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Mass. House again fails to pass $3 billion spending bill amid GOP opposition

Republican caucus uses procedural motion to block legislation

The Massachusetts State House.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Massachusetts House Democrats failed to advance a roughly $3 billion spending bill Saturday for the third consecutive day, running into a now-familiar GOP blockade that left lawmakers passing blame instead of actual legislation.

The House’s small GOP caucus used the same procedural move it did on previous days to halt the 18-minute session and a deal Democrats negotiated on the wide-ranging budget bill.

Republicans oppose a measure that would inject hundreds of millions of dollars into the state’s strained emergency shelter system, arguing it needs more teeth to stem the flow of migrant families that have overwhelmed the program.

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The session’s collapse — and the “Groundhog Day”-like nature of its failure — has sowed frustration among Democrats and labor leaders who’ve pressed lawmakers to act.

Several unions have urged the Legislature to release nearly $400 million included in the bill to fund contracts covering tens of thousands of state employees, some of which were agreed to months ago.

Republicans have blocked the bill by pointing out there were not enough of the chamber’s 159 representatives present for a vote. That procedural move is enough to stop the informal sessions Democrats are relying on to pass the bill, using often sparsely attended gatherings in which roll calls aren’t permitted and a single objection can stall legislation.

House Speaker Ron Mariano said Saturday he’s confident Democrats will push the bill to Governor Maura Healey’s desk, suggesting “there will be enough” lawmakers at the next scheduled session on Monday to overcome the GOP’s parliamentary bulwark.

But he offered little detail on exactly how Democrats intend to ensure the bill passes, instead accusing Republicans of going well beyond “making the point.”

Should House Democrats succeed, it’s likely the Senate’s four-person Republican caucus could throw up the same roadblocks in that chamber.

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“They’re using dilatory tactics that the Washington Republicans do to hold us up. They want to seem to be relevant,” the Quincy Democrat told a Boston Herald reporter, according to audio of his remarks. “They’re just being obstructionists.”

The package would pour $250 million into the state’s emergency shelter system, and mandate that Healey use up to $50 million of the allotment to create overflow shelters for homeless families with nowhere else to go.

Healey last month began limiting how many people could stay in the shelter system, pushing those shut out by the new 7,500-family cap to a newly created waitlist.

Without a deal, the state also has been unable to tie up the loose ends on the fiscal year that ended June 30 — a commonplace, and legally required, maneuver that lawmakers have increasingly delayed.

Labor leaders, who previously lambasted Democratic leaders for not reaching an agreement sooner on the bill, have turned their fire in recent days on Republicans for blocking the package from advancing.

“We can’t wait any longer for this money,” Ethel Everett, president of SEIU 509′s DCF chapter, said in a statement. “Our members can’t get braces for their kids, or qualify for a mortgage, or pay their student loan bills, without this money.”

House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones told reporters on Friday that Democrats could easily overcome the GOP opposition by calling a full formal session or ensuring more than half of the chamber’s representatives are present.

“They wanted to play this game that they’re playing right now,” Jones said of Democrats.

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Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him @mattpstout.