Senators eyeing rules change to help advance agenda

Joint rules for years have given the House a numerical advantage over the Senate on joint committees

BOSTON (SHNS) – Frustrated by seeing Senate bills bottled up in House-controlled joint committees, Massachusetts Senate leaders are giving serious consideration to rules changes that would make it easier for the Senate to advance its own legislative agenda.

According to a source close to Senate leadership, senators ahead of next week’s debate on joint rules are discussing a proposal to split up the 27 joint legislative committees and create jurisdictional committees in both the Senate and House.

Sen. Mark Montigny, the new chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, is weighing another amendment that would leave the joint committee structure in place but empower Senate members of such committees to move Senate bills to the Senate floor for votes and House members to do the same on their side.

Joint rules for years have given the House a numerical advantage over the Senate on joint committees. While both branches are controlled by Democrats, the dynamic has led to frustration among senators who on occasion have attached legislation to unrelated bills in Senate-only committees in order to push bills to the floor for debate and votes.

The rule changes being considered by senators would need to be adopted by the House to take effect, which would require the House to cede the advantage it currently enjoys on joint committees. The House, where members have not yet been assigned to committees, adopted its joint rules package last week during mostly debate-free deliberations.

The Senate Rules Committee on Thursday released a set of rules proposals that includes one adopted by the House that will require joint committees to post votes on the Legislature’s website within 48 hours of the vote.

According to Montigny, the Senate Rules Committee is also calling for changes moving up the deadline for committees to report on bills in the second year of two-year sessions from mid-March to mid-January.

The committee is also recommending that conference committee reports, which are hashed out by six-member House-Senate committees and not subject to amendment, be released by 5 p.m. the day before floor votes rather than the current 8 p.m.

To prevent bills filed mid-session from being held up, the committee is proposing that bills referred to a committee in one branch receive a referral in the other branch within 60 days.

In a statement, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said the Rules Committee’s report “reflects the Senate’s push for more open and transparent government.” Said Montigny, “Taxpayers deserve a government that can effectively respond to their needs. I look forward to a spirited debate with the House as we work to craft rules that ensure everyone is fairly represented in state government.”

Senators have until Tuesday at 3 p.m. to file amendments to the Senate joint rules proposal (S 7), which is scheduled for debate on the Senate floor on Thursday, Feb. 12.

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