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Senate President Spilka wants to focus on housing, transportation

Senate President Karen E. Spilka
Senate President Karen E. SpilkaPat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/File 2019

Up next on Senate President Karen Spilka’s agenda after passing major mental health access and carbon pricing bills: “comprehensive” housing legislation, transportation policy, and one — or maybe two — more health care packages.

While she did not specify the order in which the bills would be taken up or a timeline, Spilka outlined those three topics as the next priorities for the Senate this legislative session following Thursday’s passage of legislation to improve mental health care access.

The Senate is eyeing action on transportation, she said, as the House prepares its own debate on transportation revenues. In a WCVB interview to air Sunday, Spilka said she wants debate about new funding to be anchored by talk about policy and voiced support for lowering public transit fares.

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“Clearly, we’re looking at transportation,” Spilka said. “We’re working on that. As you know, the constitution requires the House go first on a revenue bill, so we are looking at that.”

Spilka has hinted before that she is interested in a broader approach to housing than considering only Governor Charlie Baker’s proposal to make local zoning reforms easier to achieve. She said the Senate “will be doing a housing bill, a comprehensive housing bill.”

She also said additional action on health care could come in one bill or in two, addressing surprise billing, scope of practice, and potentially more topics.

"By separating them out and not doing one humongous bill — we talked earlier, by doing just mental health, we were able to do a really deep dive and focus on the foundation, laying the foundation, that I do not think we could have done if we did a huge, comprehensive health care bill," Spilka said.

Lawmakers have until July 31 every even year to wrap up major legislative business for their two-year sessions. Spilka said she hopes to see work spaced out more over the next five-plus months than the last-minute sprint featured in previous cycles.

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"We are trying to get really big bills done sooner in the session so that hopefully we can get more done and continue to be productive and maybe not have that logjam at the end of the year that we tend to have," she said.

Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo oversee Democratic super majorities in the Senate and House, but the branches over the years have often not advanced coordinated agendas, and both the substance of the bills that reach Baker’s desk and the pace of that progress are difficult to predict.

House leaders have spent much of the latter part of 2019 and this year working behind the scenes on a bill to raise new revenues for transportation. The House this month also approved a bill empowering state regulators to regulate and enforce the legally required contracts between marijuana businesses and their host communities.

House plans for a carbon pricing bill, as well as health care and housing, are unknown.

Faced with a reporting deadline earlier this month, the House opted to give the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee until June 5 to make its recommendation on a House carbon pricing bill.

Last year, the House approved a bill authorizing a 10-year infrastructure grant program calling for more than $1 billion in state borrowing to help cities and towns confront climate change impacts. That bill, a version of which was filed by Baker, has not yet emerged for consideration in the Senate.

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Thursday’s passage of mental health care access legislation came two weeks after another lengthy session where the Senate approved three bills calling for net-zero statewide emissions by 2050, implementation of carbon pricing, adoption of an all-electric MBTA fleet, and more.

When a reporter noted that the Senate had passed two significant bills in a three-week span, Spilka replied, “We’re cookin', huh? We’re really hot.”