For Legislature, there’s always next year
Few measures passed before holiday recess
The first year of the Legislature’s two-year session ended with a whimper on Wednesday night. After 11 months of doing next to nothing, the two branches finally moved into high gear, advanced several pieces of legislation, and then went home without addressing a pressing issue: the cap on solar net metering.
Some have suggested the lawmakers ran out of time on the solar legislation, but the truth is the House squandered an enormous amount of time, probably by design. There was a sense of urgency on net metering, which deals with how solar power generators are paid for the electricity they feed into the regional power grid. Solar developers said their projects were unable to move forward because they had been out of cap space in the National Grid territory for several months. They said their projects could end up being canceled if the cap wasn’t lifted soon because a key federal tax credit expires at the end of next year.
The Senate voted to lift the cap during the summer, but the House waited until the day before the Legislature recessed for the holidays before reporting its bill out of the House Ways and Means Committee. The House bill wasn’t just a stopgap measure to keep projects moving. It represented a major shift in policy. The proposal cut net metering payments to solar power generators by 71 percent and laid the groundwork for a minimum utility bill for those customers who generate more power than they use.
The House debate on this major shift in solar policy was brief and lackluster. Reps. Thomas Calter of Kingston and Jonathan Hecht of Watertown were the only ones to raise any concerns. They filed amendments, spoke in favor of them, and then withdrew them from consideration. No fuss, no muss.
The Senate sent back a more narrowly drawn compromise proposal to the House on Wednesday afternoon, but the House refused to budge and went home for the holidays.
It’s been that kind of year. The House and Senate are both dominated by Democrats, but the two branches seem far apart politically. The House reflects the conservative tendencies of DeLeo, who has a top-down management style. The Senate as a whole is far more liberal than the House, and its president, Stanley Rosenberg, has adopted a more collegial, democratic approach with his colleagues. When senators caucused on charter school legislation recently, Rosenberg brought in a facilitator to help reach consensus.
Interestingly, both DeLeo and Rosenberg face some criticism from within, DeLeo for the businesslike way he manages the House and Rosenberg for his more hands-off approach.
Rep. James Lyons of Andover said he is pretty much an outsider on Beacon Hill as a Republican in the House, but he senses a disconnect between the two branches. “It appears there’s some kind of conflict between the House and Senate leadership. They’re having difficulty getting on the same page,” he said.By any standard, it was not a productive first year to the session. The big issues – opioid abuse, energy, charter schools, transportation network companies, and public records – received little or no attention. Of the 124 laws approved through November 5, 66 dealt with strictly local matters, 41 created sick leave banks for state employees, and 15 dealt with more substantive issues. Most of the 15, however, were budget bills that had to pass to keep state government operating. A handful of bills did get sent to the governor this past week dealing with veterans issues, fentanyl trafficking, and land titles.
Gov. Charlie Baker said he is not concerned about the slow pace of action on Beacon Hill. “They really think about it as a two-year session,” he said of the lawmakers. “My hope is that we’ll get a bunch of stuff done early next year.”