The Massachusetts Legislature concluded formal sessions for the 2017-2018 Legislative Session in the early hours of August 1st. The days leading up to the conclusion of formal sessions became a legislative sprint to the finish as lawmakers scrambled to simultaneously pass key pieces of legislation while overriding vetoes the Governor had made to the House and Senate FY 2019 $41.88 billion dollar budget proposal.
In the final hours of formal session, the Legislature was able to pass several key pieces of legislation including an economic development bill. This bill provides funding for workforce development and public infrastructure and limits non-compete agreements and patent infringement. The Legislature also passed an opioid bill which provides addiction treatment to inmates, an environmental bill which increases the annual amount of clean energy that utility companies are required to purchase, and a short-term rental bill which levies taxes and regulations on services such as Airbnb.
Governor Baker returned the short-term rental bill to the Legislature with an amendment that would make short-term rental hosts who rent units for 14 days or less per year exempt from new taxes and regulations. The Legislature can either accept his amendments or return the bill with their own additional amendments for the Governor’s review.
In addition to passing several key pieces of legislation, the Legislature also overrode nearly all of the $48 million dollars which Governor Baker had vetoed from the compromised budget proposal which the House and Senate had approved earlier in July. Many of the Governor’s vetoes affected local earmark projects such as funds for municipal library aid and transportation trust funds. Overriding the Governor’s vetoes during formal sessions requires a two thirds majority consensus.
Despite their best efforts, the Legislature was unable to reach a consensus on major health care and education funding reform bills. The health care reform bill would have introduced new assessments on insurers and large hospitals in order to increase funding for community hospitals, and the education reform bill which would have addressed inadequacies in the current education funding formula. The Legislature was also unable to reach an agreement on a major zoning bill which would have simplified current zoning regulations in municipalities to encourage additional housing production. It is likely that these bills will be taken up again by the Legislature next year.
The Legislature is still meeting in twice-weekly informal sessions and they are still enacting legislation. No debate or roll calls take place during these sessions and unanimous consent is required to advance any legislation during informal sessions. For this reason, it is very unlikely that any controversial legislation will be considered
The 2017-2018 Legislative Session officially expires on January 2, 2019. Legislators' attention will now turn to upcoming campaigns and the November election, which will see Governor Baker and several Constitutional Officers up for re-election in addition to members of the Legislature.
Some legislators who are not facing a challenger in the upcoming election will soon begin preparations for the next session when education, health care, housing, sports betting, and zoning reform will certainly be addressed. All legislation for the 2019-2020 Legislative Session is due to be filed by the third Friday in January: January 18, 2019.
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