House and Senate Sunday session
After getting little work done on Saturday due to inconclusive negotiations between House and Senate negotiators over major legislation, both chambers were back in session today in an attempt to finish up business before tonight’s end-of-session deadline.
Both chambers convened into formal session at 12 p.m. today.
Four main pieces of legislation being negotiated in conference committee had yet to be released as of mid-afternoon Sunday.
DeLeo ‘hopeful’ on passing major legislation – but makes no promises
The behind-the-scenes standoff between House and Senate negotiators over four major bills – including those covering energy policies, economic development, ride-hailing regulations, non-compete agreements and other issues – continued well into Sunday afternoon on Beacon Hill, calling into question whether some key legislation will ever see the light of day before the session ends at midnight. It was the second day in a row of waiting as House and Senate negotiators tried to hammer out compromises on thorny issues dividing the two chambers.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo was guardedly optimistic that compromises can be reached on all major items, reports State House News Service (pay wall). “It appears as though starting this morning or late last night, whatever it was, some good progress was made on all of them,” DeLeo said. “Are we there yet? No, but I’m hopeful that we’re going to be able to come to an agreement on all of them.” But he said he couldn’t promise agreement would be reached.
“People try to wait to wait ’til the bitter end,” DeLeo said, likening the legislature’s deadline for roll call votes to the trading deadline in Major League Baseball or the pending start of a trial that spurs parties to reach compromise settlements. The speaker was adamant about one thing: He said the House wouldn’t suspend the rule barring the Legislature from meeting in formal sessions beyond July 31.
The Globe’s Joshua Miller has more on the conference-committee delays – and he looks at many of the other legislative items that are “poised to die a silent death” because of legislative inaction during this session.
Rosenberg points finger at House
Senate President Stan Rosenberg wasn’t exactly blaming the House for this weekend’s slow pace of legislative action, as Senate and House negotiators continued to toil behind the scenes to craft compromise bills on major legislation. But he sure was close to blaming the House. “It is challenging,” he said over the weekend, as reported by SHNS’s Katie Lannan (pay wall). “The largest and most complicated conference items came to the Senate in the last month after sitting in the House for many, many months, so that’s challenging for us but we will continue to negotiate and try to work out the differences.”
On Sunday, Gov. Baker remained in Gloucester where he’s vacationing with his family for a few days, but his staff is saying the governor is keeping close tabs on what’s happening on Beacon Hill, reports SHNS’s Matt Murphy (pay wall). Baker has been participating in conference calls every few hours with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, senior staff and cabinet secretaries. Baker has also spoken directly more than once with Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Lannan reports.
Speaker takes AG gun-authority bill off table
One major development on Sunday didn’t require a conference committee report or vote: House Speaker Robert DeLeo made clear that House lawmakers will steer clear of last-minute legislation filed in reaction to Attorney General Maura Healey’s controversial crackdown on “copycat” assault weapons. DeLeo said that the bill is just too big and complex to be shoehorned into the already crammed agenda before this year’s session ends today. He added the issue was likely to be decided in court anyway, Gintautus Dumicius of MassLive reports. “There’s no possible way we could have an issue such as a gun debate be debated and acted upon within two days,” he said, while predicting legal action from the Gun Owners Action League. DeLeo avoided direct answers to questions about whether he thought Healey actually overstepped her authority by issuing her recent directive declaring that the sale of copycat assault weapons violated current state gun-control laws.
Meanwhile, the Globe’s Yvonne Abraham says Healey has been bombarded with “vile, sexist, and homophobic” attacks from gun owners and gun rights activists due to her recent assault-weapons edict. “They’ve called Healey ugly, her agenda satanic, and taunted her for being gay. One person tweeted that he’d like to hire a homeless man to rape and disembowel the attorney general alive. A commenter on a gun nut blog tracked down her home address and posted it,” Abraham writes.
Lawmakers nix Walsh bid for liquor license control
One of the only major bills to emerge from conference committee was a major disappointment for Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, whose high-profile bid to wrest control of his city’s liquor licenses from the state legislature died when House and Senate conferees agreed on the final language for a municipal modernization bill that didn’t include giving more authority to cities and towns to issue liquor licenses, Nicole Dungca of the Globe reports. The final version, expected to be voted on by both chambers today, keeps the license authority largely in the legislature’s hands. The Walsh administration, which pushed hard for the shift and enlisted the support of a dozen members of the city council along the way, says it will try again next year.
‘Municipal modernization,’ explained
So what exactly is the “municipal modernization” bill that lawmakers have agreed upon this weekend? Gov. Baker once described it as “the most boring weed-whacking stuff you ever saw in your life.” But Matt Szafranski at Western Mass Politics and Insight takes a more erudite stab at explaining the legislation that emerged from conference committee. “Much of it revises technical jargon, streamlines processes or updates dollar values to reflect inflation,” he reports. “But the law also cuts city councils and town select boards and finance committees out of authorizing deficit spending for snow and ice removal. It is one of many changes to streamline municipal operations, but one that runs counter the budgeting system envisioned by the Municipal Finance Act, the state law that governs how localities budget, spend and borrow. Broadly speaking, the act gives municipal executives incredible control over spending, but local legislatures can halt virtually any action that financial obligates the community.”
SHNS’s Michael Norton adds at MassLive: “Among the many provisions in the bill are an initiative aimed at bringing down the costs of textbooks in K-12 and public higher education, a required report from telephone and distribution companies on double poles, and numerous sections aimed at streamlining municipal government procurement and operations.”
So Baker wasn’t oversimplifying after all: It’s the most boring weed-whacking stuff you ever saw in your life.
Paid leave seen DOA in House
While compromises eluded lawmakers working on major legislation over the weekend, the Senate on Saturday did give its stamp of approval to legislation that would mandate up to 16 weeks of paid family leave, according to an Associated Press account carried by the Lowell Sun. But the legislation is unlikely to be taken up by the House today and will likely join scores of other bills refiled for next session.
House restores $40 million
While lawmakers waited for conference committee reports that never materialized Saturday (or most of Sunday, for that matter), House members did restore $40 million in funding to the fiscal 2017 budget that Gov. Baker slashed from his spending plan, reports the Herald’s Kathleen NcKiernan. That was in addition to the $86.4 million in overrides previously approved by House members, with senators going along with most of those overrides.
When all else fails, just sing ‘God Bless America’
Land transfer bills occupied the attention of the House of Representatives on Sunday afternoon as the clock wound down on the last day of formal sessions before January. At 2:45 p.m., the chamber was filled with the sound of chatter as members waited to find out whether their colleagues would reach agreement on time. House Speaker Robert DeLeo had just told reporters he would make no promises. Court officers were dispatched to cast roll calls for the reps negotiating the ride-hailing regulatory bill – a sign that at least they were meeting. If policy debate didn’t dominate the chamber, camaraderie did. After DeLeo addressed the members, favorably contrasting their teamwork to the political divisions around the country, House Speaker Pro Tem Patricia Haddad led the House in singing “God Bless America.”
— Andy Metzger/State House News Service
In other news from around the state …
Revolving doors: Insiders help candidates win elections, then help themselves
The Globe’s Mark Arsenault and Andrew Ryan have a big story this morning on how consultants who help candidates win elections then go on to represent corporate clients with interests before the very officeholders they helped elect. They name names – and people working for Gov. Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey, Treasurer Deb Goldberg, Mayor Marty Walsh and others have all done it. It’s perfectly legal. But some are questioning the practice, among them Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, and Jordan Libowitz, communications director for the nonprofit government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “When it starts to look like access is for sale, it does raise questions about how the official is running things,” Jordan says.
In New Bedford, pushback on Clinton’s speech claims
A onetime mayor of New Bedford says Hillary Clinton’s mention of the Whaling City during her Democratic National Convention acceptance speech may have overstated the hurdles facing handicapped children seeking an education, Jack Spillane of the Standard-Times reports. While some current officials praised Clinton’s work and the progress made as a result of it, former Mayor John Markey said that at the time Clinton was in the city working for the Children’s Defense Fund, programs were in place that took children to handicapped-accessible schools, though they were often not in the students’ part of the city.
Nearly 40 percent of traffic tickets tossed out
Massachusetts drivers were found not responsible for nearly 40 percent of the 3.2 million traffic violation citations issued between 2012 and 2015, Todd Feathers of the Lowell Sun reports. In some categories, dismissal rates were much higher. For instance, 86 percent of tickets for driving with a suspended or revoked registration were vacated. Courts also threw out 66 percent of the tickets issued for driving under the influence of drugs.
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