It’s not exactly a horse head in a bed, but the state Senate seemingly used equids to send a message on Tuesday. As the session wound down, senators notably failed to send to the governor routine legislation to reauthorize horse racing in Massachusetts — a favorite cause of House Speaker Robert DeLeo. As a result, horse racing and simulcasting briefly became illegal in Massachusetts, leading the track in Plainville to postpone races Thursday.
Nobody has said the oversight was deliberate. But whether or not senators intended to, they certainly helped make the point that the slow pace on Beacon Hill and habitual last-minute rush just before the end of the session have become a problem. This session was especially unsatisfying, with lawmakers waiting until the last minute to pass legislation and letting bills that appeared to have wide support die right at the finish line. Both chambers, but especially DeLeo’s House, have to try harder to avoid logjams like the one that took place over the last week.
To give lawmakers their due, the Legislature did pass a budget, an economic development bill, energy legislation, a short-term rental bill, and animal welfare provisions. But the clock ran out on conference committees trying to reconcile important health care and education legislation. A zoning reform bill and a proposal to allow dental therapists never saw the light of day. A bill to allow people who do not identify as male or female to have corresponding driver’s licenses appeared to have widespread support, but came to the House floor so late in the process that a GOP opponent was able to kill it with delaying tactics.
With formal sessions over, the only way to pass legislation is in informal session, when a single senator or representative can stop any bill. That’s how the Legislature corrected the horse racing snafu on Thursday, sending the bill to Governor Baker, who signed it immediately, clearing the way for racing to resume. But it’s not a viable path for bigger legislation.
In the Senate, the frustration is palpable, and spilled into public view early Wednesday as Sonia Chang-Diaz blamed the House for the failure to reach a compromise on the education bill. The House was also the stumbling block to taking up zoning reform.
Now, some of that tension involves political differences — the House and Senate don’t always see eye to eye on policy. But that’s all the more reason why delay is troubling. Taking too long to finish this year’s budget, for instance, and then moving other bills so late in the process, left less time for negotiation and compromise. The Legislature’s poor time management leaves too much unfinished business — for horse tracks, and for the rest of us.