BOSTON (State House News Service) – When the House’s long-discussed gun law reform bill hits the floor Wednesday, Speaker Ron Mariano expects there will be “spirited debate with some amendments and then a successful vote,” shifting focus onto the Senate as it crafts its own bill and starting a process that could well take the Legislature until its deadline of July 31, 2024 to resolve.
After a roughly one-hour caucus with fellow Democrats, the speaker said Tuesday afternoon that he’s confident he has the votes necessary to ensure passage of the bill the House has been working on for months to address ghost guns, update the state’s so-called red flag law, limit the presence of firearms in public spaces, streamline the licensing process and more. Representatives have filed 49 amendments for the House to consider Wednesday.
Legislative leaders generally do not bring a bill to the floor unless its passage is certain, and Mariano seems confident that support for the measure is sufficient to overcome opposition to the measure from gun rights advocates and police chiefs.
The first indication of how Wednesday’s vote might break down among the chamber’s 134 Democrats, 25 Republicans and one unenrolled member was provided Tuesday morning when the House Ways and Means Committee voted to advance a third distinct version of the House’s controversial gun law reform bill.
Among committee members, the bill was approved with 21 representatives in favor, eight opposed and one who abstained. The eight ‘no’ votes were cast by the eight Republican members on the committee: Reps. Todd Smola, Angelo D’Emilia, Mathew Muratore, Donald Berthiaume, Joseph McKenna, Kelly Pease, Alyson Sullivan-Almeida, and Steven Xiarhos, a committee spokesman said. The Republican members of Ways and Means make up about one-third of the House GOP caucus.
“I think the minority caucus’s position is pretty clear. It’s been pretty clear through any number of gun bills we’ve done,” Mariano said after the Democrats’ caucus.
The last time the Legislature passed significant gun law changes — the 2018 law that empowered courts to take firearms away from individuals thought to be a danger to themselves or others — the House vote was 133-15 with Democrat Reps. Colleen Garry and Jonathan Zlotnik joining independent Rep. Susannah Whipps and 12 Republicans in opposition. The majority of the Republican caucus, 20 members, voted in favor of that bill.
The House’s latest gun bill advanced Tuesday with the new bill number H 4135. It is technically a different bill than the one (HD 4607) that got a hearing before the Ways and Means and Judiciary committees last Tuesday. That bill was never actually referred to either committee that held last week’s hearing but on Monday was sent to the House Committee on Rules.
A Ways and Means spokesman said the committee’s changes to the firearm legislation were technical in nature.
Instead, the Ways and Means Committee reported out part of Healey’s still-outstanding fiscal year 2023 close-out budget and amended it to reflect the gun legislation. But Mariano said Tuesday that nothing should be read into the House’s choice of legislative vehicle.
“I think the gun bill is a separate entity that [Judiciary Committee] Chairman [Michael] Day put in a lot of time and effort on over an extended hearing process, and it was a standalone bill. And because there’s some shenanigans or some lack of comity on the Senate side, we had to choose another vehicle,” Mariano said.
Ever since Day unveiled a bill (HD 4022) that he wrote after leading a series of hearings around Massachusetts this spring, the House’s gun bill hopes have been complicated by sour relations with Senate leaders. The House wanted Day’s bill to go to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, where Day serves as co-chair with Sen. Jamie Eldridge, but the Senate did not go along with that referral and preferred to see the bill heard by the Joint Committee on Public Safety, where other bills related to gun laws have been sent.
A wide array of firearms-related bills remain pending before the Public Safety Committee, which has not scheduled public hearings on those bills as gun policy deliberations move ahead.
Senate leadership is said to be working behind the scenes to craft that branch’s own gun reform bill, but no timeline has been put on that effort. Majority Leader Cindy Creem wrote in a newsletter to constituents earlier this month that she wants to ensure “all voices” are included in discussions.
“I have been meeting with Senators, gun safety activists, gun owners, and police and public safety officials (including Newton Police Chief John F. Carmichael) to identify areas where we can come up with bipartisan, collaborative legislation to tackle gun violence,” Creem wrote. “I look forward to presenting our findings to the Senate president in due course in order to help inform and shape the Senate’s action this session on this critical issue.”
Senate President Karen Spilka said on Oct. 5 that she was “happy” to hear about the House’s plan to take up its own gun bill in October.
“I believe Massachusetts should always have the strongest gun safety laws in the country. We’ll make sure that whatever gun safety bill that we pass will continue to make us, and ensure that we stay among the strongest,” she said in an interview on WBUR’s “Radio Boston.” “And we will pass it and I do believe we will have something on the governor’s desk, definitely before the session’s over. So I’m looking forward to that.”
July 31, 2024 is the last day for formal lawmaking in the 2023-2024 session. For the Legislature to get a gun bill on Gov. Maura Healey’s desk by then, the Senate will have to write, debate and pass its own gun bill, and then the two branches would likely appoint a six-member conference committee to try to negotiate a compromise bill in private. That compromise would then have to pass both branches.