Rules feud leads to 2 takes on committee hearing
House chairs circulating standardized rules proposal
A correction has been added to this story.
THE JOINT IN the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy has gone missing.
On Wednesday morning, for example, House members of the committee held a hearing on legislation dealing with electric vehicle charging stations. Later in the afternoon the same hearing with the same witnesses was hosted by the Senate members of the committee.
The repeat performance was part of a rules standoff between the House and Senate chairs of the committee. Rep. Jeffrey Roy of Franklin, the House chair, wants decisions about when to vote on bills to be decided by majority vote, which could favor the House because House members on the committee outnumber Senate members by a nearly 2-1 margin. [The original version of this story said Roy wants to hold votes on when to schedule hearings, but he says he is fine with the two chairs setting the hearing schedule jointly.]
House Speaker Ron Mariano downplayed the notion that the rules fight extends beyond the Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee.
Is this part of a broader showdown between the two chambers?
“Not to my knowledge. We have a couple of chairmen who have a disagreement,” he said when asked last week. “Business goes on. There have been hearings, there’s been committee meetings.”
But senators say Mariano’s message is misleading. Several senators, who asked not to be identified, said nearly every senator who chairs a joint committee has received a rules proposal from the House chair that would shift power in the House’s direction.
The rules proposal appears to be the same in every committee. A copy of the proposal shared with CommonWealth had a blank space where the name of the committee could be filled in.
One provision deals with the hearing schedule, calling for the chairs to establish a schedule for hearings, which would indicate they would have to agree on the timing of hearings and the bills being heard.
For scheduling executive sessions, where votes on individual bills can be taken either in-person or via email, the proposal requires “mutual agreement of the chairs of the committee or by a majority vote of the committee.”
While Barrett has taken a very public stand against the rules changes proposed by Roy, his Senate colleagues by and large have gone in a different direction. They have not agreed to the rules changes, but they also have not walked away and established a separate hearing structure. They have chosen to move forward, apparently hoping the issue will blow over eventually.Barrett, meanwhile, seems to be settling in for the long haul. At the start of Wednesday’s senators-only hearing of the Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee, he asked witnesses to suggest ways to make the double-hearing process work smoothly.
“I want to thank you for bearing with us during these rather extraordinary times, this choice to have two proceedings rather than one. Presumably it won’t be forever, presumably collective decision-making will return to [the Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee] and with that, joint hearings. We can’t have one without the other,” Barrett said. “But my hope is that we’ll start to abide by our traditional rules and we will once again give equal weight to Senate decision-making — not excessive weight, but equal weight — and in so doing, be able to bring the two halves of the hearing process back together as well. But probably that resolution will not be coming this year. And so we have to resign ourselves to the dual hearing process instead and to make it as bearable for all of us as possible.”