The Massachusetts Senate has already checked a criminal justice overhaul off its to-do list. Last week, the State House checked off a measure guaranteeing free birth control. But there's a lot left to do, with legislative deadlines looming.
State House News Service reporter Matt Murphy says the pressure is on for lawmakers to wrap things up.
Matt Murphy, State House News Service: Starting today: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday [are] the last three days for them to get anything really significant done before we get into 2018. They won't meet again until January, when formal votes can be taken. So aside from small items and non-controversial items, these are the three days to get anything done they want to.
Carrie Healy, NEPR: So what business can the House and Senate try to complete this week?
So we know, the Senate has [for the] last couple weeks been rushing through, [and] they got their criminal justice bill through; they got a major health care cost containment bill through last week. The health care effort seems to be something that the House is going to push off until the new year.
We spoke to Chairman Peter Kocot last week said he hopes it's one of the first bills the House will take up, so that's sort of off the table for now.
Starting today, and also on Tuesday, the House is planning a debate on their criminal justice bill, and I expect that should be able to enter formal negotiations before Wednesday, so that they can spend the next seven weeks, during their recess, kind of negotiating with the Senate over this major package.
The other things they're looking to get done are some borrowing bills to take care of some capital needs, infrastructure projects. And there's also a chance — tha tthe Senate could look to pass, and get to the governor's desk — the bill that would guarantee access to free, no-co-pay birth control for women in Massachusetts.
In that House criminal justice debate that's likely to happen: are there any specific things that they hope to include that we know that the Senate did not include last week?
Not that the Senate did not include, necessarily. I think people were a bit surprised at the scope of the House bill. It's much broader than some people thought, or maybe feared. The advocates thought that the House may scale back the Senate initiative greatly. They did not, though they didn't go quite as far as the Senate in some areas, such as repealing mandatory minimums.
They also did nothing to touch the statutory rape laws, where the Senate tried to initiate what is commonly referred to sometimes as a “Romeo and Juliet” clause. Teens similar in age could not be subject to felony charges for statutory rape. But there are some 212 amendments that were filed to this bill that will be going through the next two days, so a lot could change, and a lot could be added to this bill.
Under joint legislative rules, the Senate needs to finish some voting this week, on bonding bills and veto overrides, if they want to do them at all. Are there any last-minute budgetary restorations in the future in the Senate this week?
It's possible they could take up a few more. They did make some good progress in the last week, and they don't intend to override all $320 million that the governor vetoed and the House restored.
There's a bit of a difference between the branches there, so that could be pretty much done.
One thing they are trying to get done is a bill that the House passed last week which authorizes borrowing for almost $200 million to build a new Soldiers Home in Chelsea to care for veterans. And also about $45 million for the Last Mile Broadband Project in Western Massachusetts. This would help extend broadband access to some of those underserved communities in the western part of the state.
And particularly the Chelsea money, that needs to be authorized before December 1 in order to not lose out on a ton of federal money, and the governor has been asking the legislative leaders to at least get that piece done. So I think there's a bit of a rush on that.
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