Mass. Senate Orders Plan For Separate Committees

Escalating its dispute with the House, the state Senate has agreed to develop a plan to break from its decades-old joint committee system with the House and establish separate Senate committees.

The Senate on Wednesday afternoon unanimously adopted an order requiring its Rules Committee, chaired by Sen. Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford), to come up with an implementation plan for what would be a dramatic shift in legislative operations.

Saying their bills too often languish in House-controlled joint committees, the Senate is pressing the House to let senators of joint committees move bills unilaterally to the Senate. House leaders say the joint committee structure works fine, including in cases where bills require further study.

Democratic legislative leaders since February have been hung up on the proposed changes to joint rules, and Wednesday's order opens up a new chapter in House-Senate relations.

The order instructs the Rules Committee to draw from best practices in the 46 states that employ separate branch committees and "to develop a system that is transparent, responsive and efficient."

The order also instructs the Rules Committee to consider "the total number, titles, jurisdictions, and members of the Senate committees; the need to replicate reporting and other deadlines; the allocation of personnel, space and other resources; procedures for joint hearings by separate branch committees; and any changes that may be needed to the Senate Rules or state statutes to facilitate a smooth transition."

In a Boston Globe op-ed Tuesday, House Speaker Robert DeLeo called the Senate's plan an "impolitic and manufactured reaction to a non-existent problem" and a "significant distraction at a time when the Commonwealth is at a critical juncture."

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said the conference committee negotiating the rules with the House remains intact and may continue to seek a compromise as the plan for separate committees is developed.


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