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Rosenberg: Inter-branch dustup last session was a ‘circus’

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By Andy Metzger

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

STATE HOUSE — Last session’s procedural dispute over how minimum wage and unemployment reforms should be passed was one example of bills “bottled up” in committee, which occurs “way too often” in the Legislature, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said Thursday.

The Senate on Wednesday began the preparations for potentially extracting itself from the joint committees where the number of House members gives the House chairmen dominance over their Senate counterparts in the movement of legislation.

Both branches came to loggerheads over how to pass a minimum wage increase and reform unemployment insurance last session after the Senate, under former Senate President Therese Murray, bypassed the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, using the Senate Committee on Ways and Means to draft legislation for floor debate and passage. The House refused to recognize the Senate’s bills, and the Senate eventually relented, taking up the issues a second time after the House moved legislation out of the labor panel and passed it.

The law ratcheted up the minimum hourly wage, which will become $11 in January 2017 and also reformed unemployment insurance to favor companies that have fewer layoffs.

“The Senate had to jump through hoops and it became a circus up here. In the end we got a good product, but the process was not appropriate,” Rosenberg told reporters at a meeting in his office Thursday afternoon. Rosenberg, who was majority leader last session, said the Senate’s use of its Ways and Means committee to draft a new version of legislation pending before a joint committee was “a bizarre approach.”

“It’s an embarrassment frankly. It’s an embarrassment to the process. It’s an embarrassment to the Senate, and frankly it should be an embarrassment to the House,” Rosenberg said. Rosenberg said the House refused to pick up the Senate’s legislation because it was drafted by Ways and Means – which means it did not receive a public hearing.

While beginning planning on how best to establish its own committees, the Senate also began referring bills to the joint committees, which are operating under last session’s joint rules while a six-member conference committee has so far been unable to reconcile proposals to amend the joint rules.

“I hope as many bills as possible will have early hearings” and moved quickly out of committees to the branches where the legislation originated, Rosenberg said. He said, “If you can bottle bills up in the committee for long enough, basically the members don’t get to work on it, and by the way that’s both House and Senate, but our business is what happens to Senate bills.”

Speaker Robert DeLeo has firmly ruled out the approach originally proposed by the Senate – to allow senators to unilaterally move their bills out of committee to the Senate.

“The Senate’s proposal is an impolitic and manufactured reaction to a non-existent problem and is a significant distraction at a time when the Commonwealth is at a critical juncture,” DeLeo wrote in Tuesday Boston Globe op-ed.

A DeLeo spokesman declined to comment on Rosenberg’s statements.

“So far we’ve been unsuccessful in convincing the conferees on the House side and others that there’s a problem,” said Rosenberg, who said the Senate is open to a variety of solutions. Rosenberg said that last session a third of the Senate bills that were sent to study – a common tactic to kill legislation – were sent to a study in the House. Rosenberg said receiving the bills out of committee would be no guarantee that they pass into law.

Without identifying anyone specifically, Rosenberg said some House leaders of joint committees are cooperative while others are not.

“The experience that chairs are reporting these days is very uneven. Some senators say their co-chair couldn’t be more cooperative and more helpful and they have no problem reaching agreement and most of the bills move out when they need to move out – quickly, well, to the right branch,” Rosenberg said. “Other members who are chairing committees report the opposite experience.”

Asked to identify the particular committees where the House chairmen work better, Rosenberg said, “You think I’m crazy? You think I just fell off the hay wagon?”

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