Speaker Deleo Rules Out Extending Midnight Legislative Deadline, Reports Progress Being Made

House Speaker DeLeo may be in charge of a governing body of 160 lawmakers and not a professional baseball team, but the Winthrop Democrat sees a lot of similarities between the situation he now finds himself and general managers up against Monday's player trading deadline.

With less than 11 hours left before the end of formal sessions for the year, DeLeo said he is hopeful, but not sure that major pieces of legislation tied up in negotiations will be agreed to in time.

Still locked up in conference between House and Senate negotiators are bills seeking to boost economic development, shift the state toward renewable energy, restrict the use of non-compete agreements and regulate the ride-hailing industry.

Secret talks on Saturday night and Sunday morning gave DeLeo hope.

"It appears as though starting this morning or late last night, whatever it was, some good progress was made on all of them. Are we there yet? No, but I think that I'm hopeful that we're going to be able to come to an agreement on all of them," DeLeo told reporters Sunday afternoon.

DeLeo - likening the Legislature's deadline for roll call votes to the trading deadline in Major League Baseball or the start of a trial prompting plea deals to be struck - pointed to how the New York Yankees were able to put together a trade with the Cleveland Indians for one of the top relief pitchers in baseball - Andrew Miller - the night before the deadline.

"People try to wait 'til the bitter end," DeLeo said. The speaker did not talk about how the trade between the Milwaukee Brewers and Indians for All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy appears to have fallen apart after the player vetoed the deal to Cleveland.

Presiding early in Sunday afternoon's sessions, DeLeo opened with comments about important of collaboration.

"Today we must remind ourselves that we are a strong commonwealth, which leads the nation in so many regards and I know this is because that we are really eager to work together, to be collegial rather than contrarian and to serve our constituents and the commonwealth," he said. "At a time when this nation seems to become more and more divided each day, I am heartened by the work that we do together in this august chamber. We put a premium on building relationships, strong relationships. We are a body that reflects harmony, and a body that reflects collaboration."

DeLeo recognized Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad, who led the chamber in the singing of God Bless America at the request of Republican Rep. Keiko Orrall and the Caucus of Women Legislators.

The speaker categorically ruled out the possibility of suspending the rule barring the Legislature from meeting in formal sessions beyond July 31 during an election year. "No," he said.

"It's always my hope that we can get these pieces of legislation out earlier than we do, but I can tell you most years in the Legislature, bills, especially those as complicated as the bills in conference right now, do take time and both sides are waiting for the other to move on this and this and before you know it it's toward the end of the session," DeLeo said.

House Ways and Means Assistant Vice Chairman Ben Swan said the House has "quite a few more" override votes to do, and said he wouldn't mind meeting beyond the July 31 deadline, a deadline the Legislature has adhered to over the years.

On his way into a caucus of House Democrats on Sunday afternoon, Swan told reporters suspending the rule barring formal sessions after July 31 "hasn't been discussed."

"Wouldn't bother me any," said Swan, who is not running for re-election for his Springfield seat.

On Saturday, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said that the late-session logjam stemmed, in part, from the House waiting too long to deliver major bills to the Senate. DeLeo disagreed.

"I think if we had started this months ago we would still be here today," the speaker said.

While there will be a lot of clock-watching as the afternoon turns into evening on Sunday, it is possible for lawmakers to continue meeting beyond midnight. Rules allow for the session to continue into the early hours of August with unanimous consent, meaning leadership can continue calling votes as long as no single lawmaker objects.

Senior House officials early Sunday afternoon were feeling somewhat confident that deals for all four major bills could be struck with the Senate, but one top Democratic staffer suggested another concern: drafting legislation after a verbal agreement is reached in time to get it onto the floor of both the House and Senate for votes.

The same official noted that, with the exception of bonding terms in the economic development bill, all the remaining bills could be passed in informal sessions over the coming days if no one objects. This is not, however, a strategy leaders want to employ, the official said.

Rep. Denise Provost said DeLeo expressed "guarded optimism" during a closed-door Democratic caucus that the four remaining conference committees will find consensus and get bills to the floor for votes on Sunday.

"What are the chances we'll get to read them all?" Provost said, alluding to the fact that to consider a conference committee report Sunday the branches will have to suspend the rule intended to give lawmakers at least 17 hours to review the compromise bill before being asked to cast an up or down vote.

Lobbyists milled about on the third floor outside the Senate chamber while Senate Democrats huddled in the Senate president's suite.

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, who is leading negotiations for the Senate on the economic development bill, was deep in conversation on her cell phone as she walked from the Senate reading room into the president's suite and gave only a wave to the lobbyists and reporter hoping for a status report.

Conference committees conduct their deliberations in private, so outsiders, including lawmakers who are not on the six-member panels, have little insight into the issues dividing conferees.


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