scorecardresearch Skip to main content

On the eve of legislative session’s end, Mass. lawmakers leave big policymaking to bitter end

The Massachusetts State HouseJessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

On the penultimate day of its session, the state Legislature adjourned early — before 6 p.m. — leaving massive and high-priority pieces of legislation for eleventh-hour votes before the formal session ends Sunday.

However, lawmakers were continuing to negotiate compromise bills that will need to be voted on by Sunday. Legislative rules require conference committees to file their reports before 8 p.m. in order for the proposals to be considered the following day.

But Senator William N. Brownsberger said the rules have been suspended before, and that it could happen again. He said he “expects to go late” into Sunday night as members iron out differences in priority bills.


“We got as much business as we could get done today, and hopefully we’ll get the rest done tomorrow,” the Belmont Democrat told reporters as he left the Senate chamber for the night. “There’s no reason to stay late two nights in a row. It isn’t needed, and it doesn’t help . . . we do have a lot of work to do.”

One priority bill that was taken up by the Senate on Saturday would tighten the state’s firearms laws in the wake of a Supreme Court decision expanding gun rights across the country.

The legislation aims to bring the state in line with last month’s decision that ruled unconstitutional a New York law — similar to one in Massachusetts — that required applicants prove a “special need” to get a license to carry a firearm in public.

The House passed a broader version of the bill last week.

Both versions would expand the gun license prohibition to anyone who has a temporary or permanent harassment prevention order against them. It also would tweak a measure under which local chiefs can deny licenses if an applicant is deemed “unsuitable” — a standard the chiefs themselves would still determine.


The Senate also adopted language to retool the law in light of the Supreme Court decision by eliminating the “good reason” standard from its licensing laws, and effectively barring police from imposing restrictions on licenses.

But it omitted several changes the House sought, including cutting the life of a license to carry in Massachusetts in half from six to three years, and requiring police to perform a “personal interview” of anyone applying for a license.

The chambers will have to resolve their differences in short order if a compromise is to land on Governor Charlie Baker’s desk before the formal session comes to an end.

In the other chamber, the House voted overwhelmingly to reject a state budget amendment from Baker that would allow courts to hold people accused of certain crimes without bail. The change was tethered to a section that would provide free phone calls to inmates, to the chagrin of groups such as the ACLU of Massachusetts and the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus.

As of Saturday evening the Senate had not yet taken up Baker’s amendment language for a vote.

The House adjourned relatively early — at just before 5:15 p.m. — to return at noon on Sunday. The Senate adjourned shortly afterward.

A half-dozen bills were still being negotiated in closed-door discussions Saturday evening, including proposals to institute reforms in the cannabis industry, spur job creation, and borrow billions of dollars for infrastructure projects.


Lawmakers are also still trying to reconcile bills that would legalize sports betting as well as a sweeping mental health bill.

Lawmakers must also take up a sweeping climate and energy bill that Baker sent back with several amendments Friday, which included changes to efforts to streamline the offshore wind industry’s bidding process. Lawmakers can accept Baker’s recommendations, or they can reject or rework them, after which the bill would head back to Baker.

Some advocates worry that with a ticking clock, their causes will be left behind. When the chambers adjourned for the night, lobbyists were taken by surprise.

“We have a little bit over 24 hours left, and we are concerned that a lot of our progress could be lost,” said Lydia Conley, CEO of the Association for Behavioral Healthcare, who has been advocating for mental health legislation. “It hasn’t gotten over the finish line yet.”

Looming over the rapidly approaching deadline is a 1980s-era tax cap law that could require sending more than $2.9 billion back to taxpayers.

Baker’s announcement last week that the state is poised to trigger the 40-year-old law dropped a bomb on talks over a separate $1 billion tax relief proposal that lawmakers spent months developing and were aiming to finalize before the end of the weekend.

Brownsberger said the tax law is something “everyone is talking about” and “everyone is thinking about.”

“There’s nothing gelled yet,” he said.

Matt Stout of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Samantha J. Gross can be reached at Follow her @samanthajgross.