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Schools seek municipal broadband; court weighs pandemic case

September 11, 2020 GMT

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) — The state’s highest court heard arguments Friday in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of emergency powers used by Gov. Charlie Baker during the pandemic.

The case focuses on a Cold War-era law that grants the governor wide authority in cases of enemy attacks, sabotage, riots, fire, floods, or “natural causes.”

The Supreme Judicial Court met virtually to hear from both sides in the case, brought by business owners hoping to overturn executive orders the Republican governor has issued since the start of the pandemic in Massachusetts.

Baker has argued that he has the legal authority to issue the orders even without the approval of state lawmakers.

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Those orders include shuttering some businesses like bars and nightclubs, placing limits on other businesses like restaurants, limiting the number of people allowed at gatherings, and imposing travel restrictions to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Those who brought the lawsuit argue Baker overstepped his legal authority, pointing to the state’s 1950 Civil Defense Act, which they said makes no specific reference to diseases.

Attorneys for Baker said his actions are still allowed under the civil defense statute. The also pointed to a separate state law that specifically gives the governor more limited powers in the case of a public health emergency.

The justices did not indicate when they would issue a ruling.

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MUNICIPAL BROADBAND NETWORK

School officials in Worcester are asking the city to explore the creation of a municipal broadband network after many families were unable to access online schooling during the coronavirus pandemic.

A school panel on internet access asked the City Council on Thursday to prepare a cost analysis and take other “concrete steps” to look into the possibility of creating a city broadband network, according to to The Telegram & Gazette.

A July report from the Worcester Regional Research Bureau found that nearly a third of households did not have broadband, and 18% had no internet at all. The area’s broadband is provided by Charter Communications.

Schools across the nation faced struggles with internet access after the coronavirus forced districts to shift instruction online last spring. In Worcester, the district bought thousands of wireless hot-spots for families that did not have internet, but the leader of the internet access panel said those “piecemeal efforts” are not a permanent solution.

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VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS

Massachusetts reported 14 newly confirmed coronavirus deaths and about 440 newly confirmed cases Friday, pushing the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to more than 8,970 and its confirmed caseload to more than 122,200.

The seven-day weighted average of positive tests was less than 1%. The true number of cases is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.

There were 330 people reported hospitalized Friday because of COVID-19, and about 60 in intensive care units.

The number of confirmed and probable COVID-19 related deaths at care homes rose to more than 5,880 or nearly 65% of all confirmed and probable deaths in Massachusetts attributed to the disease.