Legislature’s regular timetable may not be viable this year
With July 31 end date near, could special session be in order?
THE TIME NEEDED to process legislation on Beacon Hill is running short – or is it?
The typical end date for the legislative session is July 31, a week from Friday. Normally lawmakers end the session and head home to their districts to run for reelection.
But this year may be different. Between the massive health and budgetary impacts of COVID-19 and the push for police reform prompted by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Legislature’s regular timetable may no longer be viable.
No state budget for the current fiscal year has been filed yet, and even crafting a budget may be impossible until state tax revenue numbers for July are released and Congress decides whether or not to pass another stimulus bill that would funnel additional money to states. Only once the state and federal revenue picture becomes clearer can budget writers begin to draw up a real spending plan – and that may not happen until August.
With police reform consuming all the oxygen on Beacon Hill this week, the health care, transportation, and climate change bills – and many others, as well – are waiting for a chance to see some action.
The end of the legislative session on July 31 doesn’t mean the House and Senate stop meeting. It just means that lawmakers meet informally, where they typically handle only minor, noncontroversial pieces of legislation and any individual lawmaker can block a bill from moving forward by raising an objection. It’s not ideal for passing complicated pieces of legislation.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo in early April said he was open to meeting beyond July 31, presumably in regular formal sessions, if by that date the Legislature had not finished the budget, a climate change bill, or a transportation financing package. “I’ll put health care in that category as well,” he told the State House News Service.
DeLeo said then that nothing had been decided but he was leaning toward continuing the session. “I’d hate to change our rules, but I think this may be one of those times,” DeLeo said.
Senate President Karen Spilka has been more circumspect, telling State House News on Monday that she would make no predictions about extending the legislation session beyond July 31.Many lawmakers eager to see their bills move forward are speculating about the options to meet longer this year. Details are scarce, but the joint rules of the House and Senate allow for special sessions to be called if they have the support of a majority of the House and Senate members.
Some lawmakers have speculated that a special session could be held in August, while others have suggested gathering after the election in early November and meeting through the end of the year. Normally, lawmakers are reluctant to meet in lame-duck sessions, but one lawmaker said it wasn’t that big of a deal, pointing out that two-thirds of incumbent state lawmakers are facing no challenge in either the primary or the general election this year.