Bills pass, then idle in legislative limbo

Measures stall in House-Senate conference committees

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

In the amount of time it’s taken for Beacon Hill Democrats not to reach agreement on veterans’ services and drug compounding pharmacy regulation bills, Roz Savage, the first woman to row solo across the Pacific Ocean, rowed 3,158 miles from Hawaii to the island of Kiribati.

Passed with fanfare, the veterans and pharmacy bills have been idling before conference committees for 104 days, or a week longer than bills hung up in another conference aimed at supporting welfare recipients and closing paths to fraud, a popular topic of debate in 2013 that has since slipped off the legislative radar at the State House.

The conference committees – six-member House-Senate panels that conduct their deliberations in private – have been unable to reach compromises on differing bills that were approved with overwhelming support in each branch.

The unresolved issues dating back to last year add to a stack of priorities identified by legislative leaders for action in 2014, including minimum wage and unemployment insurance legislation, a batch of multi-year borrowing bills, water infrastructure financing legislation, legislation addressing gun violence, a bill to combat domestic violence, and job creation legislation. Budget talks, per usual, will consume significant bandwidth through the end of July, when formal sessions, where major legislating is conducted, come to an end for this two-year cycle.

There are two other conference committees on Beacon Hill. A panel named to reconcile differing House and Senate bills aimed at ensuring the recycling of products containing mercury has been unable to agree on a bill in more than two months. A conference charged with coming up with a single election reform bill formed in January.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr sits on the veterans’ services and pharmacy regulation conferences. With lawmakers on a light, school vacation week schedule, Tarr said after a five-minute Senate session Tuesday that there have been conference discussions, but cited a need for “face-to-face” talks “sooner rather than later.”

“I am disappointed at the slow pace of some of them, particularly on major issues like welfare reform, which seems to not have made a lot of progress as well as the VALOR Act, which I am on,” Tarr said Tuesday. “I think that was something we should be moving on quickly and we have not been able to move that bill out of committee.”

Tarr called it “unusual” to have five conferences working at once. He said he hoped conferences could report soon before budget deliberations begin occupying more time in the Legislature, and worried that “last minute” conference reports might leave lawmakers will little time before voting to review the bills.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo said on Tuesday that his members tell him the conference committees are meeting. While House conferees report no major stumbling blocks, DeLeo said, no reports are imminent.

“I haven’t heard that any of them are at standstills where we don’t expect to come to a final resolution, although that could happen,” DeLeo said.

Asked if the reports would be done by July, DeLeo said, “I’m hoping we can get them done before July, because we have to send them on to the governor, see what he does with them. And if he sends them back with an amendment or we have to take further action, I’d like to give us the ability to do that.”

Here’s a rundown of the conference committees, with information about the bills they are working on:

VETERANS SERVICES – VALOR ACT II

BILL: Relative to veterans’ allowances, labor, outreach, and recognition (H 3735 and S 1885)
HOUSE VOTE: 155-0, Oct. 30, 2013
SENATE VOTE: 38-0, Oct. 10, 2013
HOUSE CONFEREES: Carlo Basile (D-East Boston), Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill) and Sheila Harrington (R-Groton)
SENATE CONFEREES: Michael Rush (D-West Roxbury), Stephen Brewer (D-Barre) and Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester)
DATE SENT TO CONFERENCE: Nov. 7, 2013
DAYS IN CONFERENCE: 104

COMPOUNDING PHARMACY REFORM

BILL: Relative to pharmacy practice in the Commonwealth (H 3672 and S 1899)
HOUSE VOTE: 157-0, Oct. 2, 2013
SENATE VOTE: 38-0, Oct. 30, 2013
HOUSE CONFEREES: Jeff Sanchez (D-Jamaica Plain), Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill) and David Vieira (R-East Falmouth)
SENATE CONFEREES: John Keenan (D-Quincy), Stephen Brewer (D-Barre) and Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester)
DATE SENT TO CONFERENCE: Nov. 7, 2013
DAYS IN CONFERENCE: 104

WELFARE REFORM

BILL: To foster economic independence (H 3756 and S 1806)
HOUSE VOTE: 152-0, Nov. 6, 2013
SENATE VOTE: 37-1, June 24, 2013
HOUSE CONFEREES: Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill), Kay Khan (D-Newton) and Kim Ferguson (R-Holden)
SENATE CONFEREES: Sens. Jen Flanagan (D-Leominster), Michael Barrett (D-Lexington) and Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth)
DATE SENT TO CONFERENCE: Nov. 14, 2013
DAYS IN CONFERENCE: 97

MERCURY THERMOMETERS

BILL: An act further regulating mercury management (H 3601 / S 1758)
HOUSE VOTE: Voice Vote, July 30, 2013
SENATE VOTE: 36-0, March 28, 2013
HOUSE CONFEREES: Anne Gobi (D-Spencer), Ellen Story (D-Amherst) and Susan Gifford (R-Wareham)
SENATE CONFEREES: Stephen Brewer (D-Barre), Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster) and Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth)
DATE SENT TO CONFERENCE: Dec. 12, 2013
DAYS IN CONFERENCE: 69 days

EARLY VOTING – ELECTIONS REFORM??

Meet the Author
Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

BILL: An act relative to election laws (H 3788 / S 1975)
HOUSE VOTE: 142-10, Nov. 20, 2013
SENATE VOTE: 37-1, Jan. 16, 2014
HOUSE CONFEREES: James Murphy (D-Weymouth), Michael Moran (D-Boston), Paul Frost (R-Auburn)
SENATE CONFEREES: Barry Finegold (D-Andover), Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett), Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth)
DATE SENT TO CONFERENCE: Jan. 27, 2014
DAYS IN CONFERENCE: 23

[Matt Murphy and Mike Deehan contributed reporting]