Senate rules debate set for next week

BOSTON (SHNS) – On the heels of last week’s ceremonial beginnings, the Massachusetts Senate next week plans its first formal session of the year to consider changes in the rules that govern debates and internal operations.

A formal session on Wed., Jan. 21, is planned for the rules debate, according to a spokesman for Senate President Stanley Rosenberg. Senators have not yet outlined rules reform proposals.

Like the enforcement and suspension of existing rules, rule changes over the years have often been adopted or rejected along party lines. Senate Democrats outnumber Republicans 34 to 6.

In 2013, the Senate unanimously approved a rule requiring the posting of upper chamber roll calls to the state Legislature’s website 48 hours after a vote, while rejecting a Republican amendment seeking to curtail senators’ frequent use of cell phones while in the chamber.

Rosenberg, who was elected Senate president last week, pledged an era of “openness and transparency” and it’s possible that the Amherst Democrat will look to advance that goal with rules changes.

“Collaboration, collegiality, openness,” Rosenberg said. “These are the hallmarks of modern, innovative organizations. And they will be the hallmarks of our state Senate.”

The House has not scheduled its rules debate but both branches usually adopt rules packages and appoint members to leadership positions and committee assignments at the start of each two-year session.

In addition to House and Senate rules, the branches are also governed by joint rules, which apply to how the branches interact with one another.

Because there are more House members than Senate members on joint legislative committees, the House can control those panels, which are the first stop for most bills.

House rules, under a reform instituted by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, limit the speaker to eight years in that post. Barring a change in that rule, DeLeo is embarking on his final session as speaker.

The rules debate would be the forum for any change in that rule. Democratic legislators interviewed last week said they had heard little discussion about the prospect of extending the term limit beyond eight years.

Rep. Patricia Haddad, a Somerset Democrat and top DeLeo backer, told the News Service in late December that while she opposes term limits as a concept and the House should offer some “stability” as a new governor and Senate president settle in, “I’m not by any means asking people for votes.”

DeLeo put in the place the term limit rule after the departure of former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, who was later convicted of felonies.

Haddad last July voiced confidence in DeLeo when asked about extending his tenure.

“It’s a rule. It can be changed. I don’t think it’s a bad idea. We have a good team. Things are going well. Do you change the manager when the team’s playing well?” Haddad said in July.

At the time, DeLeo said he was “flattered” by the talk, but added, “I’ve got enough to keep me occupied right now than to think about 2016.”

Asked about approaching the limit on his term, DeLeo told reporters last week that he had not given much thought to lifting it for himself but didn’t rule it out.

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