The leaders of the Massachusetts House and Senate, bracing for a potential veto of a far-reaching climate and energy bill, vowed Wednesday to immediately refile and approve the legislation if Governor Charlie Baker rejects the version that landed on his desk last week.
Should the Legislature move as promised by House Speaker Ronald Mariano and Senate President Karen E. Spilka, it would mark a show of force with speed rarely seen in the Legislature, where officials are often constrained by the sluggish gears of the legislative process.
Baker has until the end of Thursday to act on the 57-page bill after the Legislature approved it on the second to last day of its two-year session, which ended last week. Given lawmakers approved the bill so late, they lost the opportunity to override any potential gubernatorial veto, and would have to start the legislative process anew this session, a process that typically takes months, if not more.
But now House and Senate leaders are vowing to move quickly, if necessary, to bring a new version of the bill back to Baker’s desk within “the coming days.”
The multi-faceted climate change proposal would require the state to reduce its emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels by the end of the decade, and increase energy efficiency requirements in appliances. It also calls for utilities to buy more megawatts of offshore wind power.
But advocates are growing nervous that Baker, without the option of sending it back to lawmakers with proposed changes, may ultimately opt to reject the legislation. Given the legislative session ended last week, Baker can only sign it or veto it, either by explicitly rejecting it or not signing it, in what is known as a “pocket veto.” In that case, the bill would immediately die.
One point of contention that’s emerged is language that would allow cities and towns to adopt rules requiring new buildings to be “net zero,” presumably with regard to greenhouse gas emissions, the Globe reported.
Baker declined to say Wednesday how he intends to act on the bill, which sits on his desk along with two other major proposals — a wide-ranging $627 million economic development package and a multibillion-dollar transportation bond bill. Both also surfaced in the waning hours of the legislative session.
“Between them, there are probably 400 pages worth of material,” Baker said in an interview. “We’re still working our way through it. We’re very cognizant that we need to make decisions on these shortly. And we will.”
Legislative leaders are preparing nonetheless. Mariano said if Baker vetoes it, he would create a temporary budget committee, and immediately refile the climate change package as is.
“We can do it tomorrow,” the Quincy Democrat said Wednesday, adding that the House and Senate could then call formal sessions to pass it. “My point is we have options, even though we ran into the end of the session.”
Spilka, in a separate interview, said lawmakers could “get it back to [Baker] within a week or so.”
“He should sign it,” the Ashland Democrat said of Baker. But if he doesn’t, “the branches need to work together.”
“The speaker and I have already spoken. We were both on the same page with the same idea,” Spilka said.
Such movement would be rare in the Legislature, but it also would land during an uncommon time. Lawmakers often finish their formal business by the end of July, allowing time, even in an informal session, to override vetoes or return legislation to Baker should he want changes.
But after the pandemic upended their session, lawmakers voted to extend formal lawmaking to the end of their two-year session, which wrapped early in the morning of Jan. 6. Lawmakers were then sworn in for the start of their next session just hours later.
Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce chief executive Jim Rooney sent a letter last week to Katie Theoharides, Baker’s energy and environmental affairs secretary, saying the net-zero building code provision could be used by cities and towns to slow or halt new development.
Rooney, in his letter, said this measure could hinder the effectiveness of Housing Choice — a long-awaited bill, and a priority of Baker’s, that lawmakers passed last week; the housing choice initiative would reduce the voting threshold required to approve many local land-use changes and permits.
Rooney didn’t explicitly call for a veto in the letter. But now that it’s clear Baker can’t send the bill back with an amendment, the chamber is calling for an outright veto, according to Carolyn Ryan, a senior vice president at the chamber. Ryan said the chamber now argues the bill should be redone quickly in the new two-year session, using the legislation that was just passed as a foundation.
Tamara Small — the chief executive of NAIOP Massachusetts, a development lobbyist — was more direct in her letter, saying her group “strongly urges” Baker to veto the bill.
Jon Chesto and David Abel of the Globe staff contributed to this report.