It's The Final Day Of Lawmakers' Session. Here's What's On The To-Do List

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On Beacon Hill Tuesday, it's the final day of the legislative session. Lawmakers are trying to put the finishing touches on bills before heading back to their districts to campaign for re-election.

With time running out, WBUR's Steve Brown joined Morning Edition with a look at what's still on the Legislature's to-do list.

Host Jack Lepiarz: So they have until midnight to get things done and there are still some big-ticket items they would like to finish, including a health care financing bill. Where's that stand?

It's still in conference. The House wants to put a $330 million assessment on insurers and high-paid providers, and then redistribute that money to community hospitals that provide services to many Medicaid patients.

The Senate wants all providers reimbursed for care at 90 percent of the statewide relative price, in order to reduce disparities.

In the past few weeks, businesses in the state have stepped up their push against both the House and Senate bills. The Legislature pays very close attention to the wishes of the business community, and businesses say they are disappointed lawmakers ignored an opportunity to address cost growth in the state's Medicaid system and are instead proposing strategies that would increase health care spending.

Another health care priority for the governor is the opioid bill. Where does that stand?

It's still in play. The sticking point has been whether people addicted to opiates could be involuntarily held for emergency treatment. The governor wanted a three-day hold. The House rejected that, but the Senate bill says those people can be held overnight, or over a weekend, until a judge can review the case.

Steve, tell us about the still-pending legislation with big price tags.

There's the economic development bill. That contains some language that would limit non-compete agreements for workers, and would also set up a sales tax holiday weekend for this year, in August. The bill also authorizes borrowing for economic projects, including infrastructure. The Senate is calling for just over $600 million in borrowing. The House puts it at $666 million.

Also, a conference committee is trying to reach a consensus on education funding. A report from a special commission a few years back found the formula used to figure out the amount of state aid that school districts receive from the state does not adequately take into account for certain costs, including health insurance, English language learners and special education students. The Senate is proposing the state increase education funding by a billion dollars. The House increases spending by $500 million over five years.

It's been somewhat busy up at the State House over the past week or so. Remind us what the Legislature has finished?

Of course the biggest thing was the nearly $42 billion budget. Lawmakers finally resolved that about two weeks ago, and the governor signed it, with about $50 million worth of vetoes. The Legislature has been holding votes to overturn many of those vetoes and restore much of the funding.

When this final push got underway, there were 10 items in conference committee, including the budget. They resolved about half of them, including automatic voter registration, a veteran's benefits bill, an environmental bond bill and a civics education bill. And just Monday, regulations for short-term housing rentals like Airbnb.

Many of those have been enacted, and are awaiting the governor's signature.

One of the criticisms of the Legislature is this mad rush to get things done by the deadline that we see regularly. Critics say legislators don't have enough time to really know what's in the bills they are voting on. Why do they do this?

Many years ago, the Legislature would break in August of the even number years, so that the members would be able to go back to their districts and campaign for re-election — even though more than half of them were usually unopposed. But what used to happen is that after the November election, the Legislature would come back for a lame-duck session and the laws that came out of those sessions were not necessarily what the public wanted. They were often referred to as "feeding frenzies." A few years back, the Legislature adopted rules setting July 31 as the final day for formal sessions, meaning a session where controversial legislation can be debated.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said the governor vetoed about half a billion dollars when he signed the budget. He issued about $50 million worth of vetoes. We regret the error.

This article was originally published on July 31, 2018.

This segment aired on July 31, 2018.


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Steve Brown Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.



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