schemes,” as he describes it — and about the possibility of singling out lower-income drivers who don’t have flexible schedules.

Supporters of the legislation point to numerous reasons to shake up the existing system: to fund long-overdue improvements to roads and trains, to ensure some communities aren’t stuck paying for more than their fair share, to make up for a slowdown in gas tax revenue as electric cars gradually replace gas-powered ones. They note that the state is under pressure to curb carbon emissions from the transportation sector, with a goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions across all sectors by 2050.

“This is a great opportunity to lay out the facts and the reality of the situation, and look for recommendations for how we can prepare ourselves for a 21st-century transportation system,” said Senator Brendan Crighton, a Democrat from Lynn who co-chairs the Legislature’s transportation committee. “It’s expensive to keep up with wear and tear from winters and harsh weather. We need to keep our economy running. If we’re not having these hard conversations now, I think we’re going to regret it a few years from now.”

The gas tax has already taken a hit — likely from the shift to remote office work during the COVID-19 pandemic, not electric cars. Before the pandemic, the tax typically brought in between $640 million and $680 million a year. The number dropped to $611 million in the 12 months that ended in June 2020 and $567 million the following year. (Gas tax collections were approaching $600 million for the fiscal year that just ended, but the number for June is not yet publicly available.)

State lawmakers last week agreed on a separate climate bill that, among other things, increases incentives to encourage buying electric vehicles. The bill also establishes a council to figure out how to best deploy electric-vehicle charging stations, with an aim of completely ending the sale in state of gas-powered cars by the end of 2035.

“If the gas tax is a fading resource relative to maintaining and supporting our infrastructure, you’ve got to find a way to come up with an alternative resource,” said Rick Dimino, the chief executive of the A Better City business group. “This is a hard thing but we need to get our arms around it.”

Health Care

‘Grave Diagnosis’ at Center of Abortion Bill Compromise

State House NewsHouse and Senate leaders have agreed to expand access to abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases where a doctor has made a “grave diagnosis” about the ability of the fetus to survive after birth, representing a compromise on one of the more controversial elements of a bill intended to respond to the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

Senate President Karen Spilka and Speaker Ron Mariano announced the breakthrough on the abortion rights bill Monday afternoon, offering only a broad description of the final outcome as staff works to finalize the legislation and get it filed by Monday night. The statement from the Legislature’s top two Democrats and the lead negotiators for both branches said the compromise would help “ensure that women who face dire circumstances after 24 weeks of pregnancy are not forced to leave Massachusetts in order to access reproductive health care services.”

The original House bill proposed to expand access to abortions after 24 weeks to cases involving “severe” fetal anomalies, not just fatal ones. The Senate dropped that language from its bill as critics complained that it was too vague, and lawmakers said they didn’t have enough time to consider the implications.

House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz told the News Service that the compromise bill would make “a number of changes” to the existing law, including the addition of cases involving a “grave diagnosis.” The North End Democrat declined to go into further detail until the bill gets filed, with the hope of it surfacing for votes in the House and Senate on Tuesday.

Gov. Charlie Baker has expressed his reservations about expanding access to late-term abortions, though he has said he would reserve final judgment until he sees the language that reaches his desk. The bill would also erect new legal shields to protect of reproductive health care and gender-affirming care from licensing consequences and legal action originating outside Massachusetts.

‘Fail First’ Therapy Crackdown Moves in Senate

State House News – The Senate advanced seven pieces of legislation previously passed by the House on Monday morning, getting bills dealing with “fail first” insurance policies and the consequences of student loan debt default into the hopper for the final week of formal sessions.

Among the bills polled out was the Senate Ways and Means Committee’s version of a step therapy bill (H 4929) that the House passed unanimously a month ago. Similar to the House version, the Senate bill appears put restrictions on — but not totally ban — the practice in which some patients are made to try and fail on insurance-preferred treatments before their insurer will approve a more expensive treatment prescribed by a doctor.

The Senate’s bill, according to a Ways and Means Committee summary, would prohibit MassHealth, carriers or a utilization review board from “using clinical review criteria to establish a step therapy protocol that requires an insured to utilize a medication that is not likely to be clinically effective for the prescribed purpose” and directs the same entities to take into consideration the “needs of a typical patient populations and diagnoses when establishing clinical criteria to be used for step therapy protocol.” It also would set out a process for patients to seek exceptions to directed step therapy protocols.

There appears to be at least one difference between the House and Senate versions: the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing reported that the House version would cost the state more than $100,000, but the Senate summary of the latest version says it would have no cost.

The bill has good odds of being in the mix as lawmakers send a flurry of legislation to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk in the days before the July 31 end of formal sessions — the Senate unanimously passed a step therapy bill in July 2020 and the makeup of the branch has not changed significantly since then.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee also polled out a bill (H 4339) that the House passed in January which would prohibit state boards of registration and state agencies from denying, revoking or refusing to renew a professional or occupational certificate, registration, license or authority because of a person’s default on an educational loan.

Other bills included in Monday morning’s Senate Ways and Means poll would change the way MassHealth considers transfers of assets into a pooled trust by or for elder residents aged 65 or older if it is to pay for items or services not covered by MassHealth (H 4792), adjust some requirements related to municipal or regional school district procurements (H 596), and allow Lee and Lenox to convey land to the group that restores and maintains author Edith Wharton’s home (H 4215).

Sustainability, Climate and Energy

Here’s What’s in the Legislature’s Energy/Climate-Change Legislation

Commonwealth Magazine – The Legislature suspended its rules and whisked through a climate change bill on Thursday that seeks to make Massachusetts the “Saudi Arabia of wind,” promotes the adoption of zero-emission vehicles, and allows 10 communities to bar fossil-fuel infrastructure in new construction.

The precise contents of the bill were not available and the funding for various initiatives will be worked out separately, but the House and Senate passed the measure swiftly – the House by a 143-9 vote and the Senate by a tally of 38-2.

Most members of the House stood and clapped after Rep. Jeffrey Roy, the House chair of the Legislature’s Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee, spoke in favor of the bill he helped fashion.

The compromise bill blends two very different pieces of legislation – a House bill focused primarily on offshore wind development and a Senate bill targeting ways to use that green power to reduce climate emissions.

Roy said in an interview that the bill creates several funds that will be used to dispense money for the legislation’s various priorities. He said the amount of money going into each of the funds is not settled on yet and depends to a large degree on appropriations in an economic development bill making its way through the Legislature.

Presumably much of the initial funding will come from state surplus funds and federal aid. Roy had initially proposed assessments on utility bills to provide the funding, but that idea was scrapped.

Gov. Charlie Baker filed legislation proposing a $750 million investment in clean energy. Roy indicated the Legislature’s bill would not go that high, but he said the amount would be significant.


Nearly One-Third of Massachusetts Students were Chronically Absent Last Year

Boston Globe – In early 2022, on the heels of winter break, Boston’s Tobin K-8 School was hit hard by the Omicron variant. As many as half the students in some classrooms and nearly one-third of the staff were out with the coronavirus.

Teachers did what they could to keep students on pace after missing days of school at a time. They posted readings, videos, and assignments online, but with no option for remote learning, some students fell behind.

“When students came back, it was very tricky to backfill some of those gaps,” said Caitlin Gaffny, a fourth- and fifth-grade science and math teacher at the school. “You might have one student out Monday to Wednesday and another out beginning Wednesday. To continue to play backup was challenging.”

Gaffny’s students also missed school for transportation reasons, interpersonal struggles following a year of remote learning, and pressures at home like family members losing their jobs, or their lives, to the pandemic.

Across the state, more than 29 percent of Massachusetts public school students, or over 250,000, were chronically absent last school year, meaning they missed 10 percent or more of the academic year, according to data through March 1. That’s more than double the rate prior to the pandemic, when about 13 percent were absent that often.

In large urban districts, chronic absenteeism surged even higher. In Springfield, the state’s second-largest, over half of students missed 10 percent of the school year through March 1. In Boston Public Schools, it was around 40 percent, up 60 percent from prior to the pandemic — although there were exceptions, with East Boston High actually reporting a drop in chronic absenteeism.

Taxation and Budget

Judiciary Seeks to Join Modern Era with $164 Million Bond Bill

Commonwealth Magazine – When I recently sought a public document from a state court, the clerk asked me to request it by fax. In 2022, who operates via fax?

Reporters are not alone in their woes with the court’s antiquated technology. Many courthouses do not have wi-fi, even for employees who move between their desks and a courtroom. Judges work from paper case files, so motions must be printed and brought to court.

With the House passage Thursday of a $164 million bond bill for information technology at the judiciary, there is finally a glimmer of hope that the courts may join the 21st century.

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly Budd testified at a legislative hearing last March that the bond bill has the potential “to transform and modernize” the courts and “improve the experience for all who use and work in them.”

Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Michael Day said on the House floor that while the principles of the judiciary are ancient, “the technology and systems our court personnel rely on should not be.” Day said the last time lawmakers voted on a similar investment in court technology was a quarter century ago, when “Windows 97 was state of the art.”

The bill includes $94 million to create “digital courthouses and courtrooms,” $35 million for courthouse security, and $35 million to modernize administrative operations. Policy changes include letting a court seal be printed electronically, authorizing electronic signatures on documents, and considering electronic documents equal to paper documents.