New Senate rules proposed

Changes reflect Rosenberg’s call for “shared leadership”


SENATE PRESIDENT STANLEY Rosenberg, looking to put his early mark on the Senate, has proposed a number of rules changes that he said are designed to make debate in that chamber more open and transparent for members and the public.

Rosenberg, a Amherst Democrat who was elected last week as the Senate’s new leader, is recommending changes to Senate procedures that would make agendas for formal sessions available to the public at least two days before the Senate meets, up from 24 hours.

Rosenberg and a group of senators tasked with reviewing the rules have also proposed adding three new standing committees in the Senate, expanding the membership on some committees to give Republicans a greater voice and implementing a new rule prohibiting the Senate counsel and their staff from simultaneously serving on the staff of a senator.

“The task and the request was transparency, accountability, and shared leadership and I think these rules that they’ve come up with all contribute to those three agenda items and I’m really pleased and looking forward to the debate,” Rosenberg said during a brief interview before allowing Sen. Harriette Chandler to brief reporters on the proposed changes.

The counsel rule, which also prohibits outside legal work, appears to be a response, in part, to Senate President Therese Murray tapping Senate Counsel Alice Moore as her chief of staff in her final year as president.

Moore, who has joined the Baker administration as undersecretary for health and human services, retained her position as Senate counsel, a post intended to be a legal resource for all members that was viewed by some as a consolidation of power in Murray’s office.

Chandler, a Worcester Democrat who helped develop the rules as chair of the temporary Rules Committee, said she did not hear complaining from members about Moore’s dual roles.

“I think the concern is you don’t want someone who is the attorney for the Senate holding more than one job. I think that’s really what the issue is and you don’t want them doing it during business hours in particular,” Chandler said.

Chandler chaired a temporary Senate rules committee consisting of Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, Sen. Anthony Petruccelli (D-East Boston), Sen. Joan Lovely (D-Salem), Sen. Kenneth Donnelly (D-Arlington), Sen. Cynthia Creem (D-Newton), Sen. James Eldridge (D-Acton) and Sen. Richard Ross (R-Wrentham).

The Senate on Thursday teed up the new rules for debate next Wednesday, and set a deadline of 2 p.m. on Tuesday for senators to propose amendments.

The rules proposal calls for three new standing committees in the Senate, and dividing the Committee on Ethics and Rules into two separate committees, upping the number of panels in the Senate from eight to 12.

The new Committees on Intergovernmental Affairs and Redistricting would have six members, with one Republican appointee. The third new committee – the Committee on Personnel and Administration – would have seven members, including two Republicans.

Rosenberg said the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee is intended to help the Senate work with the Massachusetts Congressional delegation and the Baker administration to bring more federal funding into the state.

The Redistricting Committee, which Rosenberg chaired during the last redistricting process as a special committee, is starting a session early ahead of the next decennial Census, according to Rosenberg.

“We need to focus on making sure our population estimates are accurate because it influences how much federal funding we get in formula driven funding that uses Census data,” he said.

Asked whether the chairs of the four new committees would be in line for additional stipends to their pay, Chandler said, “I would assume so.”

Rosenberg also wants to increase by one the membership of the Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets, the Committee on Post Audit and Oversight and the Committee on Ways and Means to give Republicans an additional seat on each committee.

Rosenberg said that was being done in the spirit of “bipartisanship.”

Changing the terms of debate in the Senate, the proposed rules would require further or redrafted amendments to the budget, which can often be introduced quickly and with little notice, to be distributed by the senator filing the changed amendment to other senators at their desks and allow a “reasonable amount of time” for review before a vote.

Also, any member who cites a report or study during the course of debate would be required to provide a copy of that research to other senators upon request, and the text of any bill voted upon by the Senate would have to be posted online within 24 hours of the session.

The rules also propose requiring the clerks to post online texts of late-file bills that may not yet have a bill number for the public to review.

The committee considered requiring committees to post online the results of votes on bill recommendations, but it did not make the final draft.

In a switch that could allow senators to build demonstrable support for legislation over time, senators would be allowed to sign their names to bills as a co-sponsor electronically at any point in the two-year session up until the bill moves to the floor for debate.

“A year and a half from now, we may be looking for anything we can possibly find to show this bill has a lot of support, and we want to get this moving,” Chandler said.

The House has more members than the Senate on joint committees and over the years senators have been frustrated to see priority bills locked up in joint committees. In some cases, Senate leaders have tacked major proposals onto unrelated bills in order to move bills to the floor.

In order for the new Ethics Committee to make a recommendation on a bill or report, a majority of the members of the committee must sign off, up from three members to reflect increased membership, and they must certify that they’ve listened to or read all relevant testimony.

Testimony given to the Ethics Committee must be recorded and transcribed and made available to members of the committee, according to the proposed rules.

The Senate majority leader, who has not yet been named, would under the new rules be required to relinquish their leadership post upon declaring their intent to run for another state or federal office. That restriction was previously reserved for only the Senate president and minority leader.

During his first speech to the Senate after being elected president last week, Rosenberg said committees would be encouraged to “generate new ideas” on their own without dictates from the president’s office. He also promised to consult members regardless of their position in leadership or committee assignments “on issues large and small.”

Meet the Author

Matt Murphy

State House News Service
The proposed rules changes offer a glimpse of how Rosenberg plans to accomplish what he described in the speech as “shared leadership” after years of senators quietly lamenting the concentration of power in the president’s office.

“Over the last year, many of you have asked to be more involved in the challenges facing our Commonwealth. I assure you, you will have that chance,” he said.