BOSTON (SHNS) – The Senate made a handful of changes to internal legislative rules on Thursday, guaranteeing senators at least two days to file budget amendments, codifying the video broadcast of informal sessions, and requiring supplier diversity in Senate contracts.
The adoption of formal rules governing Senate business comes weeks into the 2021-2022 lawmaking session and frames how the body plans to consider legislation, hold hearings, and consider the budget during the next 23 months. Senators spent more than six hours Thursday debating three packages: Senate rules (S 10), joint rules (S 11), and emergency rules for pandemic-era operations (S 12).
Sen. Joan Lovely, chair of the Temporary Rules Committee, said the three rules packages are focused on promoting “diversity, safety, and transparency.”
As drafted by Lovely’s committee, the rules include measures like new mandatory trainings on implicit bias and bystander intervention, a few transparency moves like the preservation of amendment texts online even if they are withdrawn by the sponsor, and a requirement that committees seek diversity in any invited panels at hearings, a move Lovely said was based on a policy in the U.S. House.
Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and Sen. Diana DiZoglio filed the bulk of amendments ahead of the rules debate.
Some of the Republican leader’s unsuccessful proposals garnered support from a handful of Democrats, including measures to ban the convening of formal sessions within eight hours of each other (amendment 8), to require a 15-minute waiting period before voting on redrafted or further amendments (amendment 42), and to change the requirement for meeting past midnight from a two-thirds vote to unanimous consent (amendment 6).
The tightest vote of the day came on a DiZoglio amendment (15) seeking more specific requirements around training for new senators and aides.
Mandatory training on anti-harassment and bystander intervention are required for senators, officers, and staff within the first 90 days of a new session, and anyone who starts their employment mid-session gets trained “at the next available training opportunity,” the rules say.
DiZoglio and Tarr spoke in favor of requiring new staff to receive trainings specifically within the first 90 days of their employment.
The amendment failed 10-29, with Republican Sens. Tarr, Ryan Fattman and Patrick O’Connor and Democrat Sens. DiZoglio, Jamie Eldridge, Marc Pacheco, Rebecca Rausch, Anne Gobi, Michael Moore, and Walter Timilty voting in favor.
Despite rejecting the amendment, Lovely said the Senate has a “total commitment” to implementing the changes.
“We also recognize that we need a little more time to be able to get it into place,” she said after the session. “To codify it in the rules right now might have really constrained us to be able to do that, but we’re actively working on it.”
Because visitors have not been allowed inside the State House to witness lawmakers at work during the COVID-19 pandemic, the branches have been broadcasting online streams of both informal and formal sessions since last spring. Broadcast of informal sessions was previously prohibited under the standing rules, but with the adoption of an amendment to its rules, the Senate will permanently broadcast all of its legislative sessions even after the pandemic ends.
DiZoglio said that Ways and Means Chairman Sen. Michael Rodrigues currently gives members at least 48 hours to file amendments to the general budget, and she wanted to “make it permanent” with Amendment 19, which was adopted on a voice vote.
An ensuing amendment (20) would have extended the same 48-hour amendment window to supplemental budgets. Rodrigues argued that those additional spending bills often contain “urgent matters” that may require swift passage, and senators rejected the amendment 5-34.
As the Legislature prepares for a redistricting year in 2021, the new rules add one Democrat to the Senate Redistricting Committee. Tarr secured passage of an amendment that will also add another Republican to the panel to keep the same party balance from previous sessions.
The Senate also unanimously adopted a supplier diversity measure (29), requiring the Senate business office to “include diversity and inclusion plan requirements in all requests for proposals” and take those plans into consideration when evaluating bids.
DiZoglio offered an unsuccessful amendment (24) later in the afternoon that would have required the Senate to make bills available to senators and the public 72 hours before consideration. The proposed rule could have been suspended by unanimous consent, or in situations where the Senate president declares an emergency, by two-thirds majority vote.
“Leadership knows what they are working on and many times the press finds out what we are going to be voting on before we as members of the Senate do,” the Methuen Democrat said remotely during session. “And I get to learn about what we are doing through Twitter or the media instead of from where I should be getting that information from, through the source.”
Before the Senate voted down the amendment 5-34, Lovely said she found it “insulting to lead the public to believe we are getting our information on Twitter.”
“We are not. We have perfectly enough time to be able to contemplate what comes before this body,” Lovely said from the chamber floor. “The Senate president and her office make sure that we have enough time. Again, we may have to act urgently, again on a sick leave bank, and why wouldn’t we, but we do not get our information from Twitter. This amendment would impede that process and the efficient operation of this body.”
In response to Lovely, DiZoglio said not all members’ experiences are the same across the board and that there “are disparities.”
“For example, some of us have multiple conference committees on which we serve, multiple committees that we chair and some of us have one,” DiZoglio said. “Some of us have many bills that go through all the committees that we chair, some of us don’t. So there are differences amongst legislators.”
During debate of the joint rules package governing House-Senate interactions, a trio of Democrats unsuccessfully joined the chamber’s Republicans in support of an amendment that would have required any conference committee report to be filed a minimum of three days before a vote.
Tarr pointed to the end of the last lawmaking session in early January, when major packages covering economic development and transportation spending emerged late at night just hours before legislators were asked to approve them.
That rushed practice, he argued, puts lawmakers under pressure to wade through hundreds of pages of legislation in a narrow timeframe with little public input.
“If we continue with the notion that we have the luxury of pushing things as far as they can go toward the end of the session, then we are going to get the very unsatisfactory result of being in this chamber again and again and again at 8 o’clock, 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock, and reading a conference committee report and trying to understand it,” Tarr said.
The Senate rejected Tarr’s amendment 6-33, with Democrat Sens. John Keenan, Timilty and DiZoglio voting in favor alongside Republicans.
Senators also voted against a DiZoglio amendment that, via the joint rules package, would have prevented either branch from using non-disclosure agreements with any legislative members, employees or officers.
[Chris Lisinski contributed to this report.]