A long list of priorities on Beacon Hill, but lawmakers are getting short on time

BOSTON, MA - 11/09/2017: State House Boston view aerial (David L Ryan/Globe Staff ) SECTION: TOPIC
David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File

On slow-moving Beacon Hill, there’s so much to do and so little time.

With only 50 days remaining before the end of the formal two-year legislative session, Massachusetts lawmakers are scrambling to finish a long list of policy priorities, from efforts to fight the scourge of drug overdoses to measures that would tighten gun laws, tax Airbnb rentals, and rein in the cost of health care.

After the clock strikes midnight at the beginning of August, lawmakers will still meet and advance legislation in informal sessions. But in those sessions, a single legislator can derail proceedings, so just about every substantive bill must get done before July ends — or languish until 2019.


Several bills that have passed both the House and the Senate in differing versions must be reconciled before they go back to both chambers for a final up-or-down vote on enactment.

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Lawmakers say they are close to agreement on a bill that would give judges the power to strip weapons from individuals red-flagged as a danger to themselves or others. Governor Charlie Baker is expected to sign the version that ends up on his desk.

The House and the Senate both agree the state should impose a tax on some short-term rentals that people book through services like Airbnb. But the devil is in the details.

The Senate-passed plan would uniformly apply the state’s 5.7 percent hotel tax to short-term rentals. The House-passed plan would established a three-tiered tax rate, based on how many units someone is renting — the more units a person is renting out, the higher the tax rate.

Lawmakers are ironing out differences in bills the House and Senate passed aimed at protecting consumers’ credit in the midst of a rashof data breaches. Both bills would ensure residents of Massachusetts could put a “security freeze’’ on their credit reports without paying a fee.


Representatives and senators are also negotiating a bill meant to enhance civics education. One difference: The Senate bill would mandate a civics project for high school graduation, while the House bill would leave it up to individual school districts.

And there’s the $41 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Both the House and Senate passed their own versions of the massive spending plan this spring and are wrangling over the details of what, exactly, they send the governor.

“Total spending is pretty similar in both budgets, but there are still a lot of differences to iron out,” said Doug Howgate, a onetime budget director at the Senate’s budget-writing committee and now a top official with the watchdog Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

First, he said, there are many millions of dollars in spending differences between the House and Senate even as the budgets come out to roughly the same size. That means negotiators will probably have agree to slice certain favored items to avoid ballooning the bottom line.

Second, there are big differences in the policy proposals. For example, the Senate budget would impose tens of millions of dollars in new fees each year to support community preservation efforts, but the House version would not. And third, Howgate said, with tax revenue coming in at a good clip, lawmakers may be debating what that means for the fiscal year that begins in July.


There are many other pieces of legislation that policy makers are keen to see become law.

One is Baker’s latest major legislative effort to address the epidemic of opioid abuse. His CARE Act aims to increase access to treatment and boost prevention efforts.

While legislators appear in agreement with many of the bill’s provision, they have expressed profound skepticism about language that would give clinical professionals — such as physicians and psychologists — the power to involuntarily hold, for 72 hours, drug users who pose a danger to themselves or others.

Other efforts at major legislation abound.

The Senate in November passed a wide-ranging bill that aims to control rising health care costs and included a plan that would fine certain hospitals if spending rises too fast. The House will release and vote on its version of the bill in coming weeks, Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said Monday.

The governor is pressing for a $1.4 billion environmental bond bill that includes a big infusion of money for climate change preparedness. He’s also gung-ho on a housing effort meant to drive the creation of 135,000 new units by 2025.

An effort to preempt potential ballot questions that would raise the minimum wage, mandate paid family and medical leave, and slice the sales tax has been faltering, so the chances of legislative movement on those issues are unclear.

DeLeo said he’s hopeful on a legislative compromise to keep the questions off the November ballot. But, he said, “I’m not sure if any of the advocates feel there is any urgency to come to an agreement because they are all polling so well.”

And there are many other bills that may yet see the light of day and, eventually, the governor’s pen. They include one to spur economic development across the state and one to address distracted driving, among many others.

Joshua Miller can be reached at