End Of Massachusetts Legislative Session Marks Start Of New Senate Presidency

Jul 30, 2018

With very little time left before Massachusetts lawmakers finish this two-year legislative session, last week marked the start of Senator Karen Spilka’s Senate presidency.

Her predessor, Sentor Harriette Chandler, had earlier said lawmakers would be working through the weekend to get the business before the legislature wrapped up. But that didn’t actually happen.

Matt Murphy with the State House News Service explains.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: Sure, well, former Senate President Chandler had apparently spoken to House Speaker Bob DeLeo in the weeks leading up to these final days. They had agreed that with this weekend -- following with just the two days remaining before the end of session -- that they would meet over the weekend, to make sure that they could get all of their business done.

This was tentatively put on the schedule.

But Thursday, after taking the gavel, Senator Spilka adjourned the Senate until Monday, coming as a bit of a shock to the House Speaker. Speaker Robert DeLeo said he found out about it by reading State House News Service, actually.

DeLeo seemed a bit peeved that the Senate would go home. But there is a little more to this. We talked to Senator Spilka after she did this. After the governor signed the budget on Thursday, and vetoed about $49 million in spending -- which was far less than lawmakers were anticipating -- Spilka said she felt quite comfortable. She felt that lawmakers had plenty of time to get their work done over the course of Monday and Tuesday.

I think what a bit of what this speaks to, is the fact that Spilka knew heading into the weekend that lawmakers were not very close on a lot of major deals that still need to get done before midnight on Tuesday the 31st.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: About those vetoes, about $49 million was vetoed by the governor. He cut funding to programs like the Mass Cultural Council, school-based health programs and MassHealth senior care. Also the State Police, coming under intense scrutiny for overtime fraud. Will the optics of some of the veto overrides put any pressure on any of the super-majority holding Democratic lawmakers this morning?

There’s no pressure on them. Their mind is already made up.

They’re prepared to fully restore all of the funding that the governor vetoed.

As I mentioned, it's a small number if you look historically, compared to the amount Governor Baker has sliced from previous budgets, which usually near the $200 to $300 million mark. 

Baker, in typical fashion, kept his eye on a lot of local earmarks. He tends to frown on these set-asides that lawmakers put in the budget for pet projects in their home districts. He thinks that the money should be more broadly allocated by his administration to decide how best to do it. And that is where the legislature comes in, and they’re putting most of those earmarks back in.

What are the big measures that still need work, that lawmakers want to have wrapped up before Tuesday night at midnight?

As we talked about: the budget -- several budget amendments that we expect the legislature will want to deal with. Governor Baker returned some key sections, including what’s known as the “cap on kids” -- it would expand welfare benefits.

There is also a “traffic study” that would look at congestion tolling on the Mass Turnpike. The legislature may look to send these sections back to the governor. '

There was a deal struck over the weekend on a scheme to tax and regulate Airbnb rentals and short-term rentals through other websites. This appears headed for a vote later on Monday in the House and possibly also the Senate.

And we’ve also seen deals struck on veterans, an environmental spending bill worth $2.4 million, and a measure that would implement automatic voter registration in Massachusetts.

All appear to be on the track to passage.

What we’re waiting for is things like a compromise over a major health care bill.

The House and Senate are trying to negotiate a final deal over the opioid abuse prevention law that Governor Baker filed much earlier this session. Lawmakers want to get that done before the end of session comes on July 31.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.