I’m posting below a message from the bipartisan leadership of the State Senate about the rules conversation that is going on right now. The conversation is going to reach a conclusion over the next week or so, but any thoughts would be appreciated.
You may have heard that the Massachusetts House and Senate are currently in a conversation about the joint rules that govern the flow of bills in the legislature. The Senate’s goal is to get Senate bills through each committee and back to the chamber of origination more quickly to be considered by the entire body. We know there are many ways to achieve this goal, we have made numerous proposals to get there, and we remain open to any avenue.
We believe that our current structure of twenty-five joint committees is the most efficient method of moving bills through the legislative process. We hold a single hearing on each bill rather than a hearing before a House committee and one before a Senate committee. This arrangement, however, is not living up to its full potential. It used to be that bills were filed in January, heard in committee, and reported out to the branch of origination by April of the same year.
Currently, bills are filed in January of the first year of the term and they generally move slowly out of committee closer to March of the second year of the term. In fact, many don’t come out of committee at all. Since there are more Representatives than Senators, the House has a numerical advantage on each committee and, therefore, effectively controls the flow of bills through each standing committee.
One of many proposals from the Senate is a common sense rule change, which brings us closer to the practice of 46 other state legislatures. This change would allow House or Senate members to send bills, with a majority vote of their members, to the chamber of origination. House members vote on House bills, Senate members vote on Senate bills. We believe this common sense rule change will allow for more bills to be considered by the entire body, whether the House or the Senate.
With that said, since our goal is to move our bills more quickly back to the Senate when released from committee, we know there are other ways to do this. We have made other suggestions on how to achieve this goal to no avail. We welcome any and all suggestions on how we might come to an accord with the House.
With this change, the Legislature will accomplish more for the residents of the Commonwealth. The House and Senate are co-equal branches of the legislature and our rules should be reflective of this fact. Thank you for taking the time to learn about the current situation and the reasoning behind our proposals.
Senate President Stan Rosenberg
Minority Leader Bruce Tarr
Committee on Rules Chairman Mark Montigny