Massachusetts House holds first remote session
Borrowing bill passed unanimously
A MASK-WEARING House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Wednesday presided over what he called a “historic day” – the first time the Massachusetts House has voted on a bill remotely.
“It’s not lost on us the significance of what we’re trying to attempt to do — the first remote session in the 400-year history of the General Court,” said House Ways and Means chair Aaron Michlewitz, speaking from a podium before a nearly empty House chamber. “Standing in front of an empty chamber is a stark reminder of what the Commonwealth is facing.”
Until Wednesday, the Legislature had not met in a formal session since mid-March, when coronavirus began to spread through the state, making large gatherings unsafe. For the last week, House lawmakers had been embroiled in a partisan standoff over the rules governing formal, remote sessions, until the two parties finally reached an agreement on Monday. Formal sessions allow lawmakers to take roll call votes, which are necessary to pass certain spending bills and to pass any bill or amendment that does not have unanimous support.
At Wednesday’s session, DeLeo presided from the rostrum, which held six people – himself, Michlewitz, two staff members, a court officer, and the House clerk. All wore masks. The court officer wore gloves, and the clerk could be spotted using hand sanitizer.
Nearly the entire House participated – 157 out of 160 elected members – almost all of them remotely.
There was one technical snag, which made remarks by Rep. Denise Garlick, a Needham Democrat and the only member to speak remotely, nearly impossible to hear via the session live stream.
Roll call votes, which lasted for 10 minutes, were taken by phone, with representatives calling their votes in to monitors, who brought the tallies up to the House clerk. At an informal House session on Monday, DeLeo appointed eight floor monitors, who will be present in the chamber to collect votes.
In a short session, the House only took up one bill, which will allow Treasurer Deborah Goldberg to borrow money this fiscal year and pay it back next year to ensure the state has sufficient cash flow, since the income tax filing deadline was pushed off from April 15 to July 15.Michlewitz and Rep. Todd Smola, a Warren Republican and the ranking minority member on the House Ways and Means Committee, both spoke in favor of the bill from the chamber. The vote to pass it was unanimous, 157-0.
The bill now moves to the Senate, which has created its own procedures for allowing a roll call vote on this bill only. Senators will be allowed to vote in person from the Senate chamber, from their offices through a court officer, or from home by sending a letter to the clerk authorizing another senator to vote on their behalf.