Split-in-two committee to hold dueling hearings this week

Amid standoff, House, Senate ce members to hold separate hearings

THOSE INTERESTED in testifying on bills dealing with offshore wind and energy storage may have to do double-duty this week.

The feuding House and Senate chairs of the Legislature’s Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee are splitting the panel in half, with the House members taking testimony on bills dealing with offshore wind and energy storage on Thursday and Senate members holding their own “parallel hearing” on the same bills on Friday.

The two feuders – Rep. Jeffrey Roy of Franklin and Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington – both say they are acting on principle in a fight about the rules that govern their legislative committee.

Roy said his concerns trace to the end of the legislative session last year, when Barrett used the powers provided under the rules to control which bills were released from committee. He said action on major energy legislation was delayed and hundreds of other bills were blocked, which means they ended up with the label “ought not to pass.”

Barrett said he is refusing to engage in any legislative business with Roy until the House chair either agrees to new rules or abides by the rules that were in force last year, which require the consent of both chairs to schedule a hearing or an executive session where legislation is acted on.

In a lengthy statement on Monday, Barrett said the dual hearings planned for this week could become a fixture of the committee. 

“It could be that such a parallel process will become formalized and continue for the duration of the two-year session,” Barrett said. “If so, there will be considerable costs in terms of time, money, and inconvenience. Still, if we have to, we will make the transition and preserve parity in policymaking — the best way, I think, to protect the public interest.”

Stanley Rosenberg, who was Senate president in 2015 when a similar dispute erupted between the two branches, said he doesn’t know the details of the current situation but can speak to the pros and cons of joint committees.

Rosenberg said only a handful of states use joint committees – the rest follow the approach used by Congress and have separate House and Senate committees.

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Bruce Mohl

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About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

“The reason to have joint committees is it’s more efficient,” Rosenberg said, noting the joint committees reduce the number of hearings and the amount of paperwork needed.

“They work well when they work well,” he said. “They don’t work well when you have paralysis. When that happens, you have to ask yourself: ‘Why are you doing this differently than everyone else?”