The End of Session Crunch

It has already been a productive legislative session, but negotiations underway have the potential to make it especially significant.

In April, we enacted  a transformational set of criminal justice reforms.  Last month, we settled a major package to reduce economic inequality — raising the minimum wage, providing paid family and medical leave and also resolving a dispute over the sales tax.

Several measures that have significant resonance in the current national political climate have crossed or should shortly hit the Governor’s desk:   Extreme risk protective orders to reduce the risk of gun suicides, automatic voter registration and the repeal of archaic anti-abortion laws.

Another measure that resonates nationally is still up in the air — “safe communities” legislation that would assure that local police focus on maintaining order and protecting residents rather than doing the immigration enforcement work of ICE.

The safe communities measure is pending as part of the state’s budget for fiscal 2019 which is now a couple of weeks late.  Talks continue actively on the budget and a resolution may be reached before you read this piece.

What makes the remaining weeks of the session very interesting is the prospect that we may reach agreement on legislation addressing complex ongoing challenges.  Both branches have passed complex health care cost control measures.  Both branches have passed complex clean energy measures and separate environmental bonding measures.  Both branches have passed legislation to update the education aid formula. Both branches will soon have passed legislation to address opiate addiction.   There is also some prospect of progress on non-compete agreements and even, perhaps, some abbreviated zoning reforms.

Our rules and traditions require that significant legislation be completed by July 31 of the two year legislative cycle.  The legislature does get criticized for leaving big bills until close to that deadline.  I agree it is much preferable to do things earlier.  On the other hand, there is a legislative dynamic that does tend to drive bill completion towards the end.

The legislature convenes in January after the November elections.  It must then organize itself and assign committee chairs and leadership roles.  Formal legislative business tends to begin in April.  House and Senate chairs of the various joint committees meet and set priorities and begin to conduct hearings and discuss particular legislation.

By February of the second year, committees must make recommendations on most of the bills before them.  The spring and early summer of the second year are typically the times of most intense legislative debate as bills move from committees to the legislative floor.

There is nothing stopping committee chairs from releasing legislation in the first year, and often significant legislation is debated in the fall of the first year of the two-year legislative cycle.  We were able to do that with our criminal justice legislation.  We released it and debated it in the fall and settled the inter-branch differences over the holidays and through the winter.

But we were able to enact criminal justice legislation early only because there was strong leadership consensus after several years of effort that criminal justice reform was ready to move.

On the many issues where there is less leadership consensus, legislative leaders have to struggle to settle the joint agenda and that may ultimately require some implicit or explicit horse-trading across legislative issues.   The table is really not set for a final settlement until all the big bills are on the table.

Here’s hoping that the final flurry of negotiation is productive!

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

28 replies on “The End of Session Crunch”

  1. So much good work eventually gets done, but I have always found the Legislature’s timetable to be incredibly frustrating. As you noted, there is no reason why bills can’t be reported out sooner. Too much time is wasted in positioning for trade-offs between bills (and Budget items) perceived as being more favored by either chamber and those trade-offs generally occur at the last moment. One bill that I am watching passed both chambers nearly unanimously but with minor variations — not enough for a full-blown Conference Committee. Now I wonder whether the Legislature will actually finally enact the Youth Tobacco Bill given the crush of Legislation and Budget matters (and Budget veto override votes) before July 31st. As I said the process is frustrating!

  2. Please get. Short-term rental registration out of conference committee as proposed by Rep. Michelwitz.

    Safe communities is also a must. I know it is Speaker DeLeo who is blocking this (not the Senate which put the provision in the budget).

  3. I believe that the Senate does the People’s business in a reasonably transparent and efficient way. I believe everything is held for the last minute in the House in order to maximize control by the leadership. This is neither efficient, transparent, nor democratic. The House needs reform, including the internal term limits that the Speaker once promised.

    1. Well, we did have a speaker term limit until the House was bullied into undoing that a few years ago. For joint committees, the House also tries to bully the Senate, partly from shear numbers. The mentality should be that they are equals.

  4. What is the status of funding for the CSG bill? During the trip to Germany you and others learned more about the importance of programming in reducing recidivism for 18-25 year olds.

  5. Thanks for all of your great work. Ideally, automatic voter registration differences can be worked out between the House and the Senate so that AVR can be sent to Governor Baker sooner than later.
    Pam Thomure

  6. I appreciate your newsletters and the insight they give into the legislative process! Like many, I hope that legislation to protect immigrants from ICE actions and deportations will prevail. We can’t continue to tolerate the unjust targeting of people fleeing here. I know that you already support the same things I do and even more. Your leadership is inspiring and helps me to engage more.

  7. Will,

    These comments plus others you send provide such clear insights into how the legislative process works. They could and should be used by high school teachers and college professors. Do you ever include them? have you ever thought of collecting all of your newsletters for this purpose? Of course, you could teach these courses
    yourself, but that may be too much?

    Anne Covino Goldenberg

  8. Hi,
    Thanks for your thoughtful insights on smart growth and repeal of 40b because it forces development in our open space resources which are so important to the quality if life in our communities.
    Gary Tondorf-Dick

  9. Please consider allowing HB 3090 the Child Centered Family Law bill to be passed in the Senate. This bill has now been passed by the House.

    In the day where we want to address Child Separation, Opioids, and Middle Aged Male Suicide. This bill has the ability to help all of those.

    HB 3090 was a compromise bill that was worked on by a large diverse professional group appointed by former Governor Deval Patrick. It included esteemed members of various bars, the Chief Justices of the Probate Court, the Child Advocate for the Commonwealth, a member of the DV coalition , top Child Psychologists for the Commonwealth and some Dads.

    This compromise bill took two years to come to fruition after much debate. it is not perfect for many of those in the group but it is a major step forward for the Best Interest of the Commonwealths Children.


    House Bill 3090 is a Public Health bill in many ways.

    Please help to bring HB 3090 to the floor. Let it be heard, despite I know your reservations. I respect them.

    1. There is a look of seperation on our faces here in Massachusetts…not just the southern border.
      HB3090 can help my 9yr old & me come together more than what the current law allows.

  10. Thanks again for your leadership on Justice Reform. Let’s hope even more can be done in the future. I hope you all finish strong doing the work we need done.

  11. It is clear you have a good grasp of how the legislative works currently. But how do you think it should be reformed to work better? I was looking forward to your best “systems thinking” on this matter.

  12. The domination of the House by the leadership is a major problem. Just like Mitch McConnell in the US Senate, Bobby DeLeo prevents debate in the Mass House on issues he disagrees with. In the old days, Dave Bartley and George Keverian would let the House debate most anything.

    The same situation could occur again in the state Senate. In their day, Kevin Harrington and Billy Bulger ran it like a dictatorship. Both branches should try to institutionalize democracy and perhaps set a model for Congress.

  13. Thanks for your hard work! I’d love to see the senate stand firm on negotiations with the house on increasing RPS, removing caps on net metering, and adopt the global warming solutions act.

  14. One way the Senate Could work better if one would let HB 3090 The Child Centered Family Law bill come to the floor for the vote. This bill is in the interest of children and their families. However, it seems that ONE senator can stop the will of the people and stop the ability of other Senators to vote on the floor. Maybe if one steps aside and lets the voices of the other Senators weigh on this bill could come to the floor and be passed for the good of us all. HB 3090 was a Compromise bill that could address many social ills. Maybe the one Senator could let the other Senators voices be heard on this bill. Move HB 3090 to the floor for a vote.

  15. Is there potential for using project management software tools for tracking progress of legislation so you don’t get stuck in these last minute all nighters at the end of the cession and do a more orderly process? Not sure last centuries processes will work today.

  16. I don’t know all the details of the criminal justice reforms, but it seems only common sense that before anyone makes even dollar #1 on legal marijuana sales in Massachusetts, that not a single person arrested for marijuana possession or sales remain in a state prison, or under revocable parole.

    For even one person to profit off of pot sales while another remains imprisoned by the state for the same acts is an inexcuseable hypocrisy that should make us all ashamed.

    1. I agree with your sentiment, but bear in mind that street sales of marijuana outside lawful stores is still punishable by imprisonment. That hasn’t gone away, and for better or worse, it won’t.

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