Senate democrats back away from ARPA bill order

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – Senate leaders appeared to throw in the towel Thursday on the issue of an amendment deadline for the jumbo budget surplus-ARPA spending bill that still appears on track for consideration next week. But a shadow deadline has emerged.

An order introduced Wednesday would have set a Friday deadline for amendments to bulk up the $3.668 billion package (S 2564), but it was set aside after Sen. Diana DiZoglio objected to taking up the order at Wednesday’s lightly attended session, saying more time was needed to draft and file amendments with municipal leaders.

The Methuen Democrat then joined with Minority Leader Bruce Tarr to file three proposals before Thursday’s session that would have moved the deadline to either Saturday or Monday.

But Senate leaders, who have spent part of this week at a legislative conference in Florida, opted against taking up the order at a formal session they had called for Thursday, leaving the so-called ARPA bill without any deadlines or formal status in the Senate’s formal session calendar.

DiZoglio told the News Service she had planned to table the order if it arose Thursday without a compromise from her caucus’s leadership.

“I made it clear that if we did not reach a compromise of extending the deadline, to give at least 72 hours to read and review this $3.6 billion spending bill, alongside of folks in our communities, that I would be laying the order on the table,” DiZoglio said, referring to a type of objection that any senator can make and which automatically punts a matter to the next session.

Because no order was adopted, technically there is no amendment deadline.

“In the absence of an order, an amendment can be filed at any time,” said Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, after Thursday’s session. “We usually do an order for a variety of reasons, including allowing the clerk to be able to process, and the Ways and Means Committee to evaluate, filed amendments. But generally speaking, in the absence of an order, an amendment can be filed at any time — including while the bill is under consideration on the floor.”

But for local officials or constituents who might plan to call their senator with feedback on the 72-page package, there’s a catch.

President Karen Spilka’s office told the News Service they are “still operating under a Friday deadline,” and a senior Senate official said that the Ways and Means Committee is asking senators to submit their amendments by close of business on Friday.

DiZoglio said there were “rumors” floating around the East Wing that amendments filed after Friday would be discriminated against, even if they’re considered in order under the Senate Rules.

“I’m happy that we now publicly have no deadline set for offering amendments. I am, however, concerned that it is now suggested that senators still file our amendments by a 5 p.m. [Friday] unofficial deadline. And hearing rumors that amendments filed after that deadline will be highly unlikely to pass,” DiZoglio said. ” … Underground, subversive, under-the-table approaches certainly have no place in state government. And we need to be as transparent as possible, even when it comes to deadlines, so that folks in our communities have a seat at the table and so they’re not isolated from this process.”

Another senator, who asked not to be identified out of concern for retaliation, said they believed an email from Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues to mean the same thing.

The senator read an email from Rodrigues in which he asked for amendments to be filed by 5 p.m. Friday in order to receive “proper consideration and review.”

“That means if you don’t get them in by 5 o’clock tomorrow, they will not consider them,” the senator said, giving their interpretation of the email.

“We have 48 hours to read a big old bill that’s got $3.5 billion worth of spending in it, possibly more, and also file amendments. Even though the Senate did not adopt a deadline officially for those amendments, unofficially if you don’t get them in by 5 o’clock tomorrow, they are not going to get adopted,” the senator said.

As for debate on the bill, Spilka’s office said that “is still anticipated for next Wednesday.” Senators could agree before then to place it in the Orders of the Day on Wednesday’s Senate calendar, or it could instead be located in the Notice Section of the calendar.

A Spilka spokesman told the News Service that next week’s schedule is shaping up to include an informal session on Monday, a virtual caucus for Democrats on Tuesday, and a formal session starting at 11 a.m. Wednesday. Veterans Day falls on Thursday.

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