DeLeo vs. Rosenberg
The battle for control of the legislative process on Beacon Hill took an interesting turn on Tuesday, when House Speaker Robert DeLeo dismissed a Senate rules proposal as “ill-advised, disruptive, and …detrimental to the public interest.”
For weeks, DeLeo’s top lieutenant, House Majority Leader Ron Mariano, has been hammering Senate President Stanley Rosenberg for violating legislative decorum by pitching the Senate’s proposal in press interviews and on Twitter. Mariano insists the rules discussion should be confined to the six-member legislative conference committee trying to find common ground between the two branches. He has warned Rosenberg that his public posturing could have broader repercussions.
On Tuesday, DeLeo did some public posturing of his own, launching a broadside at the Senate proposal in an op-ed in the Boston Globe. The Speaker made clear he’s not going to give an inch. “The Senate’s proposal is an impolitic and manufactured reaction to a non-existent problem and is a significant distraction at a time when the Commonwealth is at a critical juncture,” he wrote.
The increasingly contentious fight between the House and Senate is focused on how bills move forward on Beacon Hill. Currently, joint legislative committees, made up of members of both branches, hold hearings on bills and then vote to move them forward or kill them. The joint committees have House and Senate chairmen, but House members typically outnumber Senate members by an 11-6 margin. So House members tend to control which bills get reported out of committee.
DeLeo said the current legislative process is working well and there’s no need to tinker with it. As evidence, he points to a bill that would have expanded the reach of the state’s bottle deposit law to most noncarbonated beverage containers. The bill died in committee, so its backers took the issue directly to voters last year in a ballot question that was overwhelmingly defeated.
“Clearly, the joint committee and the people were on the same page in terms of their concerns,” DeLeo wrote. “If committee members, whether senators or representatives, can’t convince a majority of their colleagues to support their bill, they should take a hard look at the policy they are promoting rather than blaming the process.”
DeLeo’s reasoning appears sound, but it ignores the reality of life on Beacon Hill. While Rosenberg appears to be trying to decentralize power in the Senate, DeLeo has consolidated power in the House. What the Speaker wants, he usually gets. On the bill expanding the reach of the bottle deposit law, for example, the no-news-taxes DeLeo labeled it a tax, signaling to House members that it should not pass. The bill died in committee. What’s more, had the bill been allowed to go the Senate and received approval there, nothing would have forced DeLeo and his House minions to sign off on it.
The two branches are now on a collision course, one that could leave a lot of wreckage in its wake. DeLeo warned the Senate against pursuing a so-called nuclear option, where the Senate would abandon the joint legislative committees and establish its own panels to review and approve bills. The Speaker said the result would be a “muddled mess” that “will only serve to make Beacon Hill look more like Capitol Hill in terms of gridlock and paralysis.”
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