Sausage making on Beacon Hill
The Legislature approved five of the so-called “Big Six” bills by the end-of-the-session deadline of midnight Sunday, but the process left a lot to be desired.
Like college students who don’t start studying until the night before final exams, lawmakers took little action for months on the Big Six bills and then spent the weekend trying to whip them into shape. They ended up approving energy, economic development, municipal modernization, and ride-hailing bills late Sunday night after passing pay equity legislation on July 21. The pumpkin of the night was noncompete legislation, which died without an agreement between the two branches.
Senate officials complained that the last-minute action was required because the House sat on the bills for most of the year, and there’s some truth to that. Four of the Big Six bills were filed early last year, one was proposed in December, and the sixth was unveiled in February. Pay equity, which originated in the Senate, came out of committee in August of last year, won Senate approval in January, but didn’t pass the House until July.
Energy, economic development, municipal modernization, and noncompetes, all of which began their trek through the Legislature in the House, sat in committees until May or June of this year. They then made their way through the House and Senate before ending up in conference committees charged with resolving differences between the two branches.
Legislative leaders explained the last-minute action by saying bargaining between the branches rarely gets serious until time runs short and decisions have to be made. The energy bill is a prime example of legislative procrastination. The original bill was filed by Rep. Patricia Haddad of Somerset in January last year. A House bill didn’t emerge from committee until May of this year. The House approved its energy bill on June 8 and the Senate passed its version on June 30. The conference committee spent a month trying to come up with compromise language, but in the end there wasn’t much give and take. The final bill hewed closely to the House version.
Conference committees, made up of three members from the House and three from the Senate, are legislative black boxes. They meet behind closed doors and follow no set rules. The conference committees essentially allow a handful of lawmakers from the House and Senate to craft legislation with no one watching. Since conference committee bills can’t be amended, there’s often little debate on them in the two branches. On Sunday night, with time short, there was no debate.
While conference committee members tried to find common ground Saturday and Sunday, most other lawmakers had little or nothing to do. As often happens, idle hands tend to seek out a break from the boredom. For example, the Senate tested its new electronic voting system on Sunday by voting on whether purple was a great color. The vote indicated purple didn’t measure up, with 18 senators saying it wasn’t a great color, 15 saying it was, and six wishy-washy lawmakers failing to take a stand. One of the biggest cheers of the night went up when the final tally appeared on a TV monitor.
As the senators used their electronic clickers to cast rapid-fire votes overriding Gov. Charlie Baker’s spending vetoes, they were asked to stand each time they voted. The quick up and downs eventually led the senators to do the wave around the chamber. Luckily, they didn’t start singing “Sweet Caroline.”
Sen. Ken Donnelly of Arlington was hospitalized late Sunday during the Legislature’s last session of the year and will likely need surgery. (Boston Globe)
Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham reports Attorney General Maura Healey has been the target of sexist, antigay attacks for her policy on copycat assault weapons.
Campaign advisors turn success at the ballot box into lucrative contracts advising clients on dealing with the candidates they helped elect. (Boston Globe)
Texas residents starting today will be able to carry concealed handguns into public university buildings, classrooms, and dorms. (Time)
A Maine restaurateur has not only barred those who carry or own AR-15s and similar assault weapons from her two popular restaurants in Portland and nearby Falmouth, she also has yanked the welcome mat for anyone who even thinks it’s okay to own them. (New York Times)
Donald Trump’s confrontation with the parents of a Muslim American soldier who was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq emerges as a flashpoint in the campaign. (New York Times) The mother of the slain soldier, Ghazala Khan, responds to Trump’s questioning of her silence at the Democratic National Convention. “Without saying a thing, all the world, all of America, felt my pain. I am a Gold Star mother,” she said. (Washington Post)
The New York Post is running 20-year-old provocative nude photos of Melania Trump (you can find them without our help) but is it appropriate since her husband is the one running for president and not her? (Fortune) Huffington Post floats a conspiracy theory that since the tabloid has endorsed Trump, the photos are a plant to divert attention from the Democrats and his own self-made problems.
It’s Hillary Clinton’s turn to get a bounce coming out of the Democratic convention, with 46 percent of voters backing her and 39 percent favoring Trump. (New York Times)
Boston City Councilors Tito Jackson and Matt O’Malley file a resolution opposing the charter school ballot question. (Boston Globe) A Boston Herald editorial hits Jackson for pandering to teachers unions.
A national coalition that includes former congressman Patrick Kennedy is raising money to fight pot legalization in California, Massachusetts, and three other states. (Boston Herald)
Pittsfield businesses may organize their own no-tax holiday after the state decides it can’t afford to. (Berkshire Eagle)
Uber is selling its Chinese business to Didi, ending a battle for market share that cost both companies billions of dollars. (Bloomberg)
Gloucester’s fishing infrastructure is in jeopardy as Cape Pond Ice is facing a mechanical and heat wave meltdown. (Gloucester Times)
Federal regulators are eyeing new restrictions on lobster catches, including increasing the minimum harvesting size, as the population of the crustacean plummets in waters south of Cape Cod, with landings going from a high of 22 million pounds in 1997 to just 3.3 million pounds in 2013. (Associated Press)
Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker dumps on the Suffolk University board of trustees for firing president Margaret McKenna. Surprisingly, the board hasn’t explained yet why it terminated McKenna, presumably for legal reasons. But whatever she did must have been pretty serious. (CommonWealth)
Former Essex Tech superintendent Dan O’Connell hasn’t paid the school system the $90,000 he allegedly owes, but he has begun collecting his $134,766 annual pension. (Gloucester Times)
A Boston Globe editorial applauds the Health Policy Commission for supporting the expansion of the Beth Israel Deaconess network.
Experts say climate change and decades of suburban migration have increased the threat of tick-borne diseases in the region. (Herald News)
More than 20 of the top 120 management positions at the MBTA are vacant because of low pay, a small talent pool, an aging workforce, and a slow hiring process that often lets good candidates get away. (Boston Globe)
A 90-day trial for ferry service between Quincy and Rowes Wharf and Spectacle Island in Boston begins Monday. (Patriot Ledger)
Falling oil prices and heightened competition has brought air fares to a seven-year low but you still need a little savvy to find the best deals. (U.S. News & World Report)
The market for recycled materials is soft, lowering the amount of money that cities and towns can get for the material that residents recycle. (Salem News)
Officials have placed three shark-detection buoys off several popular beaches in Marshfield after recent sightings of great whites in the area. (Patriot Ledger)
If you shopped at Hannaford’s supermarket in Raymond, New Hampshire, last week, check that Powerball ticket you bought there. You could have a half-billion dollars burning a hole in your pocket. (Associated Press)CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS
A Lowell Sun editorial slams the state’s Trial Court for restricting online access to court records.