A closer look at the sausage-making
The avalanche of bills that came out of the Legislature during the nearly 17-hour session spanning Tuesday and Wednesday was a classic case in which lawmakers would argue that the ends justify the means.
Beacon Hill legislators tackled a host of bills, close to 200 by some estimates. Most of them were minor in nature, but some of them were of great importance. The lawmakers won passage of the bills by suspending their own rules constantly and in some cases making up the rules as they went along.
Two conference committee bills – one focused on economic development and the other on transportation bonds – are drawing applause from advocates and stakeholders. But the two bills also showcase what it sometimes takes to push major pieces of legislation across the finish line.
Conference committees are one of the most opaque features of Beacon Hill. The committees are set up to resolve differences between House and Senate bills that can’t be reconciled through the standard legislative process. In these situations, the House appoints three members, two from the majority party and one from the minority party, and the Senate does the same.
The Legislature’s rules say conference committee meetings are open to the public, but the six participants uniformly vote to close them. Conference committee members generally refuse to talk about what goes on behind closed doors, but the general impression is that the lead negotiators from the House and Senate make most of the decisions in consultation with leaders in their respective branches.
House and Senate rules say no bill put out by a conference committee can be considered by the full Legislature until a day after it is released to the public, to give lawmakers a chance to review it. The standard practice is that a bill released by 8 p.m. can be taken up for a vote the following day any time after 1 p.m.
The climate change conference bill followed the rules, emerging from its conference committee on Sunday and winning approval in the House and Senate on Monday. But the economic development and transportation bond conference bills were reported out of their conference committees in the wee hours of Wednesday morning and voted on hours later. The end result was that lawmakers voted on bills they didn’t know anything about. The vote on the transportation bill was 146-0 in the House and 39-1 in the Senate; on economic development, the vote was 143-4 in the House and 40-0 in the Senate.
A conference committee is supposed to resolve differences between two bills, but what that means can vary. With a budget appropriation, it’s relatively straight-forward. The Senate might appropriate $600,000 for an agency and the House $200,000. The conference committee can choose the high number, the low number, or pick a different number.
With the economic development legislation, the House passed a $459 million bill that included sports betting while the Senate approved a $455 million measure that did not include sports betting. The tab for the conference committee bill came to $626 million, and did not include sports betting because the lead Senate negotiator, Sen. Eric Lesser of Longmeadow, was wary of imposing a gambling initiative on his colleagues without them ever having voted on it.
With transportation, House and Senate lawmakers differed on whether the state had enough tax revenue to support an $18 billion bond bill. The House, when it passed its version of the bond bill pre-COVID in March, had separately passed a revenue measure hiking the gas tax, raising the minimum corporate tax, and boosting state fees on rides taken with Uber and Lyft. The Senate’s version, which passed during the pandemic in July, contained no new revenues.
The transportation conference committee reached consensus by improvising, lowering the size of the bond bill to $16.5 billion and including new fees on Uber and Lyft riders even though those fees had not appeared in either bill in conference. Rep. William Straus of Mattapoisett, the lead House negotiator, saw it as a creative solution. “You get to edit, modify, and get creative,” he said of a conference committee’s role.
A Massachusetts congressional delegation outraged by the mob invasion of the US Capitol by Trump supporters calls for the president’s removal.
For the second time in a week, Rep. Ronald Mariano of Quincy is elected House speaker. New Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven of Somerville, one of two Democrats to vote present, issues a blistering critique of progressives for going along to get along. Over in the Senate, Senate President Karen Spilka is easily reelected and pledges to push for emergency paid sick leave.
After a lengthy legislative session that ran until 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, lots of bills land on the desk of Gov. Charlie Baker, who now has total control over what happens to them because the Legislature that passed them no longer exists. A new Legislature was sworn in on Wednesday.
The $16.5 billion transportation bond bill that passed early Wednesday morning includes a series of new state fees on Uber and Lyft rides, including a new 20-cent fee for rides that start and end in an area encompassing Boston and 13 surrounding communities.
Despite the economic fallout from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, state tax revenues continued their amazingly resilient run in December. Revenues were up 8.8 percent in December compared to the same month in 2019. Revenues for July through December 2020 were up 2.7 percent compared to the same period pre-COVID.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Under legislation passed late Tuesday, $5.8 million in pension obligations owed by a going-out-of-business Hampshire County entity will be transferred to the state pension system, relieving municipalities in the county from paying what’s owed. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
At Brookside Rehabilitation in Webster, 51 of 58 residents test positive for COVID-19. (Telegram & Gazette)
The COVID-19 field hospital at the DCU Center has treated 250 patients since it opened. (MassLive)
US Rep. Jim McGovern, in an interview from inside the Capitol, calls President Trump the “chief instigator” of the riots and says the US is not a “banana republic.” (Telegram & Gazette) US Rep. Richard Neal said he thought the mob would break through the doors to his office. (MassLive) Rep. Stephen Lynch is the last member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation to call for the president to be removed from office. (The Enterprise) Twitter removes three of President Trump’s tweets, locks his account, and threatens to permanently suspend him. (NPR)
News reports call the people storming the Capitol “protesters,” a “mob,” and “insurrectionists.” The one person who died, apparently shot by a Capitol Police officer as she attempted to climb through a broken window into a barricaded corridor of the building, was Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran and Trump supporter from California.
Police say three others died in “medical emergencies,” 52 were arrested, and 14 law enforcement officials were injured. (USA Today)
The kid-gloves treatment of the mob that breached Capitol security measures seems to stand in sharp contrast to the tough police action used against Black Lives Matter protests. (Washington Post)
Eileen McNamara, a journalism professor at Brandeis University, says Trump should be removed from office. (WBUR) Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham calls the mob act incited by Trump “one of the most shameful days in this nation’s history,” and says it “was as inevitable as it was frightening.” Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, a staunch Trump supporter, says he is saddened by the violence but calls for an audit of the election. (MassLive)
Congress affirmed Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential race hours after the process was delayed by the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol. (Washington Post)
The Associated Press declares Democrat Jon Ossoff the winner in Georgia over incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue, giving Democrats narrow one-vote control of the Senate. (NPR)
Employers are worried about the large increase in unemployment insurance costs scheduled to go into effect this year. (Gloucester Daily Times)
A retired former employee was serving coffee at Collins Tavern in West Springfield when he called a customer a racial slur. The restaurant apologized and has banned the former employee from its premises. (MassLive)
Alexandria Real Estate Equities is buying the Landmark Center in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood for $1.52 billion and plans to build out the property as a life sciences hub. (Boston Globe)
As several schools decide to change their racially insensitive mascots, Shrewsbury High is debating whether to keep its Colonials mascot, while St. John’s in Shrewsbury decides to stick with the Pioneers. (Telegram & Gazette)
Starting mid-January, Mattapoisett students in grades K-2 will return for in-person learning five days per week after a hybrid plan this fall and early winter. (Standard-Times)CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS
John Lynch, 68, the Boston City Hall aide convicted of bribery in a scandal involving the zoning board, was released early from federal prison because of COVID concerns. (Boston Herald)