Navigating the Massachusetts Legislative Process
By The Brennan Group
Over the course of the coming weeks and months we (Brennan Group) will be publishing a host of articles and blogs that deal with many different public policy and general topics affecting the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Hopefully these articles are informative and stimulating. Some may be better suited for certain groups and individuals but am confident we will issue relevant information for our entire audience at one time or another. The first post will deal with the navigation of the Massachusetts legislative process.
I talk to a lot of people who are concerned about pending legislation or regulations in Massachusetts. However many don't know how bills become law.
Creating new legislation is a complicated process, and there are plenty of fits and starts along the way. This short guide will hopefully give some insight into the process.
Drafting and Filing Bills
Members the House, Senate, and the Governor can introduce new legislation, with ideas coming from legislators, the governor, special interest groups or the general public. In Massachusetts a citizen can also have legislation filed by request. There are several kinds of legislation, but for our purposes, we'll look at bills and resolves. Bills establish or change laws, while resolves create special or temporary actions. They follow the same statutory procedure.
To file a bill for consideration, a legislator needs to submit it to the Clerk's Office by third Friday in January of the first year of the biennium or by late file which requires a 2/3 vote of the legislature. The clerk processes the bill and refers it to a committee that handles the matter discussed in the bill.
Committees consider bills before they're introduced to the general legislature. When the clerk refers a bill to a committee, the committee establishes a date for a hearing where legislators, members of the public, advocacy groups and other concerned parties can speak about the bill.
The committee makes a recommendation about the future of the bill, which is published in a report. Sometimes the committee decides a bill's ready to be passed without changes. Sometimes they recommend changes or amendments, and sometimes they recommend a bill not pass at all. In the latter case, the bill "dies in committee," unless the legislature changes the report from the floor.
Readings, Votes and Signing
A bill's first reading is when it's introduced on the floor of the House or Senate (depending on who introduced the bill). Legislators debate the bill, and propose and vote on amendments. This may take several subsequent readings, as bills receive amendments and are reconsidered.
After its third reading, the bill is reviewed by a special committee for its constitutionality. Then it's voted on, and sent to other branch of the legislature for reading. If there's a discrepancy between the two versions that pass, a joint conference committee is formed and resolves this.
Finally, the bill reaches the governor's desk. If the governor signs it, it takes effect in 90 days unless a different effective date is included in the bill or an emergency preamble is attached. If they veto it, the legislature can override the veto with a two-thirds vote from both houses. In Massachusetts the Governor has limited veto power for budget matters.
Bills go through a long process before they become law. But while the process is complicated, it's more straightforward than it seems at first -- and there are many opportunities for input along the way and perils to the passage of legislation.
Reach out to The Brennan Group (Consultation) today to discover how we can help with your regulatory decision making process.