In our last episode on the parliamentary wrangling between the chambers of the Massachusetts Legislature, House Speaker Robert DeLeo was insisting that under the Joint House-Senate rules, the House was in charge of deciding if and when any bill would move out of committee (and the Senate was in charge of cleaning the chimney and sweeping the hearth). The Senate had responded by proposing changes to those rules to reflect the position of John Adams, among others, that “the House and the Senate are equal.”
Yesterday, a conference committee of the two chambers met for the first time to try to reach a compromise. It didn’t sound like much progress was made, although House member Ron Mariano did comment on how nice it was to see Senate member Anthony Petruccelli.
Speaker DeLeo’s insistence on the prerogatives he claims for the House (which he refers to as “the committee process”) is often in evidence, dramatically so on one occasion last March when he engaged in a labyrinthine series of maneuvers simply in order to avoid having the House act on a minimum wage bill that the Senate had acted on first. Here’s how he explained why such elaborate choreography was required: “It’s always been my feeling that this piece of legislation or any other piece of legislation must go through the committee process and that’s what this bill did, go through the committee process.”
Well, maybe not always. Like the time the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a criminal statute prohibiting the secret photographing of a nude or partially nude person was not broad enough to encompass the modern invasion of privacy known as “upskirting.” The Legislature put a law broadening the statute on the Governor’s desk the next day. When asked why that bill had not gone through the usual committee process, the Speaker replied that “special circumstances” may justify a departure from the committee process: “What I have heard generally from the public on this particular matter, the outrage that I have heard, I feel very comfortable in having the legislation pass without the so-called committee hearing process.”
Looks like we’ll be seeing some “special circumstances” again at Wednesday’s House session. You might have noticed that the owners of Suffolk Downs racetrack in Revere (which as we know is in Speaker DeLeo’s district) reached an agreement recently to bring horse racing back for a two-year period starting this summer. That would be the first good news for Suffolk Downs, whose bid for a casino license lost out last year, in quite a while. In order for horseracing to come back, though, the Legislature needs to approve. And guess what? The bill that the House is planning to pass on Wednesday (a supplementary funding bill that Governor Baker filed for some accounts running deficits, notably snow removal) was amended by the House Ways and Means Committee today to include the statutory green light that Suffolk Downs needs.
So good luck to the Senate — and to all of us — in figuring out when the House means “the committee process” and when it just means “the so-called committee process.”