Where deadlines, rules, time are malleable

Key bills approved thanks to the ‘legislative day’

THE 2019-2020 legislative session was scheduled to end on Tuesday, but there was still work to be done at midnight so lawmakers kept extending the session into the wee hours of Wednesday morning and kept bills moving between the branches. It was another example of how deadlines, rules, and even time are malleable on Beacon Hill.

The stakes were high. Much like college students who leave everything to the night before the final exam, the handful of lawmakers tasked with resolving differences between the House and Senate versions of key bills had six months to get the job done but left a lot of the work until time was running out on Tuesday.

Rep. William Straus of Mattapoisett, the lead House negotiator on the transportation bond bill that gained final package after 3 Wednesday morning, said deadlines are important for reaching agreements. “It’s a reality that whenever there’s a deadline it helps focus people’s attention on the need to compromise,” he said.

But even a midnight deadline — the technical end of the 2019-2020 legislative session since a new Legislature gets sworn in on Wednesday — was not hard and fast.

The House and Senate were able to meet beyond midnight because of a Beacon Hill invention called “the legislative day.” Technically, the legislative session ended on Tuesday, January 5, but “the legislative day” that started on Tuesday in reality ends when the Legislature says it ends.

“The work stops when the legislative day ends and sometimes the legislative day doesn’t sync up with the 24-hour cycle,” said Sen. Joseph Boncore of Winthrop, the lead Senate negotiator on the transportation bond bill.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

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.

Rules are not binding, either. The Senate, for example, has a rule numbered 38A 1/2 , which states that the chamber shall not meet beyond midnight unless the rule is suspended by a roll call vote of two-thirds of the members present and voting. 

Shortly before midnight, the Senate began suspending the rule every half hour without roll calls. The session finally came to a halt after 4:30 a.m., with the 2021-2022 Legislature scheduled to begin its session 6 1/2 hours later.