BOSTON – State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D- Pittsfield) announces that the Massachusetts Senate adopted a new set of Joint Rules to govern the procedural workings of the 27 Joint Committees in the state Legislature during Thursday’s full formal session. The package reflects significant operational changes, outlines a more open and transparent process and streamlines how committees will function during the 2015-2016 legislative session.
Major changes to the rules embraced by the Senate include an amendment authorizing Senators to secure approval to release Senate bills from Joint Committees without consent of their House counterparts.
Membership of the Joint Committees is comprised of both 13 or 11 House members and eight or six Senate members, often giving the House chairman control over the panel’s agenda. This rule change provides Senate members a way to advance their bills out of committee to be considered by the entire Senate.
In an effort to increase efficiency in the legislative review process, the Senate’s Joint Rules creates new time frames for committee decisions. The Senate’s package requires Joint Committee votes to be posted on the Legislature’s website within 48 hours and mandates that all late filed bills referred to a committee by one branch will be referred within 60 days by the other branch. Additionally, the deadline for filing conference committee reports has been moved from 8:00 pm to 5:00 pm., and the deadline to report bills out of committee in even numbered years has been moved from mid-March to mid-January.
The House of Representatives passed its version of the Joint Rules on January 29, 2015. The two branches must agree on the final wording of the Joint Rules before they can be put into place.
FY15 Budget Deficit
The Massachusetts Senate also voted on Thursday to close the $768 million budget deficit identified by Governor Charlie Baker in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget. The Senate authorized the transfer of excess capital gains receipts to the General Fund as well as a corporate tax amnesty program through the Department of Revenue. However, the Senate did not adopt the Governor’s request to unilaterally manage the MassHealth program without oversight of the legislative branch.
The bill was filed by Governor Baker on February 6th and passed by the House on February 11th. It is now on the Governor’s desk for his review and approval.