Before a bill can be passed by the Legislature, it must get a public hearing by the appropriate legislative committee — and every bill that is “timely filed” (i.e., by the mid-January deadline at the beginning of session) is guaranteed a hearing.
That means that May and June of the first year of session tend to be jam-packed with legislative hearings, with sometimes 10 (or more!) hearings happening each week on a wide variety of bills.
Last week was one of those particularly busy, hearing-filled weeks for our office. I chaired and/or attended several hearings, testified at hearings in support of legislation I’ve filed or others have filed, and testified in opposition to bills being heard at yet another hearing.
Before I tell you about those hearings, however, I’d like to give you a little back ground on the public hearing and committee process.
About Public Hearings
A public hearing is a chance for supporters and opponents of the bill — be they legislators, lobbyists and advocates for various causes and organizations, or citizens who would be affected — to come and make their case before the committee.
Why should the committee support the bill, or why should they oppose it? Who would be affected by this legislation, and what do they think of it? Are there changes that should be made to the bill to make it more effective, or unexpected problems certain parts of the bill would cause?
The Role of the Committee
It’s the job of the committee — and in particular, the House and Senate chairs — to listen to the testimony, ask clarifying questions, and, ultimately, make a recommendation as to what should be done with the bill.
Often bills are redrafted or combined with other bills, taking the testimony from the public hearing into account.
If a committee believes a bill is good public policy, they will “report the bill out favorably” (otherwise known as saying the bill “ought to pass”). From there, it will go onto another committee — either an additional policy committee, or to the Committee on Ways & Means if it deals with finances and spending, or to the Committee on Steering & Policy, which decides when bills come to the floor.
If a committee believes a bill is bad public policy, they will report it out unfavorably (“ought not to pass”), which is generally the end of the line for a bill.
Finally, if the committee believes it isn’t the right time to pass the bill, or that it needs more consideration, they’ll “send the bill to study.” Although it is possible to report a bill that has been sent to study out favorably later in the session, this typically means the bill is dead for that legislative session.
As the Senate Chair of the Housing Committee, it’s my job, working with my counterpart in the House and the other Housing Committee members, to scrutinize and make a recommendation on what should be done with each bill regarding housing that’s filed this session. Topics our committee handles include affordable housing and the 40B law, homelessness, housing production, housing safety, condo association laws, and (typically in conjunction with the Judiciary Committee) foreclosure.
The Housing Committee held its first hearing this past Tuesday, focusing on legislation dealing with public housing. We’ll have another hearing next Tuesday, this time focusing on bills dealing with homelessness.
Other Legislative Hearings this Week
In addition to helping chair the Housing Committee meeting, I’ve given testimony at numerous hearings last week on a wide variety of bills:
- On Tuesday, I testified in support of an “anti-poverty” bill I’ve filed to reform our welfare system by removing state-imposed barriers to asset development for low-income residents. Read my testimony on the bill here.
- On Tuesday I also came to the hearing held by the Committee on State Administration on a bill recently filed by the Senate President — S1900, An Act to Improve State Administration & Finance. This bill aims to help modernize and increase efficiency in state government through performance management measures. I came to support this bill, but also to recommend additional related measures the Committee should include — namely, extending the performance management standards to the administration of our tax expenditure budget and economic development spending. You can read my testimony on this bill.
- On Wednesday, I testified in opposition to expanding gambling in Massachusetts and in support of a bill that would require an independent cost-benefit analysis to be conducted before any bill is passed to allow casinos or racinos in our state. Read my testimony here.
- On Wednesday I also testified in support of legislation I’ve filed to require producers of electronic waste (e-waste), — i.e. computers, televisions and printers — to be financially responsible for the proper disposal of their end-of-life products. You can read my testimony here.
As the Vice Chair of the Environment Committee, which heard the bill, I also had the pleasure of listening to testimony from lobbyists and citizens who supported and opposed the measure. I might be a bit partial, but I have to admit I found the concise, professional, well-reasoned testimony prepared by students from Brookline High in support of the bill to be far more convincing than the arguments from the corporate lobbyists opposing it!
- Finally, on Thursday, I joined a number of my colleagues in supporting legislation proposed by Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and Representative Jim O’Day, “An Act to Invest in Our Communities.”
This bill takes a balanced approach to the fiscal crisis facing us by raising revenue to maintain the services we need and value. By asking more from high income households and investors who received large windfalls from the Bush tax cuts, while raising the personal exemption as a way to hold down the tax increase for middle-class families, the bill raises needed revenue primarily from those who can best afford to pay. With that revenue, we can keep the quality schools and services that make our state a good place to live and do business.