The Legislature enacted a $1.8 billion information technology bond bill after lawmakers reached a deal on a finalized proposal late Friday. The bill now heads to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk.
The IT bond bill offers cybersecurity and technology improvements to early child care, classrooms, law enforcement, the food industry and other areas — all in the midst of a global pandemic that has made internet access, teleconferencing platforms and secure, efficient websites crucial for remote work.
The House voted, 155-4, to enact the bill early Sunday. The Senate unanimously approved the proposal.
“I’m happy. It’s a good bill,” said Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues, a Westport Democrat and one of the legislators in the bill’s conference committee. “It’s necessary to ensure that we have the appropriations necessary to continue our investments in IT and general government, and I’m glad it was done.”
The massive bill authorizes $50 million to improve access to remote learning technology for grades K through 12, particularly for vulnerable populations that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the bill, the Department of Early Education and Care would distribute $25 million in grants to licensed early education and child care centers to offset the costs of capital improvements meant to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The department would give priority to child care centers serving families with subsidized child care and those considered crucial to the state’s workforce.
The bill also includes $160 million for technology and telecommunications improvements, including a study of cell phone service coverage in counties where most municipalities have 500 people or fewer per square mile. The study would offer a clearer picture of the telecommunications barrier Western Massachusetts residents face and how to improve it.
Of the $160 million, at least $10 million will have to be spent on improving coverage in these areas.
Other highlights include $20 million for a body camera grant program, $10 million to modernize the state’s criminal justice data system and track racial disparities across the judicial system and $2.9 million to the Office of the Commissioner of Probation to create an automated electronic process for sealing criminal records.
Lawmakers reached a deal on the proposal on what would normally be the final day of the two-year legislative session. The House and Senate voted to extend formal sessions past Friday, allowing them to continue debating major bills through the rest of the year. Several of those bills are in conference committee, including proposals on police reform, economic development, health care and transportation.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo said in a statement early Saturday that the House had passed several of those priority bills this month.
“Now having extended the legislative session due to COVID-19, the House will continue to work with the Senate to reach resolution on these items,” the Winthrop Democrat said.
“It’s a changed world,” said House Minority Leader Brad Jones, a North Reading Republican. “Everybody agreed to extend the session because it’s important.”
Rodrigues was asked if the several conference committees could reach deals on major bills in August, to which he said, “I think they could all get done in August. Will they? We don’t know.”