BOSTON (SHNS) – While the Legislature takes a mid-week break from formal sessions, the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday unanimously advanced legislation reshaping the State Action for Public Health Excellence (SAPHE) grant program, and addressing electric bicycles and roadway safety.
The committee gave a favorable report Wednesday morning to the SAPHE 2.0 bill (H 4328) that is meant to accelerate improvements to local and regional public health systems to address disparities in public health services by requiring the Department of Public Health to enshrine a set of standards for “foundational public health services” across Massachusetts and to “promote and provide adequate resources for boards of health.”
The Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management reported last month that the state’s 351 municipalities “have widely varying abilities to provide public health protections to residents” at least in part because Massachusetts is one of a handful of states that does not dedicate annual baseline or formula funding to local public health departments. While some cities or towns have professional and robust public health departments, others are staffed exclusively by volunteers.
“This is always dangerous for public health, and during the pandemic the consequences were severe,” the committee said in its report. The joint committee recommended that Massachusetts “must enact legislation that would set statewide standards and provide funds to ensure that everyone has access to a core set of public health protections and that there are sufficient funds for robust capacity building and data collection.”
The bill calls for the state to provide “annual non-competitive funding to ensure that all residents of the commonwealth are provided with foundational public health services that meet or exceed the standards set” in addition to competitive grants for regional or shared public health services, and grants and technical assistance for individual municipalities “that demonstrate limited operational capacity to meet local public health responsibilities.”
The House Ways and Means Committee also favorably reported a bill (H 3549) that would require large trucks bought or leased by the state after Jan. 1., 2023 to have convex mirrors, cross-over mirrors, backup cameras, and a protective device between the front and rear wheels meant to prevent injuries to pedestrians and bicyclists. The bill also includes the establishment of new rules for passing “vulnerable users” like bikes, the implementation of 25 miles per hour speed limits on state highways and parkways in cities and towns that have opted to adopt a uniform 25 mph speed limit on municipal roads, and to require the Department of Transportation to develop “a standardized form to report crashes and incidents involving a motor vehicle” and vulnerable road users like cyclists and pedestrians.
A similar bill seeking changes intended to make Massachusetts roads safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, police officers and construction workers passed the Senate in 2019 but it did not emerge for consideration in the House by the time last session ended.
The third bill that the House Ways and Means Committee added onto the end-of-session pile (H 4676) would give electric bikes and their operators the same rights and privileges — and subject them to the same responsibilities — as regular pedal bikes and their riders, and would establish specific rules for electric bikes, which are currently lumped in with mopeds under state law.
Rep. Steven Owens, who filed e-bike legislation this session, said earlier this year that 46 other states and the federal government already have similar classifications that regulate the use of electric bicycles. The Watertown Democrat said a legal framework would allow bicycle sharing companies like Bluebikes to start offering electric bicycles at their rental locations in Massachusetts.