Lawmaking by press release
No bill? No hearing? No problem for legislative leaders
SOMETIMES IT’S the little things – a phrasing of a sentence or the timing of an announcement — that reveal a lot about the way the Legislature operates.
On Monday afternoon, Senate President Karen Spilka, House Speaker Ron Mariano, and the chairs of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees issued a statement about a bill providing tax relief to unemployed workers and certain businesses; paid time off for employees infected by the coronavirus, ordered to quarantine, or taking time off to get vaccinated; and financial relief for companies worried about skyrocketing unemployment insurance costs.
“The Senate and House have reached agreement on a bill to help workers and employers jumpstart our nascent recovery as we begin to slowly emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said.
The problem was that the House and Senate haven’t agreed – only their leaders had. Even more disturbing, there was no bill; it was still being worked on, so details are still missing.
It wasn’t clear what “expeditious” meant, but a lot of the situations the bill seeks to address are coming to a head next week and later this month.
Of course, most of those situations aren’t new. The unemployment insurance issue has been well known for months; Gov. Charlie Baker filed a bill to address it in December. Monday’s rush appeared to be another example of the Legislature waiting until the last minute to take action. (See the marathon session on the final, extended day at the end of the last legislative session for more examples.)Sen. Bruce Tarr, the Republican minority leader in the Senate, applauded the legislation but reminded its backers that they can pass it in a democratic fashion. Public hearings, for example, have been scarce so far this year.
“It is critical for us to act on these matters in a timely fashion, and also imperative for us to do so in a transparent way that includes one or more public hearings,” Tarr said in a statement. “Time and again, the Legislature has proven that where there is a will to act, public hearings can be held quickly without sacrificing expeditious consideration and approval of important bills. This should be one of those times.”